David Phelps had established himself as a solid but unspectacular swingman through his first four years. However, more work out of the pen (only five of 64 appearances were starts, compared to 59 of 110 before 2016) yielded career bests in strikeout and groundball rates, which fueled his best ERA and WHIP to date. He found 3.3 mph on his four-seam fastball, which spurred his surge. In fact, his .166 opponents' average and 33 percent strikeout rate off the fastball were tied for the best in the majors (minimum 900 heaters thrown). He stood alone at the top with a .521 OPS. The fastball was even better in his five starts (.130 AVG, .463 OPS, 32 percent strikeout rate), so it wasn't just pitching out the pen that helped him. Despite a rotation influx, the early plan is to keep Phelps in the bullpen. Still, Jeff Locke is hardly an immovable object, and Phelps could be the first replacement option if someone in the rotation suffers an injury. He is an interesting low-dollar gamble, especially in NL-only leagues.
Phelps will be used out of the bullpen to begin the season, the Marlins' official site reports. "We've got seven or eight guys down there, nine counting our starter," Phelps said. "On any given day, we're trying to piece together 27 outs. As a unit out there, we're all trying to figure out how to piece that equation together. Whether we use two guys one night, or if we use six guys one night." Phelps was scheduled to pitch one inning in Friday's game, but he pitched well enough in the first frame that he was brought back for the second. The Marlins are believed to be willing to use Phelps in any bullpen role -- including closing -- depending on the situation and matchups this season.
Phelps tossed two shutout innings in Friday's Grapefruit League game against the Twins, giving up one hit and striking out two. The 30-year-old posted career bests in K/9 (11.8), ERA (2.28) and average fastball velocity (93.5 mph) last season, and Phelps has everything you could want in a fantasy asset except a defined role on the Marlins' staff. That makes him a classic target for the old-school LIMA roster construction strategy, and his ability to work multiple innings out of the bullpen could make him surprisingly productive in wins given the quick hook manager Don Mattingly figures to use this season with his rotation.
Phelps won his arbitration case and will receive $4.6 million from the Marlins, who submitted $4.325 million, FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman reports. In 64 appearances (including five starts), Phelps enjoyed a true breakout season with a 2.28 ERA and 11.84 strikeouts per nine innings during 2016. His skills make him an intriguing fantasy pick in the late rounds, considering he's squarely in the running for a rotation spot this spring and may have the most exciting skills of any of the competing options. If he does wind up starting, of course, his inning usage will deserve monitoring by both Miami's coaches and his fantasy owners. If he remains in the bullpen, he could pile up plenty of value anyway thanks to his ability to record punchouts.
Phelps threw a scoreless ninth inning Tuesday against the Nationals, allowing a hit and striking out one en route to his fourth save of the year. Phelps got the call in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game with usual closer A.J. Ramos having pitched the past two days. The right-hander has been solid out of the bullpen for the Marlins this season, posting a 2.40 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He's also struck out batters at an impressive rate, with a 11.6 K/9. Ramos remains the closer moving forward.
Phelps (oblique) was activated from the disabled list Sunday. The Marlins have yet to say when Phelps will rejoin their rotation, but more information regarding the 29-year-old righty should be available in the coming days. Over his five starts this season, Phelps has built a 2.22 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.