Back when he was acquired, Evan Phillips was essentially an afterthought. A throw-in note on a Game Thread for the day on August 16, 2021, when the Dodgers claimed him off waivers from the Rays.
To be fair, that muted reaction was mostly justified, as from 2018-20 he had given up a whopping 47 runs in 54 innings while walking 40 batters. But then there was the 68 strikeouts. That gave a hint at what the Rays likely saw in him, though he only got a three-inning run with them, mainly due to them having a loaded pen. Well, last year the Dodgers were struggling to find anybody to fill in the back-end of the pen without giving up tons of runs, and Phillips answered the call. He wasn’t spectacular but he did his job, posting a 3.48 ERA over 10.1 innings while striking out a modest nine and walking five, but keeping the ball on the ground and avoiding hard contact.
What really opened my eyes were his three scoreless innings in the NLCS against the Braves, where he struck out six batters. It made me wonder if the Dodgers really might have something in him.
Surprisingly, what I found was that at least his slider was not just good, it was elite.
While his fastball and changeup hover around average, his slider sticks out as potentially special.
A lot of those numbers seem confusing, but basically Stuff+ is just a rating assigned to a combination of a pitch’s velocity and movement compared to the average MLB pitch of that type (using 100 as average).
11th in the majors? Oh yeah, 11th in the majors. He ranked just behind Corbin Burnes and Lance McCullers Jr., which is where you want to be on any stuff profile. Furthermore, you may also notice that Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol, two other Dodgers, are on that list, which may not be a coincidence and gives further reason to believe in Phillips.
Of course, the problem is the tiny sample size and the nature of relieving. He has about one year and 13 innings of being effective versus three years and 50+ innings of not, and relievers can be extremely volatile over small samples.
Still, always bet on stuff, which has seemingly been the mantra of the Dodgers in recent seasons. And at least with this one pitch, Phillips has something special that he can always go to.
As a bit of an aside, a humble suggestion about that aforementioned average fastball. One thing that could help Phillips is imitating both Treinen and Graterol, ditching the four-seamer for a running sinker. The fastball he uses now is released from his 3/4 arm slot and has almost sinker spin already (~1:00 axis) that’s similar to what Graterol and Treinen have.
But because Phillips attempts to make it a riding four-seamer, it doesn’t tail and sink, instead settling for an average stuff profile. It should instead be serving as a counter in terms of movement to the sweeping slider, and it’s something he could also tunnel with that elite slider to make both pitches harder to recognize for hitters. It’s a natural fit for him, really.
Regardless, further improvements or not, what does this all mean? Is Evan Phillips going to be a back-end option for the Dodgers? Doubtful. Hell, he might not even be on the Dodgers in a week given that he hasn’t made the team yet and is out of options. But for a guy they effectively picked off the scrapheap, he seems talented enough to take on a permanent role in the middle of the Dodgers pen, or perhaps even more if his potential is realized.