Crash Bag Vol. 37: Catchers, Otani, and 2018
@Anton_Smolka: Do you think Alfaro will ever become a decent defensive catcher and fix his issues at the plate (approach, swing, etc.)
I don’t fancy myself a scout, so I can’t really add anything about Alfaro’s defense that I haven’t heard from somebody else. I’ve seen scouts put him somewhere between slightly below-average and slightly above-average in the field, with potential improvements down the line. His arm is a literal cannon, but he’s a big dude, and crouching for three hours every day with consistent form and fundamentals is hard when you’re a big dude. I don’t think anyone will confuse him for a Molina brother back there, but early returns in the big leagues say that he’s adequate back there now with room to grow, as catcher defense tends to mature more slowly than other positions. Calling a game is an entirely different skill that I’m even less well-suited to answer, so I won’t even try.
Offensively, Alfaro is aggressive. He will continue to be aggressive; that’s what he does. I always think it makes sense that players with his skill set never really develop the patience of other players. It’s probably survivorship bias (i.e. if you didn’t have lighting quick hands and a lot of power, you’d never make it to the show without being patient), but imagine 16-year-old Alfaro playing baseball with other 16-year-olds. His prodigious power and quick bat have enabled him to crush anything that came his way for his whole life, and that’s likely shaped the way he sees the game. He never had to try to walk because he would just hit dingers instead. That’s who he is and who he will continue to be. He’s never going to be Chooch at the plate.
That being said, he needs to iron out a few things to reach his superstar potential. For one, aggressive is fine, but a 2.5% walk rate vs a 32.9% strikeout rate isn’t. He isn’t hitting for power at the moment, as his .108 ISO can attest, and his batting line is entirely buoyed by a .457 BABIP that probably isn’t earned, given that his 86.5 exit velocity is middle of the pack at best. In fact, even going back into the minors, he’s never had an ISO over .200, and for a guy with his raw power, that’s concerning. He needs to tap into that in the game to be a valuable player, and the only way to do that is to be more selective at the plate.
Alfaro has swung at 46.8% of pitches outside the strike zone since he got called up. That’s 8th-highest in the MLB among players who have batted at least 50 times, and five of the players ahead of him are pitchers. His 21.1% whiff rate is third among MLB players with 50 plate appearances, and the two people ahead of him are pitchers. I don’t want to put too much stock into 79 PAs, but he’s basically been these three guys, and he needs to improve. I think he can become an above-average hitter in time, and his defensive position and skill will give him plenty of chances to try.
@bxe1234: Seeing options left on catchers, would you option Rupp/Knapp if you can’t move Rupp for anything of value? Carry 3 catchers? #crashbag
I’ll start off by saying I don’t think the Phillies should start next season carrying three catchers under any circumstances. With the short outings the starters regularly turn in, it’s going to be all hands on deck for the bullpen, and I’d actually like to see the Phillies win more games next year.
Anyways, I could be mistaken, but I believe Knapp still has a couple minor league option years. He was added to the 40 man roster after last season, so I think that means he’s eligible to be optioned back to the minors without having to clear waivers next season. In fact, since he didn’t spend any time in the minors this season, the Phillies could option him for the next three years. Quoth the Wikipedia page for MLB Transactions:
Once a player has been placed on a team’s 40-man roster, a team has 3 option years on that player.
- A player is considered to have used one of those three option years when he spends at least 20 days in the minors in any of those 3 seasons.
The Phillies don’t have any catching prospects behind Alfaro, so I’d probably just option Knapp to the IronPigs and roll with Rupp as the backup catcher, unless Mackanin insists on giving Rupp a ton of at bats. In that case, I’d trade Rupp for a bag of baseballs and an extra large bucket of sunflower seeds, flavor to be named later, and install Knapp as the backup.
If I am mistaken, and Knapp can’t be sent back to Lehigh Valley next year, I think I’d hang on to all three until the end of spring training. Maybe someone gets hurt, and the Phillies can kick the can down the road till he’s healthy. Maybe another team loses their starting catcher and in their desperation, thinks Rupp is the solution. Who knows? Anything could happen.
If no one gets hurt and the Phillies can’t find a trade partner, I’d designate Knapp for assignment (again, unless Mackanin insists on playing Rupp over Alfaro), and roll with Rupp and Alfaro.
@MGoldenpine: Post All-Star, Phils have scored 4.77 runs a game (similar to 2010). In 2018, will they be better, worse, or roughly the same?
This is similar to a question I was asked a couple weeks ago. The conclusion I came to then is that the projections don’t think the Phillies’ rookies can keep this up next season. But I want to look at team-wide statistics to see on the aggregate if there’s anything unsustainable about the team.
In the second half, the Phillies have a 100 wRC+, which places them 10th in the MLB. They’ve got the 18th-highest walk rate at 18.1%; 22nd-lowest strikeout rate at 22.7%; 17th-best ISO at .172; and 3rd-highest BABIP at .324.Their wRC is at 290, compared with 280 actual runs scored. They’re 24th in the MLB in HR/FB% at 12.6%. Everything is firmly middle of the pack or worse except for their BABIP, and they’ve got the 5th-highest infield fly ball rate.
However, the Phillies aso have the 3rd-highest line drive rate and the most bunt hits on the 2nd highest bunt hit rate, which would stand to inflate their BABIP. Williams, Alfaro, Herrera, and Hernandez all have BABIPs over .350. Somehow, though, HOFskins has a 205 wRC+ with a .257 BABIP. That’s insane.
I want to talk myself into the Phillies maintaining their runs scored average from the second half, but all of the Phillies good hitters have unsustainably high BABIPs with the exception of HOFskins, who can’t possibly keep this up, right? Their season average is 4.22 runs per game. I think with regression from their second half, they wind up somewhere in the middle of the two. I’ll say 4.5 runs per game, which would place them in the middle of the pack in the NL.
@MisterZoomer: Would you sign Shohei Otani if he demanded to play LF 4 days a week
Absolutely. I would let him know that he can play left field as much as he wants for as long as he’s healthy and productive. If he’s putting up a Freddy Galvis-esque line, he’s out, but if he’s an above-average hitter, he can play as much as he wants. The highest possible signing bonus he can receive is $10 million plus the $20 million posting fee. That’s chump change for the Phillies. Then he’ll be subject to the same rules as a Phillies’ prospect for his first six years. By all accounts he’s a Major League-ready hitter and pitcher with superstar potential on both sides of the diamond, and he’s only 23 years old.
I would bet against him becoming a great hitter; he’s already a great pitcher, more dominant than Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish were in the NPB, and there’s just too much to learn and practice to be great at both, not to mention fielding. For that reason, maybe he’s interesting in playing for an American League team where he can DH several times a week. But either way, he’s got to be the most valuable commodity on the market right now, and I would do almost anything to get him on the Phillies if I were in the front office.
I would sign Shohei Otani if he demanded to play in the field four times per week.
I would sign Shohei Otani if he demanded I open up a bunch of sushi restaurants in Citizen’s Bank Park. (That’s actually not a bad idea even if we don’t sign him. I don’t like sushi, but people seem to love it, so I’d probably have shorter lines for whatever I want.)
I would sign Shohei Otani if he demanded I change the official name of the club to the Otanidelphia Shoheis.
I would sign Shohei Otani if he demanded we give a roster spot to former Phillie So Taguchi to make him feel more comfortable in the locker room.
I would sign Shohei Otani if he demanded I sacrifice my (future) first-born son to the gods of baseball. A future first for a player of his caliber? Absolutely.
@RobertDalton: I see a 2018 contender if 2 SP and 1 RP are added to the young core, can you see the same?
Well, by the crudest measure I can think of, the Phillies have been a below .500 team at 27-31 since the All-Star break entering Thursday’s game. Yes, there have been injuries to a lot of players, and Rhys HOFskins has only played 33 of those 58 games heading into Thursday, but there will be injuries next year and I don’t think HOFskins can keep up a 200 wRC+ over a full season.
So 27-31: that’s a .466 winning percentage, which is right in line with their Pythagorean winning percentage (.464). So let’s assume, for simplicity’s sake, that’s the Phillies true talent. That works out to 75.5 wins over 162 games. Let’s assume you add two starters to replace the replacement level starters the Phillies have trotted out there, and the same with one relief pitcher. Two four-win pitchers and a two-win reliever puts you at 85.5 wins which is certainly within the realm of contention.
Maybe there’s even room for improvement among the current crop of Phillies pitchers as well; the team FIP- in the second half is 98, while the ERA- is 112. That’s the fifth highest differential in the MLB, and Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Nick Pivetta, and Mark Leiter, Jr. are among those with higher ERAs than FIPs on the team. Nola and Eickhoff are sure bets to be in the rotation next year, so it’s possible there is a little more wiggle room for improvement.
I’m certainly not counting on the Phillies acquiring two 4-win pitchers and a relief ace, but if they did, and the team remains relatively healthy, and the young guns keep hitting, and the young pitchers’ results match their peripherals, I could see a contender next year. That’s a lot of ifs, though.