The Phillies Should Consider Signing Kyle Blanks

As the Phillies won’t jump head-first into the free agent pool once again this winter, it seems we fans are destined for a quiet December and January. We’ll unwrap our new Phillies 2015 desk calendars and count down the days until pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Florida. There, the Phillies will embark on yet another journey into the bottom of the NL East, biding the time until the young players mature and blossom into the next generation of marketable stars. This has all of the excitement of a library.

One understated aspect of both last year’s and this coming year’s Phillies squads are the cast-offs who can reestablish their image and become valuable assets to the Phillies. We saw this with Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona), who signed with the Phillies on a one-year, $4.5 million deal. The club’s new analytics department saw a potential bounce-back candidate in Hernandez despite a horrific performance with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. With marked improvements in his strikeout and walk rates, combined with an expected regression in his home runs allowed rate, Hernandez seemed like a solid bet to become a trade chip for the Phillies come summer.

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The Phillies Are Going to be Very Bad

On Twitter yesterday, Beyond the Box Score posted the top-five best and worst teams at each position as they are currently projected by the Steamer projections, which can be found at FanGraphs. In what should come as a shock to no one, the Phillies portend to be quite bad at several positions and it’ll be even worse if they end up moving a few players as expected.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Ken Giles

Ken Giles pitched the first 45.2 innings of his Major League career in 2014, which is about 60% of a full season for a reliever. We can’t really draw any meaningful conclusions from a sample size that small. Sure, we could run through all the awesome highlights from Giles’ statistics in those 45.2 innings – for example, the fact that of 171 relievers who pitched 40 innings or more, Giles was seventh in K% at 38.6%, behind Aroldis Chapman (a ridiculous 52.5%), Andrew Miller and Brad Boxberger (42.6% and 42.1%, both also completely ridiculous), Dellin Betances and Wade Davis (39.6% and 39.1%) and Craig Kimbrel (38.9%). Or we could talk about his K-BB% of 31.9%, which was sixth behind Chapman, Miller, Sean Dollittle, Boxberger, and Betances (and better than Davis, Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland, Koji Uehara, Kimbrel, and David Robertson). Since this report card is supposed to be an evaluation of the player’s performance this season, that kind of analysis is warranted. OK, fine.

ERA FIP xFIP SIERA K% BB% K-BB% WHIP
Giles 1.18 1.34 2.03 1.51 38.6% 6.6% 31.9% 0.79
Rank (of 171 RP with 40+ IP) 3rd 3rd 7th 5th 7th 49th 6th 5th

Any way we slice it, Giles had a fantastic season in 2014. He struck out everybody, didn’t walk nearly as many batters as he did in the minors, and the ERA retrodictors indicate his performance is backed up by his skills. I don’t want to go any further with the numbers now, and if you want more, Bill already did some good statistical analysis in this August 20 article. I want to step away from the nerdtastic data analysis we usually do, just for a moment, to take a longer-angle view of Giles and how he symbolizes the next era of Phillies baseball.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Kyle Kendrick

With the re-signing of Jerome Williams to a one-year deal, it seems increasingly likely that Kyle Kendrick has pitched his final game in red pinstripes. The seven-year veteran probably would have liked to go out on a higher note. Aside from a career high in innings pitched (199.0), it was a thoroughly forgettable season for Kendrick. Among all 43 qualified starting pitchers in the NL, his strikeout-rate (14.0%) was dead last and only Travis Wood (5.03) had a worse ERA than Kendrick (4.61).

Still, in a season that will be remembered for pitching injuries, it’s very much worth noting that only 16 NL pitchers threw more innings than Kendrick. In fact, since 2013, Kendrick’s 381.0 innings pitched ranks 36th in all of Major League Baseball. Innings pitched is not a sexy stat, but it’s an important one. The ability to eat innings, even if they’re sub-average innings is a skill set that will get Kendrick paid this winter. Add into the calculus the upside Kendrick offers and I think his deal is more likely to resemble last offseason Phil Hughes (3/$24M) than last offseason Roberto Fausto Hernandez Carmona (1/$4.5M).

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2014 Phillies Report Card: John Mayberry, Jr.

When Bill gave out the report card assignments, I was probably least excited about writing up John Mayberry, Jr. I don’t have anything against the guy, but he reminds me just a little too much of all those bad Phillies teams from the late 80s and early 90s. Specifically, he reminds me of Wes Chamberlain, who I actually loved as a kid. Well what do you know, Wes Chamberlain is #7 on John Mayberry’s similarity score list (Dom Brown is #8!) on baseball-reference dot com. I’m not thrilled about the Phillies being just as bad now as they were when I was in elementary school, which isn’t JMJ’s fault at all, but here we are.

So I was really happy with myself Thursday morning when I had an epiphany: have some fun with it, don’t just write a regular analysis, do something quirky … Rickroll ‘em.

I spent a LOT of time writing this report card in an acrostic format, with the last paragraph in the article using the “down” in “never gonna let you down” only to discover (thanks to Bill) that browser resolution issues would render the joke useless to many readers. After accepting that, I realized that Rickrolling isn’t actually that funny anymore, anyway. And with that, I give you my evaluation of Yayberry. Continue reading…

2014 Phillies Report Card: Antonio Bastardo

We’ve come to know him, at times affectionately and at times derisively, as Tony No-Dad. In my glory days living in South Philly, I called him Tony Fuggin’ Bastid. For the tail end of the Phillies’ dominant years, Antonio Bastardo established himself as Charlie Manuel‘s favorite lefthanded reliever. After four full years in the bullpen, however, Bastardo could be on his way out of town due to an addiction to walks, the emergence of Jake Diekman, an arbitration case pending (after a $2 million salary in 2014), and free agency after 2015.

Bastardo’s generosity with free passes is maddening to watch, and the problem isn’t getting better for the 29-year-old Dominican lefty. Since 2011, his walk rate (BB%) has been 11.6%, 11.6%, 11.7%, and 12.6%. That’s bad. With several other left-handed relievers on the team, it doesn’t make sense for the Phillies to pay Bastardo $30,000 per appearance to walk almost five batters per nine innings. But that’s none of my business.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Domonic Brown

Allow me to pull back the curtain on these report cards just a bit – a couple weeks ago Bill assigned us all six players to grade at random. I traded with Adam so I could talk about Cameron Rupp, (who I like more than anyone should), and then I was on vacation and otherwise unavailable for the first three weeks. Thursday, when I sat down to get into writing mode, I still wasn’t sure with which of the six report cards I would begin. In my search for a good hook to get me going, I was perusing our schedule and realized that my time off had left me with 6 report cards to write in 22 days.

And since I was still unsure who to start with, and since I’m both a baseball nerd and I know how to use a calculator, I figured out that 6/22 comes out to .272. (Sure, I can teach any of you how I did that if you need me to). After I got .272, I went looking for a .272 amongst my players’ stats. As it so happens, Dom Brown hit .272 in his fine 2013 campaign, the season against which his career will be judged. And so my decision was made for me.

I guess Batting Average is good for something after all. Who knew? Continue reading…

Want to Gain An Edge? Defy Bullpen Orthodoxy

The book, and later the film, Moneyball famously championed Billy Beane‘s Oakland Athletics — a small-market team who managed to push out the big spenders by using statistics to identify market inefficiencies, like players with low batting averages but high on-base percentages. As Beane’s numbers-savvy approach contributed to the Athletics reaching the post-season four years in a row between 2000-03, other richer teams caught on and the Scott Hattebergs of the world weren’t available the way they once were, so the A’s had to adapt to continue to stay afloat.

Talent identification is a constantly-shifting landscape, but so too is talent usage. The game has changed enormously over the last five years, going from an offense-dominated league to one heavily influenced by pitching and defense. Run-scoring is at its lowest point since 1992. Come-from-behind home runs no longer cover up poor managerial decision-making at the rate they once did. Those decisions on the margins — giving up an out with a bunt, not using your closer in a tie game on the road — are more important now than they have been in over two decades.

The Phillies, who became the laughingstock of baseball in recent years due to the glacial pace at which they’ve modernized and their public contempt for analytics, would do well to watch how managerial orthodoxy has backfired big time for many participants in the playoffs this year. Ryne Sandberg would have made the same decisions Matt Williams or Mike Matheny would have made. That’s not a defense of orthodoxy; the Phillies should be looking for those edges as should every team. The Phillies should contemplate zigging when others zag.

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