Over his 8 seasons in Major League Baseball, Hector Neris has racked up an impressive 613 career strikeouts. But how exactly has the Philadelphia Phillies reliever generated so many punchouts over his MLB tenure?
In this in-depth article, we’ll analyze Neris’ prolific strikeout numbers, examine the devastating pitch arsenal that allows him to fool hitters, and discuss whether the Phillies closer can keep striking out batters at an elite rate.
Neris Ranks Among Phillies All-Time Relief Strikeout Leaders
Since first donning a Phillies uniform in 2014, Hector Neris has established himself as one of Philadelphia’s most dominant relief strikeout pitchers.
After debuting as a starter, Neris converted to a full-time bullpen role in 2016. That’s when his strikeout prowess indeed emerged.
In 2016, Neris punched out 102 batters in 80.1 innings pitched out of the Phillies bullpen. His 11.4 K/9 rate marked the beginning of Neris’ reputation as a high-strikeout reliever.
Neris has increased his strikeout rate further in recent seasons:
- 2017: 86 K’s in 76.2 IP, 10.2 K/9
- 2018: 89 K’s in 73.2 IP, 10.9 K/9
- 2019: 89 K’s in 67.2 IP, 11.9 K/9
- 2021: 95 K’s in 74.2 IP, 11.6 K/9
Heading into the 2023 season, Hector Neris ranks 5th on the Phillies all-time relief strikeout list with 613, trailing only closer icons like Brad Lidge, Steve Bedrosian, Tug McGraw, and Jonathan Papelbon.
Considering Neris doesn’t turn 34 until 2024, he has a strong chance of climbing even higher up the Phillies relief K leaderboard if he maintains his recent strikeout rates.
Dominant Splitter & Improved Slider Fuel Strikeout Arsenal
The key to Neris’ strikeout dominance is his nasty diving splitter that dives out of the zone at the last moment, causing batters to whiff. He complements the splitter with a mid-90s four-seam fastball to change hitters’ eye levels.
More recently, Neris has polished his mid-80s slider into a third strikeout weapon, adding another dimension to his pitching arsenal.
Let’s examine how Neris leverages his entire repertoire to generate many swings and misses across his career.
Breaking Down Neris Strikeout Pitch Arsenal
Hector Neris utilizes a lethal three-pitch mix of pitches to rack up strikeouts at an elite rate. Here’s a detailed breakdown of how Neris uses his splitter, four-seamer, and slider to fool hitters constantly:
Splitter Dominates as True Strikeout Weapon
Without a doubt, Neris’ nasty splitter is his go-to strikeout pitch. He frequently uses the sharp, late-dropping splitter to get batters to chase out of the zone.
In 2021, Neris recorded an astounding 49 strikeouts with the splitter. The pitch had an outrageous 45.8% whiff rate as batters struggled to make contact.
By throwing his 85-88 mph splitter with strong downward tilt and arm-side fade, Neris can completely keep the pitch buried low in the zone or below the area. Batters know it’s coming, yet still can’t lay off.
The splitter’s combination of velocity, late drop, arm-side run, and tunnels well off his four-seamer makes it an accurate strikeout weapon for Neris. He relies on it heavily in two-strike counts to record clutch punchouts.
Four-Seamer Sets Up Splitter with Velocity
While the splitter does the most strikeout damage, Neris’ four-seam fastball is an essential complementary pitch. He throws the four-seamer around 94-96 mph with a good arm-side run.
After back-to-back splitters diving down, Neris will elevate a four-seamer up in the zone to change the batter’s eye level. This strategy results in batters swinging under the high heat or getting caught looking.
The velocity contrast going from his splitter in the mid-80s to his mid-90s four-seamer also keeps hitters off balance in at-bats against Neris. The fastball sets up the splitter perfectly.
Mixing four-seamers and splitters at different speeds and locations allows Neris to keep hitters guessing. They can never sit on one pitch with confidence.
Improved Slider Adds Strikeout Dimension
Early in his career, Neris struggled to find a reliable third pitch to pair with his splitter and four-seamer. Recently, though, he’s turned his mid-80s slider into a deadly strikeout weapon.
In 2021, Neris threw his tight, late-breaking slider 23% of the time and recorded an excellent 36.7% whiff rate with the pitch. The sharp downward break ties in nicely with his splitter movement.
Adding a slider that darts down and into right-handed batters gives Neris a third option to put hitters away in two-strike counts. With the slider in his arsenal, he can flare tempos and locations even more.
With a four-seamer up, a diving splitter, and now a sweeping slider, Neris can attack every part of the strike zone with elite swing-and-miss stuff.
How Neris Deceives Hitters with His Splitter
Hector Neris’ nasty splitter is the driving force behind his prolific strikeout totals. But what exactly makes his splitter so deceptive and unhittable for opponents?
Let’s break down the specific ways Neris can fool hitters with his go-to strikeout splitter:
Chases Out of Zone with Late Drop
The splitter’s extremely late downward drop makes it a chase pitch for Neris below the strike zone.
Unlike most split-finger fastballs, Neris’ splitter starts diving at the last moment before crossing the plate. It stays on a primarily flat plane through the zone, then falls off the table at the end.
This late drop results in batters committing to a swing based on the initial splitter trajectory, only for it to dart down several inches as it reaches the plate. The pitch tempts hitters but ends with them flailing helplessly.
Neris can rack up strikeouts in bunches by getting hitters to chase splitters low and out of the zone frequently. The splitter’s deceiving late movement fools batters time and time again.
Varies Speeds to Keep Batters Guessing
Another way Neris maximizes the effectiveness of his splitter is by varying its velocity. While mostly ranging from 85-88 mph, he’ll occasionally take a little off or ramp up the speed even higher.
If Neris notices hitters starting to time up his splitter’s drop, he’ll drop in a splitter around 83 mph or speed up near 90 mph. This alters the pitch’s timing enough to throw off batters’ swings.
Varying the speed also changes the sharpness of the splitter’s downward break. A harder 84-86 mph splitter dives quicker than a slower 83 mph one with a more considerable sweeping drop.
Keeping hitters guessing on splitter speeds allows Neris to get awkward swings on the pitch even after batters think they have him timed up. The velocity tweaks pay dividends in strikeouts.
Locates Low & Buried to Induce Poor Contact
Neris locates his splitters low in or below the zone consistently. This strategy results in poor contact from batters, as they are forced to reach for low pitches.
By locating splitters on the bottom edges of the strike zone or buried a few inches below the knees, Neris induces a lot of ugly swings from hitters. They are beating the pitch into the ground or swinging over the top of it completely.
Even on the rare occasions, batters make contact on a low Neris splitter, it usually results in weak groundball contact or lazy flyball outs. Hitters cannot barrel up a splitter located expertly below the zone.
The combination of location and late movement down makes it almost impossible for batters to drive Neris’ low splitters with any authority. All they can do is flail helplessly as he racks up strikeouts.
Can Neris Maintain High Strikeout Rates in the Future?
Now that we’ve broken down how Hector Neris generates so many strikeouts, the next question becomes: can he maintain elite strikeout rates into his mid-30s and beyond?
Several factors suggest Neris can keep missing bats at a very high clip:
Splitter & Slider Remain Deadly with Age
The fact that Neris’ two main strikeout pitches are his splitter and slider bodes well for him maintaining swing-and-miss stuff long-term.
Breaking balls and splitters typically age better than fastballs and curves as pitchers enter their mid-30s. Neris can still dominate with his splitter and slider, even as his fastball loses a tick.
We’ve seen relievers like Andrew Miller pitch well into their late 30s, relying heavily on slider and split-changeup variations. Neris has an excellent blueprint to follow.
Neris should avoid the rapid strikeout rate declines many veterans encounter as long as he has a modification splitter and slider in his arsenal.
Relief Role Keeps Arm Fresher
Another factor helping Neris is that he pitches in a relief role rather than a starter’s workload.
Relieving puts far less strain on Neris’ arm than the 200+ innings most starters log each season. He enters games fresh with his max velocity and sharpest pitches.
The lower innings total out of the bullpen should enable Neris to extend his peak strikeout years longer. His stuff will deteriorate more slowly than most starters’ arsenals.
Strikeouts Provide Trade Value or Closer Security
Finally, even if Neris loses a few strikeouts off his peak rates, he can still provide value in his mid-30s by either serving as an effective Phillies closer or as a trade chip for contending ballclubs.
Elite relief strikeout rates are always in high demand on the trade market. Neris’ ability to miss bats would garner interest from clubs needing late-inning bullpen help.
The strikeouts will also allow Neris to remain effective even in a Phillies closer role. High-leverage relievers need bat-missing stuff to escape jams, which Neris can provide.
Neris Seeks Rare Relief Company in Phillies History
As Hector Neris approaches his age-34 season with the Phillies, he can vault himself into some truly elite relief company in franchise history.
Here’s a look at how Neris can cement his legacy among the Phillies’ relief strikeout greats:
Seeking 700+ Career Strikeouts
With 613 strikeouts already through his age 33 season, Neris has a good chance of surpassing 700+ career punchouts before his time with the Phillies ends.
Only a handful of relievers in Phillies history have topped 700 strikeouts. Doing so would put Neris in the stratosphere of Brad Lidge, Tug McGraw, and Jonathan Papelbon.
Mixing a few more 65+ strikeout seasons into his early 30s puts Neris on pace to reach this rare Phillies reliever milestone.
Could Rank Top 3 in Phillies Relief K’s
If Neris can pile on 100+ more strikeouts in the next few seasons, he’d have a chance to pass both Ron Reed and Al Holland for 3rd place on Philly’s all-time relief strikeout list.
That would put him top 3 behind only Lidge and Papelbon – a remarkable accomplishment for a reliever who started as a converted starter. Neris reaching this height would cap off a dominant Phillies relief career.
Dominant Closer Company with Lidge & Papelbon
Finally, if Neris maintains the closer role for a few more seasons, he has the strikeout stuff to join the ranks of dominant Phillies closers like Lidge and Papelbon.
Lidge and Papelbon used their swing-and-miss ability to consistently lock down saves and high-leverage situations. Neris can follow the same formula thanks to his splitter.
By the time his Phillies tenure wraps up, Neris has a chance to be remembered alongside the great Phillies closers in team history. His strikeout prowess ensures a remarkable relief legacy.
Neris Seeks Strikeout History in Philadelphia
In his 8 seasons and counting with the Phillies, Hector Neris has unleashed his strikeout arsenal to remarkable results. With over 600 career punchouts and counting, he’s en route to becoming one of the greatest relief strikeout pitchers in Phillies history.
Neris still has plenty of elite strikeout years left, thanks to his nearly unhittable splitter, newfound slider, and the longevity his bullpen role provides. He should keep climbing Philly’s all-time relief K leaderboard to make Philadelphia’s bullpen history his own.
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