The High Hill Left To Climb: When Will The Phillies Contend?

The 2016 season is wrapping up, and as I write now, the Phillies are 68-83, a 73-win pace. It’s been five full seasons since the last competitive Phillies team, and as the offseason begins, it’s fair to expect improvement of some form or another next season. However, what should expectations be? Should we expect the team use their financial muscle to immediately sign the few large agents this season? Trade the farm for a front-line ace? Stand pat?

Maybe the most effective way to begin answering questions about the future is to step back and take a look at where the team stands right now. Let’s say the Phillies do end up winning 73 games this season – that’s several games better than their preseason PECOTA projection (69 wins with the worst record in baseball). Personally, I’m not comfortable calling a team a contender until their projections make them likely to at least win a Wild Card spot (somewhere around 86-87 wins). At that point, there’s a relative comfort in having 50/50 odds at getting a full playoff series, and the team is one or two unforeseen breakouts away from winning the division. If the Phillies’ believe they can construct a series of moves to get themselves, a 73-win team, to about 86 wins, then it would behoove them to make those moves.

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Crashburn Roundtable: Hellickson, Herrera, and Expiring Contracts

Welcome to the first edition of the rebooted Crashburn Roundtable, where I ask the staff a few questions about current state of the Phillies, and get the group’s perspective on a variety of issues. This week, we actually have all six writers on board with responses, covering a potential Jeremy Hellickson qualifying offer, trade rumors surrounding Odubel Herrera, and the expiring contracts of four veteran role players.

The three major variations of Wins Above Replacement (rWAR, fWAR, and WARP) each rate Jeremy Hellickson as a slightly above-average pitcher in 2016. At the same time, qualifying offers are expected to rise to $16.7 million this offseason – would the Phillies be happy if he accepted the qualifying offer? If not, is that risk enough to make the entire gamble not worth it?

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Odubel Herrera Is Not Having A Bad Season

There’s been a modest amount of discussion late this season about the Phillies potentially trading young, All-Star center fielder Odubel Herrera. There are no real indications from the team itself that they look to trade him this offseason, but a perceived combination of a worse total performance (particularly in the second half), and concerns about attitude (largely the idea that he started to coast after making the All-Star team) have lead some local fans and pundits to want to cash out on the former Rule 5 pick.

I’m not in the clubhouse, so I can’t (and won’t) really speak to the latter concern. However, I can certainly comment about the former concern. The idea Odubel Herrera is having a worse season than in 2015 is really not based on much of substance. His 9.9 percent walk rate is almost double last season’s 5.2 percent rate, his strikeout rate is down by four percentage points, and his .134 ISO is moderately improved over last season’s .121 mark. He’s stolen 22 bases and hit 14 home runs, 6 more than each of his respective totals last season.

In fact, with one notable exception, he’s outperformed his ZIPS projections in every rate category (BB%, K%, ISO, AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, SB%), while proving himself to be very durable. He’s also swung and missed a little bit less often, and has improved his swing selection by a tiny bit.ZIPS projected moderate regression from his rookie year, but his performance in almost every one of those categories is also in line with or better than his 2015 season. Basically, in all respects other than BABIP, Odubel Herrera’s offensive season is remarkably the same as last year – if not slightly more refined.

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The Phillies’ Other Young Workhorse Starting Pitcher

Last night, Jerad Eickhoff pitched his 30th game of the season, bringing his innings total to 180.1 – the current 2016 team high. That actually still hasn’t matched his previous career high of 184.1 innings pitched across three organizational levels in 2015. He’ll cross that shortly, but even with three presumed turns in the rotation remaining, he’s not going to wildly exceed any previously established mark. He hasn’t hit 200 innings yet, but with multiple 30 start seasons under his belt Eickhoff is, for all intents and purposes, an established workhorse at this point.

Similar can be said about his more veteran rotation-mate Jeremy Hellickson – although some may want to quibble about the use of the term ‘workhorse’ as opposed to ‘innings-eater’, although that’s a different discussion (personally, I think he’s performed a little better than the latter label connotes). With three more starts left, he’s on pace to roughly match his career high of 189 innings set in 2011. However, there is one pitcher, younger than both Eickhoff and Hellickson, that is on pace prove himself as something of a sturdy pitcher this season – Jake Thompson.

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Alec Asher Returns Armed With Two-Seam Focus And Deception

The day before Alec Asher‘s first Major League start of the 2016 season, Matt Breen of Philly.com noted that the right-handed pitcher was returning to the Majors with a new two-seam grip on his fastball. Developed at the request of the Phillies, the pitch propelled Asher to success in the early part of the Minor League season. He still didn’t strike out many batters, but he did produce encouraging 51 percent groundball and 4 percent walk rates over 12 starts.

The pitch is largely necessary because his previous fastball – a four-seam grip – was not only below-average in terms of speed, but also in terms of movement. Without life or velocity, it was crushed by opposing Major League hitters during his seven start debut in 2015. In Breen’s article, Pete Mackanin said the new pitch provides batters a second look, but at least in Asher’s two starts so far, it’s more of the primary look.

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Crashburn Prospect Q&A: Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts

With the Minor League season all but concluded, I had a conversion with Matt Winkelman, the founder of Phillies’ Minor Thoughts, one of the most comprehensive public sources of information on Phillies’ prospects. He spends the rest of his time continuing that work at The Good Phight, where he also provides great prospect coverage. He can (and should) be found on Twitter @Matt_Winkelman, and today I asked him about a variety of topics, from Rule 5 Eligible pitchers to first overall pick Mickey Moniak, and even discussed the player who might be the biggest under-the-radar pitcher in the Phillies’ farm system.

With the 2016 season wrapping up, talk is sure to turn to the 40-man roster crunch ahead of the Rule 5 draft. In Matt Gelb’s interview with Joe Jordan, Elniery Garcia, Nick Pivetta, and Ben Lively were confirmed to be added in advance of the deadline. Knowing that, what other pitching prospects do you expect the team to add before the Rule 5 Draft?
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Three Arguments for Alberto Tirado to be Rule 5 Protected

The Philadelphia Phillies’ impending Rule 5 roster crunch is going to receive a lot of attention in the coming weeks and months. With a large number of young prospects to fit on the 40-man roster, the Phillies have several difficult decisions to make and even still may lose a player of value this December. We will certainly provide more comprehensive coverage in the future, but for now, I’d like to present three separate arguments for the protection of one young pitcher in particular – Alberto Tirado.

These three separate arguments can be seen in the fuzzy frames of the below video, from the 17 second mark to the 21 second mark.

The 21 year old righty from the Dominican Republic was originally signed by the Blue Jays in 2011 and has always been known as a live-armed prospect without much in the way of command (he has a 14.5 percent career Minor League walk rate). That lack of command is why a pitcher capable of the above wipeout slider and fastball combination (two potential plus-plus pitches) was one of two pieces included in the Ben Revere trade of 2015. A completely reasonable person could argue that the walk rate, combined with zero experience above the high-A level, makes him an unappealing Rule 5 candidate.

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Team’s Trust in Roman Quinn Points to Overlooked Status

Roman Quinn was drafted by the Phillies in the second round of the first-year player draft, on June 2, 2011. The team drafted the speedy high school shortstop with the 66th overall pick, the one gained as compensation for the Nationals’ signing of Jayson Werth the previous offseason. On June 2, 2011, the Phillies were 34-22, with the best record in the National League. They held a two game lead for that title over the Florida Marlins.

The night before the draft the Phillies had lost 2-1 to the Nationals, leaving Roy Oswalt saddled with the tough luck loss. The night after the draft, Jimmy Rollins stole two bases and Chase Utley knocked him in as the go-ahead run in support of Cole Hamels‘ eight inning gem. Danys Baez would lose the game in the twelfth. Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes relieved in both games. Mickey Moniak had turned 13 years old just two weeks earlier.

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The Final Piece: A Farewell To Ryan Howard

We knew it was coming. We’ve expected for at least a year that Ryan Howard would be the last man standing and now the time has arrived to say goodbye. There are less than twenty games remaining for the Phillies this year which means there are less than twenty games remaining in Howard’s Phillies career. It’s been a tortuously long and painful farewell as Howard’s performance on the field never rebounded from the Achilles’ injury he suffered in the final seconds of the 2011 NLDS. But instead of dwelling on the bad, we’re finally at a point where we can look at Ryan Howard and focus on the joy he brought to the city of Philadelphia.

It’s not easy to isolate a single favorite memory of Howard’s Phillies career. For me, my absolutely favorite thing about watching him play was more of a feeling than a single moment. For half a decade, every time Howard stepped to the plate you felt as though greatness was possible. When Howard took a swing and connected with a baseball, he hit the ball harder and further more consistently than anyone I’d ever watched in a Phillies uniform. He was among the most feared hitters in baseball and for good reason. He’s always been a one-dimensional player, but during the glory years that one-dimension was more than enough. He was a power threat that made it impossible to ever give up on a Phillies game. Howard could — and did — deliver heroic game-tying or go-ahead home runs at any time. He made the game fun, he made the Phillies fun, and he made the impossible possible.

Ryan Howard has hit 378 home runs for the Phillies — 386 including the postseason — which means great moments are easy to come by in reflecting on his career and the Phillies audiovisual team will never struggle to find enough material to build highlight reels for the copious tributes to Howard and the 2008 Phillies that surely await us in the coming years. I have found, however, that there is one moment that stands out for me as most representative of the greatness Ryan Howard was capable of creating.

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Welcome to the Show, Alfaro and Quinn

So this is fun.

And as if that weren’t enough, Quinn will be in the starting lineup against the Nationals this afternoon batting second and playing center field. To date, the Phillies September call-ups have primarily been unexciting bullpen arms and increasingly veteran role players like Darin Ruf and Cody Asche. But with Reading’s elimination from the postseason last night, two of the Phillies top prospects have finally gotten the call.

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