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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Andres Blanco Hurt, Could J.P. Crawford Get The Call?

UPDATE (Monday, 2:30 EDT): As expected, the Phillies have opted to recall Taylor Featherston. The 40-man roster remains at 39.

In today’s edition of Baseball Is Bad…

Andres Blanco has been an unexpected revelation as a utility infielder for the Phillies over the past two seasons. Since the start of the 2015 season, he is batting .282/.344/.472 through 427 plate appearances and has played all four positions on the infield dirt. But one of the most crucial roles the 32-year-old Venezuelan has played is as a mentor for the young Latin American players on the team — especially infielders Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, and Freddy Galvis. As a dual threat in leadership and on-field performance, he’s been everything the Phillies could want from a utility infielder and more.

It’s too early to speculate how long the injury will keep him sidelined, but it’s not too soon to speculate as to who will fill his spot on the roster in the meantime. Given that they’ll likely need to add someone capable of playing shortstop, the two most obvious candidates are: top prospect J.P. Crawford and Taylor Featherston.

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Phillies DFA Daniel Stumpf

After five mostly forgettable innings, the Phillies have designated LHP Daniel Stumpf for assignment. In a corresponding move, Severino Gonzalez has been recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. As you may remember, the Phillies acquired Stumpf as a Rule 5 selection from the Royals this offseason. After pitching less than one inning over three appearances in April, Stumpf was suspended 80 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

Following his suspension, Stumpf pitched four times in the past week, failing to strike out a batter in three of the four appearances. For the season, he pitched 5 innings, faced 25 batters, and allowed 2 walks, 9 hits, and 6 earned runs, while recording only 2 strikeouts. Last night’s game, which I had the misfortune to witness first hand, was the last straw, as Stumpf allowed five hits and three runs in two innings of work, though he was able to register his first two career strikeouts.

Because he was a Rule 5 pick, the Royals will have the option to reacquire Stumpf at the low, low price of $25,000. The Phillies could also negotiate a trade to permanently acquire his rights, although I’d guess the odds of that are pretty slim. The Phillies now have just one lefty in the bullpen, and if the Phillies’ brass thought Stumpf could be something, they likely would have let him play out the season. However, this may have been a move to allow the rehabbing Aaron Altherr a spot on the 40-man roster.

For every Odubel Herrera, there are several Stumpfs. Such is the nature of the Rule 5 draft.

Crash Landing: Fighting Pessimism, Looking Forward to Altherr’s Return

I have this habit of defaulting to extreme pessimism for injured players. It’s a deep-seated tendency due both to the innate pessimism derived from my upbringing in the world of Philadelphia sports as well as a learned habit from the recent pain of watching catastrophic injuries dramatically derail the careers of guys like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and, to a perhaps lesser extent, Chase Utley. With each of those injuries, there were initial hopes and recovery timelines to cling to but, in the end, the injuries deprived us from the enjoyment of watching greatness. It’s for this reason, that I’ve spent a lot of this season overlooking Aaron Altherr and I (extremely cautiously) think it’s time for me to stop.

Prior to the start of the season, the outfield was one of the more intriguing storylines for the Phillies. Altherr and Odubel Herrera were to get everyday roles while Peter Bourjos, Cody Asche, and Tyler Goeddel covered the final spot until such a time that Nick Williams could be called up. It was exciting! Altherr and Herrera both showed a great deal of promise in their rookie seasons, but there were also many questions remaining about their games and this was the year to get answers to those questions. While the great plan has certainly worked out for All-Star Odubel Herrera, it didn’t even get off the ground for Altherr.

In the first week of spring training, he made a dive that looked completely harmless.  It was a fantastic diving effort that came up just short and Altherr didn’t even flinch at the moment the injury occurred. Continue reading…

Who Had The More Encouraging Game: Nola or Velasquez?

The biggest story of the start to the Phillies 2016 season was the emergence of their talented young rotation. Although Jerad Eickhoff has has his moments of greatness, the two biggest stars were Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola. Velasquez grabbed headlines across baseball with his 16-strikeout performance against the Padres in his second start of the season. Nola soared towards the top of league leaderboards in the first two months of the season. But then, almost simultaneously, everything began to crumble for the duo. Over the past 48 hours, however, they have both put together stellar starts that have caused Phillies fans to hope that maybe their struggles are behind them. Is the optimism provided by their post-All-Star-Break debuts justified?

Vince Velasquez

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