Among the reasons behind Odubel Herrera’s continued breakout, none is more notable than his improved plate discipline. The story is well known by now. He was a bit of a free swinger last year, offering at 35.1% of pitches outside of the strike zone. This year, he’s cut that down to 29.4%, which is right in line with the league average. The effects have been apparent. He’s drawing walks at a much improved rate, and he’s getting himself into more favorable hitter’s counts. The result is a .441 on-base percentage that ranks second in the league. But Odubel has made another adjustment this year, and one that has been equally important to his success as a hitter.
Jerad Eickhoff has a problem: he is completely ineffective against left handed hitters. To this point, he’s been able to hide the extent of the issue by maintaining a respectable overall stat line, and he’s done this by keeping right handed batters in check. As bad as Eickhoff has been against lefties, he’s dominated righties to a similar extent.
The difference is drastic, and the problem is that he’s unlikely to improve on that extreme level of dominance against right handed batters. So if you’re looking for consistency or improvement out of Eickhoff, he’s going to need to resolve the issue against lefties.
This headline could make me look foolish depending on the outcome of tonight’s game, but despite his relative struggles (4.43 ERA this year vs. 2.65 ERA in 2015), there’s nothing to indicate that Jerad Eickhoff has been a worse pitcher this season than last.
First things first, let’s take a look at Eickhoff’s underlying stats this year versus last.
As you can see, his HR/FB% and BABIP have both increased since last year, while his rate of runners left on base plummeted almost 15 percentage points. However, his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA have hardly changed, despite the roughly 2 run difference in ERA.
Three weeks ago, I wrote about the fact that there was a Phillies pitcher throwing the least hittable pitch in the majors as measured by whiffs/swing. You may recall that the pitch I was talking about was Hector Neris‘ filthy, nasty splitter. At the time, Neris had thrown 83 splitters on the season, hitters had swung at 47 and whiffed a remarkable 31 times for a whiff/swing rate of 66.0 percent which topped every other pitch in baseball. Of course, it was a small sample size and in the ensuing weeks, that 66.0 percent rate has dropped to a significantly less imposing 49.2 percent.
There was, however, another Phillies pitcher with a pitch generating whiffs at extraordinary rates. At the time, I (perhaps foolishly) wrote it off as early season weirdness:
In those dark months between New Year’s and the start of spring training when baseball writers become desperate for relevant topics to write about, I undertook a series titled “Who Are You“. The purpose of the series was simple enough: to familiarize myself (and by extension, you, the reader) with the overall profile of each new significant Phillies acquisition. We looked at guys like Jeremy Hellickson, Peter Bourjos, and Vince Velasquez whom we may have only had cursory knowledge of previously and attempted to form a relatively comprehensive picture of what to expect from each entering the 2016 season. What we didn’t do at the time was look at returning members of the Phillies in such a thorough fashion because, naturally, we already had reasonably clear understandings of each player.
It’s important to regularly update our understanding of players we already know because major leaguers are constantly adjusting and evolving. We’re able to do this by diving deep into things like Odubel Herrera‘s increased patience at the plate or Hector Neris‘ increased reliance on his killer splitter, but it’s rare to need to do a comprehensive deep dive on a player with whom you’re already familiar. On occasion, however, a player will make such a dramatic change that it’s necessary to completely scrap all prior understanding of a player and start completely fresh. This year, the Phillies have one of those players in Adam Morgan. It’s time to forget everything we thought we knew and ask the sole lefty in the Phillies rotation, “Who are you?”
Aaron Nola‘s curveball has received a lot of attention this year, and rightly so. Nola has seemingly ridden an increased use of the pitch to raise his profile from solid starter to hearing whispers of “ace” just a month into the season. His curveball is undeniably excellent, possibly the best in the baseball, and now he’s throwing it more often without any decrease in effectiveness.
It was a simple adjustment, and one that has been well documented. But while the curveball has gotten all the attention, it’s really only half the story behind Nola’s rise this year. The other half, the one where he has made the bigger adjustment, is the two seam fastball. Continue reading…
Jeremy Hellickson wasn’t particularly sharp during his outing against the Cardinals on Tuesday, but he very nearly made it twice through the order without yielding a run. In the fourth inning, however, he faced his 18th batter of the night and opposing pitcher Adam Wainwright stepped to the plate only to did this:
Hellickson managed to retire the Cardinals in order the following inning, but in the sixth it all fell apart in an instant. Three pitches into the inning and he’d allowed back-to-back homers to Matt Adams and Aledmys Diaz. For reasons passing understanding, no reliever was warming up so Hellickson was forced to face two more batters before being lifted from the game.
Struggles going deep into a game are nothing new for Jeremy Hellickson. Since 2014, Hellickson has allowed a .978 OPS the third time through the order despite allowing a .782 OPS overall. Of the 138 pitchers to throw 200+ innings over that time stretch only Jake Peavy had a wider OPS differential (.978 OPS third time through, .751 overall).
Happy Monday! The Phillies are 15-10, remarkably, and the team’s .600 winning percentage is fifth-best in the National League. The Phils have won six games in a row and nine of the last ten. They just swept the Nationals and the Indians, beating Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar along the way. Ryan Howard hit an extra innings walk-off homer against Cody Allen, one of the game’s best closers. The pitching staff has exceeded all expectations, and even the bullpen has come around. The catching duo has put up strong numbers at the plate. Most importantly, the team is having FUN and is a pleasure to watch.
Naturally, I’m here to destroy all hope and optimism you may have for the remaining five months of the season. With one month in the books, here’s how the Phillies’ hitters are performing and their corresponding rank among all 30 MLB teams.
Yesterday marked the third time in Jonathan Papelbon‘s last 11 outings that his performance has resulted in the Phillies taking an ultimately insurmountable lead in dramatic fashion. It’s glorious and, as Papelbon’s former teammate freely admitted, it’s not only the fans who think so:
Is the win even better that it came against Papelbon?
"Absolutely," said Cameron Rupp.
— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) April 29, 2016
That the result of the game was a sweep of the division rival Nationals and an improvement to two games above .500 for the first time since 2012 is remarkably fun, but I’m not sure it holds a candle to the excitement generated by what Aaron Nola did yesterday.
Last year Cesar Hernandez had a breakout campaign of sorts. With Chase Utley injured and then traded, Hernandez received extended major league playing time for the first time in his career. Out of minor league options, it was a sink or swim opportunity for Hernandez who faced a certain DFA if he couldn’t cut it as a starter. Fortunately for him, he passed the test well enough posting a 91 wRC+, stealing 19 bags, and exhibiting passable defense which resulted in him continuing on as the Phillies starting second baseman for another year.
The season, however, has gotten off to an incredibly rocky start for Hernandez. He’s made multiple blatant blunders on the basepaths and at the start of play on Sunday, he was hitting .246/.295/.316 with a painfully low 62 wRC+. But lest anyone start freaking out about his early struggles, Hernandez proceeded to go 5-for-8 with a double over the next two games and raise his season stat line to a markedly more palatable .292/.333/.369 and 87 wRC+. You know we’re still in the heart of small sample size season when a player raises his wRC+ 25 points with two games and just one extra base hit.
Nothing about what Hernandez has done this season indicates that he suddenly became a worse player from last year to this year, but the problem with Hernandez has always been this: nothing indicates improvement either. Let’s quickly run down Cesar Hernandez’s profile: