What Should the Phillies Have Discussed in their Team Meeting?

After Thursday night’s 13-2 loss against the Blue Jays, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin held a team meeting to discuss the Phillies’ poor play of late. After starting the season 24-17, the young team has been much worse over the past 30 days, with a record of 6-20. While the meeting may have simply been filled with platitudes about “working harder day in and day out” and “keeping your heads up,” I wanted to find concrete things the Phillies could do better to recapture some of their early season magic.

Offense

Over the past 30 days, the Phillies have easily the worst wRC+ among Major League teams. Their 68 wRC+ is a full 8 points lower than the White Sox in 29th place. Their hitters have the second-lowest walk rate, and the highest K%-BB%. They also have the lowest WAR at 0.0. In short, the Phillies need to do everything better. But that’s not exactly instructive, so let’s dig in and find a few specific things the lineup could improve upon. Continue reading…

Tommy The Usurper

For the first time in almost 11 years, Ryan Howard is not the Phillies’ everyday first baseman. What did it take to supplant the former National League Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and World Series champ?

It took a former second round pick drafted out of high school in Scottsdale, Arizona. It took a prospect originally acquired in the 2012 trade that sent Hunter Pence to San Francisco. It took a Triple-A performance from a catcher-turned first baseman that the big league club couldn’t ignore. It took Tommy Joseph.

Even given Howard’s vile 2016 performance—his .150 batting average is worst of any major leaguer with 100 plate appearances—there was reason to not rush Joseph into a starting role. An injury-plagued minor league career saw Joseph appear in just 176 games (671 plate appearances) in the Phillies organization between August 2012 and May 2016, when he was called up to the bigs. His experience in the minors fell far short of what one would normally expect from a 24-year-old career minor leaguer.

Continue reading…

Franco’s Problems Are Popping Up

There is one number that sums up the frustration of Maikel Franco‘s season thus far: 26.5%. That’s the percentage of hard hit balls, according to Baseball Info Solutions, that he has hit this year, and that ranks him 151st out of 175 qualified hitters in MLB. It’s not that Franco is incapable of hitting the ball hard, as he has certainly shown the ability to crush a baseball. His problem is in doing it with any consistency.

The obvious answer to this is the approach. Franco is an aggressive swinger, and this year he has increased his rate of swings specifically on pitches in the strike zone. This aggressiveness would be justified if he was choosing the right pitches to swing at, but a small piece of Franco’s batted ball profile hints that he is not.

Continue reading…

Exploiting Bottom of the Zone Amplifies Phils’ Dominant Curveballs

Last week I explored the Phillies’ pitching staff’s ability to make hitters chase pitches while keeping swing rates down on balls in the zone. The numbers are staggering, but how exactly are they doing it? The answer: their most potent weapon, the curveball, plays incredibly well off their location-based, non-overpowering fastballs.

Exploiting the bottom-most edge of the strike zone makes a lot of sense given the current make-up of the arms manager Pete Mackanin sends to the mound. The staff as a whole lacks the dominant velocity that allows some leeway when leaving balls up in the zone. Despite an average fastball velocity only better than the Angels and Astros, according to Statcast, opponents haven’t punished the Phils’ offerings up over the plate.

Opponents are slugging .494 (eleventh-lowest in the league) against Phillies’ fastballs up in the zone with middle tier .224 isolated power. The teams with the three highest opposing batting averages against fastballs up in the zone all rank in the bottom five in average fastball velocity. But the Phillies are the outlier. Continue reading…

Let’s Talk About Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco is not off to the start Phillies fans hoped to see. He’s posted a 91 wRC+ and his 0.2 fWAR ranks 25th of 26 qualified major league third basemen. Last night, he hit his ninth home run of the year and over his past ten games he’s batting .306/.350/.500; so, maybe a corner has been turned. But whether brighter days are on the horizon or not, it’s worth taking the time to look at what’s gone wrong.

I’ve stopped and started writing an analysis on Franco’s struggles multiple times over the past month, and the reason why I haven’t completed one until now isn’t good. It’s been hard to find an interesting or compelling angle on this analysis because what Franco has been doing is in line with his known profile. To be clear, there have been changes and areas where we can expect to see Franco improve going forward, and we’ll get to those; but, overall, what’s happened in 2016 so far aligns well with what we know to be true about him. Maikel Franco has been Maikel Franco this year and, given the results, that’s a scary thing.

If you were to boil down Franco’s offensive profile to one sentence, it might look something like this: Franco is an aggressive hitter with power and strong bat-to-ball skills. Now check out Brooks Baseball’s automatically generated profile of Franco at the plate in 2016:

Continue reading…

The Spin On Bailey’s Fastball

Andrew Bailey‘s four seam fastball is a remarkable pitch. At 2693 RPM, it leads all major league fastballs in spin rate. To quote directly from the Statcast glossary on the benefits of increased spin on a pitch:

“As more data have become available, most experts have agreed that fastballs and breaking balls are tougher to hit when they possess higher Spin Rates. In fact, some data suggest that Spin Rate correlates more closely than Velocity to swinging-strike percentage.”

The results that Bailey has received from his fastball attest to this statement. While major league pitchers average around a 7% swinging strike rate on the four seam fastball, Bailey has gotten whiffs at a 15.7% clip this year.  And when batters have put the pitch in play, the resultant exit velocity is on par with that against Clayton Kershaw‘s fastball.

Continue reading…

Against Starting Rotation, Opponents’ Plate Discipline Vanishes

Past the 50 game-mark, it’s time to—ever so slowly—place the small sample size disclaimers in the rearview mirror and appreciate the corps of young arms that has single-handedly made this Phillies team not only watchable, but an above .500 ball club for the vast majority of the season despite a wholly depressing offensive effort.

The rotation, averaging just over 25-and-a-half years old on the second-youngest team in the bigs (averaging 27.4 years old), ranks seventh in the league in WAR (5.6) even after coming back to down to earth a bit in the last handful of weeks. With surprising depth, it is believed the starters have sped up the rebuild by as much as a full year. But, while the jury is still out on the exact timetable, it’s important to note just how this rotation is succeeding without much major league experience—besides elder statesman Jeremy Hellickson, six years removed from winning the American League Rookie of the Year—or overpowering arms. Continue reading…

Don’t Go Soft On Odubel

Among the reasons behind Odubel Herrera’s continued breakout, none is more notable than his improved plate discipline. The story is well known by now. He was a bit of a free swinger last year, offering at 35.1% of pitches outside of the strike zone. This year, he’s cut that down to 29.4%, which is right in line with the league average. The effects have been apparent. He’s drawing walks at a much improved rate, and he’s getting himself into more favorable hitter’s counts. The result is a .441 on-base percentage that ranks second in the league. But Odubel has made another adjustment this year, and one that has been equally important to his success as a hitter.

Continue reading…

There’s Something Wrong with Jerad Eickhoff

Jerad Eickhoff has a problem: he is completely ineffective against left handed hitters. To this point, he’s been able to hide the extent of the issue by maintaining a respectable overall stat line, and he’s done this by keeping right handed batters in check. As bad as Eickhoff has been against lefties, he’s dominated righties to a similar extent.

Batter K-BB% OPS wOBA FIP
Lefty 10% .878 .371 4.76
Righty 25% .502 .218 2.25

The difference is drastic, and the problem is that he’s unlikely to improve on that extreme level of dominance against right handed batters. So if you’re looking for consistency or improvement out of Eickhoff, he’s going to need to resolve the issue against lefties.

Continue reading…

There’s Nothing Wrong With Jerad Eickhoff

This headline could make me look foolish depending on the outcome of tonight’s game, but despite his relative struggles (4.43 ERA this year vs. 2.65 ERA in 2015), there’s nothing to indicate that Jerad Eickhoff has been a worse pitcher this season than last.

First things first, let’s take a look at Eickhoff’s underlying stats this year versus last.

Capture

As you can see, his HR/FB% and BABIP have both increased since last year, while his rate of runners left on base plummeted almost 15 percentage points. However, his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA have hardly changed, despite the roughly 2 run difference in ERA.

Continue reading…