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.

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  1. yolacrary

    June 19, 2017 10:01 AM

    fwiw, Lively struck out 6 in his 6 innings yesterday, jumping his K rate all the way up to 9.8%

  2. Romus

    June 19, 2017 10:20 AM

    Would putting Marlins OFers Christain Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton in CF and RF respectively in Phillies pinstripes, and subtracting Odubel Herrera and Michael Saunders make the Phillies a better team?

    • Steve

      June 19, 2017 12:54 PM

      Of course it would, but thats not a realistic comparison. The question has to be:
      Would the team be better in 2018 and 2019 with Yellich and Stanton or with Herrera Williams and all the prospects they would keep by not making the trade.

      I can’t even imagine the package that would have to go to the Marlins. JPC, Moniak, Kingery, Cozens or Hassely, and Sixto or Kilome, and one or two of our young back end of the rotaion arms maybe.

    • Bill

      June 19, 2017 04:25 PM

      Sorry but this may be the dumbest question ever.

      • Ed

        June 20, 2017 01:13 AM

        I’d have to agree. That’s a pretty dumb question.

  3. Mike Fassano

    June 19, 2017 11:38 AM

    While I don’t think that Nick or Ben will ever be more than number 4 or 5 starters, I still see value in them, but realistically it’s possible that neither will make the 25 man roster next year. Good hitters will make adjustments, and if Nick or Ben are going to be keepers, they must adjust to the hitters.
    There is one thing that has bothered me for a while. Because of Aaron Altherr’s remarkable job of filling in for the injured Kendrick, nobody seemed to notice that it coincided with the Phillies God-awful month of May. While many fans thought Kendrick’s injury was a blessing in disguise, in retrospect it took the only player on the team who was a TEAM player out of the line up. When Herrera, Galvis, and Franco hit a sacrifice fly, or a ball to the right side to advance or score a runner, it almost seems accidental. Every team needs a couple of guys who are willing to give themselves up for the team. Though all 3 are talented young players, they play for themselves.
    I’m a big believer in adding by subtraction. If the Phillies subtract 4 or 5 players from the 25 man roster (Benoit, Hellickson, Morgan, Kelly, and Saunders), an infusion of young blood couldn’t hurt.

    • Simle facts

      June 19, 2017 08:19 PM

      Hear, Hear, but I just don’t see the Phils doing this.

    • Steve

      June 19, 2017 10:07 PM

      Id rather replace Gomez than Benoit, and im still a little hesitant to get rid of Hellickson just for the sake of change. I’m not sure i trust Nola or VV to stay healthy through the rest of the year.
      I can see a scenario where Kendrick has a good influence on some younger guys, but id still trade him if the deal was right. Im hoping we see Williams Herrera Altherr together in the OF for the majority of September.
      I dont see Kingry or JPC in Philly this year.
      If Joseph hits, theres no reason to bring up Hoskins, but of he tails off, no reason for Rys not to see some AB’s in sept.
      If the rotation is Nola, VV, Eickhof, 2 of Lively/Pivetta/Eflin/Thompson and the are not terrible I will be satisfied.

  4. John

    June 20, 2017 08:26 AM

    Why is this site obsessed with walks? If they where such an offensive tool teams wouldn’t give them up intentionally. This team needs power. They are being out muscled and out homered. Guys that hit 220 in the minors aren’t going to walk a lot in the bigs. You pitch to those guys and make them hit their way on. What tools does Crawford show ? No hit, no power, no speed. Bring up Couzens, Hoskins and Kingery and this team might score some runs. Trade the banjo hitters while you can.

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