Aaron Nola: Worlds of Potential

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is starting pitcher Aaron Nola.

A lot of what I said in my season preview for Jerad Eickhoff could be repeated for Aaron Nola. He’s got the stellar curveball, so-so fastball, and not good changeup. Nola both strikes out and walks slightly more hitters, which gives both players near identical career K/BB rates just below 4.00. However, Nola has allowed more home runs per fly ball, and he just came off a season with a near-5 ERA.

Based on that paragraph alone, you might conclude that Eickhoff is the better pitcher right now, and you might be right, but that misses three important pieces of information about Nola that set him apart from his rotation-mate:

  • Due to his sinking fastball, Nola had a 55% ground ball rate (GB%) in 2016, compared to Eickhoff’s 41%. The league average is about 45%.
  • Nola had a strand rate (LOB%) of just 60% last year, while Eickhoff’s 76% was just above the league average of 73%.
  • Nola has dealt with injuries that may have affected his effectiveness.

Continue reading…

Odubel Herrera: The First Piece of the Future

I am honored to be taking over for Eric here at Crashburn, this site has always been a place I looked up to. I am excited to work alongside the talented writers here and to keep the tradition of high quality analysis going into another Phillies season.

2017 will mark the Phillies’ first season without members of their 2008 core. The Phillies are not without veterans, and they are not without players who have been with the team for a number of seasons. What they lacked was any tangible direction for the future. This offseason the Phillies made their first long term commitment to their new core, signing Odubel Herrera to a long term contract. Continue reading…

Another Crashburn Transition

When Spencer Bingol approached me in December about joining Crashburn Alley, I was extremely honored to both join a site with a writing crew of Ben Harris, Tim Guenther, Michael Schickling, Dave Tomar, Adam Dembowitz (emeritus), and Brad Engler (emeritus) as well as a site that once hosted the writings of Bill Baer, Michael Baumann, Eric Longenhagen, and Corinne Landrey. I stumbled upon Crashburn Alley during the Great Phillies Blog Explosion of the mid-aughts and immediately was taken by, what seemed to me at the time, a new and different approach to baseball. While there were enough Phillies blogs around at the time to fill a full NCAA Tournament-style bracket, it was Crashburn Alley alone that captured the intellectual and emotional attention of this Phillies fan. To be asked to become managing editor of that same site that fueled my fandom during the Phillies most recent glory years was the greatest honor of my writing career.

This week, I will start a new writing job with MLB.com‘s Cut4 site, which means–like it did for Corinne before–that I will no longer be able to remain as managing editor at Crashburn Alley. The list of Crashburn Alley alumni who have gone on to full-time jobs with both Major League Baseball teams and baseball writing, speaks unmistakable volumes about the quality of work that has appeared and continues to appear at this site.

It has been a pleasure to write here for the past three months and interact with you, the reader, through the comment sections of various posts as well as through questions to the Crash Bag. I remember well my first time reading a Michael Baumann Crash Bag and thinking,” I want to do that.” Crashburn Alley, then, was not only the source that sparked the intensity of my Phillies fandom, but my love of baseball writing. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I owe much of where I am now as a writer and baseball fan to this very site.

As Corinne noted in her farewell post in September, Crashburn Alley is truly a tremendous place to write not only because of the other fantastic writers I get to share the masthead with, but because of the community established by you, the readers. It is not easy to step away from that, but I am happy that my stepping away allows someone else to step up. Bill, Corinne, Spencer, and I are excited to announce that, starting today, Matt Winkelman is the new Managing Editor of Crashburn Alley.

You are undoubtedly familiar with Matt’s work. He started his own website a couple years back–Phillies Minor Thoughts–that, as its name suggests, focuses primarily on the Phillies minor league system and prospects. Most recently, he has also been writing at The Good Phight, where, among other things, he hosts a fantastic weekly prospect mailbag. His knowledge of the Phillies minor league system is unrivaled in the public realm and, in addition, his fluency in analytics provides a strong undercurrent in his writing. I have admired his writing–and, admittedly, been jealous of it–for years now. I have absolutely no doubt that he will do a fantastic job here. I unequivocally believe that Crashburn Alley could not be in better hands.

I want to thank Spencer, Corinne, and Bill for giving me the opportunity to write here for the last three months and Tim, Michael, Dave, Ben, Brad, and Adam for their contributions to the site during my brief tenure here. I’ll still be around on Twitter (@CF_Larue) and, if you want to keep reading my baseball-specific work, you can do so at Cut4. In the meantime, enjoy Matt’s always-excellent work here at Crashburn Alley.

Crash Bag, Vol. 11: WBC, HOF, and Mascot Fights

This week, we come to you in the middle of March Madness to deliver you the Crash Bag. In this week’s edition, we actually talk mostly about baseball with discussions about actual players and their performance. That’s how you know baseball season is nearly upon us. In the spirit of the first question here, I have to put in a plug for the World Baseball Classic. If you’re not watching yet, fix that post haste. While Spring Training baseball brings its own simple joys, the WBC is real, competitive baseball. I’ll admit that I never watched it until this year, but, now that I have, I’m absolutely hooked. If you like the World Cup, the Olympics, or any other sort of international athletic competition, the World Baseball Classic is for you. This has been a public service announcement.

@Matt_Winkelman: MLB says they are replacing the WBC with a US only tournament between states, what state wins?

The primary contenders aren’t surprising: Texas, Florida, and California. For the purposes of a tournament, I’ll throw in a 4th team as a dark horse: North Carolina. Let’s look at their lineups, top-3 starting pitchers, and top bullpen arms:

Position California Florida Texas North Carolina
Catcher Travis d’Arnaud Mike Zunino Cameron Rupp Minor Leaguer
1B Freddie Freeman Anthony Rizzo Brandon Belt Ryan Zimmerman
2B D.J. LaMahieu Daniel Murphy Anthony Rendon Brandon Phillips
3B Nolan Arenado Josh Donaldson Matt Carpenter Kyle Seager
SS Troy Tulowitzki Manny Machado Trevor Story Corey Seager
OF Christian Yelich Trea Turner Charlie Blackmon Wil Myers
OF Giancarlo Stanton Ian Desmond Randall Grichuk Cameron Maybin
OF Adam Jones Keon Broxton Hunter Pence Dustin Ackley
SP Kyle Hendricks Chris Sale Clayton Kershaw Madison Bumgarner
SP Stephen Strasburg Zack Greinke Noah Syndergaard Chris Archer
SP Gerrit Cole Jacob deGrom Scott Kazmir Alex Wood
RP Jake McGee Cody Allen Tyler Thornburg Carter Capps
RP Addison Reed Wade Davis Brandon Finnegan Seth Maness
RP Zach Britton Sam Dyson A.J. Ramos Bobby Parnell

For North Carolina to win, they would rely heavily on Madison Bumgarner post-season magic and the performances of the Seager brothers. They don’t have the depth, though, to reliably be able to overcome any poor performances from their stars.

Continue reading…

A Fond Farewell

“…to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”   ~T.S. Eliot

To the Crashburn Alley readers, my fellow writers, editor, and especially Corinne Landrey and Bill Baer, the former editors who created and helped shape this incredible outlet into what it is today:

Today marks an end. But as the poet T.S. Eliot wrote in 1943, ends are often beginnings, a threshold crossed that, by its very definition, means one has entered into something new having left where they previously were.

This marks my final post here at Crashburn Alley as I embark on my professional career in the oncoming days. I am, however, eternally grateful and excited to share that it will not be the end of the time covering the Phillies.

In the next few days I will head down to Clearwater for spring training for the first time in my life. I won’t be going as a player (as I hoped when I was a youngster with stereotypical big league dreams) and I won’t be going as a fan (as I assumed would be the case the moment I realized those big league dreams were a fantasy).

Where Phillies young and old nurture their hopes of making an impression and furthering their professional careers, so too will I. Entering the pristine new digs of Spectrum Field, credential proudly draped around by neck, I will work as a proud associate reporter covering the club for Major League Baseball.

Associate reporter is a fancy term for one-season intern, by no means a long-term position, but a beginning nonetheless. Last spring during an internship, I wrote a story about a dog taking in a Phils’ spring training game while drinking out of a water bottle cap. This spring, I’ll be a fully credentialed member of the beat covering the team for MLB and Phillies.com. Progress.

It was an end, after all, that led me here to Crashburn Alley.

I spent the 2016 NCAA baseball season as managing editor of Maryland Baseball Network, covering the University of Maryland Terrapins during my senior year of college. It was my first true experience covering a beat, and one that shaped me into the writer I am today. Last April, my end at MBN sparked the beginning of my time here at Crashburn, my favorite outlet at which I’ve written in my young career.

To make an end is to make a beginning.

It has been a special pleasure to share my thoughts here in this space, letting my fandom and objective analysis clash and sharpen one another. I first began reading this site toward the end of middle school during its formative years under Bill’s lead, a year or two after I laughed a buddy of mine out of the room the first time he praised the virtues of VORP.

The stat came from a site I’d never heard of, and fell on innocent, uninformed ears. I was perfectly content framing my baseball analysis (to the extent that you can “analyze” baseball when you’re 12) through the traditional methods.

In the last handful of years I’ve fully embraced the game’s statistical revolution that had been brewing—and thriving—for years before my epiphany. Without neglecting the time-honored ways of scrutinizing the game, I have strengthened my analytic will and adopted a more rigorous methodology and mental calculus when dissecting it.

It’s often the things you initially reject and then greet later in life with open arms that have the most profound impact on you. They remind you of your pliability, your ability to change, to ebb and flow, to remain not a troglodyte but an open-eyed member of society susceptible to change. It makes you admit, to yourself, that the way you once were is not the way you have to be.

To make an end is to make a beginning.

At the same time that I became captivated with sabermetrics, I discovered a passion I never knew I had. Halfway through college, when they no longer let you doggypaddle through the semesters with an undecided major, I joined the journalism school and was promptly thrown into the deep end.

I wrote my college admissions essay on my mindset as a high school pitcher. For my entire life, I always enjoyed analyzing the world around me, gleaning bits and pieces of information and piecing them together to instill a deeper understanding of my surroundings. I did this intently on the mound, looking for holes in swings, batter tendencies, and scared bottom-of-the-order hitters who stepped in the bucket.

Little did I know, that piece, based on my experience as a pitcher in Southeastern Pennsylvania, was the first of many I’d ever write about baseball. That is, if you don’t count the made-up transcripts of fictitious baseballs games I scratched across loose-leaf paper in 3rd grade.

In that essay I wrote: “The act of gathering such material has always been comforting. It is reassuring to know that without being force-fed information, I can still gather, analyze, and learn about the world around me.”

What is writing if not taking in the world around you and adding your own spin, observation and personal experiences?

Writing about baseball has held a special importance for me. It has helped me cope and provided the context to understand jarring experiences in my life, a cathartic release I have turned to when life has felt it’s most unfair. So it’s no surprise, in retrospect, that some of my favorite writings are only tangentially about baseball, using the game as a framework to appreciate, to understand, but not as the story itself.

It helped me mourn the loss of a friend. It helped me put into context the loss of Jose Fernandez.

Looking back, it’s not surprising I dug my teeth into this type of analytical assessment of the game, and even less surprising that—once finding my passion for writing—it transferred into performing my own sabermetric analyses.

I owe my current career path to the game of baseball and my love for it. Not because it is what I will be covering, but because it is the reason I have an opportunity, and eagerness, to cover anything at all.

I’ve made the climb up the ranks in the past two and a half years, working my way from youth baseball coverage to my new position covering a major league club from within the league’s own editorial branch. I’ve covered the 12-year-old Cal Ripken World Series, collegiate summer league ball, D-I NCAA baseball, blogged here about the Phillies and will cover them in earnest as a member of MLB.com this season.

I’m sure a call-up to the bigs elicits memories of the climb for journeymen ballplayers. While I have not logged the years of prep and practice those ballplayers have, I’ve put in the time at every level possible to prep for such a promotion in similar fashion.

I’ll always remember the pre-teen boys from Hawaii I covered last summer, their love and respect for their game and their opponents shining brighter than anything, a constant reminder of why these sabermetric analyses matter so much to me—because I love the game. I’ll always remember the frigid weekend afternoons spent in the Maryland press box and the hours spent creating Excel spreadsheets of starting pitcher game logs, the infographics made, the game stories chronicled. And I’ll always remember the hours spent down the rabbit holes of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball, that allowed me to share my opinions and observations here with you, all rooted in cold, hard fact.

If you’d like to keep up with my work, you can find me in the usual places on twitter, while my byline will appear on MLB.com and Phillies.com, supplementing the great work of Todd Zolecki whom you should already be reading.

Despite my departure, this is not the end. It is an end, of sorts, but not the end. Not the type of the end that accompanies the resolution of a children’s book, but instead the unsaid the end that is replaced by the blank space below the final words of a book chapter. It is a pause, however brief, before another chapter picks up where the previous one left off. The topic may differ, or may stay the same, simply viewed through a different lens.

This is the beginning of a professional career, one I am blessed to begin with a dream job covering the team I grew up watching, and the end of my regular contributions here at Crashburn Alley. But it is not the end.

To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.

Is César Hernández For Real?

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is second baseman César Hernández.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, César Hernández surprisingly managed to lead the Phillies in fWAR last year with 4.4. This was also third best among second basemen in the National League. At the beginning of last season, if you had given me 5 guesses on who would lead the Phillies in WAR, I don’t think Hernández would have made the cut, but here we are.

His path to very-good-playerdom followed the Luis Castillo precedent of good defense, high average, lots of walks, little power, and decent baserunning, but how much of that is sustainable for the 26-year-old’s upcoming seasons? Let’s pick this apart piece by piece. Continue reading…

Look Ma, Two Hands! Phillies Trade for Ambidextrous Pitcher Pat Venditte

Two hands are better than one.

Sunday afternoon, the Phillies acquired switch-pitcher Pat Venditte from the Seattle Mariners. He’s light-handed, he’s reft-handed, he’s ambidextrous.

The 31-year-old, currently pitching for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, has spent time with four different organizations since the Yankees drafted him in the 20th round in 2008 from Creighton University.

He’s excelled in the high minors, with a career 2.93 ERA in four seasons in triple-A and a 3.09 ERA in parts of four seasons in double-A.

The cost for the Phillies was minor league outfielder Joey Curletta. If you haven’t heard of Curletta, it’s not just because of the numerous outfield prospects adorning the top of the team’s prospect rankings. Curletta was acquired from the Dodgers in September, after minor league seasons concluded, to complete the Carlos Ruiz-for-A.J. Ellis trade. His main (and debatably only) skill is hitting for power. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 10: A Foray into Guesses at Probability

Can you feel it? Real baseball is not only growing closer, as is typical of this time of year, but it is actually already upon us. The World Baseball Classic is on out televisions, though, so far, only at weird times for our East Coast sensibilities. I have to admit to being a skeptic about the WBC entering this year’s tournament. I had never watched it before, and with the relative dearth of major league players competing, I wasn’t optimistic about the quality of play. I was wrong. It’s great. There are rally plantains, a Mensch on the Bench, and generally, people having obvious fun playing baseball at a high level. You should tune in.

That said, there are no WBC questions in what follows, but there are questions about Phillies and major league baseball more generally.

@PompeyMalus: What have you seen in Franco so far? Signs of improved approach or no?

Spring Training is a difficult time to gauge any changes in a player’s approach at the plate. While it’s tempting to make a big deal about him seeing fewer than two pitches per plate appearance this spring, the fact is that just about every player is seeing minimal pitches. If you take a look at the Phillies Spring Training stats, it turns out that Franco’s two pitches per plate appearance is actually right in line with everyone else, if not sort of high for the team.

Continue reading…

Jeremy Hellickson: The Anatomy of a $17.2 Million Contract

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson.

For two years, Jeremy Hellickson was an above-average major league starting pitcher. That was 2011-12, the first two years of his career, during which he picked up a American League Rookie of the Year award and a Gold Glove. His ERA was 3.02.

For two years, Hellickson was a below-average major league starting pitcher. That was 2013-14, the following two years, and the end of his time in Tampa’s organization.

On November 14, 2014, he was traded to Arizona. Another below-average season followed, but he showed enough for the new Phillies brass to buy low on him one year to the day after the that trade sent him to the Diamondbacks. It was one of Matt Klentak’s first moves with the team, sending tall, physical right-handed pitching prospect Sam McWilliams for Hellickson’s services. Continue reading…