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…

Tommy Joseph: Swing At The Strikes

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is first baseman Tommy Joseph.

For the ardent reader of the Crashburn Roundtable, my enthusiasm for Tommy Joseph should come as no surprise. For those who chose baseball dormancy as Citizens Bank Park was preparing to close its doors, a quick review of said enthusiasm.

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Maikel Franco: Can He Just Chill Up There?

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is third baseman Maikel Franco.

Maikel Franco certainly makes himself look silly sometimes at the plate. As it became clear that his 2016 sophomore campaign was going to be a year-long source of frustration, spilled drinks, and, in it’s more unfortunate moments, broken screens of various sorts, the sight of Franco’s helmet flying off while reaching for a pitch low and away felt more rule than exception.

Because of Franco’s above-average ability to make contact on pitches out of the zone, his regression in plate discipline and strike-zone discernment don’t necessarily manifest themselves in more strikeouts or fewer walks. Of course, it did to some extent: Franco struck out in 16.8 percent of 2016 plate appearances versus 15.5 percent in 2015 and walked only 6.3 percent of the time versus 7.8 in 2015. Those are steps backwards, to be sure, but hardly alarming ones on their own.

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Vince Velasquez: Trouble with the Curve

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is starting pitcher Vince Velasquez:

It’s no secret that Vince Velasquez, despite his electric fastball, struggled to pitch deep into games because of a lack of effective secondary pitches. He often looked like he was just trying to strike batters out, while forgoing other pitch-to-contact methods that can minimize pitch counts while still recording outs, albeit those not as flashy as 95-mph fastballs blown by helpless hitters.

By his own account, he’s is focusing on gaining trust in his curveball during spring training, a pitch he threw 13.6 percent of the time last season.

He had this to say of his struggles with the pitch: “If you have no conviction in it, no trust in it, why even throw it?” Continue reading…