It’s been reported this morning that Mark Appel, former first overall pick of Houston and a key component of the Ken Giles trade late last year, is headed to the 7-Day DL at Lehigh Valley, with what’s being called a “Right Shoulder Strain”. Larry Shenk (@ShenkLarry) of PhilliesInsider.mlblogs.com was first to report the news, as far as I can tell. Appel had been ranked on several industry Top 100 lists this offseason, and was in the Phils’ Top 10 across the board after he arrived.
Among the reasons behind Odubel Herrera’s continued breakout, none is more notable than his improved plate discipline. The story is well known by now. He was a bit of a free swinger last year, offering at 35.1% of pitches outside of the strike zone. This year, he’s cut that down to 29.4%, which is right in line with the league average. The effects have been apparent. He’s drawing walks at a much improved rate, and he’s getting himself into more favorable hitter’s counts. The result is a .441 on-base percentage that ranks second in the league. But Odubel has made another adjustment this year, and one that has been equally important to his success as a hitter.
With the surprising performance of the 2016 Phillies to date, members of their starting rotation have been getting a little more attention than was expected to start the year. Vincent Velasquez grabbed headlines with his 16-strikeout shutout in April, but Aaron Nola‘s rise to national prominence has been much more gradual.
His numbers don’t immediately jump off a FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference page. After yielding four runs in six innings to Detroit yesterday, he now sports a 3.14 ERA — good for sure, but not jaw-dropping. To notice what Aaron Nola is doing takes a little bit of effort. It means watching his curveball baffle elite major league hitters or realizing that he is the only qualified starting pitcher in the Top 10 for both K-BB% (22.2%, 7th in MLB) and GB% (56.3%, 9th in MLB).
It’s hard to watch Ryan Howard play baseball right now. He’s in the midst of an atrocious 0-for-18 stretch which is part of a larger 4-for-52 run since April 30th. Entering play on April 30th, Howard was batting .214/.278/.443 which is a far cry from reasonable expectations for a productive first baseman but seemed about right for a 36-year-old who has been playing with a barely functional lower half ever since his Achilles failed him in 2011. But now Howard’s triple slashline has fallen from predictably below average to a downright hideous .156/.226/.369. That .213 ISO is basically the only thing separating Ryan Howard’s offensive line from that of a pitcher.
Watching Howard in recent games, it’s felt as though he’s somehow getting even worse. So I went back and looked at his last hit and compared it to one of his fruitless at bats this past weekend.
In the fourth inning against the Reds on May 12th (twelve days ago!), Ryan Howard took a Tim Adelman curveball deep to right field for a double. Peak Ryan Howard might have sent that ball over the wall, but Howard still crushed the pitch and slid into second with a flourish:
The Phillies offensive woes were on display in embarrassing fashion this past weekend when they managed just one run in their first two games against a pitiful Atlanta Braves team. Even a 13-hit, 5-run “outburst” in Sunday’s series finale wasn’t enough to mask the undeniable truth that the Phillies offense is an absolute disaster. The corner outfield positions have been among the weakest spots in a lineup replete with weak spots, but Tyler Goeddel‘s encouraging .366/.409/.585 slashline since May 8th have helped alleviate some of the concerns about that particular lineup black hole. Still, with the David Lough‘s 72 wRC+ and Peter Bourjos‘ impossibly low 37 wRC+, it wouldn’t take much to upgrade the Phillies’ outfield.
The first time I saw J.P. Crawford in person was a little more than two years ago. Less than a year after Crawford had been selected sixteenth overall by the Phillies in the 2013 draft, I ventured out to Lakewood with Crashburn’s former prospect writer Eric Longenhagen to get a look at the shortstop who was generating a tremendous amount of hype in the first few months of his professional career. I’d read the reports and had a broad idea of what to expect: a smooth fielder with an advanced approach at the plate. But when the moment finally came and I laid eyes on Crawford for the first time, I was taken aback and overcome by a bizarre instinct that something was wrong. J.P. Crawford didn’t look the part.
It’s May 20th and the Phillies are one game out of first place. Let’s just savor this for a moment. We are officially one quarter of the way through this baseball season and, at 24-17, the Phillies are seven games over .500.
Usually, the next sentence is something like, at this rate, the Phillies are on pace to blah blah blah. But we can’t really say that right now. The math just doesn’t work out in our favor.
Frankly, the Phillies shouldn’t even be on pace for their current record. Everything about it defies logic, expectation, and basic probability. Of course, that’s why the season is 162 games long. Ultimately, that many games will prove who’s real and who isn’t. The fakers will fade come August.
So what are the Phillies? In what capacity is this real and how excited should we be? Well, to the latter question first, be excited. Any time your team is winning, be excited. The players look excited. They’re obviously having fun and it’s something you should be a part of.
So now, to the former question. Is this real, or just an illusion? Continue reading…
If you’ve been reading my work at Crashburn for a while, then you may know one unavoidable truth about me: I’m extraordinarily sentimental. Millenials receive plenty of criticism for being overly nostalgic and maybe another time I’ll discuss my theories about why that is, but for now let’s just say I fully admit that I can be a bit of a sap. I don’t know if that’s a contradiction given that I’m a writer on a site which seeks to find objective truths, but it’s very much a part of who I am and how I engage with the sport of baseball.
I intended to write today with my objective lens fully in place and really dig into what’s happening with the Phillies right now. There are many factors to their success which are simply unsustainable and we’ve tried hard to keep that in mind with our commentary on this site this season. But then, Jim Salisbury wrote a piece and my penchant for sentimentality won out. There are more than 120 games left in the season and we’ll have plenty of time to analyze what’s going right and what could go horribly wrong, but today I want to live in the moment and talk about Carlos Ruiz.
As reported publicly by the Phillies, top shortstop prospect and excellent dog-haver J.P. Crawford has been promoted to AAA Lehigh Valley. Crawford has played nearly a full year at Reading now, minus a little time off for injury, and put up combined stats that PhilliesMinorThoughts.com’s Matt Winkelman tweeted earlier:
J.P. Crawford‘s final line in AA:
77 BB (13.6%)
66 K (11.7%)
— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) May 20, 2016
That maybe doesn’t look like a wildly successful hitting campaign for someone touted as having an advanced bat, but the foundation of a very strong offensive game shows – he’s got enough power, plus the discipline and contact ability to keep pitchers working all day long.
Crawford becomes the only 21-year-old in the International League, taking over as the youngest position player from teammate Nick Williams, and the youngest player overall from teammate Jake Thompson.* By nearly a year. That team is stacked. Do you feel that? That’s anticipation. Couple more months and it’ll be downright excitement. Next spring, I may literally explode.** Tell my baby I died thinking about baseball players.
No word yet on whether the dogs will be joining him in Allentown. Hopefully someday they join him in a parade down Broad. (RIP Elvis).
*Update – Neither Williams nor Crawford is actually the youngest position player in the Int’l League, it’s Ozzie Albies, and he’s a good bit younger than Crawford (guy’s still 19). He was not appearing on leader boards on BRef because his offensive stats haven’t been very good just yet – my fault. And it was Zach Eflin instead of Jake Thompson – BRef table sort by age totally hosed me there – but now Jose Berrios is back down and he’s younger than Eflin. Lesson for you all and myself – always just use “age” as the “stat” to sort by on BRef. Dang.
**Despite this age-related mess, my enthusiasm remains unbridled. I will still probably die next Spring.
Jerad Eickhoff has a problem: he is completely ineffective against left handed hitters. To this point, he’s been able to hide the extent of the issue by maintaining a respectable overall stat line, and he’s done this by keeping right handed batters in check. As bad as Eickhoff has been against lefties, he’s dominated righties to a similar extent.
The difference is drastic, and the problem is that he’s unlikely to improve on that extreme level of dominance against right handed batters. So if you’re looking for consistency or improvement out of Eickhoff, he’s going to need to resolve the issue against lefties.