2016 Phillies Report Card: Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco is simple to explain. Consider, his entire season can be reduced to a pair of text messages sent to the author on June 5, 2016:

1. [2:00 PM]: Nice job by Franco turning 3-0 into an out. What a spaz.

2. [2:43 PM]: Nice job by Franco turning 0-2 into a rocket home run. What a beast.

For those even moderately aware of Franco’s play this year, the above requires no exposition. You may proceed to the arbitrary grade at the end of this post, decide upon the level of injustice committed, and file your grievance accordingly. For those who remain unsettled by such an abrupt depiction of Franco, let’s examine how these claims are able to distill a player into 124 characters of text.

Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Zach Eflin

There was probably an unrealistic expectation set over the summer of 2015. Within a single month’s time, Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff debuted for the Phillies. Nola was expected to be good. Eickhoff was expected to be not terrible. Both stepped onto a major league mound and immediately looked like quality rotation pieces.

Their sudden success made us briefly ponder a world where the Phillies were immune to things like “prospect attrition rates.” Then Zach Eflin stepped onto a major league mound and immediately looked like Sean O’Sullivan.

Continue reading…

Aaron Nola, In Three Parts

Philadelphia Phillies’ starting pitcher Aaron Nola has had interesting, but confusing, young career to date. The seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, Nola was considered as polished a pitching prospect as you’re likely to see. While Brandon Finnegan was the first 2014 draftee to reach the Majors – notably pitching in both the College World Series and Major League World Series in the same season – Nola was close behind. After only 164.2 innings in the Minors, he debuted on July 21, 2015 and took no time to adjust. Known for his deceptive delivery, advanced command, and a strong fastball/curveball combination, he appeared to immediately live up to his mid-rotation projection.

However, a visualization of Nola’s 188.2 Major League innings would probably resemble something like a performance rollercoaster, and could be split into three different periods, each relatively equal in chronological time.

Source IP Pitches/IP Strike % K% BB% GB% BABIP Hard% SwStr% ERA-
7/21/2015-9/26/2015 77.2 14.4 65.4% 21.4% 6.0%  47.6% 0.289 28.8% 8.6% 93
4/6/2016-6/5/2016 78.0 14.7 68.0% 27.2% 4.8%  53.9% 0.270 24.2% 10.5% 64
6/11/2016-7/28/2016 33.0 19.6 62.9% 21.1% 8.2%  57.8% 0.451 37.1% 8.0% 238

A lot of really great writing has been done about Nola’s career so far, and I’m going to reference a lot of it here. However, looking at Nola’s 2016 season line, I haven’t been able to square how well he did in almost all areas with how many runs were scored while he was on the mound. For instance, Nola’s 55.2 percent groundball rate was among the 10 best in baseball, minimum 100 innings pitched. His 19.1 percent K-BB rate was one of the 20 best rates. He didn’t even have an unusually high home run rate – it was exactly league average. It’s hard to be a pitcher with both a great FIP and groundball rate and still allow an above average number of runs.

So, let’s take a look at Nola, and not only take a look at what’s happened during each of these three periods, but also at what makes him successful in the first place. First, a quick acknowledgement to Mike Fast, whose old blog inspired some of the visualizations and tables below. His three part series analyzing then-player, now-manager Brian Bannister was particularly influential.

Let’s begin by taking a look at each period of Nola’s Major League career individually.

Continue reading…

An Incremental Improvement

In a move that shows just how easy it is to improve the Phillies’ roster, Matt Klentak struck yet another trade in the early offseason. Howie Kendrick will bring his league average bat to Philadelphia, presumably to play a league average left field, and to run the bases in a somewhat league average manner. Heading to LA are the inexplicably divisive Darin Ruf and a confused Darnell Sweeney, who was reportedly last seen mumbling to himself, “No…the Dodgers traded me…to the Phillies.”

Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Hector Neris

Entering the 2016 season, Hector Neris was largely written off as another middling to useless reliever on a team that appeared to be suffering from an epidemic of that sort. Enabling the stereotype were lofty numbers like 4.72 and 1.79, or the respective FIP and HR/9 that Neris pitched to the year prior. The Phillies’ bullpen looked like an impending train wreck, and Neris’ inclusion on the train was mostly seen as inconsequential. Mostly.

Continue reading…

Phillies Acquire Solid Bullpen Arm

In the first significant move of the Phillies’ offseason, Matt Klentak acquired reliever Pat Neshek in a trade with the Houston Astros. The Phillies immediately exercised the 2017 team option in Neshek’s contract for a reported $6.5 million. Packing their bags for Houston are either a PTBNL or cash considerations, which is baseball parlance for “who cares?”

Continue reading…

Odubel Herrera Is Not Having A Bad Season

There’s been a modest amount of discussion late this season about the Phillies potentially trading young, All-Star center fielder Odubel Herrera. There are no real indications from the team itself that they look to trade him this offseason, but a perceived combination of a worse total performance (particularly in the second half), and concerns about attitude (largely the idea that he started to coast after making the All-Star team) have lead some local fans and pundits to want to cash out on the former Rule 5 pick.

I’m not in the clubhouse, so I can’t (and won’t) really speak to the latter concern. However, I can certainly comment about the former concern. The idea Odubel Herrera is having a worse season than in 2015 is really not based on much of substance. His 9.9 percent walk rate is almost double last season’s 5.2 percent rate, his strikeout rate is down by four percentage points, and his .134 ISO is moderately improved over last season’s .121 mark. He’s stolen 22 bases and hit 14 home runs, 6 more than each of his respective totals last season.

In fact, with one notable exception, he’s outperformed his ZIPS projections in every rate category (BB%, K%, ISO, AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, SB%), while proving himself to be very durable. He’s also swung and missed a little bit less often, and has improved his swing selection by a tiny bit.ZIPS projected moderate regression from his rookie year, but his performance in almost every one of those categories is also in line with or better than his 2015 season. Basically, in all respects other than BABIP, Odubel Herrera’s offensive season is remarkably the same as last year – if not slightly more refined.

Continue reading…

Alec Asher Returns Armed With Two-Seam Focus And Deception

The day before Alec Asher‘s first Major League start of the 2016 season, Matt Breen of Philly.com noted that the right-handed pitcher was returning to the Majors with a new two-seam grip on his fastball. Developed at the request of the Phillies, the pitch propelled Asher to success in the early part of the Minor League season. He still didn’t strike out many batters, but he did produce encouraging 51 percent groundball and 4 percent walk rates over 12 starts.

The pitch is largely necessary because his previous fastball – a four-seam grip – was not only below-average in terms of speed, but also in terms of movement. Without life or velocity, it was crushed by opposing Major League hitters during his seven start debut in 2015. In Breen’s article, Pete Mackanin said the new pitch provides batters a second look, but at least in Asher’s two starts so far, it’s more of the primary look.

Continue reading…

Vince Velasquez and Secondaries

Vince Velasquez‘s 2016 season is officially in the books and it’s hard to find much to complain about. Despite a brief trip to the disabled list in June and an early September shutdown, he set a career high innings total at 136 and crossed the 100 innings mark for the first time since 2013. He struck out 27.6% of batters faced which ranks 9th in the majors among pitchers with 130+ innings and demonstrated an ability to maintain elite fastball velocity deep into outings. Although his run prevention leaves room for improvement (4.12 ERA), the overall performance was solid and more than a little encouraging for the 24-year-old in his first full season as a major league starter.

However, that’s not to say Velasquez is a finished product. His biggest weakness is the cause of his high rate of pitches per plate appearances — his 4.01 P/PA ranks 21st of 126 qualified pitchers — which, by extension, limited him to less than seven innings in 21 of his 24 starts this season. That weakness? You can either call it fastball over-reliance or ineffective secondaries depending on how you want to slant it.

Continue reading…

The Best Pitch In Baseball

In only his second start as a major leaguer, Jake Thompson took the mound against the Colorado Rockies and, despite the mathematical issues that make such an accomplishment improbable, proceeded to record four strikeouts in a single inning, becoming the first Phillies pitcher to do so since 1902. To execute such a feat, Thompson took advantage of an archaic and confusing baseball rule that, for the benefit of the reader, may be loosely translated as follows:

If, with two strikes in the count, a batter proceeds to swing at a pitch so far removed from the strike zone that it is not only unhittable, but uncatchable by the very player whose designation is to catch the baseball, then the batter may commence as if he, by virtue of his own skill, put the ball in the actual field of play.

The seemingly inane rule allowed us to witness a pitching event that occurs more infrequently than the much celebrated no-hitter. But more relevant to the author’s intentions, it has given us a pretense upon which to discuss the pitch not only directly responsible for the rule’s enforcement, but also largely instrumental in the consequent four strikeouts. That is, Jake Thompson’s slider.

Continue reading…