A Phillies Pitcher Is Throwing The Least Hittable Pitch In The Majors

As today’s reminder that small sample size statistics and factoids should be served with a grain of salt the size of a boulder, I offer this: What do major league pitchers and the Atlanta Braves have in common? Both groups of players have hit three home runs this season. Don’t get me wrong, the Braves employ a lineup that makes the 2016 Phillies look like a semi-competent offensive force, but over the course of a full season it’s safe to say even they will be able to outslug pitchers.

With that caveat in mind, I’d like to present one of my current favorite leaderboards:

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Checking Up On Jerad Eickhoff’s Changeup

Yesterday Spencer Bingol provided a great break down of Jerad Eickhoff‘s current repertoire and the ways in which it’s helped Eickhoff exceed expectations to date. If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend reading that piece because it provides the foundation for the analysis to follow.

The most defining characteristic of Eickhoff’s early career is his extraordinarily effective curveball. As Bingol illustrates, he also unleashes a slider which induces whiffs at a high rate which may not be entirely sustainable and a relatively non-descript fastball. But his fourth pitch, the changeup, is by far the weakest and, consequently, least used pitch in his arsenal.

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Positive signs from expectation-exceeding Jerad Eickhoff

Scouting baseball players has traditionally relied on the 20-80 scouting scale. It’s a system for grading both individual skills (called “tools”), and total value of the player. It mirrors the 68-95-99.7 Rule in statistics, referencing the percentage of values contained within one, two, and three standard deviations of the mean of a normal distribution. A “50” grade player represents a Major League average talent, a “60” grade player represents a well above-average talent (a likely All-Star), and a “40” grade player represents a talent equally far in the opposite direction (a bench player, sixth starter, etc.).

As the name implies, the scale extends in both directions to evaluations of “20” (organizational filler) and “80” (a superstar). This system doesn’t imply that there are an equal number of 20-grade and 80-grade talents in the world – obviously, the former outnumbers the latter – however, it attempts to describe the distribution of talent in the Major leagues, and organizational filler very rarely receives a roster spot.

Enter Jerad Eickhoff. Continue reading…

Guest Post: Aaron Nola Proving He Knows How To Pitch

This guest post was written by Ben Harris. Follow him on Twitter: @Ben27Harris

With 2016 came the Phillies first full campaign boasting their hopeful future trio of young rotation arms. Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vincent Velasquez had just 28 combined starts during their rookie years in 2015. But, to open this season, the trio of right-handers – whose average age rests just above 23 and a half – have dissected opponents in unique ways, providing Phillies’ faithful with bright rays of hope.

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Odubel Herrera’s Refined Plate Discipline

Believe it or not, the Phillies outfield has not been the worst offensive outfield in the majors so far this season. While their cumulative slashline of .162/.255/.279 is truly abysmal, Twins outfielders have managed to produce an even worse .171/.252/.236 line. The one person keeping the Phillies out of last place in this category has been center fielder Odubel Herrera.

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The Young Pitching Trio By The Numbers

The first week of the Phillies season couldn’t have gone much better. To accept this fact, you must buy in on the philosophy we’re working under this season which is that two things don’t matter for the 2016 Phillies: 1) the team’s win-loss record and 2) the performance of roster placeholders. Yes, it’s possible that players under contract for just 2016 like Jeremy Hellickson or David Hernandez may build up a modicum of trade value, but the likely return on any of this team’s free-agents-to-be is small enough as to be hardly worth mentioning. All that truly matters is the continued development and performance of the Phillies next wave of talent.

From this mindset, the only disappointment thus far is Odubel Herrera who racked up just four hits through the first week of the season. Of course yesterday he went 1-for-3 with a homer and a walk and with a few more games like that he’ll be right back on track.

The big positives have been exceedingly encouraging. There’s Maikel Franco who is hitting .333/.429/.556 through 21 plate appearance and looks to be picking up right where he left off when a hit by pitch essentially ended his 2015 season and then there’s the extraordinarily promising young trio of starting pitchers. Through one turn in the rotation, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez have combined for this stellar pitching line:

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Positional Preview: The Starting Rotation

When the Crashburn Alley crew received its year-end report card assignments for the 2015 season, I somehow managed to end up with the unenviable task of writing up Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, AND Sean O’Sullivan. You can read my thoughts on those three fellows here (Harang), here (Williams), and here (SOS). Without forcing you to relive the tire fire that was the 2015 Phillies starting rotation, I’ll simply say you’re in for a much more pleasant experience this season. Now, with no further discussion of that 2015 rotation ever ever ever, I present your shiny, new Phillies starting pitchers.

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Positional Preview: The Infield

Now this is a story all about how my infield got flipped, turned upside down…

Sorry, I’m feeling nostalgic after Jimmy Rollins agreed to a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox yesterday (instead of the San Francisco Giants). In December 2014, Rollins was traded to the Dodgers in a somewhat complicated deal that netted the Phillies two pitching prospects, Tom Windle and Zach Eflin. The painful but necessary trade shifted Freddy Galvis into a starting spot, and broke up the Ruiz-Howard-Utley-Rollins infield core that the Phillies had deployed every season since 2007. The 2015 Phillies began with Chase Utley at second base, but we all know that didn’t last until the end of the season. Now, with Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard both entering the last year of their contracts, the Phillies embark on the final season with the remaining members of their greatest infield ever. It’s a team and a positional group in transition. Who can we expect to form the infield of 2016? Let’s start at the center of the action, behind the plate. Continue reading…

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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