David Phelps is having one weird season. He’s also having a historic one.
He’s been used in long relief.
He’s been used as an eighth-inning setup specialist.
He’s been used as a starter.
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He’s been used as a closer.
He’s done everything except throw batting practice.
“He’s pitched pretty much every role,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “A lot of guys can’t do what he’s been able to do.”
And done it as well.
Phelps is the first pitcher in more than 25 years to start as many as five games, save as many as four, total at least 80 innings and have an ERA of 2.50 or less. The last to do it was Bill Swift in 1990.
“I want to do whatever’s going to help our team win,” said Phelps, who closed out Tuesday night’s 1-0 victory over the Nationals. “If it’s starting, I want to start. If I help our team pitching out of the bullpen, that’s what I want to do.”
Think about this: Jose Fernandez has the highest WAR rating (wins above replacement) of any pitcher on the staff. No surprise there. Fernandez, after all, is the staff ace. But Phelps ranks second.
Phelps is even superior to Fernandez in certain advanced metrics comparisons, such as ERA+, an adjusted earned run average that factors in ballparks and opponents. An ERA+ of 100 is considered average and the higher the number the better.
Phelps has an ERA+ of 163 compared to Fernandez’s 136.
If Phelps maintains that figure the rest of the way, it would rank as the fifth-best season ever by a Marlins pitcher. Kevin Brown’s 215 in 1996 tops the list.
All of it should make for an interesting offseason for the Marlins and Phelps as they try to work out his 2017 salary through the arbitration process. Phelps will receive a raise on this year’s $2.5 million figure. But how much of one?
In the back-and-forth of negotiations, team beancounters and player agents hammer out salaries by looking for comparable players and what they make. But Phelps is a one-of-a-kind pitcher. There’s no one to compare him with.
The Marlins will also spend the winter deciding how they intend to use Phelps in 2017, as a starter or reliever.
“I think there’s a lot that goes into that discussion,” Mattingly said. “Those are questions I’m sure he has and also things we have to answer internally. The one thing we do know is he’s really valuable. There’s so much value to him.”
Phelps said he’ll do whatever is asked of him. He would prefer to start. But if the Marlins decide he’s more valuable to them in the bullpen, so be it.
“Bouncing back and forth isn’t all that fun,” he said. “It’s certainly not easy.”
▪ Fernandez will definitely make his next scheduled start on Sunday.
Whether he makes one more after that depends on whether the Marlins are alive mathematically in the wild-card race.
“I can tell you right now, if we’re eliminated by the time that one would come up, he would not pitch,” Mattingly said. “He may want to pitch, but he won’t pitch.”
▪ Adam Conley threw a three-inning simulated game on Wednesday. The Marlins will wait to see how he comes out of that session before deciding whether to take him off the disabled list.
“If everything goes good, we definitely want to get him back in there at some point [this season], an inning or two,” Mattingly said.
▪ Giancarlo Stanton wasn’t in Wednesday’s starting lineup even though he provided all of the scoring in Tuesday’s win with a solo home run.
“[Trainers] felt he needed a day [off], so he got a day,” Mattingly said.
▪ Thursday: Marlins RHP Jose Urena (4-7, 5.59 ERA) vs. Atlanta Braves RHP Josh Collmenter (2-0, 4.61), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Friday: Marlins RHP Andrew Cashner (5-11, 5.27) vs. Braves RHP Matt Wisler (7-12, 4.93), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.