2016 Phillies Report Card: Cesar Hernandez

Entering the 2016 season, Cesar Hernandez was a player on the fringe of the roster. He held a career 86 OPS+ and just 33 extra base hits in three years. Unlike a lot of slap hitting types, Hernandez didn’t bring the elite defense and baserunning that light hitters need to provide value. In the beginning of 2016, it looked like much of the same from Cesar, who posted a .256/.308/.321 line through May.

Then the calendar flipped to June, and Cesar got hot and stayed hot. From June through the end of the season, he posted a .311/.398/.425 line, notching 6 home runs and 8 triples, compared to 2 home runs and 7 triples in his career before June. The result is an overall batting line 8 percent better than league average, and along with improved defensive marks, he put up 4.4 fWAR and 3.3 bWAR in 2016. After just 33 extra base hits from 2013-2015, Cesar had 31 in 2016.

The question remains, though: Is he actually this good?

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Jerad Eickhoff

I’m going to begin this report card of Phillies’ young right-hander Jerad Eickhoff with an instance of the semi-popular Baseball Twitter game, “Guess The Statlines”. This is more rhetorical than a genuine attempt to stump readers, because your first guess at each of the below statlines will likely be correct.

Player A: 284.1 IP / 79 ERA- / 92 FIP- / 15.0 K-BB % / 48.7 GB % / 4.3 fWAR

Player B: 248.1 IP / 84 ERA- / 95 FIP- / 15.9 K-BB % / 40.1 GB % / 4.0 fWAR

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Aaron Nola, In Three Parts

Philadelphia Phillies’ starting pitcher Aaron Nola has had interesting, but confusing, young career to date. The seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, Nola was considered as polished a pitching prospect as you’re likely to see. While Brandon Finnegan was the first 2014 draftee to reach the Majors – notably pitching in both the College World Series and Major League World Series in the same season – Nola was close behind. After only 164.2 innings in the Minors, he debuted on July 21, 2015 and took no time to adjust. Known for his deceptive delivery, advanced command, and a strong fastball/curveball combination, he appeared to immediately live up to his mid-rotation projection.

However, a visualization of Nola’s 188.2 Major League innings would probably resemble something like a performance rollercoaster, and could be split into three different periods, each relatively equal in chronological time.

Source IP Pitches/IP Strike % K% BB% GB% BABIP Hard% SwStr% ERA-
7/21/2015-9/26/2015 77.2 14.4 65.4% 21.4% 6.0%  47.6% 0.289 28.8% 8.6% 93
4/6/2016-6/5/2016 78.0 14.7 68.0% 27.2% 4.8%  53.9% 0.270 24.2% 10.5% 64
6/11/2016-7/28/2016 33.0 19.6 62.9% 21.1% 8.2%  57.8% 0.451 37.1% 8.0% 238

A lot of really great writing has been done about Nola’s career so far, and I’m going to reference a lot of it here. However, looking at Nola’s 2016 season line, I haven’t been able to square how well he did in almost all areas with how many runs were scored while he was on the mound. For instance, Nola’s 55.2 percent groundball rate was among the 10 best in baseball, minimum 100 innings pitched. His 19.1 percent K-BB rate was one of the 20 best rates. He didn’t even have an unusually high home run rate – it was exactly league average. It’s hard to be a pitcher with both a great FIP and groundball rate and still allow an above average number of runs.

So, let’s take a look at Nola, and not only take a look at what’s happened during each of these three periods, but also at what makes him successful in the first place. First, a quick acknowledgement to Mike Fast, whose old blog inspired some of the visualizations and tables below. His three part series analyzing then-player, now-manager Brian Bannister was particularly influential.

Let’s begin by taking a look at each period of Nola’s Major League career individually.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Ryan Howard

On November 3rd, the Phillies declined to pick up Ryan Howard’s $23 million option for 2017, officially ending the once-vaunted slugger’s equally storied and beleaguered tenure in Philadelphia. His departure will surprise you if you spent the last five years in a sensory deprivation tank.

This moment was long in the making. We don’t need to rehash the disastrous 5-year, $125 million contract, the subsequent spate of injuries, the stone-handed defense, or the dispiriting swing-through strikeouts that seemed to happen more often than not as time wore on.

There is something symbolically fitting about the fact that Howard is the last of our Champions to depart. After all, he was the Big Piece, the hulking midsection of a lineup that propelled the Phillies to a World Series victory in 2008. Howard remains at the center of our most treasured memories, his massive stance, gargantuan swing, and towering round-trippers engraved in our shared history. At his peak—between 2005 and 2011—Howard was as fearsome and exciting a hitter as there was in the game.

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An Incremental Improvement

In a move that shows just how easy it is to improve the Phillies’ roster, Matt Klentak struck yet another trade in the early offseason. Howie Kendrick will bring his league average bat to Philadelphia, presumably to play a league average left field, and to run the bases in a somewhat league average manner. Heading to LA are the inexplicably divisive Darin Ruf and a confused Darnell Sweeney, who was reportedly last seen mumbling to himself, “No…the Dodgers traded me…to the Phillies.”

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Jimmy Paredes

Everyone who watches baseball has a player type they like the best. Some people like sluggers, some like line drive hitters. Some like their players “flashy,” while others like them “gritty.” I’m not sure why everyone else likes the player type they like, but I know why I like the player type I like. I wasn’t very good at baseball at a young age. I routinely didn’t get chosen for the travel team, and I think I drew a lot of walks, just because I knew nothing good could come of my swing. Eventually I wound up giving up actually playing the sport for basketball and football.

There was one thing I was pretty good at in my Little League days though: defense. I was pretty fast and could track a ball well in the outfield. My throws usually made it somewhere near the appropriate base (which was pretty good when you consider the age group). I always wanted to pitch and play second base, but my coaches never let me. I used to think it was because they would miss me in centerfield, but it’s probably actually because I wasn’t any good.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Hector Neris

Entering the 2016 season, Hector Neris was largely written off as another middling to useless reliever on a team that appeared to be suffering from an epidemic of that sort. Enabling the stereotype were lofty numbers like 4.72 and 1.79, or the respective FIP and HR/9 that Neris pitched to the year prior. The Phillies’ bullpen looked like an impending train wreck, and Neris’ inclusion on the train was mostly seen as inconsequential. Mostly.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Jorge Alfaro

In 2016, perhaps no one in the Phils minor league system bolstered their claim to national rankings as much as Jorge Alfaro. Crawford, Williams, Thompson and Kilome, among others, all had at least some struggles, or at best maintained the outlook national evaluators will put on their game. Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins certainly put people on notice at AA, as did some low level arms, particularly Adonis Medina. Alfaro, on the other hand, grew into his already-high ceiling, with reportedly improved defense and steady offense. His minor league season on the whole, and the reports about his progress lead me to believe he is closer to becoming a star than any Phillie under 25 not named J.P. Crawford. Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Andres Blanco

In 2016, utility infielder Andres Blanco spend his fourth season with the Phillies’ organization. Originally signed to a Minor League deal during the 2012 season, he spent that season in Lehigh Valley providing depth at all four non-catching infield positions, without hitting well. He returned to the Phillies in 2014, and after a similarly unexciting Minor League season, Blanco was promoted to the Majors and actually produced a 105 wRC+ over a short 25 game sample. In 2015 he displayed even stronger results – producing a 138 wRC+ over 261 plate appearances.

The corresponding 1.5 fWAR was far past expectations, but there was still the sense that this was less than half a season of production from a utility infielder who had never even produced like this in the Minor Leagues. Regardless, that production, versatility, and phenomenal clubhouse reputation made his $1.45 million 2016 contract a no-brainer for the Phillies to sign. Blanco had stints in six previous Major League seasons with three other teams, always carrying a low strikeout rate and defensive versatility. However, since arriving in the Majors with the Phillies, it appears that he has added a new skill – roughly average or better power. Now over 523 plate appearances with the team (including 2016), Blanco has produced a .274/.337/.457 line, which includes a .183 ISO.

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Phillies Free Agency Tidbits

Jeremy Hellickson Extended Qualifying Offer

The Phillies extended a Qualifying Offer to Jeremy Hellickson before the 5PM deadline yesterday. He was one of ten players who received the qualifying offer and the only starting pitcher. Reliever Kenley Jansen also received the offer from the Dodgers. Here is a list of all the players to receive the QO:

2016-11-08

As you can see, Jeremy Hellickson falls right near the average player to receive a QO. This validates the opinions of our staff from several weeks ago. It may seem weird to see Jeremy Hellickson among the top free agents this year, but after a surprisingly effective 2016 and a free agent class that’s bereft of talent, that’s exactly where he belongs. MLBTradeRumors has him as their No. 7 Free Agent this year, predicting a 4 year, $60 million contract, so don’t expect him to accept the Qualifying Offer. If Hellickson moves on from the Phillies, the team that signs him will be required to give up their top unprotected draft pick, and the Phillies will get a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round.

 

Chooch Traded

This is only tangentially related to the Phillies, as they weren’t involved in the transaction, but Phillies Legend Carlos Ruiz was traded yesterday from the Dodgers to the Mariners for left-handed reliever Vidal Nuno. Following a thoroughly ordinary 2016 (7.82 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 1.69 HR/9 in 58.2 innings), Nuno will likely provide depth for the Dodgers’ bullpen. Fun fact: he is one of only three relievers to allow as many or more home runs than walks in 2016, along with Carlos Villanueva of the Padres (who is somehow only 33) and Hector Rondon of the Cubs.

Chooch was bound to get traded or not have his option picked up after the season due to the presence of starter Yasmani Grandal and prospect Austin Barnes on the Dodgers roster. However, he did bounce back from his terrible 2015 to post a 99 wRC+ in part time duty in 2016, which must have been enough for the Mariners to pick up his $4.5 million option for 2017. He will back up the perpetually mediocre Mike Zunino, who spent 79 games in the minors in 2016. There’s a chance for Chooch to get some decent playing time for the Mariners.