Who Had The More Encouraging Game: Nola or Velasquez?

The biggest story of the start to the Phillies 2016 season was the emergence of their talented young rotation. Although Jerad Eickhoff has has his moments of greatness, the two biggest stars were Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola. Velasquez grabbed headlines across baseball with his 16-strikeout performance against the Padres in his second start of the season. Nola soared towards the top of league leaderboards in the first two months of the season. But then, almost simultaneously, everything began to crumble for the duo. Over the past 48 hours, however, they have both put together stellar starts that have caused Phillies fans to hope that maybe their struggles are behind them. Is the optimism provided by their post-All-Star-Break debuts justified?

Vince Velasquez

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All About xFIP

This morning, the Phillies’ official twitter account somewhat bizarrely sent out the briefest of introductions to xFIP.

Considering the organization’s, shall we say, hesitance to embrace sabermetric analysis in the pre-Klentak era, this little pebble thrown into the gaping chasm of the interwebs — even if done so with tongue planted firmly in cheek — came as a bit of a surprise. So, instead of mocking the team for doing what people have been criticizing it for not doing…

and at the risk of explaining something already known to an audience that actively seeks out this site for its sabermetric bent, indulge me in a (very) broad overview of xFIP.

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Phillies First Half Infographic

As the All-Star festivities have quieted and teams officially turn their full attention toward the proverbial second half of the season, I went back through the 2016 Phillies’ season from April to the All-Star break to put together a first half infographic for those visually inclined, like myself.

The season, in my eyes, could be split into four distinct parts: an “Oh no not this again” 0-4 start fueled by a disastrous bullpen, a five-week run as the most surprising team in baseball highlighted by an .875 winning percentage in 16 one-run games, the subsequent regression to the mean, and the current stretch of surprisingly potent hitting. Enjoy.

First Half Infographic

All suggestions, comments and concerns are welcome.

Checking in on Zach Eflin

It’s been an up and down beginning to Zach Eflin‘s major league career — or, more precisely, a down and up beginning. His major league debut went about as poorly as a debut can go. He struck out the first batter (yay!), but from there it unraveled in almost historic proportions. His line that day: 2.2 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 3 HR. It amounted to a game score of 5 which is the lowest game score in a debut since someone named Arnie Munoz posted a -7 game score for the White Sox in his 2004 debut. Here’s a list of the most recent pitchers to post a game score that low in their debut:

Player Date Tm Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc
Zach Eflin 6/14/2016 PHI TOR 2.2 9 9 8 3 2 3 5
Arnie Munoz 6/19/2004 CHW MON 3 10 11 11 3 1 2 -7
John Stephens 7/30/2002 BAL TBD 3 10 9 9 1 1 3 3
Mike Busby 4/7/1996 STL ATL 4 9 13 8 4 4 4 2

That’s, uh, not a terribly encouraging group of names for Eflin to join. Munoz never started another major league game while Stephens and Busby combined for 21 more starts in their careers. And, yet, Eflin has followed up this thoroughly inauspicious start with a remarkably promising run of five successful starts.
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Odubel’s Impending Breakout

Much of Odubel Herrera’s offense last year was tied to an incredible success rate on converting batted balls into hits. His .387 average on balls in play led the league, and it led Odubel to one of the most successful Rule 5 seasons in recent memory. But outside of that unsustainable number, the rest of his offense fell far short of impressive. His walk rate, strikeout rate, and power were all below average. And without improvements in any of those areas, the inevitable regression in his BABIP was going to sink his offense altogether.

So coming into the 2016 season, Odubel made immediate improvements in two of those categories. He learned the value of taking a free pass, and even though he’s far removed from what he did in April, he’s still drawing walks at a league average level. He also started making more contact, which significantly lowered his strikeout rate in the process. Those two adjustments alone gave him a sustainable way to maintain a higher on-base percentage, and ultimately raised his floor as a hitter. But there’s yet another emerging trend in his numbers that might portend even bigger things for Odubel.

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The Curious Case of Cameron Rupp’s Exit Velocity

At the risk of sounding like an outdated Charmin Ultra commercial, sometimes in baseball, less is more.

Take Cameron Rupp. Through 118 plate appearances in the first two months of the season, no one in Major League Baseball with at least 20 balls in play recorded a higher average exit velocity (95.7 mph).

Exit velocity is not an established science that, upon its unveiling by Statcast, magically provided the key to understanding hitting. However, several correlations have been drawn to offensive production. Like any new metric, it has shortcomings and limits to its application. In the 2015 season, when segmenting exit velocities into 5 mph ranges (90-94, 95-99, etc.), batting averages rose with each incremental rise in exit velocity. Increased batted ball speeds also correlate to increase slugging percentage. Continue reading…

Surprising Offensive Breakouts in June

Quick, name the Phillies top four performers in the month of June by wRC+. Exclude Edubray Ramos‘ one walk in one plate appearances and you’ll come up with a list of four that might not be terribly shocking if you watched the Phillies all month, but would shock the heck out of you if you were shown the list on May 31st. The fabulous four are as follows:

Phillies Top Offensive Performers – June 2016
Player PA wRC+
Peter Bourjos 67 190
Cameron Rupp 75 148
Cody Asche 90 115
Cesar Hernandez 85 104

There is one other Phillie who recorded a wRC+ above league average (100) during the month of June: Maikel Franco, 101 wRC+. It’s great to see him doing better at the plate, but a league average bat hardly classifies as a surprising breakout for him. Offensive expectations for Franco are high. Offensive expectations for Bourjos, Rupp, Asche, and Hernandez, on the other hand? Let’s just say they’re less high. So what’s going on? Small sample flukes? Legitimate breakouts? The creation of viable trade chips? The development of players who will contribute to the next winning Phillies teams?

Let’s break it down one at a time.

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Asche Found His Bat

Back in 2013, Cody Asche made his major league debut for the Phillies following a quick rise through their minor league system. While he wasn’t topping any prospect lists, Asche looked to have a capable bat, and he represented a much needed injection of youth in an otherwise aging roster. But the capable bat didn’t fully translate to the major league level, and Asche spent the next few years posting consistently sub-par offensive numbers while working his way down the defensive spectrum. So coming into the 2016 season, it’s fair to say that most fans had given up on Asche as any part of the team’s future.

But following an oblique strain that kept him sidelined through the end of May, Asche has spent the better part of the last month looking like the hitter the Phillies thought they were getting back in 2013. Through 80 plate appearances this year, Asche has a wOBA of .343, a number that places him 14% better than the league average. And while this wouldn’t be the first time Asche has hit this well over the course of a month, it is the first time his success at the plate is supported by any underlying changes.

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Is 2016 Offense Worst in Phillies History?

In a season once illuminated by a delightful yet fleeting month-and-a-half of overachievement, the Phillies uninspiring offensive attack has once again grabbed the headlines as they enter the meat of their summer schedule. Manager and resident mad scientist Pete Mackanin has done everything in his power to concoct a productive lineup, testing 68 different batting orders through the first 77 games. Who can blame him?

The team’s recent streak of hot hitting hasn’t significantly boosted the their overall numbers, or even put more tallies in the win column for that matter. Led by none other than offensive tour de force Peter Bourjos, the Phils have nearly doubled their run production in their last six games, posting six runs per contest, but have generated just a 2-4 record to show for it. In their first 71 games on the year, they scored all of 3.11 runs per game. While this offensive hot hand is surely just a blip on the radar, a faint mirage in the early summer heat, it got me thinking: just how bad is this offense really?

Well, buckle up.

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What’s Wrong With Aaron Nola?

The 2016 Phillies were supposed to be a terrible team and lately they’ve been living up (or down) to that expectation. What was not expected, however, was the complete deterioration of Aaron Nola‘s early season success. Entering play on June 11th, Nola had a 2.65 ERA, but now, three starts later, that ERA has risen all the way to 4.11.

2016 Aaron Nola
GS IP H ER R BB K ERA OPS
Through 6/10 12 78 62 29 23 15 85 2.65 .580
Since 6/10 3 9.2 22 20 17 7 10 15.83 1.191

He’s gone from one of the best pitchers in the league to a guy who is allowing the opposition to hit like peak Barry Bonds. That’s… well, it’s not good. But is it worth worrying about? Is it just three starts or is it a sign that something is wrong with the 23-year-old pitcher who looked, just weeks ago, like he could be a top of the rotation pitcher for the Phillies for the foreseeable future?

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