What To Do About the Outfield

The Phillies have a good problem on the horizon. Howie Kendrick was bashing baseballs before succumbing to an oblique injury. Kendrick is eligible to come off the DL today, but indications are he’ll be out about another week or two. He was signed to start in the outfield, and he’s making $10 million this year whether he starts or not. Aaron Altherr, since Kendrick’s injury, has been unleashing the full force of his 6’-5” frame on the National League. If he qualified, he’d rank third among NL outfielders in wRC+ at 170. He’s picked up exactly where he left off after the 2015 season (let’s just pretend like last year never happened).

If you’ve been reading this site, you’ll notice that we love Altherr, and for good reason. Besides his hitting, he’s perhaps the best defensive outfielder the Phillies have, and at 26 years old he’s significantly younger than the Phillies other corner outfielders (Kendrick, 33, Daniel Nava, 34, and Michael Saunders, 30). If given the chance to grow, he could be a valuable contributor to the next great Phillies team. So the answer seems obvious; put Kendrick in the other outfield slot, where Saunders is producing just a 76 wRC+. However, it’s not that simple. Continue reading…

The Wrong Solution To The Wrong Problem

The Phillies are intent on getting Vince Velasquez deeper into his starts. Poor pitch economy is the oft-cited culprit of his short outings and also the focus of most offhand solutions. Here is the theory: by throwing fewer pitches to each batter, he will ultimately see more batters over the course of a game, and lengthier starts will follow. A well-conceived plan.

On a per batter basis, Velasquez does throw more pitches than the average starting pitcher. This is also true of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Noah Syndergaard, and other pitchers ideal for Velasquez to emulate. Where the economical pitcher is averaging 3.7 pitches per batter, these pitching giants are throwing closer to 4.0. The reason: a big swing-and-miss fastball. Because these fastballs miss bats at a high rate, fewer balls are put into play. Deeper counts naturally follow.

Improving pitch economy, then, would require Velasquez to make his fastball more hittable. Or select a less effective pitch to throw. Either way, the idea is the same: cede contact and let the hitter get himself out. Hitters, it should be noted, have no such intention.

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Crashbag Vol. 17 – Do Not Seek The Treasure

Hey, it’s my first Crashbag. Hope it gives you a chuckle, or failing that, that at least you think I’m an idiot afterwards.

Mark Appel was a #1 overall pick and now someone has asked a question about whether he’ll have as good a career as a guy who posted one and one fifth career WAR (I averaged BRef and Fangraphs…for…science). That this is even a realistic question is just a brutal assessment of Appel. Harsh. Poor guy.

I liked Condrey in ’08 – he was reliable-ish, and threw a pretty good ground ball rate over 69 innings, (interesting), while lacking an out pitch that could have helped him out of some jams. Though even one more out would have ruined that “interesting” season, so… Continue reading…

Jerad Eickhoff Update: Going One-for-Two

In my season preview for Jerad Eickhoff, I suggested that there were two things us amateur baseball analysts should watch for from him this season. From that piece:

So, for Eickhoff, there are two things I’ll be watching for this season, especially early. One, will he start using his changeup more (and consequently, will it continue to get rocked)? He’s already shown the ability to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, but with an improved changeup, he could take a serious step forward.

The other thing I’d like to see Eickhoff do is throw his curveball more often. He threw it 24% of the time last year, with a contact rate of just 62%, allowing a .462 OPS. That is fantastic, and so he should feature his curveball more prominently in his repertoire.

At the end of the piece, I promised to keep you updated as the season progressed, and at the risk of ruining the suspense, that is exactly what I’m doing for my dear readers. Let’s start with a graph from Brooks Baseball: Continue reading…

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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