The Phillies Have A New Third Baseman

Among the many storylines of 2016, Maikel Franco‘s regression was perhaps the most discouraging. Franco spent the season mixing flashes of formidable hitting talent with an infuriating lack of approach at the plate. He did not swing at every pitch that came his way, but enough to render most of his natural talent moot. It seemed his potential would ever remain unrealized. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Phillies decided to move on from Franco, replacing him this year with a new budding young star at third base.

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Where Have Jeremy Hellickson’s Strikeouts Gone?

Jeremy Hellickson entered the 2017 season as the Phillies’ de facto ace. After last season, in which he posted the highest K-BB% and fWAR numbers of his career, expectations were high for the 28-year-old. Through two starts, the results are better than the Phillies could have hoped for. He’s tossed 10 innings and allowed only one run for a 0.90 ERA, and those two starts account for two of the Phillies three wins thus far. He hasn’t allowed a home run yet, and his walk rate is the lowest of his career. Opponents are hitting just .124 against him.

All of that sounds great, but it’s tainted by a disturbing lack of strikeouts. Hellickson has punched out just 3 hitters so far, out of the 39 hitters he’s faced, “good” for a 7.7 K%. That’s currently the lowest in the league among the 102 qualified pitchers. I have no idea what the cutoff for a qualified pitcher is nine games into the season, but among all those pitchers, Hellickson is striking out the fewest hitters.

So what is wrong with Hellickson? I guess you could say nothing because he’s still getting results. But from a sustainability side of things, it looks like something’s gotta give, maybe as soon as his his start tomorrow. Hitters have whiffed at just 5.8% of the pitches against Hellickson, compared with 10.8% last year.  That’s fourth worst among qualified pitchers, just ahead of Bartolo Colon (6.30 ERA). Continue reading…

Howie Kendrick Looks Like a Leader

When the Phillies traded for Howie Kendrick in the offseason, the idea was to bring in a steady veteran with the leadership qualifications to help guide a roster of young works-in-progress. So far, so good.

The Phillies have tons of money to spend, but this winter, they opted instead to infuse the clubhouse with some much-needed (and reasonably affordable) experience. At 33 years of age, Kendrick has plenty of that, along with a consistent bat and an absurd degree of fielding versatility. At present, Yahoo! Fantasy lists him as eligible to play 1B, 2B, 3B and LF. And quite frankly, if the Clay Buchholz injury is at all serious, I’d also be willing to throw him out on the mound and see what he can do every fifth day.
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Oh No! Clay Buchholz is Hurt

Last Friday before I attended Opening Day, I was reviewing Clay Buchholz’s start from the day before. He’d gone 5 innings, striking out 3 and walking 2 while allowing 8 hits and 4 runs. Obviously that’s not a great start. But the thing that really jumped out to me was his severely diminished velocity. His average fastball velocity was 90.2 mph, well below the 92.1 he averaged in 2015 and 2016. I wanted to write something about it, but hey, he was in and out of the bullpen last year, and last year his velocity was similarly low in his first start of the season. I figured I’d give him another start to see where his velocity was following that.

So imagine my delight when Buchholz came out hitting 91 with his first fastball of the night. Of course he walked the first hitter… then allowed a double…. then allowed a home run… then allowed several more runs… then got hurt.

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Gomez’s Struggles Hide Bullpen Rebuild Success

Two years in a row the Phillies have started the year in Cincinnati, and two years in a row they have left with bullpen questions. In 2016, the team shifted from David Hernandez to Dalier Hinojosa to Jeanmar Gomez as closer by April 9. This year, the Phillies are considering moving Jeanmar Gomez out of the closer’s role, but the similarities end there between the two teams. The difference is that the 2016 Phillies were throwing a bunch of things at the wall and hoping for something to work out, and the 2017 Phillies will be moving one of their shutdown setup men to work the final inning of the game.

This offseason, Matt Klentak made it a goal to upgrade the Phillies bullpen. The Phillies projected to return Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, and Joely Rodriguez from a bullpen that was one of the worst in baseball last year, leaving three open spots. To accomplish that goal, he acquired Pat Neshek for nothing and gave Joaquin Benoit a 1 year contract. The results have been immediate. So far this season, Benoit and Neshek have combined with Neris and Ramos to give the Phillies a great group of middle relief. So far the quartet has pitched 12.2 innings, allowed 0 runs, 8 hits, 4 walks, and struck out 14. Meanwhile Rodriguez, Adam Morgan, and Gomez have given up 11 runs in 7.2 innings. Continue reading…

Crashburn Alley’s 2017 Predictions

The baseball season kicked off yesterday, but with the Phillies season getting underway today, it is time for predictions. The staff here (and formerly here) put together our best guess for what will happen during the 2017 season. Given that we all guess different things, I can assume we have already gotten everything right and everything wrong already.

In the comments section, be sure to share your predictions and let us know where we went right and where we went terribly wrong.

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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…

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.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 11: WBC, HOF, and Mascot Fights

This week, we come to you in the middle of March Madness to deliver you the Crash Bag. In this week’s edition, we actually talk mostly about baseball with discussions about actual players and their performance. That’s how you know baseball season is nearly upon us. In the spirit of the first question here, I have to put in a plug for the World Baseball Classic. If you’re not watching yet, fix that post haste. While Spring Training baseball brings its own simple joys, the WBC is real, competitive baseball. I’ll admit that I never watched it until this year, but, now that I have, I’m absolutely hooked. If you like the World Cup, the Olympics, or any other sort of international athletic competition, the World Baseball Classic is for you. This has been a public service announcement.

@Matt_Winkelman: MLB says they are replacing the WBC with a US only tournament between states, what state wins?

The primary contenders aren’t surprising: Texas, Florida, and California. For the purposes of a tournament, I’ll throw in a 4th team as a dark horse: North Carolina. Let’s look at their lineups, top-3 starting pitchers, and top bullpen arms:

Position California Florida Texas North Carolina
Catcher Travis d’Arnaud Mike Zunino Cameron Rupp Minor Leaguer
1B Freddie Freeman Anthony Rizzo Brandon Belt Ryan Zimmerman
2B D.J. LaMahieu Daniel Murphy Anthony Rendon Brandon Phillips
3B Nolan Arenado Josh Donaldson Matt Carpenter Kyle Seager
SS Troy Tulowitzki Manny Machado Trevor Story Corey Seager
OF Christian Yelich Trea Turner Charlie Blackmon Wil Myers
OF Giancarlo Stanton Ian Desmond Randall Grichuk Cameron Maybin
OF Adam Jones Keon Broxton Hunter Pence Dustin Ackley
SP Kyle Hendricks Chris Sale Clayton Kershaw Madison Bumgarner
SP Stephen Strasburg Zack Greinke Noah Syndergaard Chris Archer
SP Gerrit Cole Jacob deGrom Scott Kazmir Alex Wood
RP Jake McGee Cody Allen Tyler Thornburg Carter Capps
RP Addison Reed Wade Davis Brandon Finnegan Seth Maness
RP Zach Britton Sam Dyson A.J. Ramos Bobby Parnell

For North Carolina to win, they would rely heavily on Madison Bumgarner post-season magic and the performances of the Seager brothers. They don’t have the depth, though, to reliably be able to overcome any poor performances from their stars.

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