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…

The Wrong Solution To The Wrong Problem

The Phillies are intent on getting Vince Velasquez deeper into his starts. Poor pitch economy is the oft-cited culprit of his short outings and also the focus of most offhand solutions. Here is the theory: by throwing fewer pitches to each batter, he will ultimately see more batters over the course of a game, and lengthier starts will follow. A well-conceived plan.

On a per batter basis, Velasquez does throw more pitches than the average starting pitcher. This is also true of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Noah Syndergaard, and other pitchers ideal for Velasquez to emulate. Where the economical pitcher is averaging 3.7 pitches per batter, these pitching giants are throwing closer to 4.0. The reason: a big swing-and-miss fastball. Because these fastballs miss bats at a high rate, fewer balls are put into play. Deeper counts naturally follow.

Improving pitch economy, then, would require Velasquez to make his fastball more hittable. Or select a less effective pitch to throw. Either way, the idea is the same: cede contact and let the hitter get himself out. Hitters, it should be noted, have no such intention.

Continue reading…

Crashbag Vol. 17 – Do Not Seek The Treasure

Hey, it’s my first Crashbag. Hope it gives you a chuckle, or failing that, that at least you think I’m an idiot afterwards.

Mark Appel was a #1 overall pick and now someone has asked a question about whether he’ll have as good a career as a guy who posted one and one fifth career WAR (I averaged BRef and Fangraphs…for…science). That this is even a realistic question is just a brutal assessment of Appel. Harsh. Poor guy.

I liked Condrey in ’08 – he was reliable-ish, and threw a pretty good ground ball rate over 69 innings, (interesting), while lacking an out pitch that could have helped him out of some jams. Though even one more out would have ruined that “interesting” season, so… Continue reading…

Crashburn Roundtable: Early Season Opinions

We are roughly 3 weeks into the major league season, and the Phillies have been fairly average. That is a big improvement over the projections which still see them as one of the worst teams in baseball. Almost every part of the team has had its ups and its downs. It may be too early to make some big sweeping judgments about the season, but the staff here has some opinions on the season so far anyway.

The Phillies are 9-9 after having a tough early game schedule including 12 against the Nationals and Mets. It is still early, but has your outlook on this team changed?

Adam Dembowitz: I think maybe 79 wins (my preseason projection) is a little low for this team. Nothing personal against Buchholz, but I think his injury actually adds a win by itself (at least). Considering some other changes — Nola presumably being the “old Nola” after he gets back from the DL, Velasquez maybe getting into the sixth inning more often, Neris holding down the 9th all year, Altherr breaking out — I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like 83, 84 wins by the end of the season.  Continue reading…

Nola Injured and the Phillies Make a Trade

The Phillies 40 man roster will be a story all year, as they navigate the 11 players they added in front of the Rule 5 draft. With Clay Buchholz’s season ending injury and Elniery Garcia’s PED suspension, the roster opened up some. This was all just in time for injuries to hit the Phillies elsewhere.

The heart attack inducing injury was to Aaron Nola’s back. Right now, all indications are that Nola will only miss a start or two on this DL trip, but the news caused some level of panic anyway. The corresponding move is fairly obvious. Nick Pivetta has gotten off to a hot start and is both on the 40 man roster and on turn in the rotation. Pivetta probably needs more time in AAA, but he should be fine to make a 1 to 2 start cameo in the majors. The Phillies could choose to go with a bullpen game in those starts instead, but all signs point to Pivetta making his debut. Continue reading…

Jerad Eickhoff Update: Going One-for-Two

In my season preview for Jerad Eickhoff, I suggested that there were two things us amateur baseball analysts should watch for from him this season. From that piece:

So, for Eickhoff, there are two things I’ll be watching for this season, especially early. One, will he start using his changeup more (and consequently, will it continue to get rocked)? He’s already shown the ability to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, but with an improved changeup, he could take a serious step forward.

The other thing I’d like to see Eickhoff do is throw his curveball more often. He threw it 24% of the time last year, with a contact rate of just 62%, allowing a .462 OPS. That is fantastic, and so he should feature his curveball more prominently in his repertoire.

At the end of the piece, I promised to keep you updated as the season progressed, and at the risk of ruining the suspense, that is exactly what I’m doing for my dear readers. Let’s start with a graph from Brooks Baseball: Continue reading…

The Return of Zach Eflin

Clay Buchholz is officially out for the season. Even if Buchholz had stayed healthy, it was likely that the Phillies were going to have a major pitcher injury at some point. The good news is the Phillies are strong in major league ready starting pitching. This time, the Phillies are not dipping down into the prospects, instead going with 23 year old, not quite a rookie, Zach Eflin.

This is the second year in which Eflin was called up after the Phillies experienced a starting pitcher injury. His first trip to the majors was not good, and he posted a 5.54 ERA over 63.1 innings. Now that number is a bit deceptive, because you break his season up into 3 distinct time periods.

First MLB Start: 2.2 IP – 27.00 ERA – 9 H – 3 BB – 2 K – 3 HR

Seven Solid Starts: 47.2 IP – 2.08 ERA – 36 H – 5 BB – 24 K – 3 HR

Three Injured Starts: 13.0 IP – 13.85 ERA – 22 H – 9 BB – 5 K – 6 HR Continue reading…

Trying to Understand Cesar Hernandez

This weekend Cesar Hernandez hit two home runs. Two is such a small number in the context of baseball, and most small events like this could be explained as small sample size noise. However, these home runs brought Hernandez to 3 in 12 games. This is Hernandez’s 5th major league season, and in the previous 4 he hit 8 home runs total. The spike is noticeable in the ongoing confusion that is Cesar Hernandez.

The introduction of StatCast has brought a larger voice to the concept that hitting the ball in the air is better than hitting the ball on the ground. This is not a new idea to anyone who has studied basic mechanics and specifically ballistics. The 2016 data bears this out too.

Batted Ball Type AVG ISO
Ground Ball .239 .019
Fly Ball .241 .474
Line Drive .689 .210

So how does this tie back to Cesar Hernandez? Here is Hernandez’s batted ball data in his time in the majors: Continue reading…