The 40-Man Roster Crunch: The Likely

This week, I’ve been spending some time examining the Phillies’ impending roster crunch. On Monday, I looked at the current roster to see how many spots the team is working with. Having determined that there may be up to ten open spots on the 40 man roster, on Tuesday I continued on to those who are basically guaranteed to be added In advance of the deadline. After all of that, we suddenly have five potential spots available for remaining players. Let’s take a look at the group of players who each have compelling cases to join the 40-Man roster, but each also have warts that make them less than certain additions.

RHP Mark Appel

It’s hard to know exactly what to do with Mark Appel. The former number one overall pick in 2013, Appel has never performed at a level commensurate with his raw stuff. After climbing the ranks to triple-A in Houston, he was included in the Ken Giles trade. As a younger prospect, Appel featured a high 90s fastball and two plus potential secondaries. However, in 2016, Baseball Prospectus’ Adam Hayes reported that Appel featured more of a mid 90s fastball and two average secondary pitches in Lehigh Valley. He’s never struck out as many batters as his stuff would indicate, and he hasn’t featured quite the command expected of a college pitcher selected with the first overall pick.

Compounding his problems was the early end to his season – Appel required surgery in June to remove bone spurs from his elbow. However, despite all this, I’d argue he’s a borderline lock for the 40-man roster. While the elbow surgery clouds the picture, every report you’ll see pegs him as a Major League starting pitcher. Having watched this MLB postseason, and really the last couple of years, it’s easy to see a scenario where he is transitioned to the bullpen and has the potential to dominate. The Phillies may not prefer that course, but the problem is, we’re talking about the Rule 5 draft. Some other team would absolutely be willing to give a player with Appel’s stuff and pedigree that opportunity. If the team wants to keep him, they really have no choice. If he’s healthy, Appel will probably see time in Philadelphia in 2017 – in one role or another.

RHP Ricardo Pinto

Ricardo Pinto is, admittedly, probably something close to a lock. There’s a strong argument that I probably should have included him in the “Locks” post on Tuesday. He entered the 2016 season as a top 10 prospect in the Phillies organization, with an above-average fastball, a plus changeup, and above-average command. I would argue that, for having Reading as your home ballpark in 2016, producing a 4.85 RA/9 is disappointing, but only moderately so (and let’s not start judging prospects by Minor League run prevention numbers anyway).

His principal problem is the lack of at least an average breaking pitch, but with his advanced fastball there is a role for him in a Major League bullpen if a team wanted to stash him now. Of slight concern is Pinto’s drop in strikeout rate since reaching the high-A level, but there are developmental reasons that can happen to a young pitcher as well. In 2017, Pinto will either initially return to Reading, or begin in the Lehigh Valley rotation. A strong season could have him in Philadelphia in September.

RHP Alberto Tirado

I wrote about Tirado last month related to exactly this exercise. He is a power-armed prospect who came over with Jimmy Cordero in the Ben Revere trade. He’s moved back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, and many evaluators think his future is in the latter. Not to rehash the GIF-laden arguments I made in September, but Tirado basically features two potential plus-plus pitches and ended the season on a dominant stretch. Based on the precedent of other young, raw prospects who have flourished in Major League bullpens, I think that not only will an opposing team be excited to take him, but that he has the potential be quickly successful in that role.

Tirado probably begins 2017 assigned to the high-A Clearwater Threshers. His time table for arriving in Philly depends a lot on two factors: whether the improved control of his late season stretch continues, and whether the team believes they can still develop him as a starting pitcher long term. The former being true improves the likelihood of the latter, but a conversion to “future closer” could bring him to Philadelphia much faster. If he’s a reliever, he could probably be seen in the Majors in 2018. If he’s a starting pitcher, he’s probably in the Major Leagues in 2019-2020.

2B Jesmuel Valentin

Valentin is maybe the most likely player in the Phillies farm system to become a utility player in the Major Leagues, for a couple reasons. First, he split 2016 between double-A and triple-A at age 22, so he’s relatively close to reaching the Major Leagues. Second, he’s a good defender at second base and could move around the diamond. Third, his offensive profile is not quite exciting enough to expect a traditional everyday player.

Valentin was a supplemental round pick by the Dodgers in 2012, and somehow came over with good relief prospect Victor Arano for Roberto Hernandez in 2014. He has a good approach at the plate and works counts well, and rarely strikes out. Valentin doesn’t have a lot in the way of power, however. While his willingness to take a walk is good, it’s unclear how that skill will transition to the Majors for a player without much power. If pitchers are more willing to throw him strikes, that figure may drop. Short of an exceptional Spring Training, he’ll return to Lehigh Valley to begin the 2017 season. He should be expected to reach Philly during the 2017 season.

OF Carlos Tocci

Ah, Carlos Tocci. Tocci is a 21 year old surefire center fielder who has somehow been on the Phillies’ prospect radar for the last five full seasons. He was somehow even eligible for the Rule 5 draft after last season, but managed to sneak through un-selected. Tocci has roughly the same skill set that he possessed three or four years ago – good bat-to-ball skills, a plus arm in the outfield, plus running ability, and above-average defensive skills. However, he also maintained his most discussed skill, which is the inability to gain enough weight to increase his raw power above a 30 grade.

However, he has hit well enough at the high-A level while only 20 years old that, combined with his advanced skills everywhere else,  he might just have done enough to be picked by a team in the Rule 5 draft. Many reports think that he could be a usable defensive outfielder at present, and he has similar Minor League experience as Ender Inciarte, who the Phillies picked in the Rule 5 draft before the 2013 season. Tocci will likely begin next season at double-A, and there’s still a lot of variability related to his expected arrival in the Majors, but it may potentially be in 2019.

SS Malquin Canelo

Malquin Canelo is not dissimilar from Tocci in some ways. Tocci probably has a higher potential hit tool, but Canelo features a similar lack of power, plus run, plus arm, and plus defense. However, the most stark difference between the two is that Canelo’s defense comes at shortstop. Like another Phillies’ former prospect (and now Major League shortstop) Freddy Galvis, his glove is so advanced that he could be protected despite his lack of hit projection.

He could be selected in the Rule 5 draft and will probably be a successful defender in the Major Leagues today, but with such a limited hit tool (and no experience above the high-A level), it would be difficult to keep him for a full season. If the Phillies gamble and he is selected by another team, there’s a decent chance that he would be returned anyway. Canelo would begin next season at double-A Reading, and could reach the Majors by the 2019 season.

RHP Seranthony Dominguez

Dominguez is a smaller starting pitcher, with a fastball that some sources have reported to sit 95-97 mph in starts. Matt Winkelman also reports that he features two potential above-average breaking pitches and a long term mid-rotation ceiling. Dominguez spent four seasons in foreign and rookie leagues from 2012-2015, and performed very well in full-A Lakewood in 2016. However, a young starting pitcher with three above-average pitches is an exciting commodity – why isn’t he a lock?

Generally, that’s because he’s even more raw than someone like Tirado, and has a total of 10 starts in full season ball. His walk rate climbed above 10 percent in Lakewood, and there’s a ton of development left for him. A particularly aggressive team could select Dominguez, but the Phillies may be able to sneak him through the draft. He would probably begin the 2017 season in either Lakewood or Clearwater, and would not potentially reach the Major Leagues until the 2020 season.

Well, we’re over the 40 man roster constraints. With up to five available spots, Appel, Pinto, Tirado, Valentin, and Tocci might be protected in that order (based on talent, and likelihood of being selected by another team). There is also always a little calculus played with the Rule 5 draft, related to guessing which players could last a full season on another team’s Major League roster. In that case, you may be confident that Tocci could be sneak through the draft or be returned for another season, but he’s also now had a full season at Advanced-A ball, and is ready to contribute now defensively. No matter what you do, there’s some gambling involved.

The 40-Man Roster Crunch: The Locks

Yesterday, I looked at the current Phillies’ roster in order to ascertain just how many roster spots are available as the Rule 5 protection deadline approaches. By my estimates, the team may have as many as ten roster spots to work with to protect their Rule 5 eligible prospects. As a refresher, Minor League players with four (for college draftees) or five (for high school draftees and international free agents) seasons of professional experience, and aren’t on a 40-Man roster, are generally eligible to be picked in the Rule 5 draft. The acquiring team must keep them on the active roster for the entirety of the next season, or offer them back to their original team.

The Phillies are fortunate enough to have a large number of players worth protecting from the draft. However, finding enough room for all of them is a problem. Today, we look at the six players that are definite locks to be added to the 40-man roster.

C Andrew Knapp

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Knapp is already factored into the roster under this scenario. With Jorge Alfaro‘s likely promotion to triple-A in 2017, there isn’t room for two everyday catching prospects on the roster, and Knapp will still need regular playing time. As the Major League team also needs a backup catcher, he may fit in that role. Knapp is a switch-hitting catcher and was drafted by the Phillies in the second round of the 2013 draft. While his ability to catch has reportedly improved, his bat will likely determine his success at the Major League level. He wasn’t able to reproduce his explosive 2015 Reading season at Lehigh Valley, and hit at a roughly league-average rate (107 wRC+).

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The 40-Man Roster Crunch: Finding Room

Welcome to 40-Man Roster Crunch week here at Crashburn Alley. Over the next few days, I’m going to distract from the fact that nothing is going on with the Phillies as the World Series continues by focusing on the impending struggle to keep all of the team’s best prospects ahead of the Rule 5 draft. For those two don’t know, the Rule 5 Draft occurs every December on the final day of the Winter Meetings. That day, every Minor League player not currently on a team’s 40-Man roster is available to be claimed by another team, providing a couple conditions are met.

Generally speaking, to be eligible for this draft, a player drafted out of high school or signed as an international free agent must have spent five seasons in the Minor Leagues. If drafted out of college, the player must only have spent four seasons in the Minors. There some edge cases (if a player’s original contract is voided, for instance, they are often immediately eligible), but generally, if those conditions are met, a new team can acquire the player for $50,000. The catch is, they must then not only spend the entire next season on the acquiring team’s 40-man roster, but also the active roster. That is often prohibitive. There are some loopholes, as suspended or injured players are not returned, but generally, that’s the idea.

The Phillies have a notable number of players who are not only Rule 5 eligible this season, but are also worthy of protecting from the draft. It’s not the worst problem to have. This series is split into four parts, including one examining prospects who are locks to be added to the roster, another for prospects who are likely to be added to the roster, and a final one for those who have the potential to be lost in the Rule 5 draft. Today, we’ll begin by clearing the table, and examining the Phillies’ current 40-man roster. Doing this will hopefully give an idea of how many spots are actually available for Phillies’ Minor League prospects. This series begins with the basic assumption that the Phillies aren’t interested in selecting a player themselves in the Rule 5 draft, but were an available prospect from another team more valuable than the current player in the 40th roster spot, that might effect their decision. I don’t think that’ll happen though.

Already Gone

We can begin by acknowledging the six players already removed from the Phillies’ 40-man roster. Last week, it was announced that Emmanuel Burriss, Jimmy Paredes, Patrick Schuster, Frank Herrmann, Dalier Hinojosa, and Colton Murray were the first wave of outrights for the Phillies this offseason. None of those moves are very shocking, but I would say that Hinojosa and Murray, relievers who hit 95-96, are the most likely of the bunch to spend significant time on the Phillies in 2017, as bullpen depth. While this move subtracts six players from the end of season 40-Man roster, there are three players (Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Matt Harrison) on the sixty-day disabled list who will need to be given roster spots in the offseason.

Roster spots filled: 37

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Crashburn Roundtable: Former Phillies in the Playoffs

With the focus of the baseball world placed firmly on the playoffs, Philadelphia has been able to latch onto one story line this October – the large number of former Phillies on other teams’ playoff rosters. While Los Angeles features the most, with Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Joe Blanton on hand, former Phillies are also represented on the Rangers, Blue Jays, Indians, and Nationals. Here today to answer a few questions about these players are Crashburn Alley staff writers Michael Schickling, Timothy Guenther, Dave Tomar, and Ben Harris.

Jayson Werth (101 wRC+, 1.0 fWAR) and Chase Utley (97 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR) faced off in the NLDS as members of the Nationals and Dodgers, respectively. They also both enter the 2017 season as 38 year old veterans with injuries in their past. Disregarding contract status, who will be the more valuable player in 2017?

Michael Schickling: At this point in their careers, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth are no longer the All-Star caliber players they once were in their Phillies days, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been productive late into their thirties. As it stands they both project as close-to-league-average hitters with extreme injury risks. However, because “whichever one of them doesn’t get hurt” isn’t an option here, I’m going to say Chase Utley. He provides a similar offensive profile to Werth but also provides some defensive value, whereas Jayson Werth’s glove has eroded so much that he’s essentially a DH shuffling around the outfield.

Timothy Guenther: The on-field difference between the two is negligible at this point. But if you look at the upcoming free agent market, you’d have an easier time finding an outfielder to replace Werth than a second baseman to replace Utley. In that regard, Utley is the more valuable of the two, as along as you trust the superglue that holds the remnants of his knees together.

Ben Harris: I think 2017 is a continuation of Werth’s dip under average offensive production. I don’t see the same hitter that averaged a 127 wRC+ in his first four seasons in Washington. He still works the count at an elite-level, leading MLB in pitches per plate appearance this year, and that may keep him afloat longer and allow him to see more hittable pitches. But, I think Utley can be counted on more in 2017. The two have had remarkably similar production trajectories, Werth’s slightly more volatile than Utley’s rugged consistency. I think Utley’s reliability fills more of a hole in Los Angeles than Werth does in Washington where he’s the third-best outfielder.

Dave Tomar: I suppose it makes sense to start with the most tangible stat we have at our disposal. In the last four seasons (2013-2016), Jayson Werth has appeared in 507 games, amassing 2,145 plate appearances. In that same space of time, Chase Utley suited up for 531 games, making 2183 plate appearances. So obviously, we can see that….oh. Nevermind. In terms of relative health, these guys are pretty close to identical. It also bears noting that, with 535 and 545 PAs averaged across the last four years respectively, neither Jayson Werth nor Chase Utley can be rightfully dismissed as injury-prone.

A better way to consider each player’s value might be within the context of his position. During the 2016 regular season, Werth slashed .244/.335/.417, which tucks him into the bottom rung among qualifying left fielders in most categories. The one exception is his OBP, which is good for 7th best at the position in the Majors.

With a slash of .252/.319./.396 last year, OBP was also Utley’s best category, but good for only 14th among qualifying 2nd basemen. MLB places him at 19th in batting average, second worst among the 20 ranked 2nd basemen. It’s also worth noting that Utley’s power decline has been far more precipitous and unflagging than Werth’s. At one stretch in his career, Utley topped 20 homers for five consecutive seasons (2005-2009). In the last three years, Utley had 11, 8 and 14 round-trippers respectively. He won’t be returning to his former attitude. Werth, by contrast, smashed 21 in 143 games this year which—aside from a 36 dinger outburst in 2009—is a pretty fair reflection of his lifelong power potential.

If you consider both position scarcity and ability, Jayson Werth comes out with a slight edge. Add to that the lesser wear and tear of his position, and Werth might seem the better investment. Stated simply, the numbers imply that Werth is the answer to this question.

But given the factor of age, there is a slight intangible here. Consider that whatever the value, neither 38-year-old player will be part of his team’s future plans. And there is a reasonable cause to believe that either one could be vulnerable to replacement by a younger model at any time, especially in the event of injury or ineffectiveness. So this is a case where locker-room impact figures into the equation. Judging by his post-season heroics, Utley can obviously still play. but he’s also a guy who is probably worth the money even when his abilities are less apparent. As a clubhouse leader, a dugout presence, and a vessel for some of the best acumen and attitude in the game, there are few who compare to Chase Utley.

His numbers are up for debate, but if there was a Hall of Fame for guys who—to trot out the oldest Utley cliche in the book—play the game the right way, he’d be enshrined on the day of his retirement. if the value of a player, at the age of 38, has as much to do with the impression he leaves on younger players as the impact he makes on the field, Chase Utley is about as valuable as they come.

Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ and Rangers’ Cole Hamels are former Phillies that also faced off in the Division series. Each made 32 starts with a 92 FIP- in 2016, but feature very different contracts. Hamels is a year younger, and still has higher expectations moving forward, but is owed $73.5 million over the next three seasons. Happ is only owed $26 million over the next two years. In terms of value, and factoring in their contracts, how far ahead of Happ is Hamels?

Schickling: This is a question that would have seemed absolutely laughable a couple years ago, but here we find ourselves asking it. While their past two seasons have been comparable, we’re talking about a guy in Hamels who posted 5 consecutive 4+ win seasons and Happ who only posted 14.1 WAR in his career. However, Hamels just posted the worst full-season FIP of his career, while Happ is coming off the first two seasons of his illustrious career in which he posted a FIP below 4.00.

I think Hamels will age better due to his reliance on his excellent changeup (25.9% in his career) as opposed to Happ’s reliance on his fastball and slider (86.2% combined in 2016), but some or all of that is balanced by Happ’s much lower guaranteed salary. I think that if some (ill-advised) owner were to hand me the keys to their organization, I’d rather have Hamels on my roster than Happ even given the salary difference.

Guenther: By FIP and ERA, they’ve been virtually the same pitcher over the last two years. That leaves a pretty good case for Happ as more valuable when accounting for the contracts. But there were two aspects of Hamels’ season that seem very fixable. One, he posted a career high walk rate (3.5 BB/9) that greatly exceeded his career average (2.4 BB/9). And two, he cut his changeup usage down by almost six percentage points from a year ago. I’d rather take Hamels and his higher ceiling (contract and all), knowing he’s a few tweaks away from re-finding it.

Harris: Hamels, seemingly a year-in-year-out Cy Young candidate, is worth the money. That much is obvious. But Happ (28th in starting pitcher WAR since 2015, including a poor first half that year) deserves some credit for his ability to adjust, a quality often handy once the book is out on you, as it is on him. Three seasons ago, Happ dropped his release point. A quick study of Happ’s 2016 season reveals that the change, teamed with increased sinker usage, could finally be bearing fruit. He began the season throwing at least 20% sinkers for three consecutive months for the first time in his career. To that point, his career sinker usage was 13%. His historically weak off-speed arsenal—seemingly forever destined to trail the phrase, “J.A. Happ could always rely on his fastball, but…”—saw whiff percentages increase for each and every pitch from last season, with the exception of the curve which essentially stayed same. Three of those whiff rates, four-seam fastball (12.2%), changeup (12.5%) and slider (11.1%) were career highs. In this new tail-friendly arm slot, his sinker is riding more than ever before, and he looks as if he may have uncovered some new ways to play the rest of his arsenal off his new centerpiece.

Tomar: I think that really depends on how real we believe Happ’s ascendance has been. Hamels pitched to a 3.32 ERA and a 1.306 WHIP. The former number is pretty much identical to his career ERA (3.31). This year’s WHIP is actually a handful of ticks higher than usual for Cole. His career mark is 1.161, which is pretty close to what he did every year between 2012 and 2015.

Happ had easily among the best seasons of his career, with a 3.18 ERA driving his career mark down to 3.98, which sort of obscures the fact that this mark was well over 4.00 every year between 2011-2014. Happ’s 1.169 WHIP in 2016 also beats the hell out of his career mark of 1.335.

When you take past performance into account, nobody questions the reason that Hamels costs so much more than Happ. It’s also easy to see that Toronto got better bang for their buck this year, even if nobody in Texas is complaining about Cole.

What is less obvious is just how sustainable Happ’s success will be going forward. He’s taken a major stride forward as a pitcher, one that dates back to about the halfway point of 2015. Something sparked in Happ, who struggled with the Mariners in early 2015, but came alive after a July trade to Pittsburgh. He notched a 7-2 record with a 1.85 ERA across 11 starts for the Bucs. The lefty obviously carried whatever lessons he gained in Steeltown into his tour of duty with Toronto. But it bears noting that he is less than a season-and-a-half removed from the kind of middling performance that largely typifies his post-Phillies career.

If Happ is a better deal for the money at the moment, his career numbers suggest that the discount is based on uncertainty. If Happ decides to return to his career mean, he’ll be worth exactly what he’s making right now, as opposed to the Ace salary that Hamels rightfully commands.

The Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox faced off in the ALDS, with at least one notable thing in common. Michael Martinez spent time in the Major Leagues with both teams in 2016, and even made Cleveland’s playoff roster. My question here is: Huh?

Schickling: Mini-Mart has never been even a replacement level player for a single season in the Majors. Mini-Mart has accumulated -2.2 WAR in his career. Mini-Mart was the last vestige of the Golden Age of Phillies baseball and the harbinger of its doom. Mini-Mart has a career 35 wRC+ in a season’s worth of plate appearances. Mini-Mart is the end. Mini-Mart is the beginning. Mini-Mart will haunt the dreams of Phillies fans for generations to come.
Mini-Mart is forever.

Guenther: With all due respect to Scott Boras, whoever represents Michael Martinez is, by far, the best agent in the game. This guy knows where the bodies are buried. Consider: aside from the two playoff bound teams this year, he also had Martinez employed with the 2014 Pirates and the 2011 Phillies. A career 35 wRC+ hitter, on the payroll of four separate playoff caliber teams. If I were an agent, that would be the first line of my resume.

Harris: I feel like the teacher just cold-called on me in ninth grade French class. I’m freezing up, swallowing the anxiety of knowing that, at this precise moment, I’m as equipped to answer this question as I am to tell you how long before two trains leaving from Omaha and Bangor will cross paths. I have no words, in this language or any other, the even begin to grasp the concept that Michael Martinez is playing meaningful baseball.

Tomar: Looking back at Mini-Mart’s numbers over the last few seasons, the one thing that really jumps out at you is the fact that he’s even in majors. For a good portion of this year, and last year, this was not the case.

In fact, Martinez spent the vast majority of last year playing for Cleveland’s AAA affiliate, the Columbus Clippers, only joining the Major League roster through September expansion. He made the squad to start this year but was designated for assignment in early July. A week later, they shipped him up to Boston to find his wooden leg. It didn’t work out. He was once again designated for assignment. Cleveland grabbed him back off of waivers on August 4th, less than a month after they’d sent him packing. We’re assuming the reunion was socially awkward.

But it did give the 34-year-old utility man a bench-row seat for the playoffs. He’s a fairly solid late-game defensive replacement but a virtual non-entity at the plate. With a career .197 batting average, Martinez probably belongs in the minors. (Sidenote: That resume includes stints with the Vermont Lake Monsters, the Savannah Sand Gnats, and our own Iron Pigs, which only confirms that minor league teams have fun names).

So, to answer the initial question (“Huh?”), I would say, “wha?”

Arizona Fall League Begins With Seven Phillies Prospects

While the closest thing to Phillies news at the Major League level is the preponderance of 2008 heroes on other teams in the playoffs, there is some news going on at the Minor League level. In Scottsdale, Arizona, seven Phillies prospects joined prospects from the 29 other teams in the Arizona Fall League on Tuesday.

On the Scottsdale Scorpions, the Phillies players join those from the Angels, Mets, Yankees, and Giants. None of Philadelphia’s highest ranked prospects are here (although Scott Kingery is probably near the team’s top 10), but it is an important opportunity for these interesting players to develop and potentially demonstrate enough progress to earn a 40-man roster spot. Below is a quick guide to the seven players representing the Phillies.

Victor Arano – RHP

A 21-year old righty, Victor Arano was an interesting piece brought over from the Dodgers in the 2014 Roberto Hernandez trade. At the time of the deal, he was generally considered one of the top 20 prospects in Los Angeles’ farm system, and was noted for his advanced physical maturity for his age, advanced feel for pitching, low 90s fastball, and above-average slider. He spent 2015 in the high-A Clearwater rotation where his strikeout rate (and results) dropped precipitously. He was still only one of the youngest players in the league, but converted to relief in 2016 after a dominant Mexican Winter League stint in the bullpen.

He’s since been called one of the best relief prospects in the farm system. The only solid velocity reports I’ve found are spoken in this video from July, where his fastball sat 94 mph (hitting 97 mph), and his slider was in the low-mid 80s. Anecdotally, his command was also very strong in that appearance. This increase in velocity is backed up by his 23.8 percent K-BB rate in high-A and double-A this season. He’s still a year away from being Rule 5 eligible, so there’s no rush make a decision here (and likely no roster space anyway), but a continuation of his dominant season in the AFL could feasibly fast-track Arano to begin next season in Lehigh Valley. He could certainly pitch Major League innings in 2017.

Brandon Leibrandt – LHP
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Crashburn Roundtable: Free Agent Pitchers, Hellickson’s Injury, and the September Bullpen

In this week’s Crashburn Roundtable, we discuss veteran starting pitchers that are available on the free agent market, the implosion of the Phillies’ bullpen in September, and a minor injury to Jeremy Hellickson in his last start of the year. Contributing today are Crashburn Alley staff writers Timothy Guenther, Ben Harris, and Michael Schickling.

Recent rumors have stated that the Phillies will pursue a veteran starting pitcher in free agency this offseason – if not Jeremy Hellickson or Charlie Morton, who fits the bill in this light free agent class?

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The Season Is Over: Did The Phillies Make Any Progress?

The Phillies ended the 2016 season on a relative high note: a 5-2 victory over the Mets in a game that functioned as an emotional send-off to one of the team’s most iconic players. At the end of that game, the Phillies found themselves at 71-91, in fourth place in the NL East. Year-over-year, that’s a notable improvement from the team’s 63-99 record in 2015.

That knowledge invokes certain words. Progress. Building. Other terms typically heard following the de-facto motto of the city of Philadelphia. However, as I’ve expressed before on this website, standard win-loss record is a less than ideal method of measuring a team’s talent. Using a team’s Pythagorean record, a more accurate measure of a team’s total performance can be calculated using their runs scored versus runs allowed. By this method, the 2016 Phillies are a little worse off – instead coming in at 62-100. The team’s 2015 Pythagorean record? 62-100.
In a year that was supposed to be about the development of some young players at the Major League level, it is discouraging to see that they’ve basically managed the same ratio of runs scored and runs allowed. Certainly, there were some disappointments this season as well. Maikel Franco was inconsistent at the plate, and didn’t perform up to his 2015 season. Aaron Nola began the season looking like an All-Star, only to fall off in a really strange way and end the season early with an elbow injury. Aaron Altherr didn’t look good after his return from injury. The bullpen was there. You know, bad things happened.

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Crashburn Roundtable: Hernandez, Gomez, and Surprising Bats

It’s the second week of the rejuvenated Crashburn Roundtable feature, and today, we focus on the future of Phillies’ second baseman Cesar Hernandez, current (maybe former?) closer Jeanmar Gomez, and two young players who have been surprisingly productive offensive contributors in 2016. Included here are contributors Michael Schickling, Brad Engler, Dave Tomar, and Timothy Guenther.

Second base is seen as something of black hole on the Phillies, but advanced metrics actually like Cesar Hernandez. He’s performed at a league-average or better rate (per 600 PA) over the last two seasons as evaluated by each of the three major strains of WAR. How much faith should the team have in Hernandez moving forward?

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Remembering Jose Fernandez: Baseball’s Fountain of Youth

I rolled over Sunday morning to the gut-wrenching news. Like many, I’m sure, I thought it had to be a mistake. Jose Fernandez could not be dead. The news landed a swift body blow, lodging an ache deep in the recesses of my stomach. I flipped open my computer. Fernandez gazed back at me, his Baseball Reference page open and a Twitter search of his name sat on my screen from the previous night. From beneath his dark Marlins cap, a sly smile gazed back at me.

On the nightstand next to where my computer had been, one word stared back at me. Before falling asleep, I left a note on my nightstand. “FANTASY BEFORE 1:00,” a reminder to set my lineup for Sunday’s slate of games, the conclusion to 24 weeks of an unhealthy devotion to a Yahoo! Sports-facilitated quasi-reality.

FANTASY. This was anything but.

Last thing before I fell asleep late Saturday night, I learned that Marlins starter Adam Conley would bump Jose Fernandez from his turn in the rotation Sunday, the final day of my fantasy baseball championship. Jose Fernandez was my ace in the hole. I was deeply frustrated that Fernandez couldn’t help me beat my lifelong best friend in a fantasy championship (the pinnacle of bragging rights).

Baseball is an endlessly quantified game. Such a heavy focus on numbers distills the game and highlights statistics, drawing our attention to something we can see without actually seeing: an on-base percentage, a swinging strike rate, a run differential. You don’t need to see every at bat to appreciate a high batting average.

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The High Hill Left To Climb: When Will The Phillies Contend?

The 2016 season is wrapping up, and as I write now, the Phillies are 68-83, a 73-win pace. It’s been five full seasons since the last competitive Phillies team, and as the offseason begins, it’s fair to expect improvement of some form or another next season. However, what should expectations be? Should we expect the team use their financial muscle to immediately sign the few large agents this season? Trade the farm for a front-line ace? Stand pat?

Maybe the most effective way to begin answering questions about the future is to step back and take a look at where the team stands right now. Let’s say the Phillies do end up winning 73 games this season – that’s several games better than their preseason PECOTA projection (69 wins with the worst record in baseball). Personally, I’m not comfortable calling a team a contender until their projections make them likely to at least win a Wild Card spot (somewhere around 86-87 wins). At that point, there’s a relative comfort in having 50/50 odds at getting a full playoff series, and the team is one or two unforeseen breakouts away from winning the division. If the Phillies’ believe they can construct a series of moves to get themselves, a 73-win team, to about 86 wins, then it would behoove them to make those moves.

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