2014 Phillies Report Card: Roberto Hernandez

The artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona was the Phillies’ first transaction influenced by their new analytics department. Roberto Hernandez inked a one-year, $4.5 million deal in December, slotting in at the back of the starting rotation. On MLB Network Radio in early March, GM Ruben Amaro said that Hernandez’s ground ball rate and relative cheapness were factors into the decision to bring him aboard, and seemed to also hint that he expected Hernandez’s home run rate — homers accounted for over 21 percent of his fly balls between 2012-13 — was due to regress as well.

The other obvious factor that likely influenced the Phillies to bring him aboard was the significant improvement in his strikeout rate in 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays. The right-hander had crossed a 14.1 percent strikeout rate only once: 2007, his first full season in the major leagues, when he posted a 15.6 strikeout rate. After that, he mostly ranged between 13 and 14 percent. With the Rays, it jumped up to 17.6 percent. In May that season, DRays Bay noted that Hernandez was throwing more change-ups as well as a front-door sinker to left-handed batters.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Domonic Brown

Allow me to pull back the curtain on these report cards just a bit – a couple weeks ago Bill assigned us all six players to grade at random. I traded with Adam so I could talk about Cameron Rupp, (who I like more than anyone should), and then I was on vacation and otherwise unavailable for the first three weeks. Thursday, when I sat down to get into writing mode, I still wasn’t sure with which of the six report cards I would begin. In my search for a good hook to get me going, I was perusing our schedule and realized that my time off had left me with 6 report cards to write in 22 days.

And since I was still unsure who to start with, and since I’m both a baseball nerd and I know how to use a calculator, I figured out that 6/22 comes out to .272. (Sure, I can teach any of you how I did that if you need me to). After I got .272, I went looking for a .272 amongst my players’ stats. As it so happens, Dom Brown hit .272 in his fine 2013 campaign, the season against which his career will be judged. And so my decision was made for me.

I guess Batting Average is good for something after all. Who knew? Continue reading…

2014 Phillies Report Card: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez

Miguel Gonzalez signed with the Phillies in 2013, on the day that the Phillies recorded their 73rd loss of the season — and it was only August 30th. There was no shortage of divergent opinions about where the Phillies had gone wrong, but pretty much everyone agreed that they weren’t headed anywhere good. So Gonzalez joining the team on a 3 year, $12 million deal (revised downward significantly due to health concerns that would prove to be prophetic) was refreshing for a team that doesn’t typically make a splash in the international market.

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Want to Gain An Edge? Defy Bullpen Orthodoxy

The book, and later the film, Moneyball famously championed Billy Beane‘s Oakland Athletics — a small-market team who managed to push out the big spenders by using statistics to identify market inefficiencies, like players with low batting averages but high on-base percentages. As Beane’s numbers-savvy approach contributed to the Athletics reaching the post-season four years in a row between 2000-03, other richer teams caught on and the Scott Hattebergs of the world weren’t available the way they once were, so the A’s had to adapt to continue to stay afloat.

Talent identification is a constantly-shifting landscape, but so too is talent usage. The game has changed enormously over the last five years, going from an offense-dominated league to one heavily influenced by pitching and defense. Run-scoring is at its lowest point since 1992. Come-from-behind home runs no longer cover up poor managerial decision-making at the rate they once did. Those decisions on the margins — giving up an out with a bunt, not using your closer in a tie game on the road — are more important now than they have been in over two decades.

The Phillies, who became the laughingstock of baseball in recent years due to the glacial pace at which they’ve modernized and their public contempt for analytics, would do well to watch how managerial orthodoxy has backfired big time for many participants in the playoffs this year. Ryne Sandberg would have made the same decisions Matt Williams or Mike Matheny would have made. That’s not a defense of orthodoxy; the Phillies should be looking for those edges as should every team. The Phillies should contemplate zigging when others zag.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Jimmy Rollins

We’ve come full circle. My first article for this site was a look at Jimmy Rollins‘ early-season success. It’s fitting, then, that I was (randomly) tasked with evaluating the 14th season of the greatest shortstop in Phillies history. Because of his past performance for this team and a skill set that still plays very well at his position, I expect a lot of Jimmy Rollins, and I know many of you do as well. Overall, I love the way he plays. I love watching him play defense, which he does better than most shortstops in the league. But man, sometimes I hate watching his plate appearances.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Cody Asche

This is where expectations become a little unkind. In absolute terms, Cody Asche‘s not that bad. In 613 plate appearances over two seasons–about a season’s worth of work for a full-time starter–he’s hit .252/.309/.390, very slightly below the National League averages in all three rate categories in that time. Despite obvious comparisons in statue, stance, pigmentation and even uniform number to Chase Utley, Asche lacks the athleticism and defensive instincts Utley used to become one of the greatest defensive second basemen ever, so he’s in a little bit of a tough spot.

You see, being a slightly below-average hitter–and he’s still only 24, so it’s probably uncharitable to say he’ll surely never improve–is fine for a third baseman if you can really pick it, but barring some sort of unforeseen defensive transformation, that’s not the case. The first part of the 2014 season was murder on Asche defensively, and while he wound up being just bad defensively, it was so much worse than that for a long time. Continue reading…

2014 Phillies Report Card: Chase Utley

The story of Chase Utley‘s 2014 season is the story of the fickle nature of our expectations. The instant we silly humans attain what we think we want, we suddenly find ourselves wanting more. Louis C.K. said it best in a bit, “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy,” during which he describes an airplane passenger’s immediate sense of entitlement to a technology — in-flight wireless internet — he didn’t even know existed mere moments prior. Check out the clip below from 1:58-2:30. Continue reading…

The Phillies Should Keep An Eye on Michael Saunders

Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders finally had a breakout year offensively, posting a .346 weighted on-base average. Only one problem: he only took 263 trips to the plate. Saunders had one stint on the disabled list between June 11-27 due to inflammation of the A/C joint in his right shoulder. Then, on July 11, Saunders again went on the disabled list, this time for a strained left oblique. He didn’t return until September 8. Still, he finished out the season strong, putting up a .257/.409/.543 triple slash line in 44 plate appearances.

Saunders showed good plate discipline, drawing walks at a 10 percent rate. He hit for decent power, posting a .177 isolated power, which is nearly 40 points above the major league average for outfielders. Defensively, both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference rated him as slightly above average, which contributed to his WAR range between 2-2.5 — quite good for less than half of a full season.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Maikel Franco

PERSPECTIVE.

What does that word mean to you? From artists to politicians to baseball people, this multifaceted word wields lots of power, and calibrating it properly is critical. As it relates to baseball – and, specifically, Phillies rookie Maikel Franco – perspective is important for realizing exactly what a given thing means at a point in time.

Take Franco, who turned 22 years old just shy of two months ago: a near-consensus top-100 pick (or better!) made his debut for the Phillies this summer and logged 58 plate appearances. By and large, they were not great plate appearances, but this is where that pesky word “perspective” comes into play, full-bore.

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Phillies at a Fork in the Road with the Starting Rotation

The Phillies could head in one of a number of directions during the off-season, depending on whether or not A.J. Burnett decides to return (it seems likely given a recent report), if Kyle Kendrick isn’t brought back, and if GM Ruben Amaro finds an irresistible trade offer for Cole Hamels. Assuming Cliff Lee makes a full recovery from the left elbow injury that cut his 2014 season short, he and David Buchanan could be the anchors of the starting rotation in this circumstance.

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