Rising from the Ashes: Asche Activated; Lough DFA’d

The changes keep on coming. Yesterday, the Phillies swapped Emmanuel Burriss for Jimmy Paredes and today the Phillies have made another change to their outfield composition. Today, the Phillies have finally activated Cody Asche who had been recovering from an oblique injury since the start of spring training.

For a fleeting moment in 2015, Asche looked like an important piece for the future of the Phillies. Nine games into the season he was slashing a tremendous .500/.571/.667 and it looked as though Maikel Franco was going to have his work cut out for him in trying to dethrone Asche at third base. But Asche’s star faded quickly as his BABIP normalized and people remembered that he was a miserable defender at third base.

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The Spin On Bailey’s Fastball

Andrew Bailey‘s four seam fastball is a remarkable pitch. At 2693 RPM, it leads all major league fastballs in spin rate. To quote directly from the Statcast glossary on the benefits of increased spin on a pitch:

“As more data have become available, most experts have agreed that fastballs and breaking balls are tougher to hit when they possess higher Spin Rates. In fact, some data suggest that Spin Rate correlates more closely than Velocity to swinging-strike percentage.”

The results that Bailey has received from his fastball attest to this statement. While major league pitchers average around a 7% swinging strike rate on the four seam fastball, Bailey has gotten whiffs at a 15.7% clip this year.  And when batters have put the pitch in play, the resultant exit velocity is on par with that against Clayton Kershaw‘s fastball.

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Phillies Acquire Jimmy Paredes

UPDATE 3:27 PM ET: As expected, the Phillies have officially added Paredes to the 25-man roster and designated Emmanuel Burriss for assignment.

It’s not much, but it’s something. After reportedly placing a waiver claim on Jimmy Paredes when the Orioles designated him for assignment, and then losing said claim to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Phillies had a second crack at acquiring their guy. The Blue Jays DFA’d Paredes on Monday and today the Phillies announced they have successfully acquired him this time.

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Against Starting Rotation, Opponents’ Plate Discipline Vanishes

Past the 50 game-mark, it’s time to—ever so slowly—place the small sample size disclaimers in the rearview mirror and appreciate the corps of young arms that has single-handedly made this Phillies team not only watchable, but an above .500 ball club for the vast majority of the season despite a wholly depressing offensive effort.

The rotation, averaging just over 25-and-a-half years old on the second-youngest team in the bigs (averaging 27.4 years old), ranks seventh in the league in WAR (5.6) even after coming back to down to earth a bit in the last handful of weeks. With surprising depth, it is believed the starters have sped up the rebuild by as much as a full year. But, while the jury is still out on the exact timetable, it’s important to note just how this rotation is succeeding without much major league experience—besides elder statesman Jeremy Hellickson, six years removed from winning the American League Rookie of the Year—or overpowering arms. Continue reading…

Ryan Howard Has Come Full Circle

I remember when Ryan Howard first made his mark on the Phillies. I was thirteen years old, and he was called up to replace an injured Jim Thome. I love Jim Thome; he’s my favorite player of all time. So when Howard hit 22 home runs in about half a season, and I read reports that Howard was ready to replace Thome permanently, I was not happy. Then he won Rookie of the Year. That offseason, Thome was traded to the White Sox for noted face-smasher Aaron Rowand and a couple prospects, including Gio Gonzalez.

This was before I paid attention to the minor leagues and before I knew anything about advanced stats. All I knew was that I loved Jim Thome, and Ryan Howard forced him off the team. I was furious.

Then Ryan Howard came out in 2006, hit 58 home runs, and won the MVP. All with that charismatic smile and swagger. Being a fickle young fan, my opinion immediately changed. I still loved Jim Thome, but there was room in my heart for Ryan Howard too. And there was plenty of room for his trademark booming opposite field home runs. Continue reading…

Crash Landing: Reality and Beating Projections

Programming Note: Later this week I will be joining the writing staff at FanGraphs. You’ll be able to read my work over there three times a week and if that isn’t enough of a draw, old friend Eric Longenhagen recently became their new lead prospect analyst so you’ll be able to read his work as well. This is not a goodbye post, though. I’m still going to be a regular Crashburn contributor but starting next week the Crash Landing column will run on Thursdays instead of Mondays due to my new schedule.

It was supposed to happen like this. The 2016 Phillies entered the season with the worst projections in baseball and the 2016 Cubs with the best. If you looked at Major League Baseball’s master schedule in April, you would find no more apparent mismatch than the Phillies-Cubs showdown this past weekend. When the teams meet again next week, the Phillies will have home field advantage at least. This series at Wrigley Field, though? This was the Cubs’ series to dominate.

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Don’t Go Soft On Odubel

Among the reasons behind Odubel Herrera’s continued breakout, none is more notable than his improved plate discipline. The story is well known by now. He was a bit of a free swinger last year, offering at 35.1% of pitches outside of the strike zone. This year, he’s cut that down to 29.4%, which is right in line with the league average. The effects have been apparent. He’s drawing walks at a much improved rate, and he’s getting himself into more favorable hitter’s counts. The result is a .441 on-base percentage that ranks second in the league. But Odubel has made another adjustment this year, and one that has been equally important to his success as a hitter.

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Aaron Nola’s Master Class vs. Miguel Cabrera

With the surprising performance of the 2016 Phillies to date, members of their starting rotation have been getting a little more attention than was expected to start the year. Vincent Velasquez grabbed headlines with his 16-strikeout shutout in April, but Aaron Nola‘s rise to national prominence has been much more gradual.

His numbers don’t immediately jump off a FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference page. After yielding four runs in six innings to Detroit yesterday, he now sports a 3.14 ERA — good for sure, but not jaw-dropping. To notice what Aaron Nola is doing takes a little bit of effort. It means watching his curveball baffle elite major league hitters or realizing that he is the only qualified starting pitcher in the Top 10 for both K-BB% (22.2%, 7th in MLB) and GB% (56.3%, 9th in MLB).

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Howard’s Swing Is (Unsurprisingly) Out Of Whack

It’s hard to watch Ryan Howard play baseball right now. He’s in the midst of an atrocious 0-for-18 stretch which is part of a larger 4-for-52 run since April 30th. Entering play on April 30th, Howard was batting .214/.278/.443 which is a far cry from reasonable expectations for a productive first baseman but seemed about right for a 36-year-old who has been playing with a barely functional lower half ever since his Achilles failed him in 2011. But now Howard’s triple slashline has fallen from predictably below average to a downright hideous .156/.226/.369. That .213 ISO is basically the only thing separating Ryan Howard’s offensive line from that of a pitcher.

Watching Howard in recent games, it’s felt as though he’s somehow getting even worse. So I went back and looked at his last hit and compared it to one of his fruitless at bats this past weekend.

In the fourth inning against the Reds on May 12th (twelve days ago!), Ryan Howard took a Tim Adelman curveball deep to right field for a double. Peak Ryan Howard might have sent that ball over the wall, but Howard still crushed the pitch and slid into second with a flourish:
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In Search of Phillies Outfield Upgrades

The Phillies offensive woes were on display in embarrassing fashion this past weekend when they managed just one run in their first two games against a pitiful Atlanta Braves team. Even a 13-hit, 5-run “outburst” in Sunday’s series finale wasn’t enough to mask the undeniable truth that the Phillies offense is an absolute disaster. The corner outfield positions have been among the weakest spots in a lineup replete with weak spots, but Tyler Goeddel‘s encouraging .366/.409/.585 slashline since May 8th have helped alleviate some of the concerns about that particular lineup black hole. Still, with the David Lough‘s 72 wRC+ and Peter Bourjos‘ impossibly low 37 wRC+, it wouldn’t take much to upgrade the Phillies’ outfield.

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