Vince Velasquez: Trouble with the Curve

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 Vince Velasquez:

It’s no secret that Vince Velasquez, despite his electric fastball, struggled to pitch deep into games because of a lack of effective secondary pitches. He often looked like he was just trying to strike batters out, while forgoing other pitch-to-contact methods that can minimize pitch counts while still recording outs, albeit those not as flashy as 95-mph fastballs blown by helpless hitters.

By his own account, he’s is focusing on gaining trust in his curveball during spring training, a pitch he threw 13.6 percent of the time last season.

He had this to say of his struggles with the pitch: “If you have no conviction in it, no trust in it, why even throw it?” Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 9: Milestones, Brock, and Baseball

When the Crash Bag came to these pages last week, we were merely excited about the return of baseball to our televisions that very afternoon. This week, we have seen that base balling firsthand. On account of that, perhaps, the Crash Bag was full with questions about baseball. Weird, I know. But it’s the truth.

@PompeyMalus: Should I be excited about Brock Stassi?

Excited isn’t exactly the word I would use for it, but whatever floats your boat. At the end of the day, all we’re talking about is Stassi potentially breaking camp as the 25th man on a 25 man roster. That’s exciting enough. If he continues to hit like he has for another week or so, we’ll be in the midst of a full-fledged roster battle.

Maybe there’s still something to be excited about long-term with Stassi, but I guess I don’t really see it. He’s entering his age 27 season and has been generally old for his level–especially as a prospect–throughout his entire professional career. Unlike another recent old-for-his-level star Darin Ruf, Stassi’s level of success throughout the minors would be best described as merely above-average. Ruf, if you’ll recall, essentially hit like Mike Trout (by wRC+) before making his major league debut.

Continue reading…

Misguided Early Spring Training Analysis: 5th Outfielder Battle

Spring Training statistics are just short of utter meaninglessness. This likely isn’t news to you as a reader of Crashburn Alley. Bill Baer made it a point to provide an annual reminder of this fact on these very pages. That first link offers a particularly comprehensive reason for unreliability of Spring Training statistics. To start, the length of Spring Training is such that all sample sizes are small. Added to that are considerations such as players working on weaknesses rather than playing and competing as they would in regular season play and quality of competition.

In the first five games of 2017 Spring Training, we have seen all of that. Obviously, five games is a minuscule sample. We had reports yesterday of Clay Buchholz only working at 80 percent effort, which, presumably, would inflate the stats of hitters facing him. Phillies hitters have likely faced similar non-100 percent efforts from opposing pitchers. Early in the spring, especially, low-level minor leaguers see time in Grapefruit and Cactus League games, diluting the quality of competition even further than the spring on the whole. All that is to say that none of what follows matters much at all.

Even so, as a Phillies-centric site, it behooves us to focus on what is perhaps the only truly interesting roster battle in camp for the glorious role of fifth outfielder.

Continue reading…

If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It Till It Is

Spring Training is upon us, as signaled by the onslaught of upbeat stories about how the players spent their winter hibernation. Maikel Franco has slimmed down. Finally, a stolen base threat! Cesar Hernandez packed on fifteen pounds of muscle. He won’t have to run the bases if he’s hitting the ball over the fence! Mark Appel is finally getting full extension in his delivery. I had no idea full extension was still in play for Appel. This is a game changer!

Most of these anecdotes are forgotten by the time real baseball gets underway. A few, however, will remain relevant. One story with that potential: Hector Neris decided he needs a third pitch.

Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 8: The Hairy Walk of Time

Baseball is back! The college baseball season started last week and, just yesterday, players wearing Phillies uniforms played a baseball game in Clearwater, Florida. Those players mostly weren’t guys we’ll see much of in 2017, but they were Phillies. Today, marks the beginning of Grapefruit League play, so we’ll see even more Phillies.

Baseball is back!

@Phrozen_: is the IBB change a) the absolute worst idea ever or b) only the second worst idea ever after the DH?

Not to be pedantic, but we’ve had a lot worse ideas than the IBB change in the history of human civilization. Slavery, genocide, non-24-hour diners to name a few. The IBB change is small bones on a wider scale.

More to the point, I was sort of with you when this rule change was floated out as a possibility last week. I immediately thought of instances where runners advance on an IBB wild pitch or a pitcher gives up a hit when the intentional ball drifts back over the plate or a runner on third steals home on an overly nonchalant lob. Those instances will be sorely missed, to be sure. But they are so rare that we get, what, one of these events every three to five years?

Continue reading…

Who Are You Series Wrap-Up

For the past five weeks, we’ve been looking in depth at new members of the Phillies roster. In case you missed any of the profiles, here are links to all five of them:

OF – Howie Kendrick (link)

RP – Pat Neshek (link)

RP – Joaquin Benoit (link)

OF – Michael Saunders (link)

SP – Clay Buchholz (link)

Before putting a close on this series, I wanted to get some thoughts on some notable non-roster invites who didn’t merit due to questionable odds of making the team. Some were explored in some depth in our other preview series that attempted to predict the Opening Day roster well before it was prudent to do so.

Continue reading…

MLB Pipeline Releases Phillies Top 30 Prospects

On Tuesday, MLB released their top 30 prospects for every National League East team on MLBpipeline.com. While for many this was a chance to see what the league’s prospect gurus had to say about the Braves farm system, which is one of the best, we here at Crashburn were interested in getting our first look at their take on a Phils farm system that has seen some mixed reviews throughout the offseason.

While the general consensus is that the organization is above average, opinions have varied. Keith Law ranked the Phillies as the 14th best system, down from sixth heading into 2016, while Baseball Prospectus tabbed only three teams as having more Top 101 prospects than the Phillies.

A few factors combined to lower the esteem held toward what many in Philly think is a bright prospect-studded future. First, the organization graduated a handful of upper-level prospects last season. The last MLB Pipeline ranking in 2015 had Jake Thompson ranked third, Zach Eflin as a top-10 prospect and Alec Asher also listed at 25. All three played with the big club in 2016.

In addition, a few of the best prospects in the system didn’t take expected steps forward. Nick Williams tried to swing his way to Philadelphia with no such luck, J.P. Crawford, who many also assumed would debut with the Phillies late last season, didn’t make the adjustment to triple-A as swimmingly as hoped for a top-5 prospect in all of baseball, and Mark Appel struggled before having season-ending elbow surgery.

You lose some players to the majors, a few top guys don’t make statements that incite the greatest level of confidence, and your stock realistically will drop. So it went.

So how do they rank the current prospects? Continue reading…

Predicting the Phillies Starting Rotation Order

The 2017 Phillies feel unique among rebuilding teams in that their starting pitching rotation is likely to be 80 percent the same as it was the previous season. Potential building blocks like Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez are all back. For better or worse, Jeremy Hellickson is back as well after accepting the Phillies’ qualifying offer instead of testing the free agency waters. The only difference in the rotation is not the arrival of a top prospect or big free agent intended to vault the team closer to contention. It’s just Clay Buchholz replacing Charlie Morton. At risk of oversimplification, Buchholz and Morton are, in the grand scheme, more or less the same: veteran pitchers with histories of injuries and inconsistency acquired on the cheap.

With that level of similarity between the 2016 and 2017 pitching rotations, it shouldn’t be surprising that manager Pete Mackanin has suggested another similarity between 2016 and 2017: Jeremy Hellickson is the likely opening day starter. This builds on what is a growing trend of boring announcements coming from the Phillies, beginning with the revelation that Jeanmar Gomez would likely be the team’s closer once again. The selection is not without merit. After all, one could reasonably argue that Hellickson was the team’s best starter in 2016, though Jerad Eickhoff has a similarly compelling case and Aaron Nola’s peak performance was undoubtedly better than both. Even if Hellickson is truly the best pitcher on the team–and it’s very possible he is–having him as the team’s nominal number one starter feels somehow disappointing. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 7: Prospects, Frenchy, and Legacy

With pitchers and catcher having reported earlier this week, the Crash Bag mailbox saw a marked uptick in questions directly related to baseball and a downtick in ephemera. This, in my opinion, is neither a moral good or a moral bad. A good question is a good question, regardless of its subject. The Crash Bag, like baseball as a whole, works best, I believe, when it contains a mix of actual baseball and profound nonsense. The six editions prior to this have been heavy on the nonsense, so consider this a bit of a balancing of the scales.

@scottbails13: Which of the Phillies’ prospects has the best chance to play significant time for the big club this season?

The easy answer here is Andrew Knapp. He’s one of two prospect eligible players likely to break Spring Training with the major league team (Joely Rodriguez is the other). He’ll be the backup catcher, and Joely will be a LOOGY sort of dude out of the bullpen, so they’re not the flashiest of answers, but backup catcher, in particular, is a pretty significant role that guarantees something like 200 plate appearances over a full season.  Continue reading…

Who Are You: Clay Buchholz

This post is the last of a weekly series which has run each Thursday. Over the offseason, we took a deep dive look at new members of the Phillies roster. Now that we’re just weeks away from settling down with these guys every day, the hope is that this series has provided a requisite introduction in preparation for the coming season.

Previous Installments:

Howie Kendrick

Pat Neshek

Joaquin Benoit

Michael Saunders Continue reading…