Occasionally on baseball blogs with an analytical slant, it’s necessary to dive into the mundane and boring and, as luck would have it, the Phillies employ one of the most boring players in the sport. I’ll try to make this as quick and painless as possible, but it’s time to acknowledge the tediously dull performance of the Phillies freshly anointed closer, Ken Giles.
The Phillies made a couple of unheralded Rule 5 picks during the off-season, selecting pitcher Andy Oliver from the Pittsburgh Pirates and outfielder Odubel Herrera from the Rangers. Oliver showed some good swing-and-miss stuff, but faltered with his control and the Phillies wanted to send him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley rather than keep him on the major league roster. As was his right, Oliver elected to attempt to find work elsewhere, a decision that drew the ire of GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. and made headlines. Herrera was mostly forgotten about.
In early March, not knowing too much about the guy, I suggested Herrera could be “dynamic” for the Phillies. It didn’t appear that would be the case, as Herrera ended May with a .249 average and a .635 OPS while looking uncomfortable in center field.
Recently, a little debate stirred on the ol’ Internets when ESPN’s Keith Law cited Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur‘s negative WAR in response to a piece of trivia which painted the veteran in a positive light. Law isn’t wrong about Frenchy’s poor on-field value: Baseball Reference lists him with -0.3 WAR while FanGraphs has him at -0.2. That’s in line with his production over the previous two seasons, albeit in smaller sample sizes.
The Phillies have the best record in Major League Baseball during the second half partly because their offense is scoring runs at a prolific rate (5.24 R/G, T-1st in NL, T-3rd in MLB), partly because their pitching is preventing runs (3.31 ERA, 2nd in NL, 4th in MLB), and partly because baseball is weirder than a cat on catnip. Two of the heroes of the Phillies recent stretch of success are young hitters getting it done with impressive speed and contact abilities – Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez. Although these two players have produced similar value this season and are only a year and a half apart in age, there is significantly more room for optimism for one of these players over the other.
Here are their 2015 season stats through Sunday’s game:
The Phillies traded closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Washington Nationals yesterday, ending the right-hander’s four-year stint in Philadelphia after signing a record four-year, $50 million contract in November, 2011. Though he’ll be remembered more for his antics and media sound bites, Papelbon more than lived up to expectations given the size of his contract, compiling a 2.31 ERA with 123 saves, 252 strikeouts, and 52 walks in 237 2/3 innings with the Phillies. He leaves as the franchise leader in saves, displacing Jose Mesa.
Cole Hamels‘ no-hitter Saturday against the Chicago Cubs sent the Phillies’ record to 7-1 since the All-Star break, the best record in baseball — tied with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants — in that span of time. Their one loss was the 1-0 game against the Tampa Bay Rays in which Aaron Nola made his major league debut. At 36-63, the Phillies’ lead for the worst record in baseball has shrunk to 5.5 games over the Miami Marlins and seven games over the Colorado Rockies.
With a walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning yesterday against the Miami Marlins, Jeff Francoeur helped the Phillies polish off their first series sweep since May 15-17 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was Frenchy’s second big home run of the series and one of several timely hits he’s had this year. Observe:
A couple of weeks ago, I discussed GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s comments with which he pronounced Cesar Hernandez the heir to the throne of Chase Utley, sidelined with an ankle injury, at second base. Along with the plain old disrespect to Utley it showed, Amaro’s confidence in Hernandez relied a great deal on a three-week-long hot streak that was never going to last.
If one takes a job as the general manager of a baseball team and performs poorly, he likely will be able to find work again. A good GM could have poor results during a tenure for any number of reasons, so no one is going to immediately close the door on someone with job experience. Furthermore, a GM could learn from his past mistakes and become better at his job moving forward. Or he can work in another capacity, either with the same team or elsewhere. It’s hard to screw yourself out of future employment.
But, by golly, is Ruben Amaro, Jr. doing it. His tenure as GM of the Phillies has been wracked by bad trades and poor contracts, leading to the absolute cratering of a team that reached back-to-back World Series as recently as 2009. That, as much as we might hate to admit it, is defensible. The biggest mistakes Amaro has made at the helm of the Phillies have been with his mouth.
Cesar Hernandez extended his hitting streak to 10 games and stole two more bases in a 3-for-4 performance on Sunday, helping the Phillies end a six-game losing skid in a 4-0, 10-inning victory against the Atlanta Braves. He also made a stellar defensive play in the bottom of the 10th in support of Jonathan Papelbon. Hernandez is hitting .299/.385/.385 with 11 stolen bases in 202 plate appearances on the year, doing an admirable job filling in for the injured Chase Utley at second base.
Hernandez has quickly become a fan favorite as he’s one of a select few hitters in the lineup that has actually done anything productive at the plate over the course of the season. Among Phillies with at least 150 plate appearances, only Maikel Franco has posted a better weighted on-base average than Hernandez’s .345. Hernandez has a 34-point lead over Ben Revere in third place. He has also emerged as a speed threat with Revere, as the duo are the only Phillies with double-digits in stolen bases.