Crashburn Roundtable: Early Season Opinions

We are roughly 3 weeks into the major league season, and the Phillies have been fairly average. That is a big improvement over the projections which still see them as one of the worst teams in baseball. Almost every part of the team has had its ups and its downs. It may be too early to make some big sweeping judgments about the season, but the staff here has some opinions on the season so far anyway.

The Phillies are 9-9 after having a tough early game schedule including 12 against the Nationals and Mets. It is still early, but has your outlook on this team changed?

Adam Dembowitz: I think maybe 79 wins (my preseason projection) is a little low for this team. Nothing personal against Buchholz, but I think his injury actually adds a win by itself (at least). Considering some other changes — Nola presumably being the “old Nola” after he gets back from the DL, Velasquez maybe getting into the sixth inning more often, Neris holding down the 9th all year, Altherr breaking out — I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like 83, 84 wins by the end of the season.  Continue reading…

Nola Injured and the Phillies Make a Trade

The Phillies 40 man roster will be a story all year, as they navigate the 11 players they added in front of the Rule 5 draft. With Clay Buchholz’s season ending injury and Elniery Garcia’s PED suspension, the roster opened up some. This was all just in time for injuries to hit the Phillies elsewhere.

The heart attack inducing injury was to Aaron Nola’s back. Right now, all indications are that Nola will only miss a start or two on this DL trip, but the news caused some level of panic anyway. The corresponding move is fairly obvious. Nick Pivetta has gotten off to a hot start and is both on the 40 man roster and on turn in the rotation. Pivetta probably needs more time in AAA, but he should be fine to make a 1 to 2 start cameo in the majors. The Phillies could choose to go with a bullpen game in those starts instead, but all signs point to Pivetta making his debut. Continue reading…

Jerad Eickhoff Update: Going One-for-Two

In my season preview for Jerad Eickhoff, I suggested that there were two things us amateur baseball analysts should watch for from him this season. From that piece:

So, for Eickhoff, there are two things I’ll be watching for this season, especially early. One, will he start using his changeup more (and consequently, will it continue to get rocked)? He’s already shown the ability to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, but with an improved changeup, he could take a serious step forward.

The other thing I’d like to see Eickhoff do is throw his curveball more often. He threw it 24% of the time last year, with a contact rate of just 62%, allowing a .462 OPS. That is fantastic, and so he should feature his curveball more prominently in his repertoire.

At the end of the piece, I promised to keep you updated as the season progressed, and at the risk of ruining the suspense, that is exactly what I’m doing for my dear readers. Let’s start with a graph from Brooks Baseball: Continue reading…

The Return of Zach Eflin

Clay Buchholz is officially out for the season. Even if Buchholz had stayed healthy, it was likely that the Phillies were going to have a major pitcher injury at some point. The good news is the Phillies are strong in major league ready starting pitching. This time, the Phillies are not dipping down into the prospects, instead going with 23 year old, not quite a rookie, Zach Eflin.

This is the second year in which Eflin was called up after the Phillies experienced a starting pitcher injury. His first trip to the majors was not good, and he posted a 5.54 ERA over 63.1 innings. Now that number is a bit deceptive, because you break his season up into 3 distinct time periods.

First MLB Start: 2.2 IP – 27.00 ERA – 9 H – 3 BB – 2 K – 3 HR

Seven Solid Starts: 47.2 IP – 2.08 ERA – 36 H – 5 BB – 24 K – 3 HR

Three Injured Starts: 13.0 IP – 13.85 ERA – 22 H – 9 BB – 5 K – 6 HR Continue reading…

Trying to Understand Cesar Hernandez

This weekend Cesar Hernandez hit two home runs. Two is such a small number in the context of baseball, and most small events like this could be explained as small sample size noise. However, these home runs brought Hernandez to 3 in 12 games. This is Hernandez’s 5th major league season, and in the previous 4 he hit 8 home runs total. The spike is noticeable in the ongoing confusion that is Cesar Hernandez.

The introduction of StatCast has brought a larger voice to the concept that hitting the ball in the air is better than hitting the ball on the ground. This is not a new idea to anyone who has studied basic mechanics and specifically ballistics. The 2016 data bears this out too.

Batted Ball Type AVG ISO
Ground Ball .239 .019
Fly Ball .241 .474
Line Drive .689 .210

So how does this tie back to Cesar Hernandez? Here is Hernandez’s batted ball data in his time in the majors: Continue reading…

The Phillies Have A New Third Baseman

Among the many storylines of 2016, Maikel Franco‘s regression was perhaps the most discouraging. Franco spent the season mixing flashes of formidable hitting talent with an infuriating lack of approach at the plate. He did not swing at every pitch that came his way, but enough to render most of his natural talent moot. It seemed his potential would ever remain unrealized. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Phillies decided to move on from Franco, replacing him this year with a new budding young star at third base.

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Where Have Jeremy Hellickson’s Strikeouts Gone?

Jeremy Hellickson entered the 2017 season as the Phillies’ de facto ace. After last season, in which he posted the highest K-BB% and fWAR numbers of his career, expectations were high for the 28-year-old. Through two starts, the results are better than the Phillies could have hoped for. He’s tossed 10 innings and allowed only one run for a 0.90 ERA, and those two starts account for two of the Phillies three wins thus far. He hasn’t allowed a home run yet, and his walk rate is the lowest of his career. Opponents are hitting just .124 against him.

All of that sounds great, but it’s tainted by a disturbing lack of strikeouts. Hellickson has punched out just 3 hitters so far, out of the 39 hitters he’s faced, “good” for a 7.7 K%. That’s currently the lowest in the league among the 102 qualified pitchers. I have no idea what the cutoff for a qualified pitcher is nine games into the season, but among all those pitchers, Hellickson is striking out the fewest hitters.

So what is wrong with Hellickson? I guess you could say nothing because he’s still getting results. But from a sustainability side of things, it looks like something’s gotta give, maybe as soon as his his start tomorrow. Hitters have whiffed at just 5.8% of the pitches against Hellickson, compared with 10.8% last year.  That’s fourth worst among qualified pitchers, just ahead of Bartolo Colon (6.30 ERA). Continue reading…

Howie Kendrick Looks Like a Leader

When the Phillies traded for Howie Kendrick in the offseason, the idea was to bring in a steady veteran with the leadership qualifications to help guide a roster of young works-in-progress. So far, so good.

The Phillies have tons of money to spend, but this winter, they opted instead to infuse the clubhouse with some much-needed (and reasonably affordable) experience. At 33 years of age, Kendrick has plenty of that, along with a consistent bat and an absurd degree of fielding versatility. At present, Yahoo! Fantasy lists him as eligible to play 1B, 2B, 3B and LF. And quite frankly, if the Clay Buchholz injury is at all serious, I’d also be willing to throw him out on the mound and see what he can do every fifth day.
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Garcia Up, Morgan Down, Buchholz Hurt, Now What?

It only took the Phillies 3 days to wipe away all of the positive feelings from a 17-3 drubbing of the Nationals. Michael already wrote about what happened to Clay Buchholz so it is not worth dwelling too much on his future until we know his MRI results (which came out while writing this). However, his ineffectiveness and injury put the Phillies in the position of running out their three worst relievers in a desperate attempt to keep the damage limited to one night. For his part in putting gasoline on the fire, Adam Morgan earned a trip to AAA sparking the first set of Phillies transactions since the end of Spring Training.

The immediate response by the Phillies was to bring back up Spring Training bullpen competition runner up, Luis Garcia. Because of a rain-out to open the year and pretty decent starting pitching, Garcia only appeared in one game for the IronPigs. On April 9 he came into the 7th inning of a 7 inning double header, and walked 1, while striking two out in a scoreless inning. This means he should be rested for immediate use in case Vince Velasquez goes 4 innings again. Garcia is obviously not a bullpen savior, he will slot in as just an arm, even though his raw stuff might hint that he could be something more. Continue reading…

Oh No! Clay Buchholz is Hurt

Last Friday before I attended Opening Day, I was reviewing Clay Buchholz’s start from the day before. He’d gone 5 innings, striking out 3 and walking 2 while allowing 8 hits and 4 runs. Obviously that’s not a great start. But the thing that really jumped out to me was his severely diminished velocity. His average fastball velocity was 90.2 mph, well below the 92.1 he averaged in 2015 and 2016. I wanted to write something about it, but hey, he was in and out of the bullpen last year, and last year his velocity was similarly low in his first start of the season. I figured I’d give him another start to see where his velocity was following that.

So imagine my delight when Buchholz came out hitting 91 with his first fastball of the night. Of course he walked the first hitter… then allowed a double…. then allowed a home run… then allowed several more runs… then got hurt.

Continue reading…