2016 Phillies Report Card: Carlos Ruiz

This time last year, most Phillies fans had all but declared Carlos Ruiz’s career over. He had just completed an age-36 season in which he posted the lowest batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and isolated power of his career. According to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, he contributed negative value above replacement to the Phillies for the first time in his career in 2015 (Baseball Prospectus rated his 2007 season as below replacement level). As the season wore on, the Phillies had gradually replaced him as the starter with Cameron Rupp. With a club option coming up following the 2016 season, it stood to figure that neither the Phillies, nor any other team for that matter, would sign up for a year of a 38-year old catcher.

Since that moment of doom and gloom for Chooch, two different teams have decided he was worth parting with not-quite-trivial players to acquire. How did that happen for a 37-year old at a strenuous defensive position who is clearly on the decline? Well, unsurprisingly, he benefitted from rest.

Entering 2016, the Phillies (unofficially) made very clear what had been (unofficially) somewhat clear over the second half of 2015: Carlos Ruiz was the second-string catcher behind Cameron Rupp. Sure, Chooch started opening day against the Cincinnati Reds, but there wasn’t a single week before his late-August trade to the Dodgers where he started more than three games. Whether the team depth chart reflected it is immaterial to the reality: Carlos Ruiz was the Phillies backup catcher.

Instead of viewing that change of role as a demotion resulting from a decline in performance–which it may well have been–I prefer to interpret it as a smart move on the part of the Phillies to nurse as much effective performance out of their aging catcher. While it’s difficult to say whether the additional rest was the cause*, Ruiz was once again a positive contributor to the Phillies (and later, the Dodgers) in 2016. With the Phillies, he recorded his highest OPS (.719) since 2012 and his exit velocity was uniformly up on all batted ball types over 2015.

Whatever the cause (probably additional rest), Ruiz had a successful 2016 relative to expectations with a batting line that was more or less league average (100 wRC+ and 97 OPS+ with Phillies). As a testament to his value as a baseball player in 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are generally regarded as a progressive, “smart” front office, thought Chooch was a worthwhile player to acquire for their race to a division title and, later, the postseason. Not only was he worth getting, but he was worth potentially angering Clayton Kershaw, et al. by giving up A.J. Ellis and throwing in a not useless relief prospect in Tommy Bergjans on top of that. After appearing in seven of the Dodgers’ 12 postseason games, they traded him for a bona fide major league reliever in Vidal Nuno this offseason.

In terms of grading, we have to adjust relative to expectations. As a nearly-perfectly league-average player in 2016, Ruiz earns a solid unadjusted “C”. However, considering the reasonable expectation entering the season that 2016 would be Chooch’s last as a major leaguer, that he performed as well as he did, albeit in a limited role, and will likely continue to play major league baseball in 2017 for the Seattle Mariners has to count for something. How much count that is a matter of personal taste and Chooch has undoubtedly earned the benefit of a generous adjustment.

Grade: B+

*While it is certainly possible that “bad luck” explains his down 2015 season as evidenced by an uncharactaristically low .242 BABIP (.287 career), his 15.9 percent hard-hit rate was by far the lowest of his career, suggesting that there was an actual performance dip. Further, it stands to reason that a 37-year old playing the most physically taxing position on the diamond would benefit from additional off days.

2016 Phillies Report Card: Alec Asher

In June, Alec Asher became the second Philadelphia Phillie suspended for a positive PED test in 2016. Asher and reliever Daniel Stumpf were both pegged for drug tests that revealed Turinabol, an anabolic steroid popularized by East Germany’s propensity to feed it to their Olympic athletes in the 1970s and 80s.

Called up for his first taste of the big leagues late in 2015, Asher made seven starts for a pitiful starting rotation that most frequently handed the ball to Aaron Harang (29 starts, 4.86 ERA) and Jerome Williams (21 starts, 5.80 ERA). Pause for gasps of horror.

Somehow, Asher fared even worse. He went 0-6 allowing over a run an inning and a hit in one-third of all at-bats while striking out just two hitters for each of his eight home runs surrendered.

After that disappointing start to his Phillies career, the coaching staff assigned him some winter homework: focus on your two-seam fastball, the four-seamer lacks velocity and is simply too flat.

To begin his 2016 season, Asher pitched well in four starts each in double-A and triple-A in large part due to a dependency on his shiny new two-seamer. He threw 25.1 innings in April for the Reading Fightin Phils with a 3.20 ERA and went 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in four starts for Lehigh Valley, allowing 15 hits in 29.1 innings.

Shortly thereafter, news of Asher’s 80-game suspension broke. The 25-year-old would not pitch again until three short appearances for the Phillies’ rookie affiliate in the Gulf Coast League and a start for Reading as his suspension wound down in August.

That two-seamer propelled him to a much more stable second stint with the big club. In his five-start, 2.28-ERA month of September with the Phillies, he held opponents to a .216/.257/.294 slash line with a 3.6% walk-rate.

Asher completely reversed his fastball usage this season in accordance with the organization’s wishes. Where in 2015 Asher threw his four-seamer four times more than his two-seamer, the story this season was the opposite. He threw his two-seamer more than four times as much as his flat four-seamer that Pete Mackanin saw knocked around in 2015.

In 2015, Asher went to his four-seamer 49.3% of the time while throwing his two-seamer for just 11.6% of all offerings. This season, exactly half of his pitches were two-seamers, throwing just 38 four-seamers (9% of all pitches).

Opponents struggled to make solid contact, hitting .191 against the two-seamer. Lefties, more than righties, struggled with the pitch that tailed away from their barrels. In 28 left-handed at-bats that ended with a two-seamer, only four came on the inside half if the plate, proving the pitch’s effectiveness in drawing swings as it dives away from the hitter.

The alteration seemed to work for Asher on each level he pitched at this season. He no longer displays the borderline mid to low 90s fastball advertised when he came over from Texas. He is firmly planted in the low 90s and now that he relies on the two-seamer, he resides most often around 90 mph. His groundball rate in the majors wasn’t as high as it was in the minors. That is something to look out for in 2017 if injuries allow him to crack the starting rotation at some point this season.

In just five starts, he accrued 0.6 WAR, the same as number as Adam Morgan in his 23 appearances. Yes, I too am baffled that Morgan managed a positive WAR this season (113.1 IP, 81 runs, 6.04 ERA, 4.98 FIP, 1.500 WHIP), but I digress.

All in all, Asher didn’t pitch at any one level for more than five consecutive starts, making it very tough to make appropriate judgments about his play this season. Assigning a firm grade, to me, feels a bit misleading with such small, chopped up sample sizes. When he pitched, he pitched well. But he couldn’t play consistently after being popped for taking gym candy. He didn’t earn any credits toward his degree for his shortened 2016 performance, but pitched well enough not to fail.

Grade: Pass

2016 Phillies Report Card: Jake Thompson

Note: For this report card, I am only grading Thompson on his major league production. He set triple-A on fire and would score straight-A’s for his time in Lehigh Valley while four-and-a-half years younger than the average player in the International League. He threw 129.2 innings with a 2.50 ERA, the best mark in the league by over a half of a run, including going 8-0 in his final 11 starts with a 1.21 ERA and 0.942 WHIP.

The last time you saw Jake Thompson, he was pulled after four innings of work trailing 3-0 against the New York Mets during a game that in a few short innings would become the worst shutout loss in modern Phillies history.

The next 14 unanswered runs – surrendered by the likes of Phil Klein, Colton Murray, Frank Herrmann, Patrick Schuster and Luis Garcia – went a long way toward the bullpen’s MLB-worst 7.88 ERA in September. Not exactly a batch of world-beaters.

The start was the last of 10 for the 22-year-old after an August call-up, his first taste of the big leagues with his third MLB organization. As a prospect included in two swaps for big-name pitchers, the former second-round draft pick of the Tigers was sent to Texas as part of a Joakim Soria deal in the summer of 2014, and exactly a year and one week after that, left the dry heat of Texas as one of the four prospects sent to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels trade.

For the least two seasons, he’s graced each of the three most prominent pre-season Top 100 prospect lists.

Baseball America MLB Pipeline Baseball Prospectus
Pre-2015 #43 #83 #47
Pre-2016 #74 #55 #34

The last of the three pitching prospects netted in the Hamels deal to pitch for the big club, Thompson debuted on August 6, splitting 10 starts evenly between August and September before being shut down after his aforementioned start in Queens. His season inning total climbed to 182.1 IP combined between triple-A Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, the most for a season in his career, prompting Pete Mackanin to cut his season short.

Thompson’s year-by-year innings totals are as follows. 2012: 28.1 (rookie ball), 2013: 83.1 (single-A), 2014: 129.2 (high-A and double-A), 2015: 132.2 (double-A), 2016: 182.1 (triple-A and MLB). Overall, a very reasonable workload inflation.

August 5 1-4 26.1 29 23 14 16 7.86 1.633 .282 .367 .544 .910
September 5 2-2 27.1 24 11 14 16 3.86 1.390 .247 .357 .433 .790

A rough August for Thompson was remedied with a much more stable September, as evidenced by nearly every split shown above. The lone stats that remained identical were his BB/K figures. Thompson has always been a strike-thrower with a wide arsenal of pitches, but has never truly established himself as a strikeout guy. His BB% showed promising decline as he climbed the minor league ranks despite multiple organizational switches and coaching staffs, and remained in the 7-8% range from his time in double-A with Texas through his promotion to the Phillies. At 11.8% in his 10 starts this season, it was just about the highest in his career. His 13.8% K-rate was the lowest in his career.

His fully-stocked, six-pitch mix is what I call a firework repertoire. Imagine a four-seam fastball as the center of an exploding firework. His off-speed pitches include a slider with right-to-left movement and some downward plane, a left-to-right changeup that backs up on right-handers and has fair downward movement as well, and a curveball with average drop. In addition to his four-seamer, he throws a hard sinker with arm-side tail and a cutter with the opposite action. All originating from that four-seam fastball slot, this gives him offerings that move in every conceivable direction with speed and depth variations for each.

The slider was his go-to out pitch in the minors, but he struggled with it toward his call-up. He threw it the most of any of his non-four-seam options in the majors and saw fair success with it.

In his disappointing August, he mixed up his pitches and struggled. The main adjustment he made entering September was to rely more on his four-seamer; It was the only pitch he threw more in September than August, while using every other offering less.

I think it is unlikely he continues to progress as a six-pitch pitcher. None of the six seem to be so detrimental that they are taking away from his ability to pitch as of now, but look for him to potentially scrap an offering in the future as he learns more about who he is and how he can be most effective as a major league starter.

Gun to my head, I’d guess he drops the curveball. He threw it sparingly both months – just 17 times (3.57%) in August and twice in September – and didn’t get a single whiff on it. But if his slider regains it’s minor league form and go-to status, maybe he discards the cutter that shares similar, albeit significantly less, gloveside run. No decisions need be made so early in a career, and he’s shown he’s not too set in his ways to make adjustments, be it mechanical or arsenal-related. Late in August, Bob McLure simplified Thompson’s windup by scrapping his hands-over the head trigger and molding it into a modified stretch.

My main takeaway from a ten-start major league debut is the adjustment from one month to the next. The lack of what would be understandable frustration after opening his MLB career in such a fashion is encouraging. And we should get to see a lot of Thompson this year as he presumably slots into the fifth spot in the rotation behind Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez. I’d grade Thompson’s August as a D- and September as a B-, averaging out to a C-. Still a passing grade.

Grade: C-

2016 Phillies Report Card: Aaron Altherr

Aaron Altherr was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley in August 2015 to replace Maikel Franco, who had his wrist broken by a Jeremy Hellickson fastball a week prior. This was not his MLB debut, as he’d taken 6 trips to the plate in 2014, but for all intents and purposes, this was the first glimpse of Altherr Phillies fans got. And he did not disappoint.

Despite a 25.5% K-rate, Altherr powered himself to a 125 wRC+ over 161 plate appearances on the strength of a .248 ISO. That, along with above-average outfield defense and baserunning, earned him 1.8 WAR, or about what you could expect an average major leaguer to produce in a full season. Altherr did that in a quarter of a season. He also did this.

Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Jeanmar Gomez

That Jeanmar Gomez played the role of an effective closer for the 2016 Philadelphia Phillies for so long was a slight miracle in and of itself. It’s not to say that Gomez is an incompetent reliever, but simply one not built for high-leverage situations. You can’t find a semi-reliable closer in the league without a great out-pitch, an offering that jumps out on opposing scouting reports like a bolded stat on a Baseball-Reference page. That is where Gomez lacks. But as new age bullpens are leveraged more and more by managers navigating the back half of games, reliable groundball-inducing relievers are viable commodities. Gomez was just that. With a groundball-rate in the top 25% of qualified National League relievers, Gomez’s sinker-slider-changeup combination was worthy of the Phillies tendering him a contract (which they did last week).

His strikeout rate, however, is the ultimate indicator that he doesn’t belong as a long-term closer. Of 60 National League relievers with 50-plus innings of work, Gomez’s 15.8 K% was lower than all but two. No closer with at least 18 saves had a lower strikeout-rate (Gomez ended 2016 tied for eighth in the MLB with 37 saves).screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-4-11-33-pm Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Cameron Rupp

Back before the 2013 season, Matt Winkelman and I were holding down the proverbial fort at PhuturePhillies.com, and we conceived to go back and forth on a couple players where we had wide splits on our soon-to-be-published organizational rankings. One of those players was Cameron Rupp. My ranking of Rupp was about 15 spots ahead of Matt’s, and my reasoning had been well documented in the comments of the blog the previous year (note: never read the comments). I spelled it out once again:

“In my opinion, he’s good enough and tracking in the right direction to see him having a 3-5 year window of being a just below average/average big league regular at the plate and probably about the same behind it, with back-up roles in the years beyond that. And that kind of player is valuable. He’s no Buster Posey. He’s not going to be anyone’s franchise player, but he’s a good backstop with a good arm, and he’s got at least a fair amount of power, without sacrificing plate discipline.”

Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Peter Bourjos

These report card grades we’ve been giving out are not meted on an absolute scale. If that were the case, the best players would get A’s and a player like Peter Bourjos, who just hit 21% worse than league average as a right fielder, would earn a failing grade. But like all baseball evaluation, these grades are given on a relative scale, based on expectation.

If you’ve followed Peter Bourjos for much of his career, you essentially knew what was coming. Last offseason Bloglordess Corinne Landrey wrote a post about the Phillies outfield options for the upcoming season. In this post, she talked about Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, and even trading for Marcell Ozuna. However, shortly after the post went live, the Phillies claimed Bourjos from the Cardinals and Corinne added an update blurb about him. This is what it said:

UPDATE: The Phillies announced that they’ve claimed outfield defensive guru, Peter Bourjos, on waivers about two hours after I posted this. Bourjos is entering his final year of arbitration and adds very little on offense.

Bourjos was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball for the first several years of his career. He’s always been very fast with great range but limited arm strength. That’s not to say he’s Juan Pierre out there, but perhaps he would have been better off spending time in left field than right.  According to both DRS (+1) and UZR (+1.1), he was a slightly above average right fielder, but for a guy with a reputation as a “defensive guru,” that’s faint praise.

As for the bat, well, let’s just say Corinne was spot on with her analysis there. Outside of a June in which he posted a 190 wRC+ in 23 games, he was absolutely dreadful at the plate in 2016. Bourjos stepped to the plate 383 times and posted a .291 wOBA with an on-base percentage below .300 on the season. Bourjos is a good baserunner, but with so few chances to showcase it, his prowess on the basepaths was wasted. He had just 6 stolen bases against 4 times getting caught.

Bourjos wasn’t always a black hole at the plate. Through the first three years of his career Bourjos posted a 97 OPS+ and 7.1 fWAR over almost two full seasons of playing time. Since, his OPS+ has dropped to 83 over 414 games, and he’s posted just 2.5 fWAR. This year? He posted an 82 OPS+, right in line with his previous three seasons.

The most succinct way I can sum up Bourjos’ year is as follows. He was a bad hitter after a career of bad hitting. His fielding went downhill as he approaches his 30th birthday. He continued to be a below-average player after being a below-average player for several years now. If you had realistic expectations for Bourjos entering the year, as Corinne did, I don’t think you can really fail Boujos despite his bad year. He gave us exactly what was advertised.

Grade: C-

2016 Phillies Report Card: Dylan Cozens

By this point, you’ve no doubt heard of Dylan Cozens, the biggest power threat in the organization and a recent addition to the Phillies prospect-laden 40-man roster. It’s not often a spoonerism so succinctly encompasses a player’s strength (quite literally) as it does for the gargantuan 22-year-old who posted a minor league-best 40 homers. Dylan Cozens spent his first full season in double-A Cylan Dozens of baseballs. Nearly three and a half dozen to be precise. At 6’5” 235 pounds, he’s a carbon copy of Carson Wentz sans pads, plus some lumber on his shoulder, and he puts every pound into his cuts from the left side. While that produces plus-plus power, it also causes problems with plate discipline, especially facing off-speed pitches.

His power played in homer-happy Reading where the jet streams are bountiful and the balls fly out like bee-bees, rocketing him up MLB.com’s Top 30 Phillies prospect list from No. 22 to No. 6 by season’s end. The home-road splits tell a similar tale.

He hit three-quarters of his homers at home, and his .744 home slugging percentage was essentially his road .766 OPS. ‘Nuff said. Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: J.P. Crawford

J.P. Crawford, in his age-21 season, made it to the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs for 87 games. Regardless of which prospect list you trust, Crawford is considered a top-3 prospect in all of baseball, as of the midseason updates, and now, the Phillies’ best prospect in years is now knocking on the door of the Big League Club. Many (including myself) would have loved to see him ply his trade against Major League pitchers, but that wasn’t realistic, given that he wasn’t on the 40-man roster and the service time manipulation that teams use to keep players cheaper longer.

If you’re not very familiar with Crawford’s profile, he has a very advanced control of the strike zone for a player his age, and he projects to have a plus hit tool, average power, above-average baserunning, plus fielding, and a plus arm. He has the potential to be a perennial All-Star, and, coming off a 2015 season in which he dominated High-A (192 wRC+ in 95 PAs) before impressing in his first taste of Double-A (121 wRC+ in 506 PAs), expectations were high.

Continue reading…