Checking in on Zach Eflin

It’s been an up and down beginning to Zach Eflin‘s major league career — or, more precisely, a down and up beginning. His major league debut went about as poorly as a debut can go. He struck out the first batter (yay!), but from there it unraveled in almost historic proportions. His line that day: 2.2 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 3 HR. It amounted to a game score of 5 which is the lowest game score in a debut since someone named Arnie Munoz posted a -7 game score for the White Sox in his 2004 debut. Here’s a list of the most recent pitchers to post a game score that low in their debut:

Player Date Tm Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc
Zach Eflin 6/14/2016 PHI TOR 2.2 9 9 8 3 2 3 5
Arnie Munoz 6/19/2004 CHW MON 3 10 11 11 3 1 2 -7
John Stephens 7/30/2002 BAL TBD 3 10 9 9 1 1 3 3
Mike Busby 4/7/1996 STL ATL 4 9 13 8 4 4 4 2

That’s, uh, not a terribly encouraging group of names for Eflin to join. Munoz never started another major league game while Stephens and Busby combined for 21 more starts in their careers. And, yet, Eflin has followed up this thoroughly inauspicious start with a remarkably promising run of five successful starts.
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What We Learned About the Phillies in the First Half

Well, that could’ve been a whole lot worse. The Phillies hit the All-Star Break with a 42-48 record which places them ninth in the National League. The NL has been criticized since before the start of the season for a lack of parity. With very few exceptions, it was clear before the season began who would be contenders and who would be engaged in battles for last place. The only NL teams with a better record than the Phillies right now are the eight considered clear “contenders” entering the season. In a league of “haves” and “have-nots”, the Phillies are the winningest “have-not”.

However, there’s a difference between being a surprisingly good team and having a surprisingly good record and the Phillies decidedly fall into the latter distinction. After all, they still have the third worst run differential in the majors. But the biggest storyline for the Phillies isn’t their surprising proximity to a winning record. The most important thing for the team is still their future outlook and 2016 has gone about as well as could be hoped for through that lens.

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Odubel’s Impending Breakout

Much of Odubel Herrera’s offense last year was tied to an incredible success rate on converting batted balls into hits. His .387 average on balls in play led the league, and it led Odubel to one of the most successful Rule 5 seasons in recent memory. But outside of that unsustainable number, the rest of his offense fell far short of impressive. His walk rate, strikeout rate, and power were all below average. And without improvements in any of those areas, the inevitable regression in his BABIP was going to sink his offense altogether.

So coming into the 2016 season, Odubel made immediate improvements in two of those categories. He learned the value of taking a free pass, and even though he’s far removed from what he did in April, he’s still drawing walks at a league average level. He also started making more contact, which significantly lowered his strikeout rate in the process. Those two adjustments alone gave him a sustainable way to maintain a higher on-base percentage, and ultimately raised his floor as a hitter. But there’s yet another emerging trend in his numbers that might portend even bigger things for Odubel.

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Crash Landing: Lessons From Peter Bourjos

Baseball fans of all different sensibilities are guilty of one near universally mistake: forgetting just how much talent the worst player on a major league roster possesses. Perhaps there are enlightened fans who are able to avoid this trap, but I know I’m as guilty of it as the next person. I’ve made more jokes at Michael Martinez‘s expense than I care to count. “Replacement level” is somehow a pejorative description of a ballplayer which is also synonymous with “one of the greatest players to ever pick up a glove.” To achieve a coveted 25-man roster spot means being among the 750 greatest (active) players in the game. That’s some percentage of the baseball playing population with a zero before a decimal point and a crap ton of zeros after it. Bad major leaguers are still the elite of the elite!

In Philadelphia we’ve watched a lot of bad major leaguers in recent years — really bad major leaguers — and it can be maddening to watch. But I wonder, at times, if it clouds judgement. Philadelphia sports fans have a predisposition for pessimism. (Maybe that’s an all-sports-fan thing, I don’t know, but I do know for sure that it’s true here.) When pessimism combines with poor performance, it becomes easy to latch on to the bad to an extreme degree. We saw it happen with Ben Revere being written off as worthless every time he slumped despite evidence to the contrary. When a player struggles, it’s easy to write them off as a really bad major leaguer. Sometimes it’s valid. Sometimes it’s Michael Martinez. But sometimes it’s Ben Revere. And sometimes it’s Peter Bourjos.

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Phillies Trade Deadline Preview

We’re less than a month away from the August 1st trade deadline — July 31st falls on a Sunday this year, so the league pushed the deadline back one day — and things are bizarrely quiet for the Phillies. Since trading Bobby Abreu in July 2006, the Phillies have been central figures in high profile deals and rumors seemingly every single year. This year, however, the team is not looking to “buy” and all of their key chips to “sell” have already said their farewells to Philadelphia.

The chances of the Phillies being involved in any sort of blockbuster deal this month are infinitesimally small, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be active. Teams ought to always be open to any available avenue to improve and that means the Phillies will need to investigate whether there are opportunities to bring in talent to bolster the team’s rebuild.

Let’s take stock of what changes this month may bring about for the Phillies.

The Obvious Trade Candidates: Jeremy Hellickson, Peter Bourjos, Jeanmar Gomez

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The Curious Case of Cameron Rupp’s Exit Velocity

At the risk of sounding like an outdated Charmin Ultra commercial, sometimes in baseball, less is more.

Take Cameron Rupp. Through 118 plate appearances in the first two months of the season, no one in Major League Baseball with at least 20 balls in play recorded a higher average exit velocity (95.7 mph).

Exit velocity is not an established science that, upon its unveiling by Statcast, magically provided the key to understanding hitting. However, several correlations have been drawn to offensive production. Like any new metric, it has shortcomings and limits to its application. In the 2015 season, when segmenting exit velocities into 5 mph ranges (90-94, 95-99, etc.), batting averages rose with each incremental rise in exit velocity. Increased batted ball speeds also correlate to increase slugging percentage. Continue reading…

Surprising Offensive Breakouts in June

Quick, name the Phillies top four performers in the month of June by wRC+. Exclude Edubray Ramos‘ one walk in one plate appearances and you’ll come up with a list of four that might not be terribly shocking if you watched the Phillies all month, but would shock the heck out of you if you were shown the list on May 31st. The fabulous four are as follows:

Phillies Top Offensive Performers – June 2016
Player PA wRC+
Peter Bourjos 67 190
Cameron Rupp 75 148
Cody Asche 90 115
Cesar Hernandez 85 104

There is one other Phillie who recorded a wRC+ above league average (100) during the month of June: Maikel Franco, 101 wRC+. It’s great to see him doing better at the plate, but a league average bat hardly classifies as a surprising breakout for him. Offensive expectations for Franco are high. Offensive expectations for Bourjos, Rupp, Asche, and Hernandez, on the other hand? Let’s just say they’re less high. So what’s going on? Small sample flukes? Legitimate breakouts? The creation of viable trade chips? The development of players who will contribute to the next winning Phillies teams?

Let’s break it down one at a time.

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MLB Issues Ridiculous Defense Of Anti-Player Legislation

*Cracks Knuckles*

Thursday, in response to the anti-player Save America’s Pastime Act proposed by some jerk in Congress and denounced by it’s no-longer-as-jerky co-sponsor a day after she was bombarded with negative reactions, MLB released a totally bogus statement siding with the legislation, that makes them sound like a bunch of freaking idiots. In my humble opinion. I’ll just walk us through the text, point by point, and tell you why they’re either wrong or dumb, or maybe just making things up. Continue reading…

Prospect Matt Imhof Announces He Lost An Eye In A Training Accident

I’ll make this quick, because really, who cares what a dude like me has to say about something so serious. Phillies LHP prospect and current Clearwater Thresher (A+) Matt Imhof announced on Instagram that he lost his right eye in a training accident, after surgery was unable to save it.

As many of you know on Friday June 25th I had an accident. A large price of metal hit me in the head/eye resulting in a fractured nose, 2 fractured orbital bones, and most significantly, the loss of vision in my right eye. I was immediately taken to the ER and then transferred to Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, the #1 eye hospital in the world. That night, the doctors informed me that the damage to my eye was extreme and essentially that my eye had been crushed like a grape. The doctors told me they were going to do everything possible to reconstruct it but in all likelihood I would never regain sight in my right eye. The first surgery was somewhat a success but overall nothing had changed, so after discussions with my family and my doctors, it was decided that the best chance I had to live a normal life was to have my right eye removed and have a prosthetic one put in. This decision was not an easy one to make but to me it seemed like the right one so on Tuesday afternoon I went forward with the surgery. I'm currently still in Miami recovering from surgery but I'm doing well. This has been the hardest week of my life but I've had amazing support from my family and friends to help me get through it. For those who have been wishing me well, your support has not gone unnoticed and I appreciate everyone who has kept me in their thoughts and prayers. I had the best doctors in the world doing their best work on me and for that I am grateful as well. Although this injury has been tough it could have been much worse…I'm lucky to still have vision in my left eye…I'm lucky that i didn't have brain damage…and I'm lucky to be surrounded my the most loving and understanding people in the world. I just wanted to write this message to let everyone know that even though I suffered some bad luck, I'm not dead. I'm gonna be alright, I'm gonna persevere, and I'm gonna succeed. It takes more than this to bring me down. Again thanks to everyone for the support .

A photo posted by Matt Imhof (@matt_imhof48) on

Imhof was the Phils’ second round pick in 2014 out of Cal Poly. He had shoulder issues last year but was healthy this year. Word originally came from Baseball Betsy’s blog that this was a band stretching exercise and the hardware came loose from wherever it was anchored. Imhof’s Instagram describes the rest fairly well, I’d say. Best wishes from all Phillies fans go out to this young man right now, and from me, a hope that he can maintain the centered outlook he seems to have in his message to his friends, family and fans.

Crash Landing: Brundage’s Irresponsible Mishandling of Nick Williams

A year ago, I was a vocal critic of Ryne Sandberg. It wasn’t a role I relished or enjoyed, but it’s one that I couldn’t escape. At the time, the reports from beat writers and the quotes from players painted a picture of clubhouse disarray which was directly attributable to Sandberg’s managerial style and impacted team performance. I typically avoid clubhouse storylines because they are frequently little more than gossipy whispers or fluff, but in this case, there was a clubhouse situation which had a direct impact on the product on the field. I took notice, I formed opinions, and I expressed them. Well, it’s time to step outside my comfort zone and do the same thing once again, only this time it’s about a clubhouse about sixty miles north of Citizens Bank Park.

My philosophy on baseball managers is that their primary job is to put their players in a position to succeed. This covers tasks from managing pitcher workloads to properly deploying platoons to the most basic of tasks: teaching and guiding players. For young players in general and minor leaguers in particular, the type of success they should be set up for by their coaches is long-term success. There may be a 30-year-old journeyman AAAA player who is more likely to succeed in a game against a particularly challenging opponent, but developing players need the opportunity to face those challenges head on to prepare for the possibility of a major league future. Preparing for success in the majors is the goal and it’s the goal at which Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage has failed 22-year-old outfield prospect Nick Williams in recent weeks.

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