The Phillies Should Keep An Eye on Michael Saunders

Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders finally had a breakout year offensively, posting a .346 weighted on-base average. Only one problem: he only took 263 trips to the plate. Saunders had one stint on the disabled list between June 11-27 due to inflammation of the A/C joint in his right shoulder. Then, on July 11, Saunders again went on the disabled list, this time for a strained left oblique. He didn’t return until September 8. Still, he finished out the season strong, putting up a .257/.409/.543 triple slash line in 44 plate appearances.

Saunders showed good plate discipline, drawing walks at a 10 percent rate. He hit for decent power, posting a .177 isolated power, which is nearly 40 points above the major league average for outfielders. Defensively, both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference rated him as slightly above average, which contributed to his WAR range between 2-2.5 — quite good for less than half of a full season.

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Phillies at a Fork in the Road with the Starting Rotation

The Phillies could head in one of a number of directions during the off-season, depending on whether or not A.J. Burnett decides to return (it seems likely given a recent report), if Kyle Kendrick isn’t brought back, and if GM Ruben Amaro finds an irresistible trade offer for Cole Hamels. Assuming Cliff Lee makes a full recovery from the left elbow injury that cut his 2014 season short, he and David Buchanan could be the anchors of the starting rotation in this circumstance.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee, perhaps better than anyone, adroitly summarized the Phillies’ season after a loss to the Giants in his return from the disabled list on July 21. He farted.

Lee’s season wasn’t much better, as he made only 13 starts, due to two separate trips to the disabled list. The first, between May 19 and July 20, was due to a flexor pronator strain in his left arm. He returned, making three starts including the aforementioned outing against the Giants, before landing back on the shelf at the end of July with the same injury, ending his season.

When he was on the mound, he posted a 3.65 ERA with a 72/12 K/BB ratio in 81 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate fell a bit, but the ERA retrodictors were still fans of his work: FIP had him at 2.96 and his xFIP was only five points higher. The clear culprit for his inflated ERA was a .358 batting average on balls in play. Hard to blame him for that, particularly since his line drive rate wasn’t abnormally high. Lee continued to lose velocity on his fastball (down to 89.6 MPH on average from 90.7 in 2013 and 91.7 in 2012), but otherwise, he was the same old dominating lefty pitcher that we’ve come to know and love over the years.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Wil Nieves

As a former catcher (OK, in Little League) I have a soft spot for those brave souls who don the tools of ignorance. Some of my favorite Phillies are Darren Daulton, Mike Lieberthal, and Carlos Ruiz. Of course, my favorite catchers of all time are Crash Davis and Jake Taylor.

The catcher’s viewpoint is unique and beautiful, but comes with a heavy price: knee pain, foul tips off the mask, balls in the dirt, backswings, and hot, stinky umpire breath. The catcher is often looked upon (or perceived) as a team leader and a quasi-manager on the field. A catcher is asked to do so much more than any other player, which is why a catcher who can hit really well – like Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, or Jonathan Lucroy – is so impressive and valuable. Unfortunately for the Phillies, and despite attempts to address the issue, catching depth at the upper levels is a significant organizational problem. Continue reading…

Report: A.J. Burnett Likely to Return to the Phillies in 2015

Last week, CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury suggested that starter A.J. Burnett was leaning towards retirement. Salisbury added that Burnett didn’t have all that much fun in Philadelphia and kept game balls from his final start of the season, the 404th of his career, which is only a noteworthy game if it marked the end of his career.

However, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that it’s looking likely that Burnett will exercise his $12.75 million player option for the 2015 season with the Phillies, citing “people close to Burnett”.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Carlos Ruiz

Catcher Carlos Ruiz could have signed with another team — perhaps a contender, for one last shot at a championship — but both he and the Phillies decided to continue their partnership, agreeing on a three-year, $26 million contract last November. Ruiz became one of only three catchers to ink a contract of three years or longer during the off-season, joining Brian McCann (five years, $85 million with the New York Yankees) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three years, $21 million with the Miami Marlins).

To some, Ruiz was a microcosm of the modus operandi that has doomed the Phillies over the last five years: signing aging, injury-prone players to expensive multi-year deals. However, while the Phillies had catching depth, there was no obvious candidate with whom they felt comfortable starting five or six games a week. Cameron Rupp would have been the first choice, and the Phillies weren’t even confident in him backing up Ruiz, so they signed Wil Nieves for the back-up role in December. While Ruiz’s deal was for multiple years and relatively expensive given what other catchers received, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a contract that will affect their payroll flexibility nor does it have any sizable risk attached to it.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Jake Diekman

Here’s a pretty thing:

RP K IP K/9 G
Dellin Betances 135 90.0 13.50 70
Wade Davis 109 72.0 13.63 71
Aroldis Chapman 106 54.0 17.67 54
Brad Boxberger 104 64.2 14.58 63
Andrew Miller 103 62.1 14.93 73
Kenley Jansen 101 65.1 13.96 68
Jake Diekman 100 71.0 12.68 73
David Robertson 96 64.1 13.48 63
Craig Kimbrel 95 61.2 13.97 63
Cody Allen 91 69.2 11.84 76

That, friends, is a who’s who of the elite relief pitchers in Major League Baseball. Aroldis Chapman. Craig Kimbrel. Kenley Jansen. Wade Davis. Dellin Betances. Andrew Miller. And … Jake Diekman? The Phillies’ lefty from Nebraska, who was picked in the 30th round of the 2007 draft, finished seventh in the majors in strikeouts among qualified relief pitchers.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Marlon Byrd

In November, the Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract on the heels of a breakout season split between the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Phillies had just completed a season in which they saw Delmon Young, John Mayberry, and Darin Ruf take the bulk of the playing time in right field, only to compile an aggregate .297 wOBA compared to the .325 major league average. Though Byrd was 36, the thought was that his breakout was legitimate and he would stabilize the Phillies’ outfield along with Ben Revere and Domonic Brown.

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Five Things We Learned About the Phillies This Season

The Phillies are in Miami to face the Marlins in their final road series of the season. Then, they’ll head back to Philadelphia to wrap up the schedule at home against the Atlanta Braves. Most likely, they’ll finish in last place in the NL East with around 75 wins, another unremarkable season and the third consecutive season in which they’ve failed to reach the playoffs.

The front office will watch the playoffs from home before putting pen to paper to begin restructuring the team for a better outlook in 2015 and beyond. They can’t do that without first looking back and taking stock of everything they learned throughout the 2014 season. Here are five things we learned about the Phillies this season.

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