Phillies Upgrade Right Field, Sign Michael Saunders

In what will likely be the final piece added to the offensive puzzle heading into 2017, the Phillies signed Michael Saunders Monday to a one-year deal worth $9 million with an incentivized option for 2018 worth between $11-14 million. The 30-year-old Saunders, an All Star last season in his second of two with the Toronto Blue Jays, will help plug the Phillies’ right field leak that last season put up the second-fewest wins above replacement (according to Baseball-Reference) in the majors, and finished last in weighted on-base average and wRC+. The position, which was manned in 2016 by Peter Bourjos, Aaron Altherr, Jimmy Paredes, Tyler Goeddel, David Lough, Roman Quinn and Cedric Hunter also ranked in the bottom three in the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

That cadre of right fielders hit just eight home runs last year, tied for fewest in the majors. Saunders, whose main draw is his power from the left side, has matched or topped eight homers in every season that he’s played at least 78 games.

Pete Mackanin made it known at the end of 2016 that he wanted to add a professional hitter or two to the lineup. With Howie Kendrick and now Saunders strengthening their deficient corner outfield spots, Matt Klentak granted him that wish. Continue reading…

Phillies Avoid Arbitration with Jeanmar Gomez, Will Exchange Figures with Hernandez

After reaching a $4.35 million agreement with Freddy Galvis on Thursday to avoid arbitration hearings, the Phillies gained varying levels of closure with their two remaining arbitration candidates on Friday afternoon.

Matt Gelb was the first to report that the Phillies have settled with 2016 closer Jeanmar Gomez for a $4.2 million salary for 2017. He made $1.4 million in 2016 and was projected to receive $4.6 million in arbitration according to MLB Trade Rumors. Prior to a late-season meltdown, Gomez was a surprisingly reliable ninth-inning option for the team, notching 37 saves after recording only one for his career entering the season. His 4.85 ERA is the result of a disastrous final month. Through the end of August, he had a 2.97 ERA and 3.64 FIP.

With the additions of Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit plus last year’s breakout performance from Hector Neris, Gomez figures to return to the sixth or seventh inning option for which he is better suited. His low-strikeout (career 14 percent K-rate), high groundball (career 50.2 percent) style isn’t typical of the modern high-strikeout closer. But, since 2013, he’s used that repertoire to prevent runs well. He’s a valuable bullpen piece and, at $4.2 million, he should be a positive asset for a much deeper Phillies bullpen in 2017. Continue reading…

Reminiscing with Graphical Representation: The 2008 Phillies

On Tuesday, I unveiled my full-season infographic detailing the season that was for the Philadelphia Phillies using Wins Above Average (WAA) by position. The season was, for all intents and purposes, pretty ugly. But what makes a (hopefully) successful rebuild so rewarding, what makes the special seasons (like 2008) so truly special are the years like these that often proceed them.

As a quick reminder, here’s what the 2016 season looked like for the Phillies. The full story and graphics can be READ AND SEEN HERE.

In 2016, the Phillies tied for last in the league with -16 wins above average. They played at or above league-average in just three positions: catcher, second base and center field. Of the remaining positions, their starting rotation ranked 18th in the league while every other position ranked no better than 24th. Spelling the rotation, the bullpen’s WAA was second-worst in the league and the position players as a whole posted the lowest wins above average in the majors with -11.2.

Terrible position players, terrible relievers, okay starting pitching. Thus was the story of 2016.

So were this rebuilding process to bare similar fruits to the most recently constructed Phillies powerhouse, what would that look like? Here’s what the Phillies 2008 roster looked like when it took home the team’s first World Series trophy in 28 years.

*Reminder: positions marked in red are the top half in the league, those in blue are in the bottom half. The darker the red, the closer to the position was to leading the league, the darker the blue, the closer it was to league-worst.*

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Nick Williams

Reaching back to last offseason, the prevalent expectation for Nick Williams was simple: spend a few months tearing apart AAA pitching, fine tune the outfield defense, get fitted for red pinstripes. By the summer, the front office would be forced to bring the Cedric Hunter experience to an abrupt end. By the end of the season, the outfield would have twice as much certainty. This Report Card would be glowing.

It’s fair to say those expectations were not met.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Alec Asher

In June, Alec Asher became the second Philadelphia Phillie suspended for a positive PED test in 2016. Asher and reliever Daniel Stumpf were both pegged for drug tests that revealed Turinabol, an anabolic steroid popularized by East Germany’s propensity to feed it to their Olympic athletes in the 1970s and 80s.

Called up for his first taste of the big leagues late in 2015, Asher made seven starts for a pitiful starting rotation that most frequently handed the ball to Aaron Harang (29 starts, 4.86 ERA) and Jerome Williams (21 starts, 5.80 ERA). Pause for gasps of horror.

Somehow, Asher fared even worse. He went 0-6 allowing over a run an inning and a hit in one-third of all at-bats while striking out just two hitters for each of his eight home runs surrendered.

After that disappointing start to his Phillies career, the coaching staff assigned him some winter homework: focus on your two-seam fastball, the four-seamer lacks velocity and is simply too flat.

To begin his 2016 season, Asher pitched well in four starts each in double-A and triple-A in large part due to a dependency on his shiny new two-seamer. He threw 25.1 innings in April for the Reading Fightin Phils with a 3.20 ERA and went 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in four starts for Lehigh Valley, allowing 15 hits in 29.1 innings.

Shortly thereafter, news of Asher’s 80-game suspension broke. The 25-year-old would not pitch again until three short appearances for the Phillies’ rookie affiliate in the Gulf Coast League and a start for Reading as his suspension wound down in August.

That two-seamer propelled him to a much more stable second stint with the big club. In his five-start, 2.28-ERA month of September with the Phillies, he held opponents to a .216/.257/.294 slash line with a 3.6% walk-rate.

Asher completely reversed his fastball usage this season in accordance with the organization’s wishes. Where in 2015 Asher threw his four-seamer four times more than his two-seamer, the story this season was the opposite. He threw his two-seamer more than four times as much as his flat four-seamer that Pete Mackanin saw knocked around in 2015.

In 2015, Asher went to his four-seamer 49.3% of the time while throwing his two-seamer for just 11.6% of all offerings. This season, exactly half of his pitches were two-seamers, throwing just 38 four-seamers (9% of all pitches).

Opponents struggled to make solid contact, hitting .191 against the two-seamer. Lefties, more than righties, struggled with the pitch that tailed away from their barrels. In 28 left-handed at-bats that ended with a two-seamer, only four came on the inside half if the plate, proving the pitch’s effectiveness in drawing swings as it dives away from the hitter.

The alteration seemed to work for Asher on each level he pitched at this season. He no longer displays the borderline mid to low 90s fastball advertised when he came over from Texas. He is firmly planted in the low 90s and now that he relies on the two-seamer, he resides most often around 90 mph. His groundball rate in the majors wasn’t as high as it was in the minors. That is something to look out for in 2017 if injuries allow him to crack the starting rotation at some point this season.

In just five starts, he accrued 0.6 WAR, the same as number as Adam Morgan in his 23 appearances. Yes, I too am baffled that Morgan managed a positive WAR this season (113.1 IP, 81 runs, 6.04 ERA, 4.98 FIP, 1.500 WHIP), but I digress.

All in all, Asher didn’t pitch at any one level for more than five consecutive starts, making it very tough to make appropriate judgments about his play this season. Assigning a firm grade, to me, feels a bit misleading with such small, chopped up sample sizes. When he pitched, he pitched well. But he couldn’t play consistently after being popped for taking gym candy. He didn’t earn any credits toward his degree for his shortened 2016 performance, but pitched well enough not to fail.

Grade: Pass

2016 Phillies Report Card: Roman Quinn

I’m going to run through this report card quickly, before a sudden injury prevents me from completing it. In the sporadic moments when Roman Quinn is on a baseball field, his talents are apparent. He is fast. Very fast. And there is obvious benefit to possessing such elite speed. Defensively, it translates to range in the outfield. Offensively, it means creating havoc on the base paths. But in order to run the bases, the rules of the game require that you first reach them. Quinn spent his brief time with the Phillies hinting at his capacity to do just that.

Continue reading…

Phillies Acquire Another Roll Of The Dice

The Phillies today traded for walking model of inconsistency Clay Buchholz. Along for the ride is a $13.5 million, one year commitment for 2017, which appears the preferred contract length of their offseason. Heading to Boston in the exchange is prospect Joshua Tobias, a 24 year old second baseman who most recently demonstrated his baseball aptitude at A+ Clearwater. It remains uncertain whether the Phillies are buying low on Buchholz, or just buying.

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A Core Commitment

On Thursday, the Phillies gazed into the long-term future of the franchise. What they saw was Odubel Herrera, roaming the outfield grass of Citizens Bank Park, tossing live baseballs into the stands while daydreaming about his next bat flip. Would it come on a home run? A pop-up? A called strike three? There’s only so much you can know about the future. But convinced that Herrera would be a part of it, the Phillies decided to offer the young outfielder a long-term contract that potentially keeps him in Philadelphia through the end of the 2023 season.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Andrew Knapp

@FlyingTimber:
Matt, I am writing the Crashburn Alley report card on Andrew Knapp. Since I am largely unqualified to comment on his defensive attributes, do you have any kind or unkind words on the subject? Or possibly a resource I could refer to?

@Matt_Winkelman:
Below average, arm is average, framing improved but not smooth, blocking needs work

@FlyingTimber:
Likelihood that he gets to average? Or is the bat going to have to be his carrying tool?

@Matt_Winkelman:
Low, combo of bat and being a catcher could make the whole package average

The above correspondence with prospect aficionado Matt Winkelman provides a simple context in which to view Andrew Knapp. Due to terms like below average and needs work, Knapp’s emergence as an effective major league entity will rely on both (a) his ability to hit, and (b) his very existence as a catcher. To his credit, Knapp has the being a catcher part down quite well. That leaves only the bat as unresolved.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco is simple to explain. Consider, his entire season can be reduced to a pair of text messages sent to the author on June 5, 2016:

1. [2:00 PM]: Nice job by Franco turning 3-0 into an out. What a spaz.

2. [2:43 PM]: Nice job by Franco turning 0-2 into a rocket home run. What a beast.

For those even moderately aware of Franco’s play this year, the above requires no exposition. You may proceed to the arbitrary grade at the end of this post, decide upon the level of injustice committed, and file your grievance accordingly. For those who remain unsettled by such an abrupt depiction of Franco, let’s examine how these claims are able to distill a player into 124 characters of text.

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