Ryan Howard Has Come Full Circle

I remember when Ryan Howard first made his mark on the Phillies. I was thirteen years old, and he was called up to replace an injured Jim Thome. I love Jim Thome; he’s my favorite player of all time. So when Howard hit 22 home runs in about half a season, and I read reports that Howard was ready to replace Thome permanently, I was not happy. Then he won Rookie of the Year. That offseason, Thome was traded to the White Sox for noted face-smasher Aaron Rowand and a couple prospects, including Gio Gonzalez.

This was before I paid attention to the minor leagues and before I knew anything about advanced stats. All I knew was that I loved Jim Thome, and Ryan Howard forced him off the team. I was furious.

Then Ryan Howard came out in 2006, hit 58 home runs, and won the MVP. All with that charismatic smile and swagger. Being a fickle young fan, my opinion immediately changed. I still loved Jim Thome, but there was room in my heart for Ryan Howard too. And there was plenty of room for his trademark booming opposite field home runs. Continue reading…

Crash Landing: Reality and Beating Projections

Programming Note: Later this week I will be joining the writing staff at FanGraphs. You’ll be able to read my work over there three times a week and if that isn’t enough of a draw, old friend Eric Longenhagen recently became their new lead prospect analyst so you’ll be able to read his work as well. This is not a goodbye post, though. I’m still going to be a regular Crashburn contributor but starting next week the Crash Landing column will run on Thursdays instead of Mondays due to my new schedule.

It was supposed to happen like this. The 2016 Phillies entered the season with the worst projections in baseball and the 2016 Cubs with the best. If you looked at Major League Baseball’s master schedule in April, you would find no more apparent mismatch than the Phillies-Cubs showdown this past weekend. When the teams meet again next week, the Phillies will have home field advantage at least. This series at Wrigley Field, though? This was the Cubs’ series to dominate.

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Mark Appel Is Probably Totally Fine, But…

It’s been reported this morning that Mark Appel, former first overall pick of Houston and a key component of the Ken Giles trade late last year, is headed to the 7-Day DL at Lehigh Valley, with what’s being called a “Right Shoulder Strain”. Larry Shenk (@ShenkLarry) of PhilliesInsider.mlblogs.com was first to report the news, as far as I can tell. Appel had been ranked on several industry Top 100 lists this offseason, and was in the Phils’ Top 10 across the board after he arrived.

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Don’t Go Soft On Odubel

Among the reasons behind Odubel Herrera’s continued breakout, none is more notable than his improved plate discipline. The story is well known by now. He was a bit of a free swinger last year, offering at 35.1% of pitches outside of the strike zone. This year, he’s cut that down to 29.4%, which is right in line with the league average. The effects have been apparent. He’s drawing walks at a much improved rate, and he’s getting himself into more favorable hitter’s counts. The result is a .441 on-base percentage that ranks second in the league. But Odubel has made another adjustment this year, and one that has been equally important to his success as a hitter.

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Aaron Nola’s Master Class vs. Miguel Cabrera

With the surprising performance of the 2016 Phillies to date, members of their starting rotation have been getting a little more attention than was expected to start the year. Vincent Velasquez grabbed headlines with his 16-strikeout shutout in April, but Aaron Nola‘s rise to national prominence has been much more gradual.

His numbers don’t immediately jump off a FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference page. After yielding four runs in six innings to Detroit yesterday, he now sports a 3.14 ERA — good for sure, but not jaw-dropping. To notice what Aaron Nola is doing takes a little bit of effort. It means watching his curveball baffle elite major league hitters or realizing that he is the only qualified starting pitcher in the Top 10 for both K-BB% (22.2%, 7th in MLB) and GB% (56.3%, 9th in MLB).

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Howard’s Swing Is (Unsurprisingly) Out Of Whack

It’s hard to watch Ryan Howard play baseball right now. He’s in the midst of an atrocious 0-for-18 stretch which is part of a larger 4-for-52 run since April 30th. Entering play on April 30th, Howard was batting .214/.278/.443 which is a far cry from reasonable expectations for a productive first baseman but seemed about right for a 36-year-old who has been playing with a barely functional lower half ever since his Achilles failed him in 2011. But now Howard’s triple slashline has fallen from predictably below average to a downright hideous .156/.226/.369. That .213 ISO is basically the only thing separating Ryan Howard’s offensive line from that of a pitcher.

Watching Howard in recent games, it’s felt as though he’s somehow getting even worse. So I went back and looked at his last hit and compared it to one of his fruitless at bats this past weekend.

In the fourth inning against the Reds on May 12th (twelve days ago!), Ryan Howard took a Tim Adelman curveball deep to right field for a double. Peak Ryan Howard might have sent that ball over the wall, but Howard still crushed the pitch and slid into second with a flourish:
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In Search of Phillies Outfield Upgrades

The Phillies offensive woes were on display in embarrassing fashion this past weekend when they managed just one run in their first two games against a pitiful Atlanta Braves team. Even a 13-hit, 5-run “outburst” in Sunday’s series finale wasn’t enough to mask the undeniable truth that the Phillies offense is an absolute disaster. The corner outfield positions have been among the weakest spots in a lineup replete with weak spots, but Tyler Goeddel‘s encouraging .366/.409/.585 slashline since May 8th have helped alleviate some of the concerns about that particular lineup black hole. Still, with the David Lough‘s 72 wRC+ and Peter Bourjos‘ impossibly low 37 wRC+, it wouldn’t take much to upgrade the Phillies’ outfield.

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Crash Landing: What Does A Phillies Shortstop Look Like?

The first time I saw J.P. Crawford in person was a little more than two years ago. Less than a year after Crawford had been selected sixteenth overall by the Phillies in the 2013 draft, I ventured out to Lakewood with Crashburn’s former prospect writer Eric Longenhagen to get a look at the shortstop who was generating a tremendous amount of hype in the first few months of his professional career. I’d read the reports and had a broad idea of what to expect: a smooth fielder with an advanced approach at the plate. But when the moment finally came and I laid eyes on Crawford for the first time, I was taken aback and overcome by a bizarre instinct that something was wrong. J.P. Crawford didn’t look the part.

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Phillies Are An Illusion Worth Watching

It’s May 20th and the Phillies are one game out of first place. Let’s just savor this for a moment. We are officially one quarter of the way through this baseball season and, at 24-17, the Phillies are seven games over .500.

Usually, the next sentence is something like, at this rate, the Phillies are on pace to blah blah blah. But we can’t really say that right now. The math just doesn’t work out in our favor.

Frankly, the Phillies shouldn’t even be on pace for their current record. Everything about it defies logic, expectation, and basic probability. Of course, that’s why the season is 162 games long. Ultimately, that many games will prove who’s real and who isn’t. The fakers will fade come August.

So what are the Phillies? In what capacity is this real and how excited should we be? Well, to the latter question first, be excited. Any time your team is winning, be excited. The players look excited. They’re obviously having fun and it’s something you should be a part of.

So now, to the former question. Is this real, or just an illusion? Continue reading…

A Miracle Season For Chooch, Why Not?

If you’ve been reading my work at Crashburn for a while, then you may know one unavoidable truth about me: I’m extraordinarily sentimental. Millenials receive plenty of criticism for being overly nostalgic and maybe another time I’ll discuss my theories about why that is, but for now let’s just say I fully admit that I can be a bit of a sap. I don’t know if that’s a contradiction given that I’m a writer on a site which seeks to find objective truths, but it’s very much a part of who I am and how I engage with the sport of baseball.

I intended to write today with my objective lens fully in place and really dig into what’s happening with the Phillies right now. There are many factors to their success which are simply unsustainable and we’ve tried hard to keep that in mind with our commentary on this site this season. But then, Jim Salisbury wrote a piece and my penchant for sentimentality won out. There are more than 120 games left in the season and we’ll have plenty of time to analyze what’s going right and what could go horribly wrong, but today I want to live in the moment and talk about Carlos Ruiz.

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