HomeOther Philly SportsPhillies are exploring pitching depth and showing interest in two right-handed pitchers

Phillies are exploring pitching depth and showing interest in two right-handed pitchers

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Right-handers Jakob Junis and Phil Maton have both drawn interest from the Phillies, Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Beyond these two specific names, Lauber speculates that the Phillies have “likely” explored most other available relievers on the market, as the club continues to look for depth in its pitching ranks.

Junis would be an interesting asset to the rotation or bullpen, given his experience as a swingman over the last few seasons. Junis has started 27 of his 79 appearances from 2021-23, but his four starts in 2023 are more correctly described as opener/piggyback duty. The Giants used Junis and several other pitchers in somewhat haphazard fashion to cover three rotation spots, making for a wide array of opener/bulk pitcher scenarios, bullpen games and two swingmen working in concert for multi-inning duty.

This type of flexibility might make Junis particularly useful on a Philadelphia team that already has a set starting five (Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, Taijuan Walker, Cristopher Sanchez). President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski recently spoke of the difficulties in attracting quality depth options to a club that doesn’t have any openings if everyone is healthy, whereas another club with a less settled rotation can offer a free agent more of an opportunity to earn a starting job. However, Junis’ history of moving back and forth between pitching roles means that the Phillies could possibly regard him as just an available arm, rather than strictly as a depth starter or a reliever.

After posting a 4.75 ERA over his first 627 1/3 MLB innings from 2017-22, Junis had a 3.87 ERA in 2023, finishing well above the league average in walk rate, strikeout rate, and hard-contact rate. The latter two statistics are particularly noteworthy, as Junis had usually posted below-average numbers in those departments during his career. This could suggest that the mostly multi-inning relief role agreed with Junis, as it allowed him to lean harder on his best pitch — a slider that batters hit only .216 against in 2023.

Dylan Covey, Nick Nelson, and the newly acquired Kolby Allard look like the top depth options in the event of an injury, plus the Phillies could also consider using Matt Strahm as a starter again. If signed, Junis could simply push everyone down a step on the depth chart, with Allard, Covey, and Nelson competing for perhaps just one big league job. Covey is also out of minor league options, perhaps giving him some leg up on the competition.

Maton would be a straight-forward addition to the bullpen, and a durable addition at that — since the start of the 2021 season, only eight pitchers have appeared in more games than Maton’s 200 outings. In a swap that now looks like a steal for the Astros, Houston acquired Maton and Yainer Diaz from Cleveland for Myles Straw at the 2021 trade deadline, and Maton has since delivered a 3.67 ERA over 157 regular-season innings and a minuscule 0.49 ERA over 18 1/3 innings in the postseason. Maton didn’t participate in the Astros’ World Series run in 2022, however, as a fractured pinkie finger kept him off the playoff roster entirely.

Maton turns 31 in March, and he has found success despite a fastball that averaged only 89mph in 2023. His above-average strikeout numbers speak to his elite spin rates, and few (if any) pitchers in baseball are better than Maton at limiting hard contact. Maton’s barrel rates are good but not outstanding, as he is prone to giving up homers on the rare occasions that batters are able to really square up on his pitches.

The Cardinals and Yankees have been linked to Maton’s market this offseason, while the Astros reportedly showed only limited interest in a reunion even before Houston signed Josh Hader. Junis’ market has been more of a mystery, as the Phillies are the first team known to have any public interest in the right-hander all winter.

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