Phils Pick RHP Kevin Gowdy, Plus Day 1 Wrap and Sentimental Rambling

With the first pick in round two, and 42nd overall on the night, The Phillies picked RHP Kevin Gowdy from Santa Barbara High School in (wait for it) Santa Barbara, CA. He’ll be an overslot sign to buy out his commitment to UCLA, and he’s been ranked #24 overall by Keith Law, #33 by John Sickels at Minorleagueball.com, #39 by Baseball America, #37 by MLB.com. Sickels is right at the average, and pick 33 this year was worth $1.9M. So probably we can start there and go up. The club likely knows what he’ll take and is ready to nab someone else tomorrow morning at 3.1 with some or all of whatever bonus money’s leftover. Continue reading…

2016: Philadelphia’s Year of the Draft

Continuing our draft coverage, I took a macro look at the Phillies’ draft day situation in relation to the rest of the city’s pro teams. For a good read on just how convoluted the MLB Draft is a la “slot values” and high schoolers attempting to exert leverage over multi-billion dollar organizations, check out Corinne’s rundown. It’s the Wild Wild West…in Secaucus, New Jersey. It’s all meaningful for the Phils, who control the board with the first overall selection. For a taste of what Klentak, MacPhail and Co. may do with 1/1, read Brad Engler’s preview.

The folklore surrounding the first overall selection in professional sports drafts is unparalleled. It’s the sole factor linking the Greg Odens, Ryan Leafs (Leaves?) and Brien Taylors of the sporting universe, whose immense expectations are met only with more significant letdowns.

But here in Philadelphia, the first city ever bestowed with three top-two picks in the same calendar year (Phillies and Sixers with no. 1 overall, Eagles with no. 2), the repercussions of each selection could not be more different.

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Franco’s Problems Are Popping Up

There is one number that sums up the frustration of Maikel Franco‘s season thus far: 26.5%. That’s the percentage of hard hit balls, according to Baseball Info Solutions, that he has hit this year, and that ranks him 151st out of 175 qualified hitters in MLB. It’s not that Franco is incapable of hitting the ball hard, as he has certainly shown the ability to crush a baseball. His problem is in doing it with any consistency.

The obvious answer to this is the approach. Franco is an aggressive swinger, and this year he has increased his rate of swings specifically on pitches in the strike zone. This aggressiveness would be justified if he was choosing the right pitches to swing at, but a small piece of Franco’s batted ball profile hints that he is not.

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What To Expect When You’re Expecting (Too Much)

I trust you all read Corinne’s piece earlier, and so you’re up on the big picture. I’ll try to get a little more detailed and throw out some of the names that everyone who follows the draft closely has been discussing the last couple weeks and months.

We all have this problem right now. Our team has this very valuable commodity, and they want to turn it into the best player they can. In another year, you may turn that commodity into a Harper, or a Griffey or Rodriguez, or a grown-ass man named Chipper (eww) or Pat the Bat (hmm).

But alas, transcendent talents don’t necessarily come along every year. This year we have a choice between a couple very good college bats with differing levels of risk/reward at the plate and differing levels of defensive ability and speed, a couple prep guys with equally warty baseball complexions due to bust potential and “character” questions, and a Big Old Southpaw from a Big Old College Conference, who would probably be an easy pick if he weren’t so danged inconsistent with his danged command. Yes, I imagine everyone from Florida talks like that.

And such is the conundrum we face, as we wonder just who, in fact, the Phillies will take just after 7pm Thursday night with their hard-earned 99-loss first overall pick in the MLB Draft, (it sure was hard on all of us to watch). The club’s front office’s version of the problem is far worse, of course, as their jobs depend on the answer and the outcome in years to come, but one would hope they’re equipped to deal with it a little better than we are. If not, we all should start rooting for The Cubs or something.

So who is the pick? Continue reading…

Crash Landing: The Dreams of Drafting #1 Overall and the Reality

The phrase “#1 overall pick” has a peculiar, almost mystical quality to it. As a concept a “#1 overall pick” is almost always Ken Griffey, Jr. or Alex Rodriguez or Chipper Jones. Maaaybe if we’re feeling reasonable “#1 overall pick” only means something like David Price or Stephen Strasburg or Justin Upton — merely All-Star level talents instead of surefire Hall of Famers. One thing is for sure, though, “#1 overall pick” in the abstract never means Delmon Young or Bryan Bullington or Tim Beckham. We’ve been talking about the Phillies #1 overall pick in the abstract for at least a year now and it’s meant nothing but fantasies of greatness, but tonight that all changes. Tonight the “#1 overall pick” gets a name. Tonight it becomes real.

I didn’t expect it the 2016 draft to shape up like this. Two years ago when the Phillies picked seventh overall everybody knew Aaron Nola would be the pick. Sure, there were other possibilities and other names to track, but by the time the draft rolled around there was little-to-no mystery. If Nola was there, the Phillies were going to take him. And, hey, that’s worked out pretty darn well! So, I figured, now that the Phillies have the first pick it’s guaranteed that we’ll know who the pick will be, right? It doesn’t matter what any other team does, the Phillies can pick absolutely anyone they want. If we knew Nola was coming, then of course we’ll know who’s coming with the first pick. It was a given.

Except of course it’s not. It seems so simple on the surface — the Phillies get to pick whoever they want! — and somehow it’s become maddeningly complex. There’s no clear cut #1 overall pick and, with the structure of the draft being what it is, money may well be the deciding factor in a scenario I just didn’t see coming.

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Baseball Is Bad

This is not good.

The popular refrain around Vince Velasquez when he was a prospect was something along the lines of: “The stuff is excellent, but can he stay healthy?” And it looks like his health is back in question again.

Prior to being removed from the game, Velasquez made no obvious gestures as to what exactly was bothering him. He didn’t grab his elbow. He didn’t particularly grimace. He simply started the game without an ability to throw a baseball the way we all know he can. Given the long-term significance of a healthy Velasquez, expect the Phillies to exhibit an abundance of caution with this injury — whatever it may be.

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Exploiting Bottom of the Zone Amplifies Phils’ Dominant Curveballs

Last week I explored the Phillies’ pitching staff’s ability to make hitters chase pitches while keeping swing rates down on balls in the zone. The numbers are staggering, but how exactly are they doing it? The answer: their most potent weapon, the curveball, plays incredibly well off their location-based, non-overpowering fastballs.

Exploiting the bottom-most edge of the strike zone makes a lot of sense given the current make-up of the arms manager Pete Mackanin sends to the mound. The staff as a whole lacks the dominant velocity that allows some leeway when leaving balls up in the zone. Despite an average fastball velocity only better than the Angels and Astros, according to Statcast, opponents haven’t punished the Phils’ offerings up over the plate.

Opponents are slugging .494 (eleventh-lowest in the league) against Phillies’ fastballs up in the zone with middle tier .224 isolated power. The teams with the three highest opposing batting averages against fastballs up in the zone all rank in the bottom five in average fastball velocity. But the Phillies are the outlier. Continue reading…

So, Jerad Eickhoff Had Himself A Game

The Cubs are 40-17 with a +142 run differential so massive that the Cubs are actually underperforming their Pythagorean record — by four games! Their 44-13 Pythag record indicates they’re scoring and preventing runs at a rate in line with a 125-win full season pace. Or, more simply, the Cubs are a really stinkin’ good baseball team right now. And, yet, check out Jerad Eickhoff‘s line against those dastardly Cubs last night:

7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8K

Yeah, that’ll do. In the previous four games the Phillies played against the Cubs, their starters (Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and Morgan twice) combined to give up 33 (!) hits and 20 earned runs over the span of just 20.2 innings. The Cubs were absolutely destroying Phillies pitching and then Jerad Eickhoff took the mound last night.

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Odubel Herrera Is Out Of The Lineup Tonight And That’s A Good Thing

I feel like every time I write something about the Phillies it starts with “hoo boy, that Phillies offense sure is bad, isn’t it?” I apologize for the repitition. I know you know the Phillies can’t hit. I know you know that if it weren’t for the Braves everyone would be talking about how historically bad this Phillies offense is. You don’t need me to repeat myself, but unfortunately, the analysis which follows requires this statement of fact to provide the necessary context and so…

The Phillies offense is bad.

With that out of the way, a bad offense can put a disproportionate amount of pressure on any good offensive players in the lineup. In the case of the 2016 Phillies, the only *good* offensive players are Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco. Sure, there are varying degrees of hope and optimism for Tyler Goeddel, Tommy Joseph, and perhaps even Cameron Rupp, but functionally, the offense rests on the shoulders of Herrera and Franco at the moment. With Franco struggling so far this season, this leaves Herrera as The Guy.

Herrera has done everything necessary to earn that reputation as the linchpin to the Phillies offense. He’s thrived in his new role as a leadoff hitter, leading the team in virtually every significant non-power driven statistical category from batting average to wRC+ to stolen bases to walk-rate. With that in mind, when the Phillies release a lineup like tonight’s lineup against the Cubs, it’s devastating due to the lack of The Guy at the top:

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Let’s Talk About Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco is not off to the start Phillies fans hoped to see. He’s posted a 91 wRC+ and his 0.2 fWAR ranks 25th of 26 qualified major league third basemen. Last night, he hit his ninth home run of the year and over his past ten games he’s batting .306/.350/.500; so, maybe a corner has been turned. But whether brighter days are on the horizon or not, it’s worth taking the time to look at what’s gone wrong.

I’ve stopped and started writing an analysis on Franco’s struggles multiple times over the past month, and the reason why I haven’t completed one until now isn’t good. It’s been hard to find an interesting or compelling angle on this analysis because what Franco has been doing is in line with his known profile. To be clear, there have been changes and areas where we can expect to see Franco improve going forward, and we’ll get to those; but, overall, what’s happened in 2016 so far aligns well with what we know to be true about him. Maikel Franco has been Maikel Franco this year and, given the results, that’s a scary thing.

If you were to boil down Franco’s offensive profile to one sentence, it might look something like this: Franco is an aggressive hitter with power and strong bat-to-ball skills. Now check out Brooks Baseball’s automatically generated profile of Franco at the plate in 2016:

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