What’s Wrong With Aaron Nola?

The 2016 Phillies were supposed to be a terrible team and lately they’ve been living up (or down) to that expectation. What was not expected, however, was the complete deterioration of Aaron Nola‘s early season success. Entering play on June 11th, Nola had a 2.65 ERA, but now, three starts later, that ERA has risen all the way to 4.11.

2016 Aaron Nola
GS IP H ER R BB K ERA OPS
Through 6/10 12 78 62 29 23 15 85 2.65 .580
Since 6/10 3 9.2 22 20 17 7 10 15.83 1.191

He’s gone from one of the best pitchers in the league to a guy who is allowing the opposition to hit like peak Barry Bonds. That’s… well, it’s not good. But is it worth worrying about? Is it just three starts or is it a sign that something is wrong with the 23-year-old pitcher who looked, just weeks ago, like he could be a top of the rotation pitcher for the Phillies for the foreseeable future?

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Crash Landing: The Familiarity of Losing Baseball

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at watching bad baseball. Outside of Royals, Pirates, and maybe Padres fans, it’s hard to find baseball lovers my age who have watched more bad baseball in their lives than people like me who are afflicted with the disease of reflexive Phillies watching. I’ve watched the *insert your favorite mediocre 90s Phillie here* Phillies. And I’ve watched the *insert your favorite mediocre current Phillie here* Phillies. I’ve seen some garbage baseball, is what I’m saying.

I don’t mean this as a complaint. Not at all. The Phillies run of success from 2007 to 2011 made for an absolutely incredible baseball viewing experience which was more than worth all the down years. In my experience, watching bad baseball has deepened my appreciation and awareness of those glorious fleeting moments when good baseball actually cycles around. Plus, any baseball is better than no baseball.

But here’s the thing: I’ve recently found myself perversely comforted by the familiarity of the Phillies recent awful performance. The Phillies playing winning baseball is still foreign and unnerving. But losing? I get that. I know how to watch it. I’m good at this. Defensive miscues, failures to hit in clutch situations, pitching staffs getting lit up by the opposition… it’s like a home-cooked meal for me. Sure, it’s a blue box mac-and-cheese kind of home-cooked meal, but it’s comforting and familiar, no matter how poorly it resembles the ideal version of the food/sport it represents.

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Odubel Herrera Isn’t Walking Anymore

Aside from a shockingly positive win-loss record, the most talked about development of the early Phillies’ 2016 season was the explosion of Odubel Herrera‘s walk rate. Herrera said that he was disappointed with his rookie season strike out, and merely worked in the offseason to improve on his discipline. Whatever he did, it certainly worked early on – through the end of April, his 22.1 percent walk rate was tied for the league lead with Paul Goldschmidt.

However, much like that unexpected early season success, Odubel hasn’t maintained the walk rate. He’s still been a productive hitter (126 wRC+), but a rate that was tied for the league lead in April became tied for 69th in May, and has only been tied for the 114th-highest June walk rate (through 6/21). His cumulative 13.3 percent walk rate is still among league leaders – it just appears to have regressed to the mean over the last two months.

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The Potentially Underrated Tyler Goeddel

The Phillies are a difficult team to watch right now. The unexpected, early season run is over, the briefly dominant pitching has taken a few steps backwards, and the offense has slowly ground to a complete halt. The upper levels of the minors seem to be teeming with exciting prospects, but we’re stuck in limbo until the front office deems them ready to handle a major league job. The only fun in watching a game these days is following the few players on the team that have both youth and potential still on their side. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see one such young player, Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel, riding the bench on a regular basis.

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Severino Gonzalez, Flamethrower

In a somewhat problematic admission as it relates to my baseball writing career, I’m still fairly new to the sport. I didn’t actually start following along until the end of my freshman year of college, and as I’m oft to mention, the first game I watched from start to finish was Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. As someone from South-Eastern Pennsylvania, that’s not an ideal first memory.

However, I caught on, and as a result of this late start, I’ve always had a fascination with likely-fungible-relief-arm Severino Gonzalez. A great story (a $14,000 signing as an undersized 18-year old in Panama), he was putting up video game numbers in the waning Venezuelan Summer League in 2012, and the low minors in 2013, as I was gaining an understanding of the Minor Leagues and the prospect industry. I didn’t *really* have an appreciation of the relationship between advanced command and low-minors video game numbers, so despite his size and lack of inherent stuff, he always seemed like an overlooked and underrated prospect.

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What Should the Phillies Have Discussed in their Team Meeting?

After Thursday night’s 13-2 loss against the Blue Jays, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin held a team meeting to discuss the Phillies’ poor play of late. After starting the season 24-17, the young team has been much worse over the past 30 days, with a record of 6-20. While the meeting may have simply been filled with platitudes about “working harder day in and day out” and “keeping your heads up,” I wanted to find concrete things the Phillies could do better to recapture some of their early season magic.

Offense

Over the past 30 days, the Phillies have easily the worst wRC+ among Major League teams. Their 68 wRC+ is a full 8 points lower than the White Sox in 29th place. Their hitters have the second-lowest walk rate, and the highest K%-BB%. They also have the lowest WAR at 0.0. In short, the Phillies need to do everything better. But that’s not exactly instructive, so let’s dig in and find a few specific things the lineup could improve upon. Continue reading…

Alec Asher Suspended 80 Games

Phillies pitching prospect Alec Asher, acquired from the Texas Rangers in last summer’s blockbuster Cole Hamels trade, has been suspended by Major League Baseball for 80 games after a positive test for a performance enhancing drug.

Asher is on the disabled list at AAA and hasn’t pitched since May 17. In eight starts this season for Reading and Lehigh Valley, Asher has a combined 2.30 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. In 54.2 innings he’s struck out 35 batters and walked seven. Asher made a brief cameo for the Phillies in 2015, starting seven games and losing six of them while posting a 9.31 ERA and a 1.79 WHIP.

Asher is listed on the Phillies’ 40-man roster. His suspension will stretch into September, which means the likelihood of his making a contribution to the Phillies in 2016 is low. Asher is the least heralded of the prospects acquired from Texas at last year’s deadline. Nevertheless, with the injuries to Vince Velasquez and Mark Appel, Asher’s suspension will test the Phillies’ and the Iron Pigs’ starting pitching depth down the stretch.

Crash Landing: Tommy Joseph, The Information Gap, and Open Minds

I don’t know what to make of Tommy Joseph. I don’t know whether it’s more realistic to be optimistic or pessimistic. Without any real track record over the past four years, he’s as close to a baseball mystery as we get in the modern game. All I know to feel is excitement. Any dreams of a legitimate major league future for him were dismissed as fantasy months if not years ago and now here he is, the Philadelphia Phillies starting first baseman. That’s a terrific, incredible story, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering whether we’re witnessing the end of a comeback story or the beginning.

There are a few reasons why sabermetric analysis appeals to me, but perhaps the biggest one is the most basic — it’s a remarkable tool in the search for baseball truths. We’ve all been wrong more than we’ve been right about players in this beautifully unpredictable sport. Sabermetric principles, however, give us a means to help fight that unpredictability. A year ago it helped me look at two of the Phillies few bright offensive spotsOdubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez – and identify which one provided more cause for optimism going forward. It also gave me the tools a year and a half ago to look at Domonic Brown and find reasons for hope that now look foolish in retrospect. As I said, we’re still going to be wrong about this silly sport frequently. Truth in baseball is a mirage which doesn’t actually exist, but smart, thoughtful analysis is the best way I’ve found to try to understand the game as well as our flawed minds can.

Entering play on Wednesday, Tommy Joseph had accumulated 642 plate appearances in affiliated ball for the Phillies organization since being acquired in July 2012. That’s nearly four years and he’s taken just 642 plate appearances. In the majors last season, 49 different players racked up 642 or more plate appearances. Four years in the system and we have barely one season’s worth of data on Tommy Joseph. With that extreme lack of statistical information to go on, this is one of those times were sabermetric analysis fails us.

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I Didn’t Know We Had Zac Efron (It’s Zach Eflin, Mom)

No, my mom didn’t say that to me. But she might. (If I ever bothered to call her).

Did you know Zac Efron is a Dodger fan? I mean, I guess he is. Getty shows him at a Dodger game once, wearing a Dodger cap. Though it was hard to resist him standing with Barry Bonds on the Red Carpet for High School Musical 3. Anyway, Efron’s a Dodger guy, and so, for a minute, was Zach Eflin.

Eflin came through LA on his way from San Diego to Philly in the Jimmy Rollins/Matt Kemp maneuvering the Dodgers pulled off in late fall 2014. It remains to be seen whether the Phils long-time shortstop played his last big league game last week. But the young righthander who was the primary return for a year of his services will make his big league debut today for The Phils, and it should be a night to remember, except it’s the early afternoon getaway day game at Toronto today, (wait, what time is it? Oh, 12:37 EST), as The Phils and Jays do their annual Home and Home 2×2 series which should probably have a name and a trophy like College Football. “The Blue Jay Trophy” would be appropriate, except it seems to weight to The Present Day Jays. We’ll come up with something.

So who is this young man, and what are we to expect from this debut, his start of something new? Continue reading…

Phillies Pitching Roster Moves

As expected, Vince Velasquez is headed to the 15-day disabled list with an injury described as a right biceps strain. The immediate diagnosis is encouraging:

Given Velasquez’s significant history of health concerns, an overabundance of caution was to be expected. Hopefully the reports are accurate and the injury is a minor one which can be treated with rest. However, there has not yet been a timetable given for his return to the major league mound.

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