2016 Phillies Report Card: Tommy Joseph

When writing these report cards, players are evaluated a few different factors each comprising their own sort of curve, which are all then weighed to the tastes of the writer reviewing the player’s season. These factors include grading the player’s season relative to the rest of the league, their personal expectations (preseason projections), and the role the team expected the player to fill.

Personally, I tend to weigh the latter two factors fairly heavily, which leaves me at something of a loss when evaluating Tommy Joseph. He was the headline piece of the Hunter Pence trade to San Francisco back at the 2012 Trade Deadline. At the time a catcher, he was placed on the 40-man roster ahead of the 2013 Rule 5 Draft, before a series of concussions forced him to move from catcher. At the less valuable defensive position of first base, much more was required from his bat, lessening his prospect value. In fact, prior to the 2016 season, Joseph was outrighted from the 40-man roster and left exposed in the Rule 5 draft.

If part of the grading criteria is an evaluation of the player relative to his expected role on the team, it seems clear that Joseph had no expected role entering 2016. A blistering first five weeks of the season in triple A – he hit .347/.370/.611 with 13 extra-base hits in exactly 100 plate appearances – pushed him into the conversation. On May 13, he was promoted to the Major League roster as Darin Ruf was optioned to Lehigh Valley.

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A Core Commitment

On Thursday, the Phillies gazed into the long-term future of the franchise. What they saw was Odubel Herrera, roaming the outfield grass of Citizens Bank Park, tossing live baseballs into the stands while daydreaming about his next bat flip. Would it come on a home run? A pop-up? A called strike three? There’s only so much you can know about the future. But convinced that Herrera would be a part of it, the Phillies decided to offer the young outfielder a long-term contract that potentially keeps him in Philadelphia through the end of the 2023 season.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Adam Morgan

Once upon a time, Adam Morgan was a touted pitching prospect, a third round pick in the 2011 draft and a standout performer in the Phillies farm system. In May of 2013, the young lefty was on a sharp upward trajectory, carving up hitters at the AA and AAA levels when a torn rotator cuff sidelined him for the next two seasons.

So when Morgan stepped onto the big league mound midway through 2015 and pitched to a 4.48 ERA/1.245 WHIP across 84.1 innings, it was seen as an encouraging step forward. The performance was good for a 5-7 record. Approaching the 2016 season, Morgan was never likely to make the starting rotation but he was at least poised to build on his promising work as a rookie spot starter.

But that’s not how it went.
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2016 Phillies Report Card: Freddy Galvis

Entering 2016, Freddy Galvis has been known as a small, defensive wizard at shortstop with a light, switch-hitting bat. He had the occasional big home run, but would have consistently ranked highly on a hypothetical list of the “least likely power hitters.” However, Galvis ended up being one of the most conspicuous examples of the heightened home run rate that affected all of baseball in 2016.

Freddy Galvis hit 20 home runs in a single season. That’s an unbelievable thing. He hit as many home runs as Carlos Correa, Anthony Rendon, and Russell Martin, all of whom qualified for the batting title. He hit more home runs than Adrian Gonzalez, Ben Zobrist, Alex Gordon, or Dustin Pedroia, all of whom qualified for the batting title. He hit as many home runs as Joe Mauer and Starling Martecombined (again, both of whom qualified for the batting title).

The San Francisco Giants’ three biggest, healthiest bats – Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey – all produced at least 4.0 fWAR while accumulating over 600 plate appearances, and all hit fewer home runs than Freddy Galvis. The Giants as a whole had a 90-72 pythagorean win-loss record and made it to the NLDS, and not a single batter on that team hit as many home runs as this 5′ 10″ switch-hitting shortstop.

Galvis’ race to 20 home runs felt almost like a weird record chase by the end of the year, and anticipation rose with every game in an otherwise dreary season. What began in the second half as an earnest look at a potential breakout spawned a fun and incredulous series of takes related to Galvis’ impending milestone.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Jake Thompson

Note: For this report card, I am only grading Thompson on his major league production. He set triple-A on fire and would score straight-A’s for his time in Lehigh Valley while four-and-a-half years younger than the average player in the International League. He threw 129.2 innings with a 2.50 ERA, the best mark in the league by over a half of a run, including going 8-0 in his final 11 starts with a 1.21 ERA and 0.942 WHIP.

The last time you saw Jake Thompson, he was pulled after four innings of work trailing 3-0 against the New York Mets during a game that in a few short innings would become the worst shutout loss in modern Phillies history.

The next 14 unanswered runs – surrendered by the likes of Phil Klein, Colton Murray, Frank Herrmann, Patrick Schuster and Luis Garcia – went a long way toward the bullpen’s MLB-worst 7.88 ERA in September. Not exactly a batch of world-beaters.

The start was the last of 10 for the 22-year-old after an August call-up, his first taste of the big leagues with his third MLB organization. As a prospect included in two swaps for big-name pitchers, the former second-round draft pick of the Tigers was sent to Texas as part of a Joakim Soria deal in the summer of 2014, and exactly a year and one week after that, left the dry heat of Texas as one of the four prospects sent to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels trade.

For the least two seasons, he’s graced each of the three most prominent pre-season Top 100 prospect lists.

Baseball America MLB Pipeline Baseball Prospectus
Pre-2015 #43 #83 #47
Pre-2016 #74 #55 #34

The last of the three pitching prospects netted in the Hamels deal to pitch for the big club, Thompson debuted on August 6, splitting 10 starts evenly between August and September before being shut down after his aforementioned start in Queens. His season inning total climbed to 182.1 IP combined between triple-A Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, the most for a season in his career, prompting Pete Mackanin to cut his season short.

Thompson’s year-by-year innings totals are as follows. 2012: 28.1 (rookie ball), 2013: 83.1 (single-A), 2014: 129.2 (high-A and double-A), 2015: 132.2 (double-A), 2016: 182.1 (triple-A and MLB). Overall, a very reasonable workload inflation.

August 5 1-4 26.1 29 23 14 16 7.86 1.633 .282 .367 .544 .910
September 5 2-2 27.1 24 11 14 16 3.86 1.390 .247 .357 .433 .790

A rough August for Thompson was remedied with a much more stable September, as evidenced by nearly every split shown above. The lone stats that remained identical were his BB/K figures. Thompson has always been a strike-thrower with a wide arsenal of pitches, but has never truly established himself as a strikeout guy. His BB% showed promising decline as he climbed the minor league ranks despite multiple organizational switches and coaching staffs, and remained in the 7-8% range from his time in double-A with Texas through his promotion to the Phillies. At 11.8% in his 10 starts this season, it was just about the highest in his career. His 13.8% K-rate was the lowest in his career.

His fully-stocked, six-pitch mix is what I call a firework repertoire. Imagine a four-seam fastball as the center of an exploding firework. His off-speed pitches include a slider with right-to-left movement and some downward plane, a left-to-right changeup that backs up on right-handers and has fair downward movement as well, and a curveball with average drop. In addition to his four-seamer, he throws a hard sinker with arm-side tail and a cutter with the opposite action. All originating from that four-seam fastball slot, this gives him offerings that move in every conceivable direction with speed and depth variations for each.

The slider was his go-to out pitch in the minors, but he struggled with it toward his call-up. He threw it the most of any of his non-four-seam options in the majors and saw fair success with it.

In his disappointing August, he mixed up his pitches and struggled. The main adjustment he made entering September was to rely more on his four-seamer; It was the only pitch he threw more in September than August, while using every other offering less.

I think it is unlikely he continues to progress as a six-pitch pitcher. None of the six seem to be so detrimental that they are taking away from his ability to pitch as of now, but look for him to potentially scrap an offering in the future as he learns more about who he is and how he can be most effective as a major league starter.

Gun to my head, I’d guess he drops the curveball. He threw it sparingly both months – just 17 times (3.57%) in August and twice in September – and didn’t get a single whiff on it. But if his slider regains it’s minor league form and go-to status, maybe he discards the cutter that shares similar, albeit significantly less, gloveside run. No decisions need be made so early in a career, and he’s shown he’s not too set in his ways to make adjustments, be it mechanical or arsenal-related. Late in August, Bob McLure simplified Thompson’s windup by scrapping his hands-over the head trigger and molding it into a modified stretch.

My main takeaway from a ten-start major league debut is the adjustment from one month to the next. The lack of what would be understandable frustration after opening his MLB career in such a fashion is encouraging. And we should get to see a lot of Thompson this year as he presumably slots into the fifth spot in the rotation behind Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez. I’d grade Thompson’s August as a D- and September as a B-, averaging out to a C-. Still a passing grade.

Grade: C-

2016 Phillies Report Card: Vince Velasquez

Not one local paper seized the opportunity to use the headline “VERY VERY EXTRAORDINARY” when Vince Velasquez struck out 16 Padres en route to a three-hit shutout on April 14. No wonder the industry is on the decline. You can pin it on the internet if you want, but when you miss out on Nat “King” Cole references, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.

A highlight of his and his team’s season, VV’s early-year gem may have put unattainable expectations on the second-year hurler’s season. Set those aside, and what’s left is a very very strong year for a potential stalwart in the Phils’ approaching competitive window. Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Andrew Knapp

Matt, I am writing the Crashburn Alley report card on Andrew Knapp. Since I am largely unqualified to comment on his defensive attributes, do you have any kind or unkind words on the subject? Or possibly a resource I could refer to?

Below average, arm is average, framing improved but not smooth, blocking needs work

Likelihood that he gets to average? Or is the bat going to have to be his carrying tool?

Low, combo of bat and being a catcher could make the whole package average

The above correspondence with prospect aficionado Matt Winkelman provides a simple context in which to view Andrew Knapp. Due to terms like below average and needs work, Knapp’s emergence as an effective major league entity will rely on both (a) his ability to hit, and (b) his very existence as a catcher. To his credit, Knapp has the being a catcher part down quite well. That leaves only the bat as unresolved.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Aaron Altherr

Aaron Altherr was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley in August 2015 to replace Maikel Franco, who had his wrist broken by a Jeremy Hellickson fastball a week prior. This was not his MLB debut, as he’d taken 6 trips to the plate in 2014, but for all intents and purposes, this was the first glimpse of Altherr Phillies fans got. And he did not disappoint.

Despite a 25.5% K-rate, Altherr powered himself to a 125 wRC+ over 161 plate appearances on the strength of a .248 ISO. That, along with above-average outfield defense and baserunning, earned him 1.8 WAR, or about what you could expect an average major leaguer to produce in a full season. Altherr did that in a quarter of a season. He also did this.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Jeanmar Gomez

That Jeanmar Gomez played the role of an effective closer for the 2016 Philadelphia Phillies for so long was a slight miracle in and of itself. It’s not to say that Gomez is an incompetent reliever, but simply one not built for high-leverage situations. You can’t find a semi-reliable closer in the league without a great out-pitch, an offering that jumps out on opposing scouting reports like a bolded stat on a Baseball-Reference page. That is where Gomez lacks. But as new age bullpens are leveraged more and more by managers navigating the back half of games, reliable groundball-inducing relievers are viable commodities. Gomez was just that. With a groundball-rate in the top 25% of qualified National League relievers, Gomez’s sinker-slider-changeup combination was worthy of the Phillies tendering him a contract (which they did last week).

His strikeout rate, however, is the ultimate indicator that he doesn’t belong as a long-term closer. Of 60 National League relievers with 50-plus innings of work, Gomez’s 15.8 K% was lower than all but two. No closer with at least 18 saves had a lower strikeout-rate (Gomez ended 2016 tied for eighth in the MLB with 37 saves).screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-4-11-33-pm Continue reading…

Phillies Expected to Sign Joaquin Benoit

UPDATE: According to Matt Gelb, the deal is worth $7.5 million.

According to Jim Salisbury, the Phillies have reached an agreement with right-handed reliever Joaquin Benoit, pending a physical. Benoit split last season almost evenly between the Mariners and the Blue Jays. He was terrible in Seattle and amazing in Toronto, and the main culprit (as these things usually go) was an increased walk rate and home run rate in Seattle. Taken as a whole, his last season was not very different from his prior seasons, once you account for his advanced age. I think it would be unwise to expect better than the 2.81 ERA he posted over 48 innings in 2017.

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