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2018 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Evan Phillips

There was a point in the season’s first half where many Braves fans were sick of their bullpen. In June, despite decent peripherals, Braves fans had to bear witness to old friend Peter Moylan running a 8.59 ERA (9.16 FIP, 5.64 xFIP) in 11 appearances, along with Sam Freeman (8.49 ERA but 4.36 FIP and 3.12 xFIP) facing righties and giving up games in the process. That started a bit of a ruckus that sounded a lot like, “Hey, some guy named Evan Phillips has a 2.09 ERA and 2.07 FIP in Triple-A, why aren’t we calling him up?” And, just like that, on June 24, the Braves selected the contract of one Evan Phillips from Triple-A Gwinnett. But… not just like that. Phillips was up for only a day and didn’t get into a game. He was sent back to Triple-A, and then recalled on July 2. He pitched in one game on July 3, was sent back down on July 4, recalled on July 6, and then pitched a game on July 8. He then sat on the roster for another 20 days where he only made two appearances before being sent back down on July 27. Four days later, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles as part of a package that brought Kevin Gausman to Atlanta.

As a 17th-round draft pick without particularly impressive minor league numbers, Phillips was always a darkhorse to make the majors. But, his strikeout rate went crazy in 2018, when he was repeating Triple-A, and his walk rate fell to boot. Unfortunately for Phillips, he could not really replicate that success against major league hitting.

Overall, Phillips pitched six and a third frames for the Braves across four appearances. His pitching triple-slash is unsightly and gross: 8.53 ERA, 10.27 FIP, 6.98 xFIP. As a Brave, he matched his strikeout total (three) with the number of homers he allowed (also three), both of which were smaller than his walk total (four).

Phillips started his major league career with a long stint at Yankee Stadium, where he faced 10 batters and allowed two walks and a two-run homer. He entered the game in the sixth in relief of Luke Jackson, promptly issued a walk, and then got an out to end the inning. He then threw a 1-2-3 seventh, but ran into trouble in the eighth, issuing another walk and then getting taken deep by Giancarlo Stanton.

In his next outing, mopping up with the Braves down big in Milwaukee, he faced nine batters and retired four of them, allowing two walks and three hits, two of them homers, while collecting zero strikeouts. He was charged with four runs in the outing. Phillips did rebound somewhat in his next and final two outings with the Braves: he faced 10 total batters and allowed just two hits and zero walks while collecting two more punchouts. Both of those outings came in mop-up duty, but at least he got to be part of a win when he threw a scoreless frame against the Marlins on July 23.

Phillips made five outings for the Orioles after being traded, and they didn’t go much better than his frames with the Braves. While his Baltimore tenure started excellently, with two perfect innings (three strikeouts) against the Rangers, he then reversed course by failing to retire a batter in his next outing (three walks, two runs), and then allowed 10 runs over his next 20 batters faced, including another outing where he did not retire any of the batters he faced (two walks, two hits, including a double and a grand slam by Kevin Plawecki). The Orioles actually used Phillips to start one of their games down the stretch, but he didn’t fare any better in that outing, allowing three runs and a homer in two innings. (That game was mopped up in large part by former Braves’ first-round draft pick Sean Gilmartin).

Phillips ended his 2018 with more runs allowed than innings pitched, a 13.11 ERA, a 10.19 FIP, a 7.45 xFIP, and -0.5 fWAR. Yikes. While hopefully his 2018 serves as a cautionary tale that the new hot commodity in Triple-A does not necessarily portend capable major league relief, it’s more likely that everyone will just forget about the Tale of Evan Phillips and once again continue clamoring for bullpen personnel changes as soon as another reliever falters.

Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? He… was not very good at the major league level. See above.

Will Phillips be on the roster next year? No, he didn’t even finish 2018 on Atlanta’s roster.

What is he going to do next year? He’ll potentially work in relief for the rebuilding Orioles, if they have room for him. Or, it’ll be another stint for him at Triple-A. Or a mix of the two. Who knows.

Highlight of 2018: Phillips actually had a pretty nice debut, stranding a runner on second after entering the game, and then throwing a scoreless inning after the Braves pulled to within a run. Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep it going, which led to…

Lowlight of 2018: Like, on the one hand, that was a super-cheap homer by Stanton, with only a 30 percent hit probability. On the other hand, Evan, my dude, don’t throw 95 mph fastballs right down the middle to Giancarlo Stanton.

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