Tyler Goeddel Decommissioned
Tyler Goeddel’s 2016 starting gig in left field lasted just 23 games. The reasoning behind his short stint was cloudy at best, especially given his above-average (and near team-best) production over that time.
Let’s take this from Opening Day. For the first month of the season, manager Pete Mackanin deployed a combination of Cedric Hunter, Darin Ruf, Emmanuel Burriss, David Lough and Goeddel in left. All but Burriss made at least six starts.
None hit over .240. None got on base more than one-third of the time. None slugged over .320.
From batting average to slugging percentage, on-base percentage to wRC+, the left field position was head and shoulders below that of every other MLB team. They lacked power in a big way, with a slugging percentage a point below their already low .212 OBP.
|Phillies (Rank)||.144 (30th)||.212 (30th)||.211 (30th)||.423 (30th)||.189 (30th)||11
|.191 (29th)||.243 (29th)||.245 (29th)||.572 (29th)||.254 (29th)||.53 (29th)||-6
So Mackanin turned to the Phillies first overall draft pick from 2015. No, not that draft. The Rule 5 Draft, where teams get to select non-40-man roster players buried on other team’s minor league depth charts.
The Phillies snagged 23-year-old Goeddel from the Tampa Bay Rays organization, a player who by all reports was not a top-30 prospect in that system.
After 27 games of the league’s worst left field production, Mackanin tried Goeddel’s hand in an everyday role. He broke out. In those 23 games, Goeddel was the second best hitter on the team.
During that bout of consistent playing time, he looked like a candidate to get serious playing time in left in the upcoming months.
What was by far the worst left field position in baseball in the season’s first 27 games posted borderline top-10 production when Goeddel expected to see his name in the seven-hole on the lineup card on a nightly basis.
Singling out Goeddel began to look like an impressive bit of pro scouting from the Phillies, as the slender rookie slashed .286/.337/.481 in 23 appearances (all starts) over a 26 game stretch from May 4 and June 1.
What is especially interesting, in hindsight, was that Mackanin didn’t abandon his experiment after Goeddel went 1-for-9 in his first three games. Good thing too, because if he had, he would have lowered the number of effective offensive weapons he employed daily from two to one.
The only other player that produced at better than league-average rates in that span was Goeddel’s next-door neighbor Herrera in center field.
After starting slowly in those three games, Goeddel posted an OPS a few points shy of .900 for the remainder of his starting days.
In that time he held the best slugging percentage on the team—keep in mind the willowy Goeddel weighs in at just 180 lbs, literally less than half the man former Eagles offensive lineman Shawn Andrews was coming out of college—and the second best on-base percentage. He even struck out in a lower percentage of his at-bats than any other Phillie. So what happened? Why did he lose his starting role?
It wasn’t a discernible or worrisome decline. He slashed .222/.300/.444 in his last eight starts, and while that was a dip from where he was, it was significantly better than the production the team received before he took over the role.
He was striking out more over the final week of that span—six times in 26 plate appearances—than he had in the first two weeks—five times in 57 plate appearances—but he was also walking three times as often. So Goeddel was putting the bat on the ball less, raising both his walk and strikeout rates. But those sample size is just a week’s worth of games, not nearly enough to ignore out his previous production.
The answer, in short, was that Cody Asche returned from injury.
Asche couldn’t come close to replicating Goeddel’s impact on the lineup while he held a firm grasp on the starting spot over the next two months.
Starting 45 of the next 54 games in left, he slugged over 100 points worse than Goeddel. Asche started consistently through June and July, until, in August, the position was once again split between a handful of players. These included Aaron Altherr—who also returned from injury—and Goeddel who received eight sporadic starts that month.
When Goeddel made 23 starts in 26 games from May 4 to June 1, he posted a 118 wRC+. The consistency of his playing time looked to benefit him.
In the week after he lost the left field job, he started five of six games, four in right and one in left. In the remaining 100 games afterward, he made consecutive starts only twice.
After losing the starting job and finding himself as an intermittent spot starter at best, he hit .135/.224/.189.
As autumn breeze flipped the calendar to September, Mackanin addressed the situation when reporters asked if Goeddel would see an increased role in September with the Phillies out of the playoff hunt.
“I’ve seen enough of Goeddel to know,” Mackanin said. “We’ve kept him this long and we’re going to keep him and we’ll see where we go next year with him. I don’t see a need to play him, especially after he hasn’t played so much. What’s the point?”
It seemed the rhythm of starting day in and day out was good for both Goeddel and the team’s league-worst offense. Once he lost the job, the Phillies left field position fell back to the bottom third in the league in offense.
For Mackanin to essentially throw his hands up and ask the point of giving playing time to a young outfielder who showed spurts of potential (given consistent playing time) raised questions on its own. Why then, down the stretch, would Goeddel not play a steadier role? Mackanin noted he didn’t see the point, “Especially after he hasn’t played so much.”
For a player who thrived with steady playing time and then, due to others returning from injury, couldn’t play so consistently, wouldn’t the homestretch on a non-playoff team be the perfect place to determine if that early season hot streak was just a fluke or whether he could really be relied on when given consistent at-bats?
Why not observe him closely now and have a greater understanding of his potential role down the line and not try to split time with up and coming outfielders in the high minors? There’s no guarantee all of those outfield prospects even have a month as good as Goeddel’s May so early in their careers. Essentially, why not learn as much as possible instead of having to squeeze in at-bats for Goeddel down the road closer to the team’s window of contention?
Why was Jimmy Paredes eating starts down the stretch? Why was Darin Ruf? And, for that matter, why was Bourjos still getting starts in September? Surely some of those could have gone to Goeddel in creating some semblance of consistency for the youngster.
Here’s how the three eras of the 2016 Phillies left field position looked in terms of offensive rankings:
Mackanin asked for veteran outfield bats in the offseason and got them, so no starting spot is open even after the team purged their older outfielders in the offseason. Bourjos, Paredes, Ruf and Asche are all gone. No spot on the 25-man roster will be open either.
And with the exploits of Dylan Cozens, the second-half hiccup from Nick Williams that put off a big league promotion and those veteran additions that likely blocked Altherr/Roman Quinn from duking it out for a starting spot in the big club, there’s no room for Goeddel to get regular licks in triple-A where everyone assumed he’d begin 2017. What now?
Maybe he starts the season as an extra outfielder in triple-A, but he won’t get too many regular at-bats behind three guys knocking on the big league door. As we saw, inconsistent playing time wasn’t the best predictor of success for Goeddel at the major league level. Maybe he gets a starting job in double-A.
While the additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders made sense, they cast doubt onto why Mackanin didn’t make the most of a hot-hitting Goeddel, or at least learn as much as possible about him in the last month-plus of the season when the outcomes didn’t matter. Instead, a couple players who were clearly not going to be on the 2017 roster were stealing his innings.
Because of Mackanin’s reluctance to get the most information out of the available playing time in 2016, it may be some time before the Phillies learn what they have in Tyler Goeddel.