Odubel’s Impending Breakout

Much of Odubel Herrera’s offense last year was tied to an incredible success rate on converting batted balls into hits. His .387 average on balls in play led the league, and it led Odubel to one of the most successful Rule 5 seasons in recent memory. But outside of that unsustainable number, the rest of his offense fell far short of impressive. His walk rate, strikeout rate, and power were all below average. And without improvements in any of those areas, the inevitable regression in his BABIP was going to sink his offense altogether.

So coming into the 2016 season, Odubel made immediate improvements in two of those categories. He learned the value of taking a free pass, and even though he’s far removed from what he did in April, he’s still drawing walks at a league average level. He also started making more contact, which significantly lowered his strikeout rate in the process. Those two adjustments alone gave him a sustainable way to maintain a higher on-base percentage, and ultimately raised his floor as a hitter. But there’s yet another emerging trend in his numbers that might portend even bigger things for Odubel.

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The Curious Case of Cameron Rupp’s Exit Velocity

At the risk of sounding like an outdated Charmin Ultra commercial, sometimes in baseball, less is more.

Take Cameron Rupp. Through 118 plate appearances in the first two months of the season, no one in Major League Baseball with at least 20 balls in play recorded a higher average exit velocity (95.7 mph).

Exit velocity is not an established science that, upon its unveiling by Statcast, magically provided the key to understanding hitting. However, several correlations have been drawn to offensive production. Like any new metric, it has shortcomings and limits to its application. In the 2015 season, when segmenting exit velocities into 5 mph ranges (90-94, 95-99, etc.), batting averages rose with each incremental rise in exit velocity. Increased batted ball speeds also correlate to increased slugging percentage. Continue reading…

Surprising Offensive Breakouts in June

Quick, name the Phillies top four performers in the month of June by wRC+. Exclude Edubray Ramos‘ one walk in one plate appearances and you’ll come up with a list of four that might not be terribly shocking if you watched the Phillies all month, but would shock the heck out of you if you were shown the list on May 31st. The fabulous four are as follows:

Phillies Top Offensive Performers – June 2016
Player PA wRC+
Peter Bourjos 67 190
Cameron Rupp 75 148
Cody Asche 90 115
Cesar Hernandez 85 104

There is one other Phillie who recorded a wRC+ above league average (100) during the month of June: Maikel Franco, 101 wRC+. It’s great to see him doing better at the plate, but a league average bat hardly classifies as a surprising breakout for him. Offensive expectations for Franco are high. Offensive expectations for Bourjos, Rupp, Asche, and Hernandez, on the other hand? Let’s just say they’re less high. So what’s going on? Small sample flukes? Legitimate breakouts? The creation of viable trade chips? The development of players who will contribute to the next winning Phillies teams?

Let’s break it down one at a time.

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Asche Found His Bat

Back in 2013, Cody Asche made his major league debut for the Phillies following a quick rise through their minor league system. While he wasn’t topping any prospect lists, Asche looked to have a capable bat, and he represented a much needed injection of youth in an otherwise aging roster. But the capable bat didn’t fully translate to the major league level, and Asche spent the next few years posting consistently sub-par offensive numbers while working his way down the defensive spectrum. So coming into the 2016 season, it’s fair to say that most fans had given up on Asche as any part of the team’s future.

But following an oblique strain that kept him sidelined through the end of May, Asche has spent the better part of the last month looking like the hitter the Phillies thought they were getting back in 2013. Through 80 plate appearances this year, Asche has a wOBA of .343, a number that places him 14% better than the league average. And while this wouldn’t be the first time Asche has hit this well over the course of a month, it is the first time his success at the plate is supported by any underlying changes.

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Is 2016 Offense Worst in Phillies History?

In a season once illuminated by a delightful yet fleeting month-and-a-half of overachievement, the Phillies uninspiring offensive attack has once again grabbed the headlines as they enter the meat of their summer schedule. Manager and resident mad scientist Pete Mackanin has done everything in his power to concoct a productive lineup, testing 68 different batting orders through the first 77 games. Who can blame him?

The team’s recent streak of hot hitting hasn’t significantly boosted the their overall numbers, or even put more tallies in the win column for that matter. Led by none other than offensive tour de force Peter Bourjos, the Phils have nearly doubled their run production in their last six games, posting six runs per contest, but have generated just a 2-4 record to show for it. In their first 71 games on the year, they scored all of 3.11 runs per game. While this offensive hot hand is surely just a blip on the radar, a faint mirage in the early summer heat, it got me thinking: just how bad is this offense really?

Well, buckle up.

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What’s Wrong With Aaron Nola?

The 2016 Phillies were supposed to be a terrible team and lately they’ve been living up (or down) to that expectation. What was not expected, however, was the complete deterioration of Aaron Nola‘s early season success. Entering play on June 11th, Nola had a 2.65 ERA, but now, three starts later, that ERA has risen all the way to 4.11.

2016 Aaron Nola
GS IP H ER R BB K ERA OPS
Through 6/10 12 78 62 29 23 15 85 2.65 .580
Since 6/10 3 9.2 22 20 17 7 10 15.83 1.191

He’s gone from one of the best pitchers in the league to a guy who is allowing the opposition to hit like peak Barry Bonds. That’s… well, it’s not good. But is it worth worrying about? Is it just three starts or is it a sign that something is wrong with the 23-year-old pitcher who looked, just weeks ago, like he could be a top of the rotation pitcher for the Phillies for the foreseeable future?

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In June, Eickhoff Increasing Slider Usage and Effectiveness

Much has been made of the importance of furnishing Jerad Eickhoff’s arsenal with an offering that complements his existing fastball-curveball combination.

After Eickhoff’s initial success in April that featured his curveball nearly every third pitch (4-for-48, .098 batting average and .244 slugging), hitters began to lay off his deuce and do damage against his fastballs. Only 26 at-bats in May ended in a curve. With a heater and a hook that the league had adjusted to, Eickhoff was faced with the most important hurdle all wannabe starters must surmount: what’s your third pitch?

Starters essentially can’t exist in the majors with only two offerings, regardless of how devastating they are. Especially not one who entered the season with just 51 major league innings on his resume. Eickhoff couldn’t effectively set down big league hitters once the book was out on both pitches.

In his newly polished slider, Eickhoff has found that elusive third pitch.

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Odubel Herrera Isn’t Walking Anymore

Aside from a shockingly positive win-loss record, the most talked about development of the early Phillies’ 2016 season was the explosion of Odubel Herrera‘s walk rate. Herrera said that he was disappointed with his rookie season strike out, and merely worked in the offseason to improve on his discipline. Whatever he did, it certainly worked early on – through the end of April, his 22.1 percent walk rate was tied for the league lead with Paul Goldschmidt.

However, much like that unexpected early season success, Odubel hasn’t maintained the walk rate. He’s still been a productive hitter (126 wRC+), but a rate that was tied for the league lead in April became tied for 69th in May, and has only been tied for the 114th-highest June walk rate (through 6/21). His cumulative 13.3 percent walk rate is still among league leaders – it just appears to have regressed to the mean over the last two months.

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The Potentially Underrated Tyler Goeddel

The Phillies are a difficult team to watch right now. The unexpected, early season run is over, the briefly dominant pitching has taken a few steps backwards, and the offense has slowly ground to a complete halt. The upper levels of the minors seem to be teeming with exciting prospects, but we’re stuck in limbo until the front office deems them ready to handle a major league job. The only fun in watching a game these days is following the few players on the team that have both youth and potential still on their side. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see one such young player, Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel, riding the bench on a regular basis.

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Severino Gonzalez, Flamethrower

In a somewhat problematic admission as it relates to my baseball writing career, I’m still fairly new to the sport. I didn’t actually start following along until the end of my freshman year of college, and as I’m oft to mention, the first game I watched from start to finish was Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. As someone from South-Eastern Pennsylvania, that’s not an ideal first memory.

However, I caught on, and as a result of this late start, I’ve always had a fascination with likely-fungible-relief-arm Severino Gonzalez. A great story (a $14,000 signing as an undersized 18-year old in Panama), he was putting up video game numbers in the waning Venezuelan Summer League in 2012, and the low minors in 2013, as I was gaining an understanding of the Minor Leagues and the prospect industry. I didn’t *really* have an appreciation of the relationship between advanced command and low-minors video game numbers, so despite his size and lack of inherent stuff, he always seemed like an overlooked and underrated prospect.

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