Aaron Nola’s Return Upgrades the Phillies Rotation

The Philadelphia Phillies have had terrible pitching this year. I have already addressed how there isn’t any immediate help on the way for the bullpen (though with speculation that Ricardo Pinto is moving to the bullpen that could change). Where there is immediate help for the Phillies is in the starting rotation. The Phillies did not win Aaron Nola’s first start back from injury, but he did show that the Phillies may have made a significant rotation upgrade.

There are a lot of unknowns around Aaron Nola’s future. The most significant is his health. So far this year, we have had no reason to doubt that Nola’s arm is fully healthy, but it is reasonable to be unsure whether he will hold up over a full season. Then there is his back injury which held him out for a month (with two rehab starts). Once again Nola looks healthy, but with some setbacks along the way, it is hard to feel completely comfortable. For someone now in his 3rd MLB season, Aaron Nola has thrown very few innings, both due to injury and a quick path through the minors to majors. This gives us very little baseline of performance. Continue reading…

Adjustment Required

It is mostly a fact that all baseball articles concerning Odubel Herrera note the accomplishment of something remarkable. In 2015, it was a league leading BABIP driving a successful Rule 5 season. In 2016, he spent the month of April collecting all his walks for the year. In 2017, the story has been his range in the outfield. In between these accounts, there’s probably one or two about a lack of hustle or a bat flip that killed a passing bird. Still remarkable, if not entirely relevant to his baseball talent.

In that sense, the current post is a departure, as it regards Odubel’s very unremarkable offense this year. His current 82 wRC+ is a healthy clip below the league average. And beyond the face value of the results – a .255/.314/.390 batting line – there are underlying problems driving the dip in performance. To that point, here are two numbers deviating in the wrong direction.

Continue reading…

The Kids Won’t Help the Phillies’ Weaknesses

On Monday, I tweeted that the Phillies minor league system had the best winning percentage in baseball. Predictably, there were responses for the Phillies to give the kids a chance. This combined with nearly every beat writer having a mailbag yesterday where they were asked about calling up prospect relievers, had me wanting to look at where the team actually needs help and if there is any help that could come. Why not break this team down by units (lineup, bench, rotation, and bullpen) and see where they are right now?

Lineup:

Continue reading…

Altherr’s Hot Start Hides Underlying Weaknesses (and Improvements)

It is not a controversial statement to say that Aaron Altherr is headed for some regression. His BABIP (.392), HR/FB rate (35.6%),and ISO (.381) are way outside of expected norms. The good news is that he is batting .333/.434/.714, so any regression would take him from an MVP pace to just a really good baseball player. When a player goes on a hot streak, it has a tendency to cover up underlying numbers.

For Altherr, his big underlying discrepancy is his left/right split. Here are his triple slash lines vs righties and lefties:

Vs RHPs: .333/.433/.684

Vs LHPs: .333/.438/.778

It isn’t surprising that he is hitting for more power vs lefties. But, this only tells a surface story, so let’s unpack this a bit more with some different stats.

Vs RHPs: 67 PA 11.9% BB% 31.3% K% .452 BABIP

Vs LHPs: 32 PA 15.6% BB% 12.5% K% .300 BABIP Continue reading…

Phillies’ Patience Allows for Joseph Turnaround

Rhys Hoskins is hitting .327/.407/.617 in AAA. He is putting up one of the best hitting seasons in the minor leagues. On May 1, the Phillies biggest weaknesses were probably catcher and first base. This led to calls for Hoskins (and Jorge Alfaro) to be promoted to the major leagues. Since the beginning of May, Cameron Rupp has been hitting .364/.462/.636, but more importantly, Tommy Joseph is hitting .393/.500/.857. Even with this surge, Joseph has been a below average hitter on the year, but it begins to reopen the debate on who is the first baseman of the future and how should that battle play out.

Last year, Joseph was almost assuredly the biggest surprise for the Phillies. He was on the edge of being released from the organization, and he hadn’t received an invite to major league camp. Despite all of that, he ended up hitting .257/.308/.505 for the Phillies, and was even better from July 1 until the end of the season, when he hit .281/.355/.546 with a 9.0% walk rate and a 19.0% strikeout rate. For that 3 month stretch, he was a Top 15 first baseman in baseball. We also can’t go into why Joseph has been good of late without addressing how bad he was to start the year. Continue reading…

The Bullpen Is All Right

Coming into the 2017 season, the Phillies bullpen was supposed to be much improved. It was going to be hard for the team to not improve naturally on a group that had finished the year 28th in the majors with a 5.05 ERA. In addition to cutting some poor performers, the Phillies added veterans in Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit to shore up the group. Of course the Phillies bullpen has been seen as the weakest part of the team, thanks to a rough stretch where they went 2-8 vs some of the best teams in the National League and managed to blow a lead in almost every game.

So I made a quick poll on Twitter to see where many of you thought the Phillies bullpen was right now.

33% of you were correct. As of this morning, the Phillies have a team reliever ERA of 4.07, which is 14th in the majors and 8th in the National League. No one thought the Phillies’ bullpen was going to be amazing, but kind of average is right about what was expected this year. Continue reading…

Crash Bag Vol. 18: Trading Cesar

Thank you to Brad for doing this last week, and for being much funnier in the process than I am. It has been a really bad week of results for the major league club, so why not talk about trading their best player so far, and answer some other questions along the way as well.

For now the best place to ask questions is on Twitter, either @ me (@Matt_Winkelman or @CrashburnAlley). But you can also reply in the comments here and I will will have some sort of better way for future mailbags.

@mweintr: Should Cesar Hernandez be traded now, when his value is highest?

It has become trendy to to want teams to keep trading and churning players, always looking for value. This is not the worst strategy when you know you are going to be a non-contender for the remainder of a player’s contract. However, Cesar will turn 27 just over 2 weeks from now and still has 3 more years of control through arbitration. He is currently batting a BABIP influenced .336/.379/.517 with a career high strikeout rate and career low walk rate. History says his power should trend down, and his walk and strikeout rates should trend positively towards his career averages. He is on pace for a 6+ WAR season, which is probably unsustainable, but he should be able to repeat his 4 win season from a year ago, barring an unexpected collapse. That is a really good baseball player, and if you are going to trade someone of his caliber, with his level of remaining control, you are going to want a haul back. Continue reading…

What To Do About the Outfield

The Phillies have a good problem on the horizon. Howie Kendrick was bashing baseballs before succumbing to an oblique injury. Kendrick is eligible to come off the DL today, but indications are he’ll be out about another week or two. He was signed to start in the outfield, and he’s making $10 million this year whether he starts or not. Aaron Altherr, since Kendrick’s injury, has been unleashing the full force of his 6’-5” frame on the National League. If he qualified, he’d rank third among NL outfielders in wRC+ at 170. He’s picked up exactly where he left off after the 2015 season (let’s just pretend like last year never happened).

If you’ve been reading this site, you’ll notice that we love Altherr, and for good reason. Besides his hitting, he’s perhaps the best defensive outfielder the Phillies have, and at 26 years old he’s significantly younger than the Phillies other corner outfielders (Kendrick, 33, Daniel Nava, 34, and Michael Saunders, 30). If given the chance to grow, he could be a valuable contributor to the next great Phillies team. So the answer seems obvious; put Kendrick in the other outfield slot, where Saunders is producing just a 76 wRC+. However, it’s not that simple. Continue reading…

Michael Saunders’ Contact Issues

Corner outfield was the biggest weakness of the 2016 Phillies. To solve this problems, the Phillies brought in Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. Kendrick has been out with an injury, but Aaron Altherr has continued to provide the Phillies excellent production in left field. In 2016 Phillies right fielders hit .231/.291/.350, and Saunders, even with his second half collapse, hit .253/.338/.478, so he was supposed to be a large upgrade for the Phillies. However, even with 2 home runs in the last week, Saunders is only hitting .253/.286/.391. So when do we panic?

Not now. Saunders is still only 25 games into a season in a new league for a new team, so no one should panic anyway. Saunders also has been scorching the ball of late, so it makes sense that his ISO will climb at least above his career line of .166 from its current .138. That still doesn’t deal with the biggest problem with Saunders’ line—his on base percentage. Continue reading…

Development is Not Linear: Andrew Pullin

It is easy to think of minor league progression as a nice linear path, where each year a player improves and moves up a level until they can’t cut it and are no longer relevant. This is rarely the case, but even if that is the level progression, the road to the majors is rarely easy and full of constant hurdles. This would explain why the Phillies have a 23 year old prospect with a .343/.390/.587 line in AA across two seasons and 66 games, who has never been ranked higher than #28 on a Baseball America prospect list (he made their 2012 and 2016 lists).

Reading outfielder, Andrew Pullin currently is hitting a blistering .337/.382/.651 through Reading’s first 20 games, which has started to quell any lingering concerns from his breakout 2016 season. It is clear that Pullin is a better prospect than where he ranked on offseason lists (in the interest of full disclosure, he ranked #28 this offseason for me). Now that doesn’t mean he was a big miss by the scouting community, instead he is an interesting case study in how a prospect changes over the course of their career. To get this all started, we should go back to the beginning Here is what Baseball America wrote about Pullin at the time of the draft and then after he finished his first year in the GCL. Continue reading…