The State of the Bullpen

The Phillies bullpen looks a lot different than it did entering last season. It’s clear that the front office made improving the bullpen in the short term a major priority for the offseason, as it made a series of deals for relievers without many years of control. Let’s run down the Phillies news look ‘pen, with the assumption that they’ll carry seven relievers.

The Sure Things

Jeanmar Gomez – The Phillies closer from last season proved that his tightrope walk from April to August was a mirage with an absolutely dreadful September. In the end, his paltry 15.8% K% has been overshadowed by the 37 saves which showed to some that he’s “got what it takes to man the 9th inning effectively.” According to Pete Mackanin, Gomez will enter the season as the Phillies closer, but if there was a pool on when he’d be replaced, my money would be before the end of May. Continue reading…

Hector Neris: Building the Next Bullpen

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 Hector Neris.

The Phillies had a bad bullpen in 2016. The trade of Ken Giles left them with newly signed David Hernandez as the only competent looking reliever in the bullpen. After a disastrous first week of the season the Phillies found two relievers to cobble a bullpen around. One of those relievers is closer incumbent Jeanmar Gomez, but his upcoming free agency makes him less relevant to the Phillies’ future. What is more interesting was the emergence of Hector Neris and his splitter from middle relief obscurity.

During the 2015 season, Neris proved himself to be a competent pitcher, riding his splitter and solid command to a good strikeout rate and near league average ERA. In 2016, he increased his splitter usage and turned into a real weapon for the Phillies. Neris like much of the Phillies’ bullpen had a disastrous September, but for the first 5 months of the season he post a 2.11 ERA over 68.1 innings with 19 walks to 86 strikeouts. His full season workload was among the major league leaders (5th in innings pitched and 4th in games), but it was not a career high for Neris, who is unconcerned about his workload. Continue reading…

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…

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…

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…

Tommy Joseph: Swing At The Strikes

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 first baseman Tommy Joseph.

For the ardent reader of the Crashburn Roundtable, my enthusiasm for Tommy Joseph should come as no surprise. For those who chose baseball dormancy as Citizens Bank Park was preparing to close its doors, a quick review of said enthusiasm.

Continue reading…

Maikel Franco: Can He Just Chill Up There?

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 third baseman Maikel Franco.

Maikel Franco certainly makes himself look silly sometimes at the plate. As it became clear that his 2016 sophomore campaign was going to be a year-long source of frustration, spilled drinks, and, in it’s more unfortunate moments, broken screens of various sorts, the sight of Franco’s helmet flying off while reaching for a pitch low and away felt more rule than exception.

Because of Franco’s above-average ability to make contact on pitches out of the zone, his regression in plate discipline and strike-zone discernment don’t necessarily manifest themselves in more strikeouts or fewer walks. Of course, it did to some extent: Franco struck out in 16.8 percent of 2016 plate appearances versus 15.5 percent in 2015 and walked only 6.3 percent of the time versus 7.8 in 2015. Those are steps backwards, to be sure, but hardly alarming ones on their own.

Continue reading…

Jerad Eickhoff: Two Things to Watch For

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 Jerad Eickhoff.

To start off this preview, I want to give you the story of Jerad Eickhoff, the Phillie. Eickhoff was considered something of a throw-in, quad-A type pitcher in the Cole Hamels trade. He had 8 strong starts to finish out the 2015 season, which generated tempered optimism for the 2016 season. The fact that he was essentially Hamels’ equal last year in fWAR is nothing short of amazing.

He posted a 3.65 ERA over nearly 200 innings last year on the strength of a league-average strikeout rate and the 8th-best walk rate among qualified starting pitchers. Offsetting his mediocre fastball is a spectacular curveball and a solid slider. He’s also thrown a change about 5% of the time, but it’s gotten rocked (opponents slugged .643 against it). One of his Spring Training goals is to improve that change into a respectable pitch. The idea is that having a fourth option in his arsenal will make him less predictable and also allow his fastball to play up.

Continue reading…

Vince Velasquez: Trouble with the Curve

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 Vince Velasquez:

It’s no secret that Vince Velasquez, despite his electric fastball, struggled to pitch deep into games because of a lack of effective secondary pitches. He often looked like he was just trying to strike batters out, while forgoing other pitch-to-contact methods that can minimize pitch counts while still recording outs, albeit those not as flashy as 95-mph fastballs blown by helpless hitters.

By his own account, he’s is focusing on gaining trust in his curveball during spring training, a pitch he threw 13.6 percent of the time last season.

He had this to say of his struggles with the pitch: “If you have no conviction in it, no trust in it, why even throw it?” Continue reading…