Crash Bag Vol. 19: Rapid Fire Answers

This week no one gave me a deep question to get lost in for half a day. Instead, this week you all delivered a bunch of quick, but good questions that inspired a lot of varied discussions. So I tried to answer as many questions as I could. Enjoy.

@John__Wetzel: If all players in the Phillies org reached their ceiling, what would be the starting lineup/rotation?

Lineup

2B Scott Kingery

SS J.P. Crawford

RF Aaron Altherr

CF Odubel Herrera

1B Rhys Hoskins

3B Maikel Franco

LF Nick Williams

C Jorge Alfaro

Rotation

SP Sixto Sanchez

SP Vince Velasquez

SP Aaron Nola

SP Franklyn Kilome

SP Seranthony Dominguez

The tough call was the outfield. This may seem like an overreaction to Altherr’s season so far, but he is uber athletic and now that he is showing more power, his ceiling his really high. I went with Nick Williams as the more the dynamic outfielder than Dylan Cozens. This scenario gives you 3 20-20 outfielders with plus gloves. It might seem strange to see Nola in the rotation, but if he locate everything and always command his curveball and changeup, he could be dominant. Continue reading…

Phillies’ Patience Allows for Joseph Turnaround

Rhys Hoskins is hitting .327/.407/.617 in AAA. He is putting up one of the best hitting seasons in the minor leagues. On May 1, the Phillies biggest weaknesses were probably catcher and first base. This led to calls for Hoskins (and Jorge Alfaro) to be promoted to the major leagues. Since the beginning of May, Cameron Rupp has been hitting .364/.462/.636, but more importantly, Tommy Joseph is hitting .393/.500/.857. Even with this surge, Joseph has been a below average hitter on the year, but it begins to reopen the debate on who is the first baseman of the future and how should that battle play out.

Last year, Joseph was almost assuredly the biggest surprise for the Phillies. He was on the edge of being released from the organization, and he hadn’t received an invite to major league camp. Despite all of that, he ended up hitting .257/.308/.505 for the Phillies, and was even better from July 1 until the end of the season, when he hit .281/.355/.546 with a 9.0% walk rate and a 19.0% strikeout rate. For that 3 month stretch, he was a Top 15 first baseman in baseball. We also can’t go into why Joseph has been good of late without addressing how bad he was to start the year. Continue reading…

The Bullpen Is All Right

Coming into the 2017 season, the Phillies bullpen was supposed to be much improved. It was going to be hard for the team to not improve naturally on a group that had finished the year 28th in the majors with a 5.05 ERA. In addition to cutting some poor performers, the Phillies added veterans in Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit to shore up the group. Of course the Phillies bullpen has been seen as the weakest part of the team, thanks to a rough stretch where they went 2-8 vs some of the best teams in the National League and managed to blow a lead in almost every game.

So I made a quick poll on Twitter to see where many of you thought the Phillies bullpen was right now.

33% of you were correct. As of this morning, the Phillies have a team reliever ERA of 4.07, which is 14th in the majors and 8th in the National League. No one thought the Phillies’ bullpen was going to be amazing, but kind of average is right about what was expected this year. Continue reading…

Crash Bag Vol. 18: Trading Cesar

Thank you to Brad for doing this last week, and for being much funnier in the process than I am. It has been a really bad week of results for the major league club, so why not talk about trading their best player so far, and answer some other questions along the way as well.

For now the best place to ask questions is on Twitter, either @ me (@Matt_Winkelman or @CrashburnAlley). But you can also reply in the comments here and I will will have some sort of better way for future mailbags.

@mweintr: Should Cesar Hernandez be traded now, when his value is highest?

It has become trendy to to want teams to keep trading and churning players, always looking for value. This is not the worst strategy when you know you are going to be a non-contender for the remainder of a player’s contract. However, Cesar will turn 27 just over 2 weeks from now and still has 3 more years of control through arbitration. He is currently batting a BABIP influenced .336/.379/.517 with a career high strikeout rate and career low walk rate. History says his power should trend down, and his walk and strikeout rates should trend positively towards his career averages. He is on pace for a 6+ WAR season, which is probably unsustainable, but he should be able to repeat his 4 win season from a year ago, barring an unexpected collapse. That is a really good baseball player, and if you are going to trade someone of his caliber, with his level of remaining control, you are going to want a haul back. Continue reading…

What To Do About the Outfield

The Phillies have a good problem on the horizon. Howie Kendrick was bashing baseballs before succumbing to an oblique injury. Kendrick is eligible to come off the DL today, but indications are he’ll be out about another week or two. He was signed to start in the outfield, and he’s making $10 million this year whether he starts or not. Aaron Altherr, since Kendrick’s injury, has been unleashing the full force of his 6’-5” frame on the National League. If he qualified, he’d rank third among NL outfielders in wRC+ at 170. He’s picked up exactly where he left off after the 2015 season (let’s just pretend like last year never happened).

If you’ve been reading this site, you’ll notice that we love Altherr, and for good reason. Besides his hitting, he’s perhaps the best defensive outfielder the Phillies have, and at 26 years old he’s significantly younger than the Phillies other corner outfielders (Kendrick, 33, Daniel Nava, 34, and Michael Saunders, 30). If given the chance to grow, he could be a valuable contributor to the next great Phillies team. So the answer seems obvious; put Kendrick in the other outfield slot, where Saunders is producing just a 76 wRC+. However, it’s not that simple. Continue reading…

Michael Saunders’ Contact Issues

Corner outfield was the biggest weakness of the 2016 Phillies. To solve this problems, the Phillies brought in Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. Kendrick has been out with an injury, but Aaron Altherr has continued to provide the Phillies excellent production in left field. In 2016 Phillies right fielders hit .231/.291/.350, and Saunders, even with his second half collapse, hit .253/.338/.478, so he was supposed to be a large upgrade for the Phillies. However, even with 2 home runs in the last week, Saunders is only hitting .253/.286/.391. So when do we panic?

Not now. Saunders is still only 25 games into a season in a new league for a new team, so no one should panic anyway. Saunders also has been scorching the ball of late, so it makes sense that his ISO will climb at least above his career line of .166 from its current .138. That still doesn’t deal with the biggest problem with Saunders’ line—his on base percentage. Continue reading…

Development is Not Linear: Andrew Pullin

It is easy to think of minor league progression as a nice linear path, where each year a player improves and moves up a level until they can’t cut it and are no longer relevant. This is rarely the case, but even if that is the level progression, the road to the majors is rarely easy and full of constant hurdles. This would explain why the Phillies have a 23 year old prospect with a .343/.390/.587 line in AA across two seasons and 66 games, who has never been ranked higher than #28 on a Baseball America prospect list (he made their 2012 and 2016 lists).

Reading outfielder, Andrew Pullin currently is hitting a blistering .337/.382/.651 through Reading’s first 20 games, which has started to quell any lingering concerns from his breakout 2016 season. It is clear that Pullin is a better prospect than where he ranked on offseason lists (in the interest of full disclosure, he ranked #28 this offseason for me). Now that doesn’t mean he was a big miss by the scouting community, instead he is an interesting case study in how a prospect changes over the course of their career. To get this all started, we should go back to the beginning Here is what Baseball America wrote about Pullin at the time of the draft and then after he finished his first year in the GCL. Continue reading…

The Wrong Solution To The Wrong Problem

The Phillies are intent on getting Vince Velasquez deeper into his starts. Poor pitch economy is the oft-cited culprit of his short outings and also the focus of most offhand solutions. Here is the theory: by throwing fewer pitches to each batter, he will ultimately see more batters over the course of a game, and lengthier starts will follow. A well-conceived plan.

On a per batter basis, Velasquez does throw more pitches than the average starting pitcher. This is also true of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Noah Syndergaard, and other pitchers ideal for Velasquez to emulate. Where the economical pitcher is averaging 3.7 pitches per batter, these pitching giants are throwing closer to 4.0. The reason: a big swing-and-miss fastball. Because these fastballs miss bats at a high rate, fewer balls are put into play. Deeper counts naturally follow.

Improving pitch economy, then, would require Velasquez to make his fastball more hittable. Or select a less effective pitch to throw. Either way, the idea is the same: cede contact and let the hitter get himself out. Hitters, it should be noted, have no such intention.

Continue reading…