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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All About xFIP

This morning, the Phillies’ official twitter account somewhat bizarrely sent out the briefest of introductions to xFIP.

Considering the organization’s, shall we say, hesitance to embrace sabermetric analysis in the pre-Klentak era, this little pebble thrown into the gaping chasm of the interwebs — even if done so with tongue planted firmly in cheek — came as a bit of a surprise. So, instead of mocking the team for doing what people have been criticizing it for not doing…

and at the risk of explaining something already known to an audience that actively seeks out this site for its sabermetric bent, indulge me in a (very) broad overview of xFIP.

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Crash Landing: All-Stars, Odubel, and A New Era

I have a trivia question for you — name all of the Phillies All-Star Game representatives who were born in the ‘80s. Take your time. I’ll even give you a hint, they’re all included on this list of All-Star representatives since 2007:

Phillies All-Stars Since 2007
2016 Odubel Herrera (OF)
2015 Jonathan Papelbon (P)
2014 Chase Utley (2B)
2013 Domonic Brown (OF), Cliff Lee (P)
2012 Cole Hamels (P), Jonathan Papelbon (P), Carlos Ruiz (C)
2011 Roy Halladay (P); Cole Hamels (P); Cliff Lee (P); Placido Polanco (3B); Shane Victorino (OF)
2010 Roy Halladay (P); Ryan Howard (DH); Chase Utley (2B)
2009 Ryan Howard (1B); Raul Ibanez (OF); Chase Utley (2B); Shane Victorino (OF); Jayson Werth (OF)
2008 Brad Lidge (P); Chase Utley (2B)
2007 Cole Hamels (P); Aaron Rowand (OF); Chase Utley (2B)


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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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