The Phillies Should Keep An Eye on Michael Saunders

Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders finally had a breakout year offensively, posting a .346 weighted on-base average. Only one problem: he only took 263 trips to the plate. Saunders had one stint on the disabled list between June 11-27 due to inflammation of the A/C joint in his right shoulder. Then, on July 11, Saunders again went on the disabled list, this time for a strained left oblique. He didn’t return until September 8. Still, he finished out the season strong, putting up a .257/.409/.543 triple slash line in 44 plate appearances.

Saunders showed good plate discipline, drawing walks at a 10 percent rate. He hit for decent power, posting a .177 isolated power, which is nearly 40 points above the major league average for outfielders. Defensively, both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference rated him as slightly above average, which contributed to his WAR range between 2-2.5 — quite good for less than half of a full season.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Maikel Franco

PERSPECTIVE.

What does that word mean to you? From artists to politicians to baseball people, this multifaceted word wields lots of power, and calibrating it properly is critical. As it relates to baseball – and, specifically, Phillies rookie Maikel Franco – perspective is important for realizing exactly what a given thing means at a point in time.

Take Franco, who turned 22 years old just shy of two months ago: a near-consensus top-100 pick (or better!) made his debut for the Phillies this summer and logged 58 plate appearances. By and large, they were not great plate appearances, but this is where that pesky word “perspective” comes into play, full-bore.

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Phillies at a Fork in the Road with the Starting Rotation

The Phillies could head in one of a number of directions during the off-season, depending on whether or not A.J. Burnett decides to return (it seems likely given a recent report), if Kyle Kendrick isn’t brought back, and if GM Ruben Amaro finds an irresistible trade offer for Cole Hamels. Assuming Cliff Lee makes a full recovery from the left elbow injury that cut his 2014 season short, he and David Buchanan could be the anchors of the starting rotation in this circumstance.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Jayson Nix

Jayson Nix came to the plate 43 times for the Phillies in 2014, mostly in April and early May, before refusing a hard-earned assignment to AAA Lehigh Valley. After a tireless and penetrating analysis of these 43 plate appearances, on behalf of Crashburn Alley and the larger Phillies blogging community, I am prepared to defend the following conclusion: Jayson Nix was very bad.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee, perhaps better than anyone, adroitly summarized the Phillies’ season after a loss to the Giants in his return from the disabled list on July 21. He farted.

Lee’s season wasn’t much better, as he made only 13 starts, due to two separate trips to the disabled list. The first, between May 19 and July 20, was due to a flexor pronator strain in his left arm. He returned, making three starts including the aforementioned outing against the Giants, before landing back on the shelf at the end of July with the same injury, ending his season.

When he was on the mound, he posted a 3.65 ERA with a 72/12 K/BB ratio in 81 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate fell a bit, but the ERA retrodictors were still fans of his work: FIP had him at 2.96 and his xFIP was only five points higher. The clear culprit for his inflated ERA was a .358 batting average on balls in play. Hard to blame him for that, particularly since his line drive rate wasn’t abnormally high. Lee continued to lose velocity on his fastball (down to 89.6 MPH on average from 90.7 in 2013 and 91.7 in 2012), but otherwise, he was the same old dominating lefty pitcher that we’ve come to know and love over the years.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Wil Nieves

As a former catcher (OK, in Little League) I have a soft spot for those brave souls who don the tools of ignorance. Some of my favorite Phillies are Darren Daulton, Mike Lieberthal, and Carlos Ruiz. Of course, my favorite catchers of all time are Crash Davis and Jake Taylor.

The catcher’s viewpoint is unique and beautiful, but comes with a heavy price: knee pain, foul tips off the mask, balls in the dirt, backswings, and hot, stinky umpire breath. The catcher is often looked upon (or perceived) as a team leader and a quasi-manager on the field. A catcher is asked to do so much more than any other player, which is why a catcher who can hit really well – like Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, or Jonathan Lucroy – is so impressive and valuable. Unfortunately for the Phillies, and despite attempts to address the issue, catching depth at the upper levels is a significant organizational problem. Continue reading…

Report: A.J. Burnett Likely to Return to the Phillies in 2015

Last week, CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury suggested that starter A.J. Burnett was leaning towards retirement. Salisbury added that Burnett didn’t have all that much fun in Philadelphia and kept game balls from his final start of the season, the 404th of his career, which is only a noteworthy game if it marked the end of his career.

However, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that it’s looking likely that Burnett will exercise his $12.75 million player option for the 2015 season with the Phillies, citing “people close to Burnett”.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Justin De Fratus

Did you know that the Phillies had an exciting young right-handed reliever dominate the league with a slider this past season? Did you know they had another one not named Kenny Giles?

For the first time in his career, Justin De Fratus spent Opening Day on a Major League roster. Unfortunately for him, his stay in the bigs was notably short lived. He threw five innings over four games and surrendered four runs on a 2-run homer by Mark Reynolds and a 2-run homer by some guy named Giancarlo Stanton. The day after the Stanton blast, the Phillies took advantage of De Fratus’ final option year and sent him down to Lehigh Valley.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: David Buchanan

On May 21, Cliff Lee hit the disabled list for the first time. Their pitching depth in the upper minors thin, the Phillies turned to a 25-year-old rookie to fill Lee’s spot in the rotation, an unheralded seventh-round draftee who made an impression in the spring. That rookie, David Buchanan, would go on to spend the next month-and-a-half pitching frequently respectable outings. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Carlos Ruiz

Catcher Carlos Ruiz could have signed with another team — perhaps a contender, for one last shot at a championship — but both he and the Phillies decided to continue their partnership, agreeing on a three-year, $26 million contract last November. Ruiz became one of only three catchers to ink a contract of three years or longer during the off-season, joining Brian McCann (five years, $85 million with the New York Yankees) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three years, $21 million with the Miami Marlins).

To some, Ruiz was a microcosm of the modus operandi that has doomed the Phillies over the last five years: signing aging, injury-prone players to expensive multi-year deals. However, while the Phillies had catching depth, there was no obvious candidate with whom they felt comfortable starting five or six games a week. Cameron Rupp would have been the first choice, and the Phillies weren’t even confident in him backing up Ruiz, so they signed Wil Nieves for the back-up role in December. While Ruiz’s deal was for multiple years and relatively expensive given what other catchers received, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a contract that will affect their payroll flexibility nor does it have any sizable risk attached to it.

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