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.
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.
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.
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).
So forget the Ryan Dempsters, Edwin Jacksons, and even Shaun Marcums on the market. They will sign for at least two – maybe three – years, given the demand. The Phillies are looking for a one-year deal having already invested $71.75 million in 2013 salary for their four starting pitchers.
No, there won’t be a fourth ace to bring back memories of 2010, but there are still some quality arms available that could be very helpful to the Phillies in 2013. Here’s a big ol’ table full of potential targets, showing data from 2010-12. I’ve taken the liberty of excluding some unlikely names, such as Aaron Cook, Brett Myers, and Roy Oswalt.
I’ve mentioned Carlos Villanueva before, and he still looks pretty good compared to others in the same tier of pitching. He has under-performed his peripherals over his career due to a propensity to allow home runs. These heat maps shouldn’t be surprising:
Aside from that, Villanueva has great, underrated stuff. He leads the above free agent class in K%-BB% as well as SIERA. SIERA is very good at predicting future success for pitchers, so as long as Villanueva continues what he’s done recently, the results should catch up with the performance sooner rather than later.
Another interesting name on the list is Jeff Karstens. Having spent his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, his transformation into replacement-level dreck into average starter has gone mostly unnoticed. 2012 was his biggest stride forward as the right-hander boosted his strikeout rate to a career-high 18 percent and his walk rate down to a career-low four percent. In fact, his aggregate sub-five percent walk rate from 2010-12 is the lowest in the aforementioned table.
Oddly, over 26 percent of batted balls put in play against Karstens were line drives, a ridiculous rate. It was the second-highest total among pitchers with at least 90 innings pitched, behind Mike Fiers at 28 percent. Typically, Karstens has an even split of ground and fly balls — he is very Kyle Kendrick-esque in nature (Kendrick circa 2012, anyway).
Of course, the Phillies could always go with a #4-5 of Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd. Despite a 4.91 ERA, Cloyd pitched well in a small sample between the end of August and the end of the regular season, striking out 22 percent of the batters he faced while walking five percent. However, because nearly one in every two batted balls was put in the air, Cloyd allowed eight home runs in 33 innings.
Cloyd will not be able to rely on missing bats to succeed at the Major League level. This was former contributor Bradley Ankrom’s scouting report from back in August:
Unless the Phillies reach for an over-the-hill veteran like Kevin Millwood, it won’t be hard for them to grab an arm that can put up an ERA in the 3.75-4.25 range and solidify the back end of the rotation on the cheap. Villanueva and Karstens, at this moment, seem to be the best bets, but the Phillies have shown already this off-season that they are willing to go beyond the obvious.
Can’t make that up. Domonic Brown was once the Phillies’ top prospect and one they safeguarded in deals for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt, but with some unfortunate injuries and a lack of organizational commitment to his playing time and development, his stock has fallen off of the veritable cliff. Alfonso Soriano bounced back from a rough 2011 season, posting a .350 wOBA with the Chicago Cubs last season.
Heyman indicates that the Cubs would pay for all but $10 million of Soriano’s $38 million remaining salary which takes him through 2014. It sounds nice — a player who is coming off of a .350 wOBA season for two years at $10 million — but Brown will have significantly more value to the Phillies in the future. Brown doesn’t become eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season, which means that the Phillies will have him under control for slightly more than the Major League minimum for another two years. Then, after that, Brown’s salary will scale according to his production or he could agree to a multi-year extension. Kyle Kendrick, for example, earned $2.45 million 2011 in his first year of arbitration eligibility, then agreed to a two-year, $7.5 million extension with the Phillies prior to the start of last season.
Essentially, if Brown pans out to be the prospect everyone thought he would be, the Phillies will be happy to compensate him. If Brown is a dud, as others expect, then he won’t earn as much money. In giving up Brown for Soriano, the Phillies are forgoing the opportunity to reap what they’ve sown in Brown, who is still young (25) with plenty of potential, an asset that could prove to be quite valuable over the next five seasons. In return, they would be gambling on a 37-year-old corner outfielder for the next two seasons.
The Phillies put themselves in this position, though. There were several opportunities to give Brown regular and even semi-regular playing time over the years, but they left him in Triple-A when he had nothing else to gain, then he was injured. He suffered from a quad injury in 2010, then had his hamate bone broken in March 2011, which sapped him of his power for a while. All told, Brown has 492 plate appearances spread out over three seasons, an average of 164 per season. In that span of time, however, Brown has shown some good signs — he has had as much power as Carlos Ruiz (both have a .152 ISO since 2010) and the third-best walk rate behind the now-departed Jayson Werth and Chase Utley.
Brown has his flaws too: he strikes out too much (fourth-highest rate since 2010) and has not looked comfortable in either outfield corner defensively. But is Soriano really any better in that regard, and are the Phillies’ needs so immediate that they must salvage Brown now rather than continuing to let him grow? This recent bit of news, along with manager Charlie Manuel‘s recent comments about Brown…
You know something, for me to say — I think I’m sending a bad message if I say that I don’t want them [Brown and Darin Ruf]. […]
… as well as the entire history surrounding the Phillies’ handling of Brown over the years, it does seem like a divorce is inevitable. Brown very well may be better off in another organization, but he is still a great asset to the team at the moment nonetheless, and certainly worth more to the organization going forward than Alfonso Soriano.
Lisalverto Bonilla. That would have been fun to say seventy times a season for the next half dozen years. Instead, the diminutive Dominican is taking his interesting prospect profile and Grade-A moniker to the Texas Rangers system as part of the Michael Young trade. While all sorts of hullabaloo (I had to spell check “hullabaloo”) has been focused on what the Phillies might be able to get out of Young, I’d like to poke my head into the discussion and educate everyone about what the Phillies gave up. For me, Bonilla is the principle return in the deal because Lindblom’s fly ball rates terrify me. I have a feeling that the fat kid who always seems to be the first one in the batter’s eye in Arlington will add a few souvenirs to his collection courtesy of Lindblom’s fastball. I’ll be quick here, since the guy isn’t going to be playing for the team you root for anymore.
Lisalverto Bonilla is a 22 year old Dominican righty who stands an unimpressive 6’1” and weighs in at a slender 164lbs. He really accelerates his arm well, though it comes through late and his mechanics are difficult to repeat. Bonilla’s frame is small enough that evaluators have concern about his ability to hold up under a starter’s workload. The Phillies (who are hard pressed to give up on anyone as a starter until they absolutely have to, which I love) conceded this and moved Bonilla into the bullpen for the 2012 season.
Bonilla’s repertoire is interesting enough that Texas, a franchise that is not interested in babying pitchers, may try to move him back to the rotation and see how things shake out. Bonilla pitches with a fastball in the low 90s that I’ve seen touch 94mph but reports say he’s kissed higher. Bonilla compliments that with a changeup that is comfortably plus. He maintains his arms speed and generates terrific action on the pitch. He’ll get swings and misses with it in the big leagues. Third pitch status belongs to a mediocre (that might be generous) slider. It will flash average but not consistently so. That would need an uptick if Bonilla was going to have any chance to transition into a rotation.
More than likely, Bonilla is going to fit nicely in a middle relief role in Texas after another year and change in the minors. He’s pitched well in the in pro ball to this point and would have represented the Phillies in the Futures Game this past season if he hadn’t sustained a…uh….self inflicted hand injury the night….er…a…morning before the game. It was reported that he was “rough housing.” The only concerns I have are that he struggles to throw strikes due to the delivery and maybe has issues generating downhill plane which could lead to lots of flyballs in a home park that doesn’t forgive that sort of thing.. He’s a nice little arm, one of about eight the Phillies have from Double-A on up who’d still need to pay an underage fee to rent a car. They traded from surplus. Not a huge loss.
Young has been debating whether or not to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Phillies, weighing — as Jon Heyman put it — professional vs. personal, as his family lives in Texas. Should the trade go through, the Phillies would push Kevin Frandsen back to the bench, giving the veteran the lion’s share of the playing time at third base.
Despite the awful 2012, Young entered the season having posted at least two Wins Above Replacement in six of his previous seven seasons, so there is the hope that last year was simply a fluke. However, there isn’t much historical precedent for older players rebounding after an awful season. Additionally, Young hasn’t played regularly at third base since 2010, accruing 40 games at the hot corner in 2011 and 25 in 2012, spending most of his time at first base and DH. When he was at third base, he was — well, less than impressive defensively. The video below was posted by commenter EricL, calling Young’s defense “Wiggintonesque”, referring to the second at-bat featured in the clip.
There were very few options available for the Phillies to address their third base situation, however, so Young was their top target in a weak market. Along with the recently-acquired Ben Revere, the Phillies will have surprisingly made two trades this off-season and zero free agent signings to date. With the Rangers expected to take on at least half of Young’s remaining $16 million salary, the Phillies still have the financial flexibility to make one or two big free agent signings. The Phillies have been looking at corner outfielders and starting pitchers since acquiring Revere on Thursday.
The winter meetings are over. Nate Schierholtz is kaput. Ben Revere and his OBP almost being higher than his slugging percentage are on the way. Michael Young and his clubhouse integrity hustle whatever were almost on the way. Part of me expects to see the Phillies trot out 25 of the claw machine aliens from Toy Story next season. Which would be adorable, and only slightly less effective from a baseball standpoint than an infield that includes Ryan Howard and Michael Young.
We start with one that I meant to answer last week.
@aisflat439: “should I move to Houston and buy season tickets now or can I wait until 2015? #singleton“
Where are you moving from?
“it would be as a Philly expat.”
Interesting. Well, from a strictly baseball standpoint, you might actually have a point. I’ve long wondered if it’s better to root for process or results. Is it more fulfilling as a fan to cheer for a team like the Giants or Phillies that kind of gropes around like Tom Cruise after the eye replacement surgery in Minority Report, stumbling upon 90-win seasons and World Series appearances in spite of overwhelming evidence that the franchise is run by a junta of YouTube commenters on quaaludes? Or is it more fulfilling to cheer for a team like the Blue Jays or Athletics, with a progressive, creative front office and no real chance of being a consistent contender anytime soon. Essentially, would you be happier being happy, or would you be happier if you were unhappy but got to be all jaded and righteously indignant about it?
Yeah, me to. I’d pick the Astros.
But surely jumping on a team’s bandwagon doesn’t require actually moving there. I know this because the population of Massachusetts didn’t balloon to 150 million upon the release of Fever Pitch. And now I’ve reminded myself of that movie’s existence.
Anyway. Actually moving to Houston is an interesting plan. I’ve never been there, or even to Texas, but I know that there’s no state income tax, and that in my experience, Texans seem to be a uniformly attractive group of people. So there’s that. However, there’s the heat, which is oppressive, and Rick Perry seems not to be the most forward-thinking governor currently working. Though to be fair, Tom Corbett ain’t exactly George Washington either. So really, if you like the heat, by all means, move to Houston.
@Major_Hog: “Why is Kevin James allowed to make movies?”
It’s a free country, man. You want your “democracy” and your “free speech?” You have to pay the price. And that price is a steady dose of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. I will say that such considerations won’t matter when I’m dictator of the world.
But in all seriousness, I really loved Kevin James in Hitch. That’s an all-time favorite pint-of-ice-cream and bottle-of-wine romcom for me.
@hdrubin: “Who makes the MLB Twitter All-Star team?”
A fine question. I don’t follow very many baseball players, because they tend to be boring. For instance, I follow a bunch of baseball players who seem like really nice guys, and while following them on Twitter will probably make you like them better, it won’t change your life. Denard Span, the dearly and recently departed Vance Worley and, yes, Jackie Bradley are among these. But we’re talking about ballplayers who have alternate off-field interests, for instance, or do something more interesting than make sneakily misogynistic jokes and, well, act generally like the guys from the baseball team at your high school. Those are relatively few. Even Marlins outfielder Logan Morrison‘s legendary Twitter account has kind of taken a turn for the Men’s Humor of late, which is sad.
But as far as really worthwhile baseball player follows go, there aren’t many. C.J. Wilson of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of California does come off as the guy who gets up in front of the class and gives a report on the benefits of organic rabbit farming. But he also spends a lot of time around racetracks, so you get a lot of cool car talk. Which, if you’re seven years old on the inside, like I am, is worth a follow.
But yeah, the real queen mother of all baseball player twitter accounts is that of free agent pitcher Brandon McCarthy. First of all, it takes some serious personality to take a line drive off the noggin and then turn an image macro of the event into your Twitter avatar. I’d follow him based on content alone. There probably aren’t many other athletes I’d say that about.
@natleamer: “Is Benjamin Revere the most patriotic baseball player in history?”
Yeah, okay, be impressed by some weak amalgamation of two Revolutionary War figures when there’s a legitimate Founding Father actually playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.
In no way is Ben Revere more patriotic than, say…Grover Cleveland Alexander. Or John Hale? I’d call Nathan Hale far more of a patriot than Paul Revere. And John Hancock? John Paul Jones? If we’re playing Lego Patriot, we can do better than Ben Revere.
But I chose to answer this question not because I wanted to answer the question but because I wanted to say this: you have…let’s call it until 9 a.m. on Monday to make your Paul Revere/Ben Revere jokes. I was going to say that at that point, they’ll be officially old, but they’ve been old and unfunny for years already. So I’ll let y’all have your fun for the weekend, but at 9:01 a.m., Eastern time, anyone who makes a Ben Revere joke and expects it to be received as funny will be sent to France to dig for truffles with his nose from now until the end of time. Forever and ever, world without end, amen.
@MichaelJBlock: “Does Michael Young make more or less sense than Raul Ibanez did in 2009?”
Less sense. You see, Michael Young is a former batting champion who’s played all four infield positions. But the thing is, he’s kind of bad now. I will now demonstrate this through the Socratic method.
“Bad?” you ask. “But he hit .277 last year. A .277 batting average isn’t bad.”
And that’s true, but he doesn’t walk. His OBP was only .312.
“Ah, but you can get over a .312 OBP to have a respectable offensive season if you hit for power.”
They are. But both of them play up-the-middle positions. Young played mostly first base (41 games) and DH (72) last year, where the demand for offensive production to be above replacement level is much, much higher.
“But Young also played 20 games in the middle infield, where he’s spent much of his career.”
True, but he wasn’t even a good defender there when he was in his 20s. Kipnis and Andrus are both very good defenders.
“So what do you get with a middling batting average, no patience, no power, no defense and an exile largely to first base?”
Well I’d call that the second-worst full-time player in baseball last year.
Now, Young did hit .333/.371/.423 last year against left-handed pitching, and considering the serious platoon issues facing Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the later stages of their careers, Young could provide some value as a bench bat, so long as he’s not expected to play the field very often. And believe you me, I’ll have a vial of sodium thiopental handy for when he does.
At least Ibanez, at the time, looked like he’d be at least a mediocre corner outfielder. And you know what? He was being paid like a starter, but if the Phillies really do only give up a replacement-level reliever and a low-minors youngster, and the Rangers pay most of Young’s salary…no, I’m sorry, almost all of Young’s salary, then I can live with giving Young some time as a bench or platoon player.
@pinvert: “so is cloyd now in the rotation at the start of the season? eeep”
You know what? Cloyd isn’t very good, but he throws a lot of strikes and stands to give the Phillies about 150 innings of replacement-level starting pitching. Which, if memory serves, is about what we expect from Kyle Kendrick every year, so I’m cool with that. You don’t have to be very good to be a passable back-end starter.
So here’s the rub–Hamels/Lee/Halladay is still a formidable 1-2-3, but the fourth starter would still, if you’re lucky enough to make the playoffs, start a playoff game. Now, it’s not inconceivable that the Phillies would go out and sign a veteran No. 4 in the offseason, or make a trade midseason, as they did for Joe Blanton to fill that role in 2008, but as of right now, the guy they have to go up against, say…Ryan Vogelsong or Dan Haren in Game 4 of the NLCS is Kyle Kendrick. And who knows? Maybe Kendrick has reinvented himself and is now a competent starting pitcher, but I’m not putting all of my hypothetical eggs in that basket if I’m Ruben Amaro.
That said, if I were Ruben Amaro, I’d either have Albert Pujols at first base or $25 million to go splurge on Zack Greinke this offseason. But c’est la guerre. The point is, Cloyd is an acceptable No. 5 starter, but the back end of the rotation, for the first time since 2007 or so, is a place where the Phillies stand to improve.
@DrakeCCampbell: “which team should I root for until RAJ is fired”
A kindred spirit to our would-be Houstonite, I see.
If you can get over the 1993 World Series…okay, I know that sounds ridiculous, so I’ll try to give a more concrete meaning. Emotionally, of course I still carry the scars of that World Series, but I’ve learned to enjoy that season for what it was: a glorious, hilarious aberration that led the Phillies to their best season, by far, for 10 years in either direction. So while Joe Carter‘s home run was itself heartbreaking, time and perspective have allowed me to forgive the Blue Jays for what they did to us.
So anyway, if you’re about where I am, the Blue Jays are the obvious answer. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but in hockey and football, I have attachments to non-Philadelphia teams for personal reasons. If that’s the case for you, like if you went to college at Michigan State and knew a lot of Tigers fans there and you went to Comerica Park a few times, for instance, then that’s your obvious bandwagon to hop on. The “hometown team,” such as there was, at my college, was the Atlanta Braves. So that’s not exactly an option for me. But it might be for you.
But assuming you have no outstanding attachments other than to the Phillies, the Blue Jays are a great neutral’s favorite. They have perhaps the best uniform set in the game, particularly this gorgeous blue alternate. They have a robust online fan community. They have, in Brett Lawrie, Anthony Gose and Travis D’Arnaud, a plethora of exciting young players who are either contributing now or will contribute soon. The Jose Reyes/Mark Buehrle/Josh Johnson trade has brought them into a new era of contention going forward–those robust internet fans are nittering with glee and optimism right now, insofar as Canadians nitter with optimism about anything other than Dave Foley and Rush.
If you’re a Blue Jays fan, you get to root for an exciting, creative front office for a change. And you get to root against the Red Sox and Yankees thirty-eight times a year. Thirty-eight times! The prospect of that got me so excited just now that I tried to spell “thirty” with a “g.” True story.
You know what? Screw you guys. I might just become a Blue Jays fan anyway.
@buttbutt: “do you prefer orange juice with pulp or with no pulp?”
@buttbutt: “do you snore? wet the bed? toss and turn in your sleep?”
I dunno, but that’s definitely a still from his upcoming movie! Squee!
Okay, that’s my one. In the spirit of the Ben Revere jokes, by the start of next week we’re going to have to either stop making Ender jokes or make better ones. So, like, if he gets a Wolf Pack-like fan following here, and it’s called Dragon Army, that’s acceptable. But if you make an Ender Inciarte joke and the punchline is “Ender’s game,” that’s not. Everyone’s made that joke already. Remember what I said about the truffles and your nose and my being the dictator of the world.
But seriously, he’s supposed to be a good defender, good runner with a decent arm and some patience, potentially a useful player indeed, plus he’s only 22, so unlike such Rule 5 luminaries as Michael Martinez, he stands to improve markedly in the coming years. The issue is, he has only half a season at high-A ball, and the odds of skipping AA and AAA and hitting the ground running the big leagues are slim. As in, nobody does it. Okay, Albert Pujols did it, but if this kid were Albert Pujols, I don’t think the Diamondbacks would have left him off their 40-man roster.
Anyway, if he’s a good defender and he can run, he can be useful off the bench even if he doesn’t hit all that much, which offers late-inning substitution possibilities for Darin Ruf, Laynce Nix or Ryan Howard. But between him and Ben Revere, the Phillies now have two good defensive center fielders who don’t offer much, if anything, with the bat. If he even makes it out of big-league camp.
@tigerbombrock: “of the remaining available guys, including trades, who do you want for outfield and third?”
I could stand a contract for Nick the Swish. He could play a competent defensive outfield corner and get on base, plus negate some of the insane platoon issues the Phillies have with Howard, Mayberry, and maybe Brown and Ruf, depending on what we see out of them. For third base, I’ve said it before, but the cupboard is so bare there that I am 100 percent comfortable entering the season with Kevin Frandsen as the everyday starter and playing mix-and-match from there. There is just no value to be had there, either via trade or free agency. And to those of you who invoke the cursed name of Chase Headley…how eager you must be to repeat the mistakes of the Hunter Pence trade.
We end with one from the boss.
HAHAHAHAHA. No, but seriously.
@CrashburnAlley: “rank the top 5 inventions of the 2000’s”
iPhone/iPod/iPad. The MP3 player and the PDA were certainly not unheard-of in the 1990s, but from a consumer standpoint, our daily lives have been changed immeasurably by the proliferation of miniaturized personal electronic devices. Now we take everything everywhere, and not only can we access information and files–and be accessed by others, by the way–wherever we go, but we expect that. In 2000 I thought it was a big deal that I had a portable CD player that I could take everywhere, with my 15 tracks’ worth of dcTalk or whatever. Now, I have a 160 GB iPod that I dutifully load up with the latest episode of a dozen internet radio programs I subscribe to, but more on that later. And if I can’t get the latest Marek vs. Wyshsynski onto Jarome iGinla (I named my iPod that, because it starts with the letter “i” and it’s something that’s black that was traditionally white) before I head out the door, it ruins my day. Imagine that. I used to listen to broadcast radio all the time, and now, if I have to sit through 30 minutes of it in my car on the way to and from work, instead of a podcast that I control, it ruins my day.
I was actually working at a technology magazine when the iPad came out, and I said out loud at the time: “That looks so stupid–why would anyone buy the world’s largest, most unwieldy iPod Touch?” But there’s an invention that’s changed the way we consume media–movies, television, books, the internet, board games, you name it. It’s brought to fruition the touch-screen reality we assumed, until 2004 or so, was something from science fiction.
Web 2.0. By this I mean the democratization of content creation and publishing. Until the late 1990s, publishing was an almost entirely centralized affair, save for some indie filmmakers and Usenet nerds who toiled in obscurity. But now anyone can start a blog; write and publish an ebook; write, record, press and publish a record or make a movie. And share it instantly with anyone in the world with a computer and a broadband connection. Fifteen years ago, to do what I do now, here, for free and in my spare time, I’d have needed to work for Sports Illustrated. Now, there’s more information, more analysis, more voices, and they are better organized and more easily accessible. Knowledge is cheaper now, by orders of magnitude, than at any point in human history. And I’m not talking about the Renaissance–I’m talking about, like, 1996. And it’s a shame that more people don’t appreciate that, because if they did, we could all be getting smarter and better-informed at a truly astonishing rate. To say nothing of breaking the stranglehold on knowledge and influence previously held by those who owned the printing presses or the movie studios. That’s probably not strictly a 2000s invention, but it’s been in that time that blogging, YouTube and social media have all gained mainstream acceptance.
AbioCor Artificial Heart. This was the first fully-implantable artificial heart. So while humans can now survive catastrophic organ failure thanks to implants from organ donors, if we can make hearts, kidneys, livers, and so on out of plastic, rubber and metal, or grow new organs from cloned cells, it would change the way we live. This heart, which required no external tubes, batteries or pumps, represents the first step toward that.
SpaceShip One. Because our government appears to have entirely abdicated its mandate to seek out new worlds and explore space, it’s good to see that someone is invested in keeping space from becoming a haven for those damned Russians and Chinese. Much as I hate to trust private industry with a public good, it’s better than nothing. Plus Burt Rutan was involved and he’s awesome.
Wawa Hoagiefest. I don’t think this needs any further explanation.
We’re a little shorter than usual this week, but in case you’re left with time to kill, here’s a video of a bunch of Ukrainian guys sitting by the pool and playing “Highway to Hell” on accordion. Have a pleasant weekend, everyone.
The Phillies traded for center fielder Ben Revere yesterday. It was met with mixed reactions, and was surprisingly not split along the usual traditional/Sabermetric divide. Those of us, such as myself, in favor of the deal cited Revere’s youth, relative cheapness, and promotion of financial flexibility. Those against the deal cited Vance Worley‘s value, Trevor May‘s upside, and Revere’s mediocre offensive abilities.
The last item is particularly interesting to me because it is easily the most-cited reason for disliking the deal, and I don’t buy it. In past years, the Phillies have acquired light-hitting, defensively-capable players as part of their approach and it generally worked out. Placido Polanco joined the team after the 2009 season and more than lived up to his three-year, $18 million deal, despite posting an aggregate .306 wOBA (the NL average third baseman ranged between .312 and .318 in those three years). Looking back, the only option at the time that would have panned out better for the Phillies was Adrian Beltre, and even then, that’s only if all other things are held equal (butterfly effect and such).
The Phillies went to the World Series in 2009 as shortstop Jimmy Rollins posted a .312 wOBA, his lowest since 2003. It was the start of a three-year-long decline for Rollins, held up mostly by injuries. Remember Pedro Feliz? The third baseman who preceded Polanco posted a .305 wOBA, but the Phillies reached the World Series in both years he was a part of the roster.
That being said, the Phillies’ offenses of yesteryear could afford to have a mediocre hitter at the bottom of the lineup because they had Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jayson Werth in the primes of their careers. Howard and Utley took a combined 654 trips to the plate in 2012, normally a full season for either player. Because of their injuries — Howard with a torn Achilles and Utley with patellar chondromalacia — the Phillies had to give their at-bats to vastly inferior players, including:
The Phillies gave 674 PA to the aforementioned dreck instead of a healthy Utley and Howard. When fans clamor that the Phillies need offense badly, they are talking about yesterday’s offense and not tomorrow’s offense. Utley and Howard may not be in the primes of their careers, but having them back for mostly-full seasons will do wonders for the Phillies’ offense. Add in one or two more free agent signings or trade acquisitions, and you have a team that could reclaim the NL East crown in 2013.
We also have to adjust our expectations when looking at the past because league-wide, run-scoring has declined. The average NL team scored 4.76 runs per game in 2006, then declined to 4.71, 4.54, 4.43, 4.33, and 4.13 in the next five years before rebounding slightly to 4.22 in 2012. The difference of a half-run per game between 2007-12, over 162 games, is about 87 runs. As an example, Jayson Werth‘s 2008 triple-slash line of .273/.363/.498 turns into .264/.354/.484 when neutralized in a 2012 run environment. Who had an .838 OPS in 2008? Raul Ibanez. That’s the impact of the decline in offense in recent years.
Revere’s .300 wOBA in 2012 tied with Ichiro Suzuki for the 51st-worst out of 57 qualified outfielders in 2012, and was 27 points below the MLB average for outfielders. However, it still seems like we haven’t mentally adjusted for the change in offense. For fans that still think run scoring is at similar levels to 2008, Revere looks worse as the average outfielder then had a .338 wOBA.
Then there’s the issue of properly evaluating speed and defense. While Sabermetrics have made some headway into objectively evaluating defense, there are still many areas upon which to improve. The methodology behind UZR is flawed and needs several years of data to become reliable anyway, while other statistics have their own shortcomings and sample size issues. The most intellectually-honest statement we can make about a player’s defense is that he is with a certain range of runs above or below average for his specific position. Oftentimes, that range, or margin of error, will be so hilariously large as to dilute the point entirely.
So there’s the instinct, at that point, to set all defensive contributions to zero and move on. If we can’t evaluate it properly, why evaluate it at all? The problem is that method, hilariously enough, grossly rewards terrible fielders, grins at mediocrity, and unfairly punishes great fielders. Thus, we see Revere’s uninspiring triple-slash line, get disappointed, then we refuse to even give him credit for his greatest strength.
But there’s more. Revere’s value also lies in two areas that don’t show up in the stats: youth and contract control. Revere turns 25 years old on May 3. To put that in perspective, Domonic Brown turned 25 back in September, and most of us are more than willing to grant him plenty of leash, so to speak. Is .294/.333/.342 his ceiling? Perhaps, but most 24-year-olds don’t reach their ceiling the following year. Revere’s career .278/.319/.323 triple-slash line in 1,064 PA is not that much different than Michael Bourn‘s was at the same point — in 2008-09, his first two full seasons spanning 1,073 PA, his triple-slash was .261/.325/.348. In the last three seasons, Bourn’s triple-slash has been .279/.346/.376 in a lower run environment.
Moreover, Revere earned $492,500 last season. He will get a slight raise going into 2013, then enters his first year of arbitration entering 2014. As he’s a “Super Two” player, the Phillies will have to go to arbitration with him through 2017, barring a contract extension at any time during. Revere was worth 2.4 rWAR and 3.4 fWAR in 2012. Even if he improves only incrementally, he will be worth every penny the Phillies pay him between now and when they would consider trading him.
Whether the Vance Worley and Trevor May pairing was too steep a price to pay for Revere is a separate discussion. To summarize, it doesn’t seem like Revere is being given enough credit for his assets, and is being graded too harshly for his flaws. An average player will post 2 wins above replacement, and that is an important point to consider. Average players are very valuable, even if the connotation of the word “average” is valueless. Of the 265 non-pitchers to have taken at least 300 trips to the plate in 2012, only 129 (48.7%) posted at least 2 WAR according to Baseball Reference. When you also consider the survivorship bias, it is easy to see why Revere isn’t a scrub, but rather a very undervalued asset.
The Phillies made a Rule 5 pick today, selecting left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder, Ender Inciarte, from the Arizona Diamondbacks. I had no idea who the hell that was. Alas, I promised to write up whomever the Phillies were to select. So, I have for you a little diddy on Inciarte based on the opinions of a few sources (some public, some private) and a little derived from what I could surmise via video I found online.
Ender Inciarte is a 21 year-old Venezuelan outfielder with some interesting tools but potentially crippling deficiencies. Mostly, at just 5’11” and 160lbs, he’s limited by a small frame that doesn’t produce any power. He is not strong with that bat at all. It often looks as though a good fastball will knock the bat out of his hands. This is not only an issue for power but also creates problems with making strong, line drive contact that, you know, produces base hits. Whether or not there’s projection left in the body (the ability to add strength may help him overcome that stuff) remains to be seen. I’ve got to see Inciarte in person to evaluate that to my liking. His lack of physicality also plays a role in his ability to get on base at the highest of stage of competition. Sure, Inciarte posted an impressive .376 OBP between two levels last year, but he’s now thrust into the Major Leagues. Big league arms aren’t going to pitch around the guy with 20 raw power. They’re going to attack him with strikes. Less balls to take means less walks and more putting the ball in play, weakly, which means more outs.
Defensively is where Inciarte shines. He covers a ton of ground thanks to plus legs and reports I’m getting say he’s got enough raw ability with the glove to stick in CF. I got conflicting reports about the refinement of his skills out there, however. Those legs will come in handy on the bases, too. I don’t like minor league numbers at all, especially at the low levels where Inciarte spent 2012, but he stole 46 bases in 58 tries last year. That’s about an 80% success rate.
Now the question is, “will he stick?” Remember, Rule 5 rules state that the player has to be placed on your 25 man roster for the duration of the season, lest he be returned to his original club. There are ways to circumvent that rule. Inciarte could “get hurt” at some point and have nice, long periods of rehab in the minors like Lendy Castillo did last year. If the Phillies have room to stash Inciarte on the active roster as a defensive replacement for the entire 2013 season, then send him back to the minors to see if the bat develops, that’s just fine. With the news that just broke regarding Ben Revere, I’m not sure it’ll happen. There are tools with which to work. I’ll be watching.
Multiple sources confirmed to MLB.com this morning the Phillies have acquired outfielder Ben Revere in a trade with the Minnesota Twins. It is unclear who the Phillies have sent to the Twins as part of the trade, but the Twins have been looking for pitching.
Revere, 25 years old in May, has a career .287 wOBA in 1,064 trips to the plate, but he is more valuable than he appears at first glance. He becomes eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2013 season, which means he will be cheap and under team control through 2017. You’re looking at the Phillies’ center fielder of the future, barring any future transactions. Additionally, he plays excellent defense and runs the bases very well (74 steals in 93 attempts, 80%). The hope is that Revere’s offense improves with time, and there will be plenty of that.
Many were hoping for the Phillies to get Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton, but trading for Revere was sensible by comparison. Rather than committing millions of dollars to players in their 30’s, the Phillies got a cost-controlled outfielder that represents very little in the way of risk with plenty of upside.
That being said, the Phillies did pay a price. They sold low on Worley, who is coming off of a bad season besmirched by an elbow injury. The right-hander was solid for the Phillies in 2011, posting a 3.01 ERA. Overall, in 277.2 innings, he has a 3.92 SIERA, which speaks of a reliable arm to have in the middle of a rotation.
May was, even to the seconds leading up to the trade, considered a top prospect in the Phillies’ system. Some of that speaks to the dearth of talent in the system, but May still showed flashes of a Major League-quality arm. The Phillies sold low on him as well after a disappointing 2012 in which he posted a 4.87 ERA with Double-A Reading. His strikeout rate declined precipitously and he still had not shown marked improvement in his control. Eric Longenhagen wrote a report on May back in October, concluding:
May’s ceiling is mostly the same (folks, I saw 96mph, a plus curve and a plus change at various times this year. A mid-rotation starter is in there somewhere and it’s still his ceiling) but the chances he gets there are now minute.
The trade will likely be framed, by fans and analysts, in the terms “won” and “lost”, but it’s not quite as simple as that. If this is what it took, at a time when center field options were quickly being taken off the board, to get Revere, then the Phillies did well to get a player who will not hamstring them financially while providing plenty in the way of talent and upside. Additionally, by not spending lots of money on a free agent center fielder, the Phillies have the freedom to go after free agents at other positions, such as Nick Swisher for right field.
Sending Worley away means that the Phillies, at the outset, will go into 2013 with a starting rotation that includes the usual Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay, but also Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd as well. That back-end of the rotation could spell trouble going forward, so it will be interesting to see if the Phillies go after free agent starter. The list of remaining free agent starters is small and mostly uninspiring, but does have names such as Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, and Kyle Lohse. An unheralded, relatively cheap player to think about is Carlos Villanueva as well.
When the Phillies are done making moves, it will be interesting to compare what they’ve done to what they could have done. For example, are they better with a rotation that includes Worley and an outfield with an expensive free agent than they are now with Revere and perhaps a new starting pitcher? The difference is smaller than one would expect, and it’s why this trade should be, at least for now, applauded.
Ruben Amaro Jr. may have nurtured a bit of a reputation for offseason ostentatiousness, but there didn’t seem to be much room for it entering this offseason. The Phillies’ needs were obvious enough: outfielders, likely two, one of which a centerfielder, and a serviceable third base solution. The market at both positions was similarly straightfoward, with a few headliners like Hamilton, Bourn, B.J. Upton, and Angel Pagan available at centerfield, Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera, and some lesser names in the corners, and some decidedly slim pickings at third base. Circumstances seemed primed for an offseason that would grow more predictable as a few big pieces found their new homes.
So it’s been interesting to watch many of the obvious free agent targets come off the board as the Winter Meetings in Nashville have progressed. The Phillies not only non-tendered Nate Schierholtz (a puzzling choice considering his usefulness and probable low arbitration figure), but have been rather quiet as quality outfielders for hire have signed elsewhere. This doesn’t exactly comport with Amaro’s typical offseason; one could well have expected him to acquire a certain target early, and offer whatever deal was necessary to secure it before the market had a chance to take shape. Instead, in the past week, the Phillies have collected plenty of interesting data about how that market is behaving. It ranges from some seemingly reasonable deals, such as Angel Pagan’s 4 year, $40 million contract with San Francisco, to the expensive and risky (but probably acceptable) 5 years, $75 million that B.J. Upton earned from the Braves, to the outright inexplicable: 3 years, $39 million for Shane Victorino from the Boston Red Sox. It’s clear the the Phillies have stayed on the safe end of some dangerous potential bidding wars.
Superficially, the Phillies staying mum during the Winter Meetings would make for a boring start to the offseason. But in fact, as the obvious free agent options have dwindled, the December and January landscape has only grown more fascinating. The likelihood that at least one trade will be needed to satisfy the team’s needs has risen substantially, and that broadens the field of possible solutions. Early in the week, the notion that Curtis Granderson could be dealt for the right price emerged from multiple sources. Granderson, who is owed $15 million via an escalated club option next season, hit .232/.319/.492 for the Yankees last season, and is a capable defender in center. The Yankees, while trying to lower their payroll to a level that will be more advantageous under the new CBA, are still, as ever, trying to compete in 2013, so Granderson’s value to them next season is just as high as it would be for the Phillies; this makes it difficult to craft a deal that would be acceptable to them, especially as they’ve watched free agent targets like Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez go elsewhere. Brett Gardner taking the reins in center is not out of the question, but Nick Swisher is unlikely to return, and so their outfield possibilities are bleaker still without Granderson.
There is another, more intriguing possibility. Open as the AL Central perenially seems to be, it’s difficult to imagine the Cleveland Indians putting together a credible bid for it in 2013. Predictably, Jon Heyman reported on Wednesday that outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is “very available,” with the Indians seeking “long-term assets.” Choo turned 30 in July, and since 2008 has hit .291/.384/.471 for the Indians, the only blemish an injury-hampered 2011. In that same time period, he ranks 8th among 144 qualified MLB outfielders in wRC+, in the same neighborhood as Josh Hamilton, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Beltran, and 3rd in on-base percentage, behind only Manny Ramirez and Matt Holliday. The latter is thanks in part to an 11.4% walk rate, compared to the 2008-2012 ML average of 8.7%. More walks and on-base ability would be welcome additions to the Phillie lineup, which finished 14th in the NL in BB% and 10th in the NL in OBP in 2012. Choo also projects to be relatively inexpensive. Entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, Matt Swartz pegs Choo’s case at $7.9 million.
Is it a pipe dream? Possibly. It’s more likely than it was a week ago, when there was no chatter about Choo at all, but there have been no rumors forthcoming thus far that indicate the Phillies are in the mix. Add to that Buster Olney’s source that asserts the price for Choo is “high.” This is, of course, more rhetoric than reference point; who really knows what “high” is in the court of Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro. But, as with any potential trade this offseason, the Phillies find themselves low on ammunition. The good news is that, considering the state of the organization, there are few pieces the Phillies could send away that would constitute a significant blow to the farm system. The bad news is that it will be difficult to seriously impress the Indians with the likes of Trevor May and Vance Worley, the two assets that the Phillies are rumored to be bringing to the table this week. Worley is at a low point in perceived value, struggling with injuries last season, and it may be difficult to convince anyone that his true talent level is closer to his 2011 season. Trevor May would constitute a “long term asset” that the Indians seek, but he failed to progress in 2012, and has struggled to establish a repertoire of secondary pitches that could feasibly keep him in a starting rotation.
That’s not to say the Phillies don’t have more attractive assets, like Tommy Joseph and perhaps Jesse Biddle, but they’re not likely to want to part with either, considering that the sheen has seemingly worn off of Sebastian Valle, and the dearth of high-profile arms on the farm. It bears wondering whether, when Jim Salisbury reported on the Phillies’ enthusiasm for Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, and Adam Morgan, he was able to do so with a straight face. So perhaps acquiring Choo is a distant wish for the Phillies, but considering how well he suits their needs, it is more than worth pursuing. Rather than pay free agent dollars for Nick Swisher, Choo would allow the Phillies to stomach a larger contract for one of the remaining free agent centerfielders, instead of settling for the Coors-fueled Dexter Fowler or pining after the not-actually-available-at-all Peter Bourjos. And as a benefit of waiting out the market, the Phillies may find that prices for the likes of Hamilton or Bourn will sink to a more palatable range, or that previously unconsidered trade possibilities will present themselves. Creativity and patience may trump the war chest this offseason.