Spring Storylines: The First Base Black Hole

Well friends, we’ve finally come to the end. This season will be Ryan Howard‘s last in a Phillies uniform. He’ll receive his $25 million salary, then a $10 million buyout, and he’ll take his 380± home runs to an American League city (I’m assuming he hits about 20 homers in 2016). Until then, the Phillies will deploy Howard as the exceedingly expensive half of a first base platoon, which is just about the worst use of two roster spots on a young team I can imagine. That’s not a knock on Klentak & Co., as their hands are tied by a sunk cost incurred long before their stewardship of the local nine.

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Phillies PECOTA Projections

Yesterday, Baseball Prospectus released their annual PECOTA projections. PECOTA is a projection system which takes a player’s track record over the past few seasons and uses that data to project what a player is most likely to do over the upcoming season. Part of the process includes incorporating what comparable players have historically done at the same age as the player PECOTA is projecting.

Projections systems should obviously never be taken as gospel but they have real value in the sense that, unlike us flawed mortals, they’re not heavily impacted by recency bias. Humans are quick to forget what happened in recent years and, as a result, we have a tendency to overreact to breakout or breakdown seasons. Computers never forget.

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Spring Storylines: The Phillies’ (Temporary) Middle Infield Problem

By now you’ve probably heard of the Phillies’ next great shortstop, J.P. Crawford. The global top-10 prospect is likely to be manning the dirt at Citizens Bank Park sometime this summer, and if not, he’ll certainly be there for good on Opening Day 2017. In the meantime, you’ll be subjected to another season of a lot of Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. As much as I like both players’ personalities, their games aren’t exactly indicative of first division regulars, or even major league starters. The 26-year-old Galvis is a known quantity at this stage of his career, and his career 72 wRC+ tells you everything you need to know. He’s a (very) low-OBP bench/utility guy who can hit a homer once a month. Hernandez was, as you may recall, anointed as the team’s second baseman by former General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., before Chase Utley could even drag himself out of the trainer’s room.

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Who Are You: David Hernandez

This is part of an ongoing series profiling new members of the 2016 Phillies roster. Previous installments:

Jeremy Hellickson
Peter Bourjos
Charlie Morton
Vincent Velasquez


David Hernandez – RHP
Born: 5/13/85, entering age 31 season
Height: 6’3″, Weight: 245 lb.
2015: 1-5, 4.28 ERA, 33.2 IP,  22.9 K%, 7.6 BB%, 96 ERA+
Career: 25-35, 4.15 ERA, 414.1 IP, 23.2 K%, 9.8 BB%, 100 ERA+
Contract Status: 1-year/$3.9M

History

Drafted by the Orioles in the 16th round of the 2005 draft, David Hernandez came up through Baltimore’s system as a starting pitcher. His minor league numbers were rather ordinary — 28-27, 552.1 IP, 3.75 ERA, 9.8 BB% — except for a notably impressive strikeout rate of 27.1 percent. A successful start to the 2009 season in Triple-A led to Hernandez making his major league debut and, ultimately, starting 19 games that season for Baltimore.

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Who Are You: Charlie Morton

This is part of an ongoing series profiling new members of the 2016 Phillies roster. Previous installments:

Jeremy Hellickson
Peter Bourjos


Charlie Morton RHP
Born: 11/12/83, entering age 32 season
Height: 6’5″, Weight: 225 lb.
2015 Stats: 9-9, 4.81 ERA, 129 IP, 17.1 K%, 7.3 BB%, 57.3 GB%, 21.5 FB%, 80 ERA+
Career: 45-70, 4.54 ERA, 875.2 IP, 15.8 K%, 8.5 BB%, 55.3 GB%, 23.9 FB%, 84 ERA+
Contract Status: $8M in 2016; $9.5M team option for 2017 with a $1M buyout

History

In the 2002 MLB Draft, the Atlanta Braves took a local high school outfielder named Jeff Francoeur in the 1st round, a local high school catcher named Brian McCann in the 2nd round, and a high school pitcher from Connecticut named Charlie Morton in the third round. Francoeur and McCann went on to have success (and, in Francoeur’s case, failure) with the major league team, but Morton was traded less than a year after his 2008 MLB debut to the Pittsburgh Pirates with Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke for outfielder Nate McLouth.

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Looking Forward to the 2016 Season

In what is now an annual tradition for baseball stat nerds, FanGraphs has projected the standings for the upcoming season. It should come as no surprise that the Phillies are expected to once again put up the worst record in baseball, though they are at least projected to improve by three wins over last year at 66-96. Silver linings, right?

The Phillies haven’t made any real improvements on the major league roster, but full seasons from Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr plus the continued progression of Aaron Nola and Odubel Herrera should help make up for the loss of Ken Giles and the makeup of an uninspiring starting rotation. Though the on-field product doesn’t portend to be great, the 2016 season may be the most entertaining and exciting season for Phillies fans since 2011. Here’s why:

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Who Are You: Peter Bourjos

This is part of an ongoing series profiling new members of the 2016 Phillies roster. Previous installments:

Jeremy Hellickson


Peter Bourjos (OF) – RHB
Born:
3/31/87, entering age 29 season
Height: 6’1″, Weight: 185 lb.
Contract Status: Final year of arbitration; will be a free agent after the 2016 season
2015 Stats: 225 PA, 8.4 BB%, 26.2 K%, .263 BABIP, .200/.290/.333, 70 wRC+, -0.5 fWAR, -0.8 rWAR
Career: 1655 PA, 6.2 BB%, 23.4 K%, .304 BABIP, .241/.302/.380, 90 wRC+, 10.3 fWAR, 9.0 rWAR

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New Catching Metrics at Baseball Prospectus

Yesterday, Baseball Prospectus unveiled new metrics for quantifying catcher defense. I highly recommend reading the introduction for yourself, but if you’ll allow me to crudely summarize, there are four key metrics presented:

  • Swipe Rate Above Average (SRAA)
  • Takeoff Rate Above Average (TRAA)
  • Errant Pitches Above Average (EPAA)
  • Called Strikes Above Average (CSAA)

The first two metrics measure a catcher’s impact on the running game through the rate at which they throw runners out (SRAA) and the rate at which runners attempt to run on them (TRAA). EPAA measures pitch blocking and CSAA measures framing.

Their findings echo previous studies on the subject in that framing has, by far, the greatest in-game impact of these defensive skills. By these metrics, a catcher can add or subtract a couple runs of value through controlling the running game and/or blocking ability, but great pitch framers can add 20 or more runs of value while awful framers can lose 20+ runs. The best framing season on record (framing data now goes back to 1988) was Jonathan Lucroy‘s 2011 season in which he added 49.7 (!) Framing Runs Above Average. For the sake of comparison, by BP’s measure Mike Trout was worth 62.1, 60.9, and 73.5 Batting Runs Above Average (a measurement of offensive production at the plate before factoring in baserunning which uses a theoretically comparable value for “runs”) in the past three seasons.

Let’s take a look at how the Phillies catchers measure up.

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Who Are You: Jeremy Hellickson

This is the first post in a weekly series which will run each Thursday. Over the next several weeks, I’ll take a deep dive look at new members of the Phillies roster including guys like Peter Bourjos, Charlie Morton and, today’s subject, Jeremy Hellickson. We’re just a couple months away from settling down to watch these guys day-in and day-out for half a year, so let’s try to find out who they are and what to expect from them in 2016.


Jeremy Hellickson – RHP
Born:
4/8/87, entering age 29 season
Height: 6’1″, Weight: 190 lb.
2015 Stats: 9-12, 4.62 ERA, 146 IP, 19.0 K%, 6.8 BB%, 42.4 GB%, 36.5 FB%, 88 ERA+
Career: 49-48, 3.94 ERA, 786 IP, 17.6 K%, 7.6 BB%, 39.2 GB%, 40.5 FB%, 98 ERA+

History

A fourth round draft pick by Tampa Bay out of high school in 2005, Hellickson steadily rose to prospect stardom. Prior to his 2011 rookie season, he was ranked the #6 overall prospect by Baseball America, #9 overall by Baseball Prospectus, and #14 overall by Keith Law at ESPN. Scouts raved about his pin-point command, stellar changeup, solid fastball, and developing curveball.

He rode that prospect hype to an outstanding rookie campaign (189 IP, 2.95 ERA, 3.8 rWAR) which won him the AL Rookie of the Year award. His sophomore season was nearly as successful (177 IP, 3.10 ERA, 3.2 rWAR), but his initial success was riddled with red flags. The reason I used ERA to illustrate his success is that his peripheral stats told a remarkably different story. Including his 36.1 inning cup of coffee at the end of the 2010 season his 2010-2012 MLB stats were as follows:

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The Phillies Should Pass on Kenta Maeda

The Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Central League will post right-hander Kenta Maeda, as Jason Coskrey pointed out on Twitter on Thursday. Interested teams will have to submit a $20 million posting fee for the right to negotiate with Maeda. Teams which fall short in the bidding war will have their posting fees returned. The $20 million will go to the Carp as compensation; it is not considered part of Maeda’s actual contract.

There has been a run on starting pitching in free agency lately, with Jordan Zimmermann, David Price, Zack Greinke, John Lackey, and Jeff Samardzija all coming off the board. With some salary boundaries now defined and some competition out of the picture, Maeda should draw a fair amount of interest. Some have suggested that the Phillies, firmly in the next phase of their rebuilding process, should pursue Maeda. They should instead stand pat on this particular international talent.

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