Surprising Offensive Breakouts in June
Quick, name the Phillies top four performers in the month of June by wRC+. Exclude Edubray Ramos‘ one walk in one plate appearances and you’ll come up with a list of four that might not be terribly shocking if you watched the Phillies all month, but would shock the heck out of you if you were shown the list on May 31st. The fabulous four are as follows:
|Phillies Top Offensive Performers – June 2016|
There is one other Phillie who recorded a wRC+ above league average (100) during the month of June: Maikel Franco, 101 wRC+. It’s great to see him doing better at the plate, but a league average bat hardly classifies as a surprising breakout for him. Offensive expectations for Franco are high. Offensive expectations for Bourjos, Rupp, Asche, and Hernandez, on the other hand? Let’s just say they’re less high. So what’s going on? Small sample flukes? Legitimate breakouts? The creation of viable trade chips? The development of players who will contribute to the next winning Phillies teams?
Let’s break it down one at a time.
Peter Bourjos – 67 PA, .410/.455/.623
Bourjos entered the month of June with an absolutely atrocious .199/.231/.291 slash line and he ended the month with a significantly more palatable season slash line of .262/.300/.391. He raised his season OPS 170 points during the month of June! That’s a heckuva a hot streak.
As you might expect, there’s been a bit of batted ball luck as evidenced by his .479 BABIP, but he also showed dramatic improvements in plate discipline. Through April and May, he compiled a 41:5 strikeout-to walk ratio. In the month of June, his strikeout-rate cratered to the extent that he posted an 11:5 ratio. For a player with Bourjos’ speed, putting the ball in play can make good things happen. His contact rate has normalized and, not coincidentally, his success at the plate has improved.
Bourjos is a free agent at the end of the season and if he’s able to maintain his June success through the month of July it’s possible that he’ll be moved in a trade. Nick Williams will need a roster spot sooner or later and that could leave Bourjos as the odd man out. He won’t command a hefty return on the trade market, but he could return something more than what the Cardinals got for him last December: literally nothing.
Cameron Rupp – 75 PA, .290/.347/.594
We’ve always known Cameron Rupp has pop, it’s just exceedingly rare for him to make enough contact to put that power on display. In June, however, he hit five home runs which was enough to bring his season total from two to a perfectly respectable seven. Of the 30 catchers with at least 150 plate appearances this season, Cameron Rupp now ranks fifth in wRC+ with an above average mark of 108. Those four guys ahead of him? Wilson Ramos, Jonathan Lucroy, Buster Posey, and Salvador Perez. I’d say that’s pretty good company.
Unfortunately, Rupp’s defense remains a weak spot. If he were an elite defensive catcher putting up these offensive numbers, then he’d profile as a no-doubt regular going forward. With the realities of his awful framing skills and mediocre arm, however, he has a significantly greater hill to climb to establish himself as an everyday major league catcher. With Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro inching ever closer to him on the depth chart, any future he has with the Phillies is still likely to be as a backup, but that’s becoming a more attractive scenario that it was at the start of the season.
Cody Asche – 90 PA, .289/.333/.482
Asche has always looked the part. A huge part of that may be the striking physical resemblance he bears in the box to Chase Utley, but it’s true nonetheless. He really does have a good-looking swing. His relative deficiencies in power, speed, and defense have always made it likely that the nice swing wouldn’t make him much more than a super-utility bat, but that’s still a role with value! Unfortunately, the pretty swing wasn’t enough to save him last year and he wound up with an 86 wRC+ and with his lack of complementary skills, that offensive production is simply not enough to justify a roster spot for him.
As Tim Guenther recently noted, however, this year he’s refined his plate discipline and it’s led to the uptick in contact and power necessary for Asche’s bat to play at the major league level. It would still shock me if he ever carved out a starting role on a decent team, but it looks like there’s a chance he’s developing into a viable role player.
Cesar Hernandez – 85 PA, .305/.329/.451
It’s a make or break season for Cesar Hernandez and at the start of June it looked like he was set to break. His season slash line bottomed out on June 3rd at .244/.295/.307, but in the past few weeks he’s brought it back up to a .272/.315/.364 line. Now, that looks like the Hernandez we were expecting. He can hit a little bit and, with his speed, he can turn that contact into a decent average and, by extension, a decent on-base percentage.
Unfortunately, he has little-to-no power to pair with his contact skills and that will always depress his ceiling. Still, this return to the status quo for Hernandez puts the pressure on Freddy Galvis to perform. If J.P. Crawford gets called up this season, someone will have to move, be it Galvis, Hernandez, or Andres Blanco. Blanco could potentially be traded, but ultimately, Crawford being on the team is likely to mean at least one of Galvis or Hernandez is off the team by Opening Day 2017. Galvis’ far superior glove and positional flexibility has always made this an uphill battle for Hernandez to win that spot. But with Galvis now sporting a horrendous 60 wRC+ compared to Hernandez’s mark of 80, the race is tightening back up.
It remains unlikely that either Galvis or Hernandez will be contributors on the next good Phillies team, but at least Hernandez is finally reminding the team why he has a spot on the roster at all.
Alright, so these June breakouts aren’t quite as exciting as they would be when the names breaking out are guys like Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Aaron Altherr, or, hopefully, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford and Andrew Knapp. We didn’t witness the coming out party of any future Phillies stars this past month, but we did see the team begin to look like it employs a major league offense. After briefly falling behind the Braves in overall offense, they’ve now regained their spot as merely the 29th worst offense in baseball.