Let’s Get Excited

On Twitter this afternoon, loyal reader/follower Matt Jedruch (@MattJedruch) sent this to me:

twitter.com/mattjedruch/status/279320051016953857

I get the general impression that, with the disappointing 2012 season and the lack of a big free agent signing or trade, there isn’t that much enthusiasm going into 2013. The bulk of the roster is either aging and injury-prone or young and unproven. Perhaps the malaise of Philadelphia sports in general plays into that as well, since the Eagles and Sixers are depressing and the Flyers aren’t even playing.

I, however, can think of a few reasons to anticipate the return of Phillies pitchers and catchers in just a couple months.

5. Phillippe Aumont

Remember these?

 

A strong argument could be made that Aumont was the most exciting player to watch last season, though it was only for a brief period of time spanning 14.2 innings at the end of the season. He featured a mid-90′s fastball that creeped into the 97-98 MPH range at times, as well as a devastating slurve with about 15 MPH of velocity separation from his fastball. As he did in the Minors, Aumont struggled with control more than you’d like and it is expected to be an issue again in 2013, but the soon-to-be 24-year-old still has plenty of time to figure it out before the Phillies become reliant on his powerful arm.

4. Erik Kratz

A cynic might say that getting excited about a 32-year-old journeyman catcher and a career Minor Leaguer is depressing in and of itself, but Kratz is a great story. The inimitable Sam Miller captured it best at Baseball Prospectus back in September, pointing this out:

As you could imagine, there were plenty of frustrating seasons. Kratz told MiLB.com that he thought about retiring, and he worked construction jobs on the side to support his family. (He shot himself in the hand with a nailgun, but didn’t tell Toronto.) But perhaps the most frustrating year was 2004, which he spent most of on the disabled list—without, he says, an injury.

“I was on the phantom DL every time,” [Kratz] said. “I [mostly] sat in extended [Spring Training]. Just because, the year before, I was up there in the top three or four on the team in almost every offensive category in short-season [ball]. It was a hard time.”

On May 22, the Phillies recalled Kratz from Triple-A. He pinch-hit in that night’s game against the Washington Nationals. In the eighth inning, he hit his first career Major League home run at the age of 31, a solo shot off of lefty Tom Gorzelanny. The Phillies sent him back to Triple-A two days later.

When Brian Schneider was placed on the disabled list at the end of June, the Phillies recalled Kratz to take his place. He played sparingly, but eventually assumed an everyday role when Carlos Ruiz suffered from plantar fasciitis in his foot. Between July 24 and September 5 in a span of 110 trips to the plate, Kratz hit 7 home runs and drove in 21 runs while posting a .296/.345/.592 triple-slash line. 15 of his 29 hits went for extra bases. Ruiz had been the linchpin to the Phillies’ offense all season long, but thanks to Kratz, they didn’t skip a beat when the Panamanian had to go on the disabled list.

Ruiz will miss the first 25 games of the season due to a suspension for testing positive for amphetamines, meaning that Kratz is the heir apparent at the outset. Once on the fast track out of baseball entirely, Kratz may be the Opening Day catcher for one of the most successful teams in baseball in recent years. That’s pretty cool.

3. A Healthy Freddy Galvis

No, Galvis won’t be starting any games. He will likely serve as a late-game defensive substitute for third baseman Michael Young and/or as a pinch-runner, which is a good thing because he can’t hit. Galvis posted a .267 wOBA in 200 PA prior to a season-ending back fracture in June. Only 25 hitters took as many trips to the plate with less offensive success than Galvis. Where Galvis impressed last season, though, was on defense as it seemed like he made a spectacular play on a nightly basis.

Remember, Galvis was brought up as a shortstop with the intent to take over for Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies signed Rollins to a three-year contract extension though, while Chase Utley had to miss the first three months of the season, so Galvis moved a few feet to his left, making a seamless transition. Now, with a presumably healthy middle infield, Galvis fits in as a defensive replacement at yet another position late in games for the defensively-deficient Young, who makes plays like this:

2. Chase Utley

Remember the last time Utley was in the starting lineup on Opening Day? It was 2010 and the Phillies were just returning from a second consecutive World Series appearance. It feels like ages ago. If the baseball gods are kind enough, Utley may find himself back in the #3 spot when the Phillies open against the Braves in Atlanta. Phillies fans everywhere may then rejoice as the second baseman continues what may end up being a Hall of Fame career. With a career 53.3 rWAR and 53.8 fWAR, he could retire right now and there would still be an argument to enshrine him, but there’s no doubt the UCLA product still has plenty of baseball left in him.

No, Utley doesn’t have as much power as he once did, but he still compares favorably to other second basemen. His .173 isolated power last season ranked fourth among all second basemen with at least 350 PA, trailing only Robinson Cano, Aaron Hill, and Ben Zobrist. He was one of ten second basemen with double digits in homers and steals, and he did so in 200-300 fewer PA than players like Omar Infante and Dustin Ackley. Let’s not forget about Utley’s defense, which is still by all accounts above-average. Oh yeah, and his base running. Baseball’s all-time leader in stolen base success rate was 11-for-12 last year with a bad lower half. Hopefully an off-season of rest will put some pep back in his step.

1. The Lefties

It doesn’t get much better than Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. The Phillies lay claim to arguably two of the three best lefties in baseball, the other being Clayton Kershaw. Hamels continued to impress in 2012, finishing with a 3.05 ERA and the fourth-best difference between strikeout and walk rate (19%), behind Max Scherzer, teammate Lee, and NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. In late July, the Phillies ended months of anxiousness by signing Hamels to a six-year, $144 million contract extension, spanning his age 29-34 seasons. The lefty hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down as he has compiled five consecutive seasons of at least 31 starts.

Lee has had a quality run as a Phillie, too, even though it has been split into two sections. In the last two years in red pinstripes, Lee has compiled an aggregate 2.76 ERA over 62 starts with the National League’s best difference between his strikeout and walk rates, at 21 percent. Lee, now 34 years old, looks as good as ever and will make another run at a second career Cy Young award, which would make him the sixth player to win the award in both leagues (also joining teammate Roy Halladay).

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60 comments

  1. hk

    December 15, 2012 08:20 PM

    By your way of thinking, they should only target players no other team wants, so they won’t have to outbid another team. If that’s the case, why did they have to throw Bonilla in the Young deal? Also, why is it okay to outbid other teams – and therefore overpay – for Ross, but not for good players?

  2. Pencilfish

    December 15, 2012 09:59 PM

    That’s over-simplifying what I meant. It’s fine to compete with other teams up to a point. For example, RAJ reportedly stopped bidding for Upton after the price went beyond 5/50, and the Braves signed him for 5/75. His limit for Hamilton was 3/80, and the Angels got him for 5/125.

    If RAJ checked on Sanchez and found out his asking price, he would have come to the same conclusion that I outlined above: sign Sanchez and if Halladay, Utley and/or Ruiz perform well in 2013, he *may* have to let go of one (two?) of them to avoid paying the luxury tax, or limit the flexibility to make a mid-season trade or sign a star FA next winter. Why do that before getting a chance to see if Halladay, Utley and/or Ruiz are still elite? If not, we can find FA replacements next winter. See list of *potential* FA in 2014 below:

    C : Brian McCann
    2B: Robinson Cano, Martin Prado, Ben Zobrist
    OF: Curtis Granderson, Adam Jones, Corey Hart, Nelson Cruz
    SP: Lincecum, Garza, Wainwright, Santana, Johnson

  3. hk

    December 16, 2012 08:31 AM

    PS: Ken Rosenthal reports the Phillies are aggressively pursuing Cody Ross. If true, RAJ is staying true to his off-season theme of avoiding the big FA splash, so maybe no Nick Swisher in South Philly.

    I thought his theme was avoiding good players in FA. Thanks for clarifying.

    Two more pints:

    1. Ben Zobrist is not a free agent. He’s signed to a very team friendly deal through ’15.

    2. If they sign Cody Ross for more than one year, the impact of the Ross and Adams signings will be the same on re-signing Ruiz, Utley and Halladay as would signing one of the top available FA starting pitchers. With Blanton and Worley gone, I think some are underestimating the downgrade from getting ~40 starts next year from Lannan and Cloyd instead of getting them from Blanton and Worley.

  4. hk

    December 16, 2012 08:33 AM

    Points, not pints, although I might need two more pints if they sign Ross to a multi-year deal.

  5. Pencilfish

    December 16, 2012 05:52 PM

    It depends. Sanchez would be on the payroll for 5 years, and I have also taken into account that Young and Lannan get off the books after 2013. If Ross signs on team-friendly terms, this *may* create the flexibility to re-up Utley, Halladay and/or Ruiz.

    See Phillies future payroll obligations here:

    www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/national-league/philadelphia-phillies/

    40 starts between Lannan and Cloyd?! You mean between KK (#4) and Lannan (#5)? Then, it would more like 55 starts, no? Anyway, if Adams and Papelbon lock up the 8th and 9th innings, it would compensate, don’t you think? The 2012 Phillies lost 16 leads they had after the seventh inning. I think this was 2nd worst in MLB. For comparison, the Braves and Nats had a COMBINED 10. I would be more concerned about that than about KK and Lannan, specially if the Phillies can score runs more consistently.

  6. hk

    December 16, 2012 06:16 PM

    You seem to be a moving target, so my response to your first paragraph is…if they sign Ross for more than $6M AAV and more than 1 year, I think that the amount spent on Ross + Adams (> $12M AAV) would have been better spent on getting the best starting pitcher available for that money.

    And, yes, 40 starts between Lannan and Cloyd concerns me. If Hamels and Lee start 33 each and Halladay and Kendrick start 32 each, Lannan and Cloyd will only start 32 between them. I believe that it is likely that the sum of the missed starts by Hamels, Lee, Halladay and KK will be 8 or more, hence 40 starts between Lannan and Cloyd.

    As to your question about Adams, I am concerned about his declining K rate enough to wonder how much he will add in his ~60 innings. In my opinion, he won’t add nearly as much as Edwin Jackson or Kyle Lohse would add in ~200 innings.

  7. Pencilfish

    December 16, 2012 08:28 PM

    Let me put this in a format that’s easier to visualize, assuming Adams earns a 2015 option of 6M, and that Ross signs for 3/24 (which is rumored to be his asking price:

    2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
    Adams 6M 6M 6M 0 0
    Ross 8M 8M 8M 0 0
    Total 14M 14M 14M 0 0

    Sanchez 16M 16M 16M 16M 16M

    Why isn’t Adams+Ross a more flexible approach, specially when considering the last two years? Also, if we sign Sanchez, then what do we do with Biddle, Martin, Pettitbone, etc? Lee is signed through 2016, Hamels through 2018 and KK is controllable through 2014. Remember, we can’t make up our minds about Halladay until at least mid-2013, and if the Phillies exercise his 2014 option AND sign him to an extension (2? 3 years?), then we might as well post a “no vacancy” sign on the pitching rotation until 2015 (if we trade or don’t re-sign KK) or 2016 (when Lee is a FA again).

    Let’s see how much Lohse and Jackson sign for, and then we can take this up again on whether we should sign a (potentially) expensive FA or use our farm system to fill the back of the rotation.

  8. hk

    December 17, 2012 07:21 AM

    It’s not that you’ve made it easier to visualize, it’s just that this is the first time you’ve mentioned anything about 2015 and beyond. Your prior complaint was that, if they signed Sanchez, it would impact their ability to re-sign Ruiz, Utley and Halladay. Now that we agree that the difference in the impact on next off-season of signing Sanchez vs. signing Adams plus Ross is minimal, we can discuss other time periods besides next off-season, which leads to the following views of mine:

    1. A free agent SP plus a low priced OF (i.e. Schierholtz) would provide more value in 2013 than Adams and Ross. This is especially so if the manager would learn the concept of platooning players (JMJ and Schierholtz in this case).

    2. The free agent SP would provide insurance against Halladay declining further or having recurring injury issues as he ages. If the latter happens, we’re either going to see Lannan and Cloyd start > 40 games or the Phils will have to part with assets to acquire another starter. Another way that the free agent SP provides insurance is, if Halladay only has a decent season, the team can part ways with Roy and still have 3 starters signed for next year.

    3. I believe Sanchez, Jackson and Lohse are all > Kendrick, so if (a) they sign / had signed one of them, (b) they extend Halladay after 2013 and (c) one of the kids is ready to burst onto the season, that makes the free agent SP signing a good thing, not a bad thing. It gives them the flexibility to trade the kid(s) to address other areas of need, not re-sign Kendrick or re-sign Kendrick to the swing role. I would never consider too much starting pitching depth (no vacancy) to be a bad thing.

  9. Pencilfish

    December 17, 2012 12:11 PM

    For future reference, when I talk about contracts, I always have future years in mind (part of my real daytime job, too). We cannot consider Sanchez, Lohse or Jackson without thinking about the entire contract. Now to address your points:

    1) You *may* be right, but we won’t know for sure until IF and WHEN the Phillies sign Ross or any other OF.
    We need to know the contract details before making that determination.

    2) Agreed, but signing Sanchez, Lohse or Jackson means we expose the 8th inning again. I imagine you have Bastardo, Aumont, Diekman, Horst, etc for the 7th and 8th innings. The Phillies lost 16 games they led in the 7th inning or later in 2012. Cut that in half, and the Phillies would have overtaken the Cards for a WC-berth in the playoffs. What *evidence* do we have these guys can do that? FYI, I can’t promise you Adams will do that either, but we stand a greater chance of improving the bullpen by adding him to the mix. If we lose another 16 games like that in 2013, it won’t really matter who are the starting pitchers…

    3) I agree Sanchez, Jackson and Lohse are all better than Kendrick, but you have not analyzed how much we would pay per win with these guys. If you did, you *may* find out KK is better VALUE for the $$$. Why think of trading the kid(s) or moving KK to address other areas of need when we can do that now and forgo signing Sanchez, Jackson or Lohse to a multi-year contract?

    Before you protest, I don’t oppose your suggestion per se. You are saying we can win with better starting pitching and less offense and bullpen. RAJ is taking the opposite approach, which is to add more offense and bullpen at the expense of the back end of the rotation. I just think you haven’t yet demonstrated your approach is better than RAJ’s under the current financial constraints. By the same token, RAJ hasn’t demonstrated his approach is better than yours either, but the Phillies had the best pitching in MLB in 2010 and 2011, and we have nothing to show for it. Maybe it’s time to try a new approach.

  10. hk

    December 17, 2012 02:19 PM

    Understood on all of the future years. Originally, you were just talking about next off-season and the impact of contracts on re-signing Ruiz, Utley and Halladay. In that light, I was making the case that signing a SP is the roughly same as signing Adams + Ross. Now, to your points:

    1. If they don’t spend $6M+ for 2+ years on Ross (or another OF that I don’t see as much of an upgrade) because they want financial flexibility for 2014 and beyond, my comparison is irrelevant.

    2. Yes, they lost 16 games in the 8th inning or later. However, a lot of factors went into those losses that makes that 16 not necessarily predictive of the bullpen’s 2013 performance. One factor is that 6 of those losses were by Papelbon. Another is that a number of pitchers who lost those games (Blanton in his one relief appearance, Qualls, Herndon, et al) are off the roster. A third factor is that the Phils seemed to have an abnormally high number of extra inning road games this year, a situation that puts them at an extreme disadvantage because of Charlie’s sub-optimal bullpen use. The OPS produced by batters facing the Phillies bullpen last year was .693 last year placing their bullpen in the middle of the league and the middle of MLB. When you extract Chad Qualls from the equation, the number gets better. Adams should help, and he will help if they get the 2008-2011 version, but how much help he’ll give in ~60 innings remains to be seen? On the other hand, if last year’s decline in K rate and 3.27 ERA is the beginning of a downward trend for Adams, he might not be an upgrade at all over this year’s Qualls-less bullpen.

    3. It’s not so much how much more valuable the SP (Sanchez, Jackson or Lohse) is than Kendrick that concerns me, it’s how much more valuable he is than Lannan or Cloyd in 2013 and how much more valuable he is than Biddle or Kendrick or Pettibone in 2014 and beyond. In the case of the 29 year old Sanchez, who has been worth 12 fWAR over the past 3 seasons, I think the upgrade would justify the salary.

    If Halladay returns to form in a way that makes re-signing him for 2014 and beyond a serious consideration, I believe that the Phils will / would have a better shot at making the 2013 playoffs with a rotation that includes that SP joining Hamels, Lee, good Halladay and Kendrick than with Lannan or Cloyd in the rotation + Ross in the OF + Adams in the bullpen. For 2014, if the Phils re-signed Halladay, they would have the flexibility to not re-sign Kendrick, to use Biddle and/or Pettibone out of the bullpen to keep their innings down or to trade Biddle and/or Pettibone to address another need. It would also give them cover in case Biddle and Pettibone don’t pan out.

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