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…

Misguided Early Spring Training Analysis: 5th Outfielder Battle

Spring Training statistics are just short of utter meaninglessness. This likely isn’t news to you as a reader of Crashburn Alley. Bill Baer made it a point to provide an annual reminder of this fact on these very pages. That first link offers a particularly comprehensive reason for unreliability of Spring Training statistics. To start, the length of Spring Training is such that all sample sizes are small. Added to that are considerations such as players working on weaknesses rather than playing and competing as they would in regular season play and quality of competition.

In the first five games of 2017 Spring Training, we have seen all of that. Obviously, five games is a minuscule sample. We had reports yesterday of Clay Buchholz only working at 80 percent effort, which, presumably, would inflate the stats of hitters facing him. Phillies hitters have likely faced similar non-100 percent efforts from opposing pitchers. Early in the spring, especially, low-level minor leaguers see time in Grapefruit and Cactus League games, diluting the quality of competition even further than the spring on the whole. All that is to say that none of what follows matters much at all.

Even so, as a Phillies-centric site, it behooves us to focus on what is perhaps the only truly interesting roster battle in camp for the glorious role of fifth outfielder.

Continue reading…

Who Are You Series Wrap-Up

For the past five weeks, we’ve been looking in depth at new members of the Phillies roster. In case you missed any of the profiles, here are links to all five of them:

OF – Howie Kendrick (link)

RP – Pat Neshek (link)

RP – Joaquin Benoit (link)

OF – Michael Saunders (link)

SP – Clay Buchholz (link)

Before putting a close on this series, I wanted to get some thoughts on some notable non-roster invites who didn’t merit due to questionable odds of making the team. Some were explored in some depth in our other preview series that attempted to predict the Opening Day roster well before it was prudent to do so.

Continue reading…

MLB Pipeline Releases Phillies Top 30 Prospects

On Tuesday, MLB released their top 30 prospects for every National League East team on MLBpipeline.com. While for many this was a chance to see what the league’s prospect gurus had to say about the Braves farm system, which is one of the best, we here at Crashburn were interested in getting our first look at their take on a Phils farm system that has seen some mixed reviews throughout the offseason.

While the general consensus is that the organization is above average, opinions have varied. Keith Law ranked the Phillies as the 14th best system, down from sixth heading into 2016, while Baseball Prospectus tabbed only three teams as having more Top 101 prospects than the Phillies.

A few factors combined to lower the esteem held toward what many in Philly think is a bright prospect-studded future. First, the organization graduated a handful of upper-level prospects last season. The last MLB Pipeline ranking in 2015 had Jake Thompson ranked third, Zach Eflin as a top-10 prospect and Alec Asher also listed at 25. All three played with the big club in 2016.

In addition, a few of the best prospects in the system didn’t take expected steps forward. Nick Williams tried to swing his way to Philadelphia with no such luck, J.P. Crawford, who many also assumed would debut with the Phillies late last season, didn’t make the adjustment to triple-A as swimmingly as hoped for a top-5 prospect in all of baseball, and Mark Appel struggled before having season-ending elbow surgery.

You lose some players to the majors, a few top guys don’t make statements that incite the greatest level of confidence, and your stock realistically will drop. So it went.

So how do they rank the current prospects? Continue reading…

Predicting the Phillies Starting Rotation Order

The 2017 Phillies feel unique among rebuilding teams in that their starting pitching rotation is likely to be 80 percent the same as it was the previous season. Potential building blocks like Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez are all back. For better or worse, Jeremy Hellickson is back as well after accepting the Phillies’ qualifying offer instead of testing the free agency waters. The only difference in the rotation is not the arrival of a top prospect or big free agent intended to vault the team closer to contention. It’s just Clay Buchholz replacing Charlie Morton. At risk of oversimplification, Buchholz and Morton are, in the grand scheme, more or less the same: veteran pitchers with histories of injuries and inconsistency acquired on the cheap.

With that level of similarity between the 2016 and 2017 pitching rotations, it shouldn’t be surprising that manager Pete Mackanin has suggested another similarity between 2016 and 2017: Jeremy Hellickson is the likely opening day starter. This builds on what is a growing trend of boring announcements coming from the Phillies, beginning with the revelation that Jeanmar Gomez would likely be the team’s closer once again. The selection is not without merit. After all, one could reasonably argue that Hellickson was the team’s best starter in 2016, though Jerad Eickhoff has a similarly compelling case and Aaron Nola’s peak performance was undoubtedly better than both. Even if Hellickson is truly the best pitcher on the team–and it’s very possible he is–having him as the team’s nominal number one starter feels somehow disappointing. Continue reading…

Who Are You: Clay Buchholz

This post is the last of a weekly series which has run each Thursday. Over the offseason, we took a deep dive look at new members of the Phillies roster. Now that we’re just weeks away from settling down with these guys every day, the hope is that this series has provided a requisite introduction in preparation for the coming season.

Previous Installments:

Howie Kendrick

Pat Neshek

Joaquin Benoit

Michael Saunders Continue reading…

Upping the Down(trodden): Stairs’ Case

Along with their quiet fury of moves this offseason, the Phillies made a lone coaching change, coaxing 2008 NLCS folk hero Matt Stairs down a few flights of, ahem, stairs, out of the broadcast booth and back into those familiar snug red pinstripes.

The goal? Improvement.

It’s no secret the Phillies lacked offensive firepower last season. Last in runs scored and OPS in the majors, they posted a .301 on-base percentage, their worst in four and a half decades. Among 2016 MLB teams, they finished five points off the lowest batting average, two points better than the worst OBP and one point above the worst slugging percentage.

So how will Stairs improve the bats? He spoke with CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury during the Phils beat writer’s Countdown to Clearwater series and outlined his plan.

He focused on a handful of points, almost echoing the sentiments of a buzzed-on-Jim-Beam Crash Davis who, in Bull Durham, spoke of how one dying quail, one ground ball with eyes per week is the difference between a .250 and a .300 hitter. Stairs said: “If every player gave away five at-bats per week that’s 120 at-bats per season. Now, think about it if you can cut that number in half.” Continue reading…

Crashburn Roundtable: Grading the Phillies Offseason

With pitchers and catchers having reported this morning to the Phillies Spring Training Facility in Clearwater, Florida, there seems no better time to place some closure on the most recent offseason. We’ve already seen a number of attempts to grade MLB teams’ offseason pop up over the past couple days and the coming week should see many more such posts. In what follows, we, the writers at Crashburn Alley, enter our contributions to the Phillies offseason grade book.

What grade would you assign the Phillies offseason? Continue reading…

Who Are You: Michael Saunders

This post is part of a weekly series which will run each Thursday. Over the next several weeks, I’ll take a deep dive look at new members of the Phillies roster. We’re just a couple months away from settling down to watch these guys day-in and day-out for half a year, so let’s try to find out who they are and what to expect from them in 2017.

Previous Installments:

Howie Kendrick

Pat Neshek

Joaquin Benoit Continue reading…

A Too Early Look at the 25-Man Roster: The Last Man In

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Clearwater on February 13th–one short week from now–it is certainly early to look forward to which 25 players will emerge from Spring Training as members of the Phillies Opening Day roster. Two weeks ago, we looked at the locks to break camp with the Major League club. Last week, we began looking at the actual roster battles that could emerge over the next two months. We’ll conclude that series today with the battle for the 25th and final spot on the Opening Day roster.

Previous installments:

Pitching (Locks)

Infield (Locks)

Outfield (Locks)

Backup Catcher

Lefty Reliever

Fifth Outfielder

Seventh Reliever

Continue reading…