An Argument Against Starting Tommy Joseph Everyday

The Marlins used a left-handed starting pitcher in each of the first two games of the series at Citizens Bank Park which meant Ryan Howard‘s new platoon partner, Tommy Joseph, started back-to-back games for the first time in his major league career. In the first of those games, Joseph recorded the first big league hit. In the second game, Joseph went 3-for-4 and did this:

For a team that would be the worst hitting team in the majors were it not for the historically abysmal performance by the 2016 Braves, the 24-year-old Joseph’s offensive outburst was a remarkably refreshing development. Naturally, the fact that the proverbial kid has found success in the first few days of his major league career has led to speculation about playing time. More specifically, it’s led to speculation about whether the time has come to end Ryan Howard’s platoon role and use Joseph as the everyday first baseman.

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There’s Nothing Wrong With Jerad Eickhoff

This headline could make me look foolish depending on the outcome of tonight’s game, but despite his relative struggles (4.43 ERA this year vs. 2.65 ERA in 2015), there’s nothing to indicate that Jerad Eickhoff has been a worse pitcher this season than last.

First things first, let’s take a look at Eickhoff’s underlying stats this year versus last.

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As you can see, his HR/FB% and BABIP have both increased since last year, while his rate of runners left on base plummeted almost 15 percentage points. However, his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA have hardly changed, despite the roughly 2 run difference in ERA.

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Why Can’t Anyone Hit Jeremy Hellickson’s Changeup?

Three weeks ago, I wrote about the fact that there was a Phillies pitcher throwing the least hittable pitch in the majors as measured by whiffs/swing. You may recall that the pitch I was talking about was Hector Neris‘ filthy, nasty splitter. At the time, Neris had thrown 83 splitters on the season, hitters had swung at 47 and whiffed a remarkable 31 times for a whiff/swing rate of 66.0 percent which topped every other pitch in baseball. Of course, it was a small sample size and in the ensuing weeks, that 66.0 percent rate has dropped to a significantly less imposing 49.2 percent.

There was, however, another Phillies pitcher with a pitch generating whiffs at extraordinary rates. At the time, I (perhaps foolishly) wrote it off as early season weirdness:

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Crash Landing: Collisions and Necessary Evils

One of my all-time favorite baseball memories is going to a Phillies-Mets game in May 2006. The Phillies were riding an eight game win streak into the game and the Mets were playing great baseball en route to becoming the first team other than the Braves to win the National League East since the Braves joined the division in 1994. Pedro Martinez was on the mound so if I saw my team win they were beating the best and if I saw my team lose at least I was watching a future Hall of Famer. It was a perfect set up for what wound up being a fantastic game.

Two-run home runs by Xavier Nady and Carlos Delgado in the eighth and ninth innings respectively sent the game to the bottom of the ninth knotted at four a piece. After two quick outs, pinch hitter David Delluci hit a triple. One hit batsman and a walk later, Bobby Abreu stepped to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs, and Aaron Heilman on the mound. Abreu hit a weak swinging bunt which Heilman fielded and threw wildly past the first baseman for an unconventional but immensely exciting walk-off E1.

The reason I’m bringing this game up, however, is because of what happened in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Phillies were up 3-2 with two outs and the not-exactly-fleet-of-foot Pat Burrell on first base which brought Shane Victorino into the game as a pinch hitter. The next batter, Ryan Howard, sent a double to right field and Victorino was off to the races. As he turned for home, the throw beat him to the plate so he bowled over catcher Paul Lo Duca, knocked the ball loose, and scored what ended up being a critical run to put the Phillies up 4-2 for a moment.

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Tommy Joseph Promoted, Darin Ruf Sent Down, Probably

(The original headline of this story implied Darin Ruf had been demoted, because it seems likely and because I am an idiot who forgot to fix it before posting. Sorry, Darin.)

Tommy Joseph, the primary return in the Phillies 2012 trade of Hunter Pence to San Francisco, had his contract selected from Lehigh Valley and will join the club as they begin a nine-game home stand tonight against Cincinnati, according to Jayson Stark and a bunch of the Philly beats. Joseph ever making his MLB debut was far from anyone’s mind just three months ago, but his play in Spring Training and the AAA regular season has certainly warranted the call-up, and his long struggle against injury makes his impending debut, likely tonight against Brandon Finnegan, quite the feel-good story. Really, I feel good about it. Not like, I just got an N64 for Christmas, but pretty good. Continue reading…

The New Adam Morgan

In those dark months between New Year’s and the start of spring training when baseball writers become desperate for relevant topics to write about, I undertook a series titled “Who Are You“. The purpose of the series was simple enough: to familiarize myself (and by extension, you, the reader) with the overall profile of each new significant Phillies acquisition. We looked at guys like Jeremy Hellickson, Peter Bourjos, and Vince Velasquez whom we may have only had cursory knowledge of previously and attempted to form a relatively comprehensive picture of what to expect from each entering the 2016 season. What we didn’t do at the time was look at returning members of the Phillies in such a thorough fashion because, naturally, we already had reasonably clear understandings of each player.

It’s important to regularly update our understanding of players we already know because major leaguers are constantly adjusting and evolving. We’re able to do this by diving deep into things like Odubel Herrera‘s increased patience at the plate or Hector Neris‘ increased reliance on his killer splitter, but it’s rare to need to do a comprehensive deep dive on a player with whom you’re already familiar. On occasion, however, a player will make such a dramatic change that it’s necessary to completely scrap all prior understanding of a player and start completely fresh. This year, the Phillies have one of those players in Adam Morgan. It’s time to forget everything we thought we knew and ask the sole lefty in the Phillies rotation, “Who are you?”

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Nola’s Other Pitch

Aaron Nola‘s curveball has received a lot of attention this year, and rightly so.  Nola has seemingly ridden an increased use of the pitch to raise his profile from solid starter to hearing whispers of “ace” just a month into the season. His curveball is undeniably excellent, possibly the best in the baseball, and now he’s throwing it more often without any decrease in effectiveness.

Year Thrown% Ball% Strike% Swing% Whiff%
2015 24% 28% 42% 49% 20%
2016 34% 27% 46% 48% 21%

It was a simple adjustment, and one that has been well documented. But while the curveball has gotten all the attention, it’s really only half the story behind Nola’s rise this year. The other half, the one where he has made the bigger adjustment, is the two seam fastball. Continue reading…

Whats With Odubel Herrera’s Walk Rate?

It’s no secret that Odubel Herrera has been walking much more this year. Going into Tuesday’s games, Odubel ranks 6th of 194 qualified hitters in walk rate at 18.2%, just below Brandon Belt and Jose Bautista. Last year, he ranked 112 of the 141 qualified hitters in baseball at 5.2%. It’s been written about on Crashburn Alley and on other sites several times, but I’d like to add some nuance to the conversation.

Lineup protection is considered something of a myth in sabermetric circles; according to statheads, it’s not entirely irrelevant, but its effect is greatly overstated. In Tom Tango’s The Book, his research suggests that a lack of lineup protection is associated with a slight uptick in walks from a team’s better hitters, but also a higher number of strikeouts. Is this what we’re seeing with Herrera this year? And more importantly, will his walk rate crater once the Phillies lineup has more than 3 serviceable hitters?

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Crash Landing: The Grass Is Always Greener

The Phillies offense is an unmitigated disaster. Their 3.3 runs per game is a mark of futility surpassed only by an Atlanta Braves team whose lineup is only considered to be a major league lineup on a technicality. Of the 13 position players on the Phillies roster, three have an OPS below the .495 OPS Michael Martinez posted during his Phillies career. Naturally, there have been calls to do something, anything to change the situation.

The most obvious candidates for replacement include: Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Tyler Goeddel, Peter Bourjos, Emmanuel Burriss, and Darin Ruf. Galvis (75 wRC+) and Hernandez (60 wRC+) aren’t going anywhere until J.P. Crawford is promoted to the majors. The team is likely to remain patient with Rule 5 pick, Goeddel (-17 wRC+, yes, that’s a negative 17), even as he exhibits growing pains at the major league level. Bourjos (31 wRC+) demonstrates enough value on defense that he’s unlikely to be the next man out. Burriss (11 wRC+) and Ruf (10 wRC+), however? Their time may be running short.

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Hellickson’s Extreme Times Through The Order Penalty

Jeremy Hellickson wasn’t particularly sharp during his outing against the Cardinals on Tuesday, but he very nearly made it twice through the order without yielding a run. In the fourth inning, however, he faced his 18th batter of the night and opposing pitcher Adam Wainwright stepped to the plate only to did this:

Hellickson managed to retire the Cardinals in order the following inning, but in the sixth it all fell apart in an instant. Three pitches into the inning and he’d allowed back-to-back homers to Matt Adams and Aledmys Diaz. For reasons passing understanding, no reliever was warming up so Hellickson was forced to face two more batters before being lifted from the game.

Struggles going deep into a game are nothing new for Jeremy Hellickson. Since 2014, Hellickson has allowed a .978 OPS the third time through the order despite allowing a .782 OPS overall. Of the 138 pitchers to throw 200+ innings over that time stretch only Jake Peavy had a wider OPS differential (.978 OPS third time through, .751 overall).

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