Checking in on the Remaining 2008 Phillies

With the long-awaited expiration of Ryan Howard‘s notorious contract extension this offseason, the last remaining member of the 2008 World Series Champions departed the organization. Though none are still Phillies, some of the heroes of that age are still out there attempting to trade their baseball-playing abilities for money in the upcoming season. Let’s take a quick look at where they all stand in those efforts.

Will Play in the Majors

Cole Hamels

Hamels is the only player here who is still within the confines of the prime of his career. He has two more guarantees seasons under contract with the Rangers and, once again, figures to be one of the top pitchers in their rotation and in baseball as a whole. Steamer projects him to throw over 200 innings with a 3.91 ERA in 2017, which won’t garner him many Cy Young votes, but should inch him closer to borderline Hall of Fame candidacy. Continue reading…

Phillies Upgrade Right Field, Sign Michael Saunders

In what will likely be the final piece added to the offensive puzzle heading into 2017, the Phillies signed Michael Saunders Monday to a one-year deal worth $9 million with an incentivized option for 2018 worth between $11-14 million. The 30-year-old Saunders, an All Star last season in his second of two with the Toronto Blue Jays, will help plug the Phillies’ right field leak that last season put up the second-fewest wins above replacement (according to Baseball-Reference) in the majors, and finished last in weighted on-base average and wRC+. The position, which was manned in 2016 by Peter Bourjos, Aaron Altherr, Jimmy Paredes, Tyler Goeddel, David Lough, Roman Quinn and Cedric Hunter also ranked in the bottom three in the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

That cadre of right fielders hit just eight home runs last year, tied for fewest in the majors. Saunders, whose main draw is his power from the left side, has matched or topped eight homers in every season that he’s played at least 78 games.

Pete Mackanin made it known at the end of 2016 that he wanted to add a professional hitter or two to the lineup. With Howie Kendrick and now Saunders strengthening their deficient corner outfield spots, Matt Klentak granted him that wish. Continue reading…

Phillies Avoid Arbitration with Jeanmar Gomez, Will Exchange Figures with Hernandez

After reaching a $4.35 million agreement with Freddy Galvis on Thursday to avoid arbitration hearings, the Phillies gained varying levels of closure with their two remaining arbitration candidates on Friday afternoon.

Matt Gelb was the first to report that the Phillies have settled with 2016 closer Jeanmar Gomez for a $4.2 million salary for 2017. He made $1.4 million in 2016 and was projected to receive $4.6 million in arbitration according to MLB Trade Rumors. Prior to a late-season meltdown, Gomez was a surprisingly reliable ninth-inning option for the team, notching 37 saves after recording only one for his career entering the season. His 4.85 ERA is the result of a disastrous final month. Through the end of August, he had a 2.97 ERA and 3.64 FIP.

With the additions of Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit plus last year’s breakout performance from Hector Neris, Gomez figures to return to the sixth or seventh inning option for which he is better suited. His low-strikeout (career 14 percent K-rate), high groundball (career 50.2 percent) style isn’t typical of the modern high-strikeout closer. But, since 2013, he’s used that repertoire to prevent runs well. He’s a valuable bullpen piece and, at $4.2 million, he should be a positive asset for a much deeper Phillies bullpen in 2017. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 2: Santa and Non-Functional Weight

Welcome back to another week of the Crash Bag, an important ploy to fill offseason content quotas but an even more necessary creation for enduring a long baseball season. Thank you to all who submitted questions. If you find yourself with a burning question you would like answered in a future iteration of this series, I encourage you to submit it via Twitter (@cf_larue) or the comment section of this edition.

@Margerine2000:  should the Phillies explore signing “Mr Punch,” Jose Bautista?

If you’re terminally ill and have fewer than 15 months to live or are otherwise disposed to not consider the consequences of actions beyond their likelihood of providing immediate enjoyment–i.e., you’re under the age of 16–yeah, go ahead. Between Bautista and Odubel Herrera, it would be difficult to find a better bat flipping 1-2 punch in the game. Add Yasiel Puig, and you’d have the most GIF-able outfield in the game by a large margin.

However, if your starting assumption is that, as a team unlikely to make the playoffs with or without Jose Bautista, the Phillies should take actions that further, or at least don’t get in the way of, the goal of winning in years beyond 2017, the answer here is a firm no. Continue reading…

Phillies Avoid Arbitration with Freddy Galvis

The Phillies announced Thursday afternoon that they have reached a one-year deal with shortstop Freddy Galvis to avoid arbitration. The one-year deal is reportedly worth $4.35 million. This was Galvis’ second year of arbitration after making $2 million in 2016; MLB Trade Rumors had projected him to make $4.4 million had he actually gone to arbitration, so the Phillies don’t appear to have gotten big savings by coming to a pre-hearing agreement.

In recent years, arbitration hearings have become incredibly rare as teams either buy out players with extensions before becoming eligible for arbitration or reaching one-year deals like this one before hearings. In the latter case, teams don’t appear to gain much financially, but the idea is that they gain some goodwill by not putting the player through the ordeal of a hearing. In such a hearing, representatives from the team sit across a table from a player and his agent and detail the reasons he’s worth less than he thinks he is. That, obviously, isn’t a great way to build long-term trust with a player.

If all goes according to plan, Galvis will shift into a utility role before the season is over when J.P. Crawford is promoted to the majors. Baseball-Reference has him as worth 1.3 WAR while FanGraphs, who loved his defense, had him at 2.4 WAR last season. His 20 home runs doubled his career total though his .241/.274/.399 batting line was 26 percent below league average according to wRC+. Continue reading…

Reminiscing with Graphical Representation: The 2008 Phillies

On Tuesday, I unveiled my full-season infographic detailing the season that was for the Philadelphia Phillies using Wins Above Average (WAA) by position. The season was, for all intents and purposes, pretty ugly. But what makes a (hopefully) successful rebuild so rewarding, what makes the special seasons (like 2008) so truly special are the years like these that often proceed them.

As a quick reminder, here’s what the 2016 season looked like for the Phillies. The full story and graphics can be READ AND SEEN HERE.

In 2016, the Phillies tied for last in the league with -16 wins above average. They played at or above league-average in just three positions: catcher, second base and center field. Of the remaining positions, their starting rotation ranked 18th in the league while every other position ranked no better than 24th. Spelling the rotation, the bullpen’s WAA was second-worst in the league and the position players as a whole posted the lowest wins above average in the majors with -11.2.

Terrible position players, terrible relievers, okay starting pitching. Thus was the story of 2016.

So were this rebuilding process to bare similar fruits to the most recently constructed Phillies powerhouse, what would that look like? Here’s what the Phillies 2008 roster looked like when it took home the team’s first World Series trophy in 28 years.

*Reminder: positions marked in red are the top half in the league, those in blue are in the bottom half. The darker the red, the closer to the position was to leading the league, the darker the blue, the closer it was to league-worst.*

Continue reading…

Phillies Announce 16 Non-Roster Invites

Without many established major league players on the Phillies 40-man roster, this year’s Spring Training figures to offer a greater level of intrigue than recent years as many of the top prospects and young players in the organization will be hoping to lock up a spot with the team on Opening Day. With that level of open competition, there is also the possibility that a player or prospect not currently on the 40-man roster could earn such a spot with a strong spring performance.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Phillies announced 16 non-40-man players who have received invitations to major league camp this spring:

Those 16 join the likes of LHP Sean Burnett, infielders Pedro Florimon and Hector Gomez, and outfielder Daniel Nava who were announced as non-roster invites earlier this offseason. Continue reading…

Phillies 2016 Season Infographic

(If the graphic below appears slightly compressed, widen your browser window.)

The 2016 season was a necessary evil in the long, plodding course of a Major League Baseball rebuild. Even the kick in the pants provided by Ruben Amaro Jr. on his way out the door could not avoid the slop that constituted last season’s roster. That’s just the way she goes.

So in light of that, in order to fully take stock of that roster and to shed some light on the changes made by the front office since the season mercifully came to an end on October 2, I broke down the team’s performance on a position-by-position basis using wins above average figures courtesy of the lovely folks at Baseball-Reference. Below that – in case you forgot just how bad the second half of the season was – is a graphic showing the team’s proximity to the .500 mark. Red, as depicted by the uptick in wins in May, shows days when the Phillies were above .500. Days below .500, as the Phillies were each and every day after the first of June, are shown in blue.

Left Field

Among other glaring deficiencies, the corner outfield spots were black holes in Pete Mackanin‘s daily lineup card. The cumulative left field wins above average of -4.4 was the worst mark in the league, over a full win worse than the Colorado Rockies who trotted out the likes of Gerrardo Parra, Ryan Raburn, Brandon Barnes and Daniel Descalso before finding some relief in the late July call-up of David Dahl. Not even the thin air at Coors Field could make that contingent worth watching without one (or several) Coors in hand.

What began in Philadelphia as a tryout for Cedric Hunter quickly turned into a mélange of mediocrity. And that’s putting it kindly. David Lough got his reps in April before Tyler Goeddel stole the spotlight to begin May. Starting all but three games from May 4 to June 1, he hit .286 with an .818 OPS. That translated to a 118 OPS+, a figure that – for a Rule 5 rookie – one could only expect to have solidified him at least as a part-time left fielder for a team with no win-now urgency. Instead, Cody Asche returned from an oblique injury and started 45 of the next 54 games in June and July with a blistering 219/.292/.375 slashline and a .667 OPS that was 21 percent worse than the league average. August and September saw starts handed to a recovered Aaron Altherr, Jimmy Paredes, Darin Ruf and Roman Quinn. But the position never saw any success quite like it did when Goeddel routinely stepped to the plate three or four times a night in May.

That slew of left fielders combined for the worst on-base percentage in the majors (.278), a .316 slugging percentage 30 points lower than any other team’s left fielders and an OPS last in the league by 35 points. By wRC+, the Phillies’ left fielders produced at a clip 40 percent lower than league average. No team’s left fielders had posted a wRC+ that low in over a decade. By wRAA (weighted runs above average) those same left fielders contributed -50.4 runs over the course of the season, the fourth-worst mark in baseball history.

With that said, it’s no surprise the first move Matt Klentak made to bolster the offense was to snag Howie Kendrick from the Dodgers for Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney. The latter was originally traded to the Phillies in the Chase Utley deal, sparking quite possibly my favorite opening paragraph in Crashburn history, courtesy of Tim Guenther.

“In a move that shows just how easy it is to improve the Phillies’ roster, Matt Klentak struck yet another trade in the early offseason. Howie Kendrick will bring his league average bat to Philadelphia, presumably to play a league average left field, and to run the bases in a somewhat league average manner. Heading to LA are the inexplicably divisive Darin Ruf and a confused Darnell Sweeney, who was reportedly last seen mumbling to himself, “No…the Dodgers traded me…to the Phillies.”Tim Guenther on November 12, 2016

Right Field

If only slightly less depressing than left field, the cluster of outfielders that patrolled the right field line posted -2.2 wins above average last season, good for second-worst in the majors. Improvement! That figure, however, would be lower without both the defensive exploits of Peter Bourjos in his 92 starts, and his inexplicable late June/early July stretch of 23 games in which he hit a league-leading .440 with a top-five 1.208 OPS. Let me break that down for you into digestible pieces: Peter Bourjos. Had a 23-game stretch. With a top-five OPS. In Major League Baseball. In this universe. Yes, that Major League Baseball. Playing the game with the round horsehide ball, wooden stick, dirt and grass.

He ended 2016 with as good a season as one could expect from the defensively inclined outfielder, essentially posting his career averages in every triple-slash category while playing right field for the first time in his career and playing it at an above-average level.

The right field position yielded the following numbers in 2016:

  • League-worsts in: wRC+ (70), wOBA (.279), wRAA (-27.2)
  • Second-worst in: Slugging percentage (.324), batting average (.231), runs batted in (67)
  • Third-worst in: On-base percentage (.291) and isolated power (.119)

If any more moves are to be made this offseason, as Ken Rosenthal pointed out last week, it very well could be to upgrade right field. For now, right field looks to be shared by a fully healthy Aaron Altherr, if he remains so, and Roman Quinn who is bound by that very same health-dependent qualifier.

Up the Middle

If I were to tell you heading into the season that the only three positions in which the Phillies would post average or above-average numbers could be found straight up the middle of the diamond, you’d have closed CrashburnAlley.com and never returned. Yes, Odubel Herrera’s success, while not a given by any means, would have been pointed to as one of the team’s few positions of strength. The success at catcher and second base, however, came unanticipated.

Cesar Hernandez played a rather inspiring second base in his 143 starts, especially given his prior career performance. He posted career highs in every major offensive statistic, albeit it running the bases at a high-school level.

Eric’s report card on Carlos Ruiz noted that the 37-year-old’s bat likely benefited from his decreased workload in 2016. And with less Chooch in the lineup, Cameron Rupp turned into a better than league-average option behind the plate. Among the 24 catchers who logged over 300 plate appearances, Rupp’s .447 slugging percentage was fifth-highest. Rupp’s 99 wRC+ was 12 percent better than the average backstop and he nearly turned himself into a mid-season trade candidate.

Rest of the Infield

While Hernandez held his own and then some at second, the rest of the infield fell remarkably flat. The cumulative WAA of the first base, shortstop and third base positions all ranked in the bottom-six in MLB.

Split almost evenly by Tommy Joseph and Ryan Howard in 2016, first base for now is the sole property of Joseph in his first full major league season. The pair (in addition to seven starts combined from Ruf and Andres Blanco) posted a .285 on-base percentage, the second-lowest for any team’s first basemen and 49 points below average for the position. Their 43 home runs were the most any team garnered from the first base position, although in reality, that was just about the only thing the pair did well. They were the only team that had two first basemen topping 20 homers (23 from Howard, 20 from Joseph). But with -3.1 wins above average, they were the least effective first base platoon in the majors.

After his spring training-leading nine homers and 23 RBIs, Maikel Franco could not follow up that power in the regular season. Instead of cementing himself at third base for the foreseeable future, he pushed back his own timeline at least a year, entering 2017 with that same goal in mind. Just 11 teams had negative wins above replacement at third base, and Franco’s underwhelming performance landed the Phils in that bottom-third.

There’s not much to say about Freddy Galvis aside from his 20 home run explosion. Only 10 teams received more homers from the shortstop position in 2016. His Gold Glove finalist performance at shortstop was expected, and aside from the unexpected power, he put up career averages in on-base percentage and batting average. But in a league with a surplus of young talent at shortstop, Galvis’ career numbers won’t cut it. The .284 combined OBP the Phils saw at shortstop was worst in the league and 34 points below league average, nearly all of which came from Galvis’ league-worst .275 OBP.

Rotation

Powering the 24-17 start to the season, the young starting rotation showed promise despite receiving the second worst run support in the majors. Every pitcher but one (Jeremy Hellickson, 29 years old) that started more than four games was younger than 26-year-old Jerad Eickhoff. The rotation’s particular strength was their minute walk-rate, a league-leading 6.5% from an inexperienced corps that has thus far headlined the rebuilding efforts. Zach Eflin, Aaron Nola, Adam Morgan, Alec Asher, Hellickson and Eickhoff all posted better than league-average walk-rates. Vince Velasquez and Jake Thompson did not. Thompson’s 11.8% walk-rate was worst for and Phillies starter and the second-worst at any level in his professional career. Velasquez, however, made up for his high rate of free passes with a team-best 27.6% strikeout-rate among starters that ranked eighth in the majors for all pitchers with 120 innings pitched.

FanGraphs’ soft/hard-hit rates for the rotation were also encouraging; Starters allowed the fifth-highest soft-hit percentage and the 24th lowest hard-hit percentage.

Bullpen

The 2016 bullpen left much to be desired. Other than Hector Neris – who shined in his first full season in the majors (80.1 IP, 2.58 ERA, .200 opposing batting average) – and 40 innings from Edubray Ramos, there was little for Mackanin to hang his hat on. Jeanmar Gomez’s 37 saves were only possible due to a lucky streak of close games. His peripherals significantly undermined those 37 saves, and made his 13.20 ERA after August 14 less than surprising. No closer with at least 18 saves had a lower strikeout percentage (15.8%), and his .286 batting average against and 1.46 WHIP were wholly unconvincing. No decision will be made until spring training about filling the closer role, but the most likely candidate seems to be Neris.

As a whole, the pen’s K-rate hovered around the league average, but their walk-rate (9.4%, 23rd in MLB) was less than ideal. And it only goes downhill from there. They held the fourth-highest WHIP (1.47), allowed the third-highest batting average at .266, had the second-worst FIP (4.57) and were one of only three teams with a bullpen ERA over five.

Just as the organization upgraded the worst left field position in the league, and just as they may still upgrade in right field (which was second-worst in the majors last season), the Phillies made two bullpen moves to bolster what was the second-least effective relief corps in the league by wins above average. Trading for Pat Neshek and signing Joaquin Benoit to a one-year deal, the club filled in two bullpen spots with veteran placeholders on short-term deals.

Note: All pitching wins above average numbers do not include batting outcomes. They only take into account pitchers’ contributions on the mound.

Crash Bag, Vol. 1: Death, Hurdles, and the Great Outfield Hoagie

The Crash Bag is officially back and I promise you, dear reader, that it is here to stay for as long as I’m around. Especially now, there’s not much going on here in Philliesland, so let’s get to things you want to talk about and have a little fun while we’re at it.

@JohnMorgera: What do you see being the biggest hurdle in the Phillies rebuild?

Let me let you in on a secret with the hurdles, as someone who ran both the 400m hurdles and the 110m hurdles in high school: they aren’t all that high. Any relatively in-shape person can physically get over a single hurdle on the highest setting (42 inches). The key to navigating them well is maintaining your rhythm and just extending your stride over them, not jumping or stuttering in your approach.

Continue reading…

A New Year’s Crashburn Roundtable

It’s the New Year, which means it’s either time to reflect on the year just was or look forward to the year that has begun. With our report cards, we’ve already suffered too much reflection of 2016. So, now it is time to look forward to what will hopefully be a brighter 2017 for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Assuming you unilaterally make decisions of the entire Phillies front office, what it your New Year’s resolution?

Tim Guenther: An ambitious goal with a reasonable likelihood of failure? Establish five regular position players for the next playoff bound Phillies’ team. This season will offer a healthy mix of young players looking to take a step forward and real prospects looking to force their way into a major league role. Finding over half your future lineup from that group would be a huge success heading into next offseason. Continue reading…