September Call-Up Preview

Baseball has this absurd annual tradition of expanding rosters each September. It’s ludicrous that the final pushes for playoff positions occur with baseball being played under an entirely different set of rules than those used for the first five months of the season, but that’s baseball for you. It’s a quirky sport ruled by tradition and one of those traditions is that teams are allowed to put enough players on the active roster to field four teams and still have four players left over. No team uses all 15 extra roster slots in September, but all teams will use some of those slots. So who will get the call for the Phillies?

The bulk of the new additions to the Phillies roster will be pitchers. Starting pitchers Vince Velasquez and Jake Thompson are likely to be shut down within the next week or so which means the rotation will need reinforcements. Plus, loading up the bullpen with extra is a time-honored September addition. So let’s start there with a look at what pitchers we can expect to see this month:

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Crash Bag, Vol. 9: Before and After

So…bad habits are bad, and are hard to break. One of mine is procrastination, as you’ll see by the dates of the questions submitted for this Crashbag. For months I just sat on this article — which I began writing in February — because I was embarrassed by the amount of time that had passed, and because I felt badly for the wonderful people who provided the great questions. Since I really like the people who asked these questions (or at least their online personae) and also enjoy writing the Crashbag, I thought it would be interesting to frame my responses in a before and after framework. I’ll answer each question in the “before” sense — that is, the way I answered (or in some cases, would have answered) in February — and then in the “after” sense, reflecting my current viewpoints.

Before: I suppose it’s theoretically possible, in the same way that it’s theoretically possible I win the lottery (if I played). However, I expect the Phillies to be right around 70 wins this year before making a big leap in 2017 into playoff contention. Right now there are too many holes, too many young players, and too many question marks.

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Goodbye, Chooch.

Hanging on the wall above my dresser, next to the decorative Phillies lamp, looking over the replica 2008 World Series trophy, is a framed commemoration of the great 2008 World Champions of Baseball. The multi-panel frame shows a box of infield dirt, which a hologram sticker assures me is from the actual playing surface. There’s also a picture of Cole Hamels finishing a pitch, under which is a shot of Shane Victorino leaping onto the victory dogpile. Undoubtedly, at the bottom of that pile is Carlos Ruiz.

Today, nearly eight years later and after eleven seasons in red pinstripes, Carlos Ruiz has been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Continue reading…

Crash Landing: Bidding Farewell to Chooch?

The waiver trade deadline is less than a week away and the Phillies have still declined to make a single in-season trade this year. It’s been leaked that both Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz have cleared waivers, however, which is a reminder that this inactivity could change at any moment. It’s not a surprise either player cleared waivers as Howard is still owed ~$15M on his contract while Ruiz has ~$2M remaining and, although that’s not a prohibitive amount, it’s still a large investment for one to two months of a backup catcher. Now that they’ve cleared waivers, though, it’s possible to work out a trade, particularly if the Phillies are willing to provide a bit of salary relief.

I’m sticking with my unwavering predictions that Ryan Howard isn’t going anywhere. He’s been on an offensive tear lately and, while that’s great to see, he remains a one-dimensional player with extraordinarily limited value. None of the contending American League teams have a clear need for him and I just don’t see Howard ending his season anywhere but Philadelphia. Chooch, on the other hand, is rumored to have generated a bit of interest. Could we currently be in the final hours of his Phillies tenure?

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The Best Pitch In Baseball

In only his second start as a major leaguer, Jake Thompson took the mound against the Colorado Rockies and, despite the mathematical issues that make such an accomplishment improbable, proceeded to record four strikeouts in a single inning, becoming the first Phillies pitcher to do so since 1902. To execute such a feat, Thompson took advantage of an archaic and confusing baseball rule that, for the benefit of the reader, may be loosely translated as follows:

If, with two strikes in the count, a batter proceeds to swing at a pitch so far removed from the strike zone that it is not only unhittable, but uncatchable by the very player whose designation is to catch the baseball, then the batter may commence as if he, by virtue of his own skill, put the ball in the actual field of play.

The seemingly inane rule allowed us to witness a pitching event that occurs more infrequently than the much celebrated no-hitter. But more relevant to the author’s intentions, it has given us a pretense upon which to discuss the pitch not only directly responsible for the rule’s enforcement, but also largely instrumental in the consequent four strikeouts. That is, Jake Thompson’s slider.

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Should The Phillies Try To Acquire Yasiel Puig?

Next week, Tim Tebow will hold a workout for major league teams and the Phillies are among the more than twenty teams expected to send scouts. Tebow just turned 29 and hasn’t played competitive baseball since he was in high school. The chances that he’s able to ever reach the major leagues are infinitesimally small and, yet, major league teams will watch him play because he was a well-regarded amateur player a decade ago and possesses enough athleticism to have won a Heisman Trophy and play in the NFL. Baseball teams will explore any avenue to bring talent into their system, no matter how absurd it may be. Which is why we need to talk about Yasiel Puig.

Puig will turn 26 years old in December and already has two all-star caliber seasons to his name, but he has struggled with injuries and under-performance during the last two seasons. More alarmingly, he’s been at the center of a great deal of clubhouse criticism which culminated in the Dodgers sending him to Triple-A last month with no apparent plans to reactivate him before the end of the season. We’re currently in the period of waiver wire trades which means that many, if not most, major league players will be placed on trade waivers and Puig is expected to be among them. If claimed, the Dodgers could either work out a trade with the claiming team or send him and his remaining 2-year/$17.4M contract outright to the claiming team. If he goes unclaimed, the Dodgers are free to trade him to any team.

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Hector Neris Sure Looks Like An Elite Reliever

Entering the season, Hector Neris was in possession of one of those beautiful back-of-the-bullpen starter kits. He had the requisite devastating, whiff-inducing secondary pitch as well as a solid fastball off of which to work. However, as we have seen time and again, possession of a promising pitch arsenal does not an elite reliever make. The proof is in the pudding or whatever your preferred cliché is.

At the start of the season, it looked as though Hector Neris was whipping up a fine batch of proof that he would be able to put it all together. Through the month of April, he posted a stellar 0.63 ERA to go along with an equally as impressive 43.4 K%. Much of this success was attributed to a splitter which was downright unhittable.

But then, as you might expect, his stat line appeared to regress towards the mean. He posted a 4.95 ERA and pedestrian strikeout and walk rates (21.8 K%, 12.6 BB%) over his next 20 innings. As a result, Neris found himself on June 15th with an uninspiring 3.15 ERA next to his name. He looked like a pitcher who had pitched over his head in April and it was natural to wonder if, perhaps, the magic of his splitter had worn off. But then something changed.

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Crash Landing: Braves Celebrate the Future as Phillies Celebrate the Past

Last night, fans of the two teams at the bottom of the NL East had occasion to partake in standing ovations. In Philadelphia, fans got to their feet for the fourth time in two nights in order to welcome back an icon of the past. After all the joy he brought to the city, Chase Utley was extraordinarily deserving of the warm welcome he received, but the atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park was starkly juxtaposed against what happened in Atlanta. While Phillies fans celebrated the past, Braves fans cheered for their future by giving a standing ovation as their top prospect and new starting shortstop, Dansby Swanson, made his major league debut.

When midseason prospect lists were released last month, Swanson found himself on the lists just below Phillies’ top prospect and fellow shortstop, J.P. Crawford.

2016 Midseason Prospect Rankings
J.P. Crawford #3 #1 #4
Dansby Swanson #7 #10 #12

Swanson was drafted first overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks last June before being traded to the Braves in the Shelby Miller trade last winter; Crawford was drafted by the Phillies in the first round two years earlier. Swanson began the season in High-A and made just 372 plate appearances in Double-A after a midseason promotion; Crawford reached Double-A last summer and now has 571 plate appearances in Double-A and 306 in Triple-A. Swanson uniformly ranks lower than Crawford on prospect lists. So why are Atlanta fans cheering for him in the major leagues while Crawford remains stuck in Triple-A leaving Phillies fans to cheer for relics of past glory?

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Phillies Roster Moves Officially End Nola’s 2016 Season

Aaron Nola‘s 2016 season is officially over.

It’s important to remember that moving players to the 60-day disabled list at this point in the season is more procedural than anything else. This doesn’t necessarily mean Aaron Nola’s prognosis is any worse or better than it was when the injury was first announced, only that the team is prepared to accept that he will not be returning before the end of the 2016 season. [UPDATE: His official diagnosis has now been described as a “mild UCL sprain and mild flexor strain.”] Moving him to the 60-day frees up a spot on the 40-man roster which will now be taken by relief pitcher Frank Herrmann.

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Once The Man; Always The Man

I’m in the business of words, but sometimes words simply aren’t necessary, so I’ll keep this short. When Chase Utley was traded a year ago, we ran a series paying tribute to our fondest memories of his Phillies career. You can find that series here — Utley Retrospective — if you want to read about Harry Kalas giving him his legendary nickname or one of the greatest plays in World Series history or moments when he lived up to hype in the most remarkable of ways.

As you know, last night was his return to Citizens Bank Park and I find myself speechless. There’s genuinely nothing left to be said about his Phillies legacy. He was a legend before last night’s game and he would’ve remained a legend this morning whether he went 0-for-4 or 5-for-5. Of course in retrospect, it feels entirely natural that he came in, put on a show, and became one of the few (if not the only) to receive three standing ovations and two curtain calls in a visiting stadium. But I’ve already written enough words. It was a moment beyond sense and coherent thought. It was a moment for feeling. So here’s the video for you to enjoy and feel whatever feelings you like, whenever you like: