What Do the Phillies Have in Aaron Altherr?

Last night, Aaron Altherr finally got going after his trip to the disabled list. Altherr smashed an upper-deck go-ahead grand slam off Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball. As it stands now, Altherr has been worth 1.3 fWAR in about a half a season of plate appearances, bashing 17 home runs and producing a 125 wRC+. It’s been a good bounce-back season for the Phillies’ outfielder, but he again missed time with injury. Continue reading…

On the Pathetic Phillies

I was cruising FanGraphs this week, desperately looking for something interesting to write about. You see, the Phillies, as you may have noticed, are soul-crushingly bad this season. There are only so many times you can look for silver linings or potential improvements before it becomes an exercise in futility. Therefore, I’ve decided to lean in to the madness. The Phillies leaders in fWAR this season are Jerad Eickhoff, Pat Neshak, and Odubel Herrera, all at 1.2 fWAR. They’re all on pace to be above-average players this year, if you set the “average” bar at 2 fWAR.

But let me tell you something about them you may not have realized: Eickhoff’s ERA is almost 5.00. Neshak is a reliever. Herrera is running a wRC+ of just 78. When your best starter has an ERA 14% worse than league average, your best hitter can’t hit, that leaves a reliever to be the best player on your team, which is… not ideal. And that’s how you wind up with the worst team in baseball. Continue reading…

Is Odubel Herrera Back?

Odubel Herrera ended the month of May sporting a 51 wRC+ and just 0.3 WAR. After two seasons in which the Rule 5 pick was arguably the Phillies’ best player, Herrera received a five year extension that established him as the first building block of the rebuild to be signed long term. He was one of several Phillies, including Jerad Eickhoff, Maikel Franco, and Tommy Joseph, who have experienced significant drop-offs in production the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Monstars roamed the earth.

Since the calendar turned to June, coinciding with a several-game sabbatical imposed by Pete Mackanin, Herrera has done nothing but tear the cover off the ball. In five games, Herrera has hit .550/.571/1.300 including 2 home runs and 9 doubles. He also recorded his first walk in nearly a month. The outburst has raised Herrera’s wRC+ 31 points to a somewhat respectable 82. He’s accumulated 0.9 WAR in that time, and now rates middle-of-the-pack among centerfielders in terms of value. Continue reading…

Adjustment Required

It is mostly a fact that all baseball articles concerning Odubel Herrera note the accomplishment of something remarkable. In 2015, it was a league leading BABIP driving a successful Rule 5 season. In 2016, he spent the month of April collecting all his walks for the year. In 2017, the story has been his range in the outfield. In between these accounts, there’s probably one or two about a lack of hustle or a bat flip that killed a passing bird. Still remarkable, if not entirely relevant to his baseball talent.

In that sense, the current post is a departure, as it regards Odubel’s very unremarkable offense this year. His current 82 wRC+ is a healthy clip below the league average. And beyond the face value of the results – a .255/.314/.390 batting line – there are underlying problems driving the dip in performance. To that point, here are two numbers deviating in the wrong direction.

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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.

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The Phillies Have A New Third Baseman

Among the many storylines of 2016, Maikel Franco‘s regression was perhaps the most discouraging. Franco spent the season mixing flashes of formidable hitting talent with an infuriating lack of approach at the plate. He did not swing at every pitch that came his way, but enough to render most of his natural talent moot. It seemed his potential would ever remain unrealized. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Phillies decided to move on from Franco, replacing him this year with a new budding young star at third base.

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Where Have Jeremy Hellickson’s Strikeouts Gone?

Jeremy Hellickson entered the 2017 season as the Phillies’ de facto ace. After last season, in which he posted the highest K-BB% and fWAR numbers of his career, expectations were high for the 28-year-old. Through two starts, the results are better than the Phillies could have hoped for. He’s tossed 10 innings and allowed only one run for a 0.90 ERA, and those two starts account for two of the Phillies three wins thus far. He hasn’t allowed a home run yet, and his walk rate is the lowest of his career. Opponents are hitting just .124 against him.

All of that sounds great, but it’s tainted by a disturbing lack of strikeouts. Hellickson has punched out just 3 hitters so far, out of the 39 hitters he’s faced, “good” for a 7.7 K%. That’s currently the lowest in the league among the 102 qualified pitchers. I have no idea what the cutoff for a qualified pitcher is nine games into the season, but among all those pitchers, Hellickson is striking out the fewest hitters.

So what is wrong with Hellickson? I guess you could say nothing because he’s still getting results. But from a sustainability side of things, it looks like something’s gotta give, maybe as soon as his his start tomorrow. Hitters have whiffed at just 5.8% of the pitches against Hellickson, compared with 10.8% last year.  That’s fourth worst among qualified pitchers, just ahead of Bartolo Colon (6.30 ERA). Continue reading…

Look Ma, Two Hands! Phillies Trade for Ambidextrous Pitcher Pat Venditte

Two hands are better than one.

Sunday afternoon, the Phillies acquired switch-pitcher Pat Venditte from the Seattle Mariners. He’s light-handed, he’s reft-handed, he’s ambidextrous.

The 31-year-old, currently pitching for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, has spent time with four different organizations since the Yankees drafted him in the 20th round in 2008 from Creighton University.

He’s excelled in the high minors, with a career 2.93 ERA in four seasons in triple-A and a 3.09 ERA in parts of four seasons in double-A.

The cost for the Phillies was minor league outfielder Joey Curletta. If you haven’t heard of Curletta, it’s not just because of the numerous outfield prospects adorning the top of the team’s prospect rankings. Curletta was acquired from the Dodgers in September, after minor league seasons concluded, to complete the Carlos Ruiz-for-A.J. Ellis trade. His main (and debatably only) skill is hitting for power. Continue reading…