Monday Morning Roundtable: Trying to be Optimistic About Young Pitching
We are kicking off a new series here, well really an old series just reborn. It is the return of the roundtable where the writers here weigh in on some topics about the Phillies. The goal is touch on some things that don’t fully warrant a bunch of words or might be too depressing to sit down and write a piece about. This week we attempt to be positive about the Phillies.
Since the injuries to Clay Buchholz, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez we have gotten a chance to see two of the Phillies’ young starters in Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta. What are your initial impressions of the pair and does either of them give you any confidence about their future?
Michael: I haven’t yet watched a Ben Lively start, so I’m not going off much visually. But I don’t think I need much visually to realize that a 5.9% K% is bad. Or that a 3.4% HR/FB% isn’t sustainable. Or that walking three guys for every two you strike out isn’t a recipe for success. I’ll have to actually watch him before I get too in depth, but the early returns are far from encouraging, despite the 70 ERA-.
Pivetta seems to have trouble avoiding free passes, and that, along with his healthy 22.5% K% has kept him from going deep into games. That is, until Thursday night’s masterpiece, for which I was at Citizens’ Bank Park. After early trouble with dingers, Pivetta hasn’t allowed a home run in his last four starts. Over that time, he’s allowed a 3.09 FIP and a 3.32 ERA. Obviously, that will go up when he starts allowing a reasonable HR/FB%, but I’ve been very encouraged by what he’s shown us lately.
Matt: Lively is taking complete advantage of luck and limited stuff so far. His strikeout rate is not sustainable, and his HR/FB rate is a bit on the low side. Lively’s best strength this year has been not imploding. That sounds like faint praise, but given the struggles of many young pitchers with big innings it has helped stabilize the rotation. I still think Lively is a #5 starter or an up and down AAA guy, but if you can do that while pitching 6-7 innings a game that has value.
I am not yet convinced that Nick Pivetta is a starter long term, but I am becoming more convinced he can be a successful MLB pitcher. He showed in his last start that he can dominate off his fastball when he can locate it. If he can do that consistently, I think at minimum he can be a decent reliever.
Matt Klentak has made it clear the Phillies aren’t going to call up prospects to fill major league holes, instead the prospects will come up to the majors when they are ready. What small move do you think the Phillies could make to improve on field performance?
Michael: Not to disregard Ol’ Matty Boy’s statement, but I think Klentak left himself an opening when he said he’ll call prospects up when they’re ready, and Nick Williams looks ready. In his second go-round with the Phillies triple-A affiliate, Williams has been smashing the ball to the tune of a .230 ISO and a 122 wRC+. Sure, he’s still not walking, but he’s been one of the best hitters in the International League, and honestly, expecting Williams to take walks is a great way to feel disappointment. #FreeNick
Besides that, I dunno. Forfeit a few games and take the whole team on a corporate team building retreat? Practicing trust falls and focusing on things other than baseball for a few days might help Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco to remember how to hit.
Matt: The Phillies are currently running a 4 man bench and 8 man bullpen, and largely the bullpen has been overworked because of how bad the bullpen has been. I know the Phillies don’t want to reach down for a big prospect, but I think another bench bat would be helpful in gaining some marginal offensive advantages. If the Phillies want to avoid any big prospects they could go for a 3rd catcher in Logan Moore freeing up Knapp and Rupp to pinch hit, they could go Cameron Perkins in the outfield, or they could for someone like Pedro Florimon who would be a good late game sub for Howie Kendrick at second and allow the Phillies to pinch hit more with Andres Blanco and the ridiculously hot Ty Kelly.
Brad: Klentak could bounce Saunders and bring up Cam Perkins to play a couple times a week in the outfield and once a week at first base. The guy is walking at a good pace at AAA and OPSing around .850. At least until the whole league has a book on him, he could provide some spark, and as a fifth OF, you could probably do a lot worse.
The Phillies are currently on pace to go 55-107 and are neck and neck with the 2015 Phillies who ended up finishing 63-99. Looking at this team, do you think they have 100 losses this season?
Michael: 100 losses certainly isn’t out of the question with how poorly the team has played this season. They’re last in the league in actual winning percentage, as well as second and third order winning percentages (Somehow the Padres are worse in Pythagorean record). But if I were a betting man, I’d wager that the Phillies will have a significantly better second half, if for no other reason than things can’t possibly continue to go so terribly. Literally every player besides Aaron Altherr and Pat Neshak has either gotten hurt or severely regressed. I know they’ll rebound; my sanity is counting on it.
Matt: I don’t. I know the Phillies would need to play way above this level to make it happen, but this team is more talented than the 2015 version. We are reaching the point where they can’t just hold on to non-performers blindly. I do think the prospects will help in the second half, and the team won’t be as crap at closing out close games. I could also just be completely wrong, because this team is bad enough to have lost a bunch of series they should have been competitive in.
Brad: I think probably not, if only because their starting pitching has been improving and stretching their appearances a bit. Keeping that up should give the bullpen more powder behind their bullets. But see that progress quickly wane, and in a couple months we might be discussing whether this is a 110 loss team.
Not to be completely negative. What is one positive development from the Phillies after their putrid May that gives you hope for the season?
Michael: It speaks volumes that this is a positive development, but thus far in June the pitching staff has been okay. Their 4.22 FIP ranks 13th in the MLB and 5th in the NL. We knew the pitching couldn’t get any worse, and we were right, you guys! PHILL-IES PHILL-IES PHILL-IES!
Matt: The pitching is showing signs of life in June. The back of the bullpen has not been light’s out, but Pat Neshek continues to be solid while Benoit and Neris start to look a little like their old selves. It does help that Eickhoff and Nola have flashed some of their old ability, and that Lively and Pivetta have worked a bit deeper than some of the other call ups.
Brad: Hope for this season…hmm…I was going to mention Aaron Nola, but the sentence I wrote had some serious qualifying – a “seems”, a “somewhat”, an “I guess”, and an acknowledgment of his most recent “outing” being accurately described by using the term “outhouse”. So…uhh…hmm…maybe they can trade Ben Lively? Idk.