Crash Landing: Watching Howard One Last Time

As I’m writing about baseball more and more, I have fewer and fewer opportunities to sit down and watch a game as a fan. I don’t mean that to sound like a complaint — writing about baseball is a joy and I’m incredibly blessed to have the gigs I have — but it is a statement of fact and it’s a big part of why I write this column each week. This column is part of my attempt to stay grounded in the emotional impact of the sport and it forces me to think about not just what I’m seeing in baseball but how I feel about it. Last night, baseball made me feel things.

I was at Citizens Bank Park sitting in the upper deck to watch the Phillies play the Giants. The crowd was sparse in comparison to the days of guaranteed sell-outs, but still sizable enough that the section I was in was packed. There were countless wonderful moments that I may or may not remember months or years from now — Odubel Herrera’s shoestring catch, the bullpen’s outstanding performance, Maikel Franco’s walk-off and Altherr’s Boner, Cameron Rupp’s mammoth home run to dead center — but there was one thing I know I’ll remember.

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Baseball Is Bad, Again

Welp.

Aaron Nola has been struggling on and off (mostly on) for two months now in ways that indicated something bigger was at play. The hope was that it was mechanical or mental, but the reality we’re now being presented with is that it’s injury related. This news is accompanied by a somewhat worrisome velocity decline in his most recent starts:

Nola velo

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The Barber Shop Reopens: Bailey DFA’d and Garcia Recalled

It would’ve made for a great story, but Andrew Bailey‘s comeback attempt with the Phillies has come to a sadly predictable conclusion.

Bailey began the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley and found immediate success — 5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 10 K — before being called up to the Phillies at the end of April. His time with the Phillies can be split into remarkably divergent halves — through June 3rd and since June 3rd.

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A Quiet Deadline In Philadelphia

A few weeks ago, I set up a “Who will the Phillies trade before the deadline?” poll on the sidebar. If you were one of the 6% who said “no one”, congratulations. The deadline has come and gone and the Phillies roster remains as is. Jeremy Hellickson will (presumably) make his next start in red pinstripes. Jeanmar Gomez is (presumsably) still the Phillies closer. The surprisingly effect Carlos Ruiz / Cameron Rupp catching tandem remains intact. The 2016 Phillies are today what they were yesterday.

It’s hard to be upset about the lack of trade activity. The most talked about trade chip, Jeremy Hellickson, is a league average pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of the season, but he’s also coming off three consecutive seasons in which he was well below league average for the Rays and the Diamondbacks. His 3.70 ERA is middling as is and his track record is not one that instills confidence he’ll be able to sustain even that moderate success going forward.

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Crash Landing: Trade Deadline Rumors Are The Worst

Things have been relatively quiet on the trade front over the past few days across baseball in general, but as it regards the Phillies, in particular. Jeremy Hellickson is still the only player generating much buzz and there haven’t been any particular salient rumors in the past few days. In fact, the only recent rumor to get picked up at all was generated as a result of this tweet from ESPN’s Jayson Stark:

This, in combination with a similar report about the Rays’ asking price for the various and sundry starting pitchers they may or may not trade, led to a MLB Trade Rumors headline: “Rays, Phillies Placing High Asking Prices On Starters“. Maybe it’s just me, but reading that headline instantly brought me back to the seemingly never-ending debates and controversies over the asking price for Cole Hamels spanning the offseason prior to the 2015 season all the way through his eventual trade to Texas.

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Altherr Activated; Bourjos to the DL

In a bit of expected news, the Phillies officially announced this transaction:

Peter Bourjos was injured when he Rowanded himself against the outfield wall during Tuesday night’s game in Miami.

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The Phillies’ Bad Offense Is Back With A Vengeance

Before the All-Star Break, the Phillies went on a wholly unexpected offensive tear. The offensive heroes were guys like Peter Bourjos, Cody Asche, Cameron Rupp, and Cesar Hernandez, so it’s hard to muster any surprise that the Phillies offense has crashed back to earth. The team entered play on Wednesday afternoon with a .208/.270/.317 team slashline through the first 12 games of the second half. It won’t surprise you to learn that their team 56 wRC+ is the worst of any major league team since the All-Star Break. Just how bad is a team 56 wRC+? Ryan Howard has a 52 wRC+ this season. Yes, since the All-Star Break, the Phillies as a team have been roughly as productive at the plate as Ryan Howard has all season.

In order to get a sense of how dramatic the change in offensive performance has been, I charted the team’s OPS the season in rolling ten game chunks beginning with games #1-#10 (April 4th to April 14th) and going all the way through games #93-102 (July 17th to July 26th). The results are a graphical illustration of what you likely already know to be true:

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Finding Professional At Bats

The Phillies are a bad offensive team. They have their moments, where the hits seem to fall in bunches, but as is often the case with bad offenses, reality brings them crashing back to earth. And when the offense goes into an especially brutal stretch of ineptitude, we often hear Pete Mackanin say he’s looking for more “professional at-bats”. It seems like a low bar to set for a major league team, but in the absence of actual hitting talent, it’s probably a good place to start. But what constitutes a professional at-bat? Well, according to Pete Mackanin:

“We just need to get to that point. We need to work the count, we don’t walk a lot. For me, we take too many fastballs for strikes and we swing at too many – we expand the strike zone too often. Right now there’s nobody there that’s risen to the challenge. We’re looking for that guy.”

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Phillies Trade Rumor Roundup

We’re officially one week out from the non-waiver trade deadline. All deals must be completed by 4pm EDT next Monday, August 1st. (They pushed the deadline back one day from the typical July 31st because the 31st is a Sunday.) I must admit, I’m finding the pace leading up to this deadline to be much more relaxing and enjoyable than the hectic, unsettled pace of the past few Julys in Philadelphia. The high profile pieces are all gone and all that’s left are a few middling trade candidates, none of whom will make or break the Phillies future. Let’s check in on where thing stand on the rumor mill.

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Zach Eflin’s Complete Games By The Numbers

Last week I provided a reasonably in depth analysis of the start of Zach Eflin‘s major league career. There’s the good — dude throws strikes — and the bad — dude never misses bats — but mostly there’s the unknown — dude’s just 22 and still learning. Overall, the analysis essentially called for tempering enthusiasm about Eflin, which felt a bit silly in retrospect when in his very next start, he went out and did this:

In keeping a good Pirates team scoreless through nine innings, Eflin became the first Phillies rookie to toss a shutout since J.A. Happ threw two shutouts in 2009. At 22 years, 107 days old, he also became the youngest Phillies pitcher to throw a shutout since Kevin Gross (22 years, 83 days) on August 30, 1983.

Not only did he throw a shutout, he continued with his strike-throwing ways and didn’t walk a single batter. His final line on the evening: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K, 1 HBP.

Any concerns I outlined prior to the shutout remain. During the game, opponents connected on 83% of swings against Eflin, which is a contact-rate that is still significantly higher than ideal. However, there’s no reason to rehash that analysis. The sole purpose of this piece is to celebrate the shutout with a few fun facts and lists.

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