Where Have Jeremy Hellickson’s Strikeouts Gone?

Jeremy Hellickson entered the 2017 season as the Phillies’ de facto ace. After last season, in which he posted the highest K-BB% and fWAR numbers of his career, expectations were high for the 28-year-old. Through two starts, the results are better than the Phillies could have hoped for. He’s tossed 10 innings and allowed only one run for a 0.90 ERA, and those two starts account for two of the Phillies three wins thus far. He hasn’t allowed a home run yet, and his walk rate is the lowest of his career. Opponents are hitting just .124 against him.

All of that sounds great, but it’s tainted by a disturbing lack of strikeouts. Hellickson has punched out just 3 hitters so far, out of the 39 hitters he’s faced, “good” for a 7.7 K%. That’s currently the lowest in the league among the 102 qualified pitchers. I have no idea what the cutoff for a qualified pitcher is nine games into the season, but among all those pitchers, Hellickson is striking out the fewest hitters.

So what is wrong with Hellickson? I guess you could say nothing because he’s still getting results. But from a sustainability side of things, it looks like something’s gotta give, maybe as soon as his his start tomorrow. Hitters have whiffed at just 5.8% of the pitches against Hellickson, compared with 10.8% last year.  That’s fourth worst among qualified pitchers, just ahead of Bartolo Colon (6.30 ERA). Continue reading…

Another Crashburn Transition

When Spencer Bingol approached me in December about joining Crashburn Alley, I was extremely honored to both join a site with a writing crew of Ben Harris, Tim Guenther, Michael Schickling, Dave Tomar, Adam Dembowitz (emeritus), and Brad Engler (emeritus) as well as a site that once hosted the writings of Bill Baer, Michael Baumann, Eric Longenhagen, and Corinne Landrey. I stumbled upon Crashburn Alley during the Great Phillies Blog Explosion of the mid-aughts and immediately was taken by, what seemed to me at the time, a new and different approach to baseball. While there were enough Phillies blogs around at the time to fill a full NCAA Tournament-style bracket, it was Crashburn Alley alone that captured the intellectual and emotional attention of this Phillies fan. To be asked to become managing editor of that same site that fueled my fandom during the Phillies most recent glory years was the greatest honor of my writing career.

This week, I will start a new writing job with MLB.com‘s Cut4 site, which means–like it did for Corinne before–that I will no longer be able to remain as managing editor at Crashburn Alley. The list of Crashburn Alley alumni who have gone on to full-time jobs with both Major League Baseball teams and baseball writing, speaks unmistakable volumes about the quality of work that has appeared and continues to appear at this site.

It has been a pleasure to write here for the past three months and interact with you, the reader, through the comment sections of various posts as well as through questions to the Crash Bag. I remember well my first time reading a Michael Baumann Crash Bag and thinking,” I want to do that.” Crashburn Alley, then, was not only the source that sparked the intensity of my Phillies fandom, but my love of baseball writing. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I owe much of where I am now as a writer and baseball fan to this very site.

As Corinne noted in her farewell post in September, Crashburn Alley is truly a tremendous place to write not only because of the other fantastic writers I get to share the masthead with, but because of the community established by you, the readers. It is not easy to step away from that, but I am happy that my stepping away allows someone else to step up. Bill, Corinne, Spencer, and I are excited to announce that, starting today, Matt Winkelman is the new Managing Editor of Crashburn Alley.

You are undoubtedly familiar with Matt’s work. He started his own website a couple years back–Phillies Minor Thoughts–that, as its name suggests, focuses primarily on the Phillies minor league system and prospects. Most recently, he has also been writing at The Good Phight, where, among other things, he hosts a fantastic weekly prospect mailbag. His knowledge of the Phillies minor league system is unrivaled in the public realm and, in addition, his fluency in analytics provides a strong undercurrent in his writing. I have admired his writing–and, admittedly, been jealous of it–for years now. I have absolutely no doubt that he will do a fantastic job here. I unequivocally believe that Crashburn Alley could not be in better hands.

I want to thank Spencer, Corinne, and Bill for giving me the opportunity to write here for the last three months and Tim, Michael, Dave, Ben, Brad, and Adam for their contributions to the site during my brief tenure here. I’ll still be around on Twitter (@CF_Larue) and, if you want to keep reading my baseball-specific work, you can do so at Cut4. In the meantime, enjoy Matt’s always-excellent work here at Crashburn Alley.

A Fond Farewell

“…to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”   ~T.S. Eliot

To the Crashburn Alley readers, my fellow writers, editor, and especially Corinne Landrey and Bill Baer, the former editors who created and helped shape this incredible outlet into what it is today:

Today marks an end. But as the poet T.S. Eliot wrote in 1943, ends are often beginnings, a threshold crossed that, by its very definition, means one has entered into something new having left where they previously were.

This marks my final post here at Crashburn Alley as I embark on my professional career in the oncoming days. I am, however, eternally grateful and excited to share that it will not be the end of the time covering the Phillies.

In the next few days I will head down to Clearwater for spring training for the first time in my life. I won’t be going as a player (as I hoped when I was a youngster with stereotypical big league dreams) and I won’t be going as a fan (as I assumed would be the case the moment I realized those big league dreams were a fantasy).

Where Phillies young and old nurture their hopes of making an impression and furthering their professional careers, so too will I. Entering the pristine new digs of Spectrum Field, credential proudly draped around by neck, I will work as a proud associate reporter covering the club for Major League Baseball.

Associate reporter is a fancy term for one-season intern, by no means a long-term position, but a beginning nonetheless. Last spring during an internship, I wrote a story about a dog taking in a Phils’ spring training game while drinking out of a water bottle cap. This spring, I’ll be a fully credentialed member of the beat covering the team for MLB and Phillies.com. Progress.

It was an end, after all, that led me here to Crashburn Alley.

I spent the 2016 NCAA baseball season as managing editor of Maryland Baseball Network, covering the University of Maryland Terrapins during my senior year of college. It was my first true experience covering a beat, and one that shaped me into the writer I am today. Last April, my end at MBN sparked the beginning of my time here at Crashburn, my favorite outlet at which I’ve written in my young career.

To make an end is to make a beginning.

It has been a special pleasure to share my thoughts here in this space, letting my fandom and objective analysis clash and sharpen one another. I first began reading this site toward the end of middle school during its formative years under Bill’s lead, a year or two after I laughed a buddy of mine out of the room the first time he praised the virtues of VORP.

The stat came from a site I’d never heard of, and fell on innocent, uninformed ears. I was perfectly content framing my baseball analysis (to the extent that you can “analyze” baseball when you’re 12) through the traditional methods.

In the last handful of years I’ve fully embraced the game’s statistical revolution that had been brewing—and thriving—for years before my epiphany. Without neglecting the time-honored ways of scrutinizing the game, I have strengthened my analytic will and adopted a more rigorous methodology and mental calculus when dissecting it.

It’s often the things you initially reject and then greet later in life with open arms that have the most profound impact on you. They remind you of your pliability, your ability to change, to ebb and flow, to remain not a troglodyte but an open-eyed member of society susceptible to change. It makes you admit, to yourself, that the way you once were is not the way you have to be.

To make an end is to make a beginning.

At the same time that I became captivated with sabermetrics, I discovered a passion I never knew I had. Halfway through college, when they no longer let you doggypaddle through the semesters with an undecided major, I joined the journalism school and was promptly thrown into the deep end.

I wrote my college admissions essay on my mindset as a high school pitcher. For my entire life, I always enjoyed analyzing the world around me, gleaning bits and pieces of information and piecing them together to instill a deeper understanding of my surroundings. I did this intently on the mound, looking for holes in swings, batter tendencies, and scared bottom-of-the-order hitters who stepped in the bucket.

Little did I know, that piece, based on my experience as a pitcher in Southeastern Pennsylvania, was the first of many I’d ever write about baseball. That is, if you don’t count the made-up transcripts of fictitious baseballs games I scratched across loose-leaf paper in 3rd grade.

In that essay I wrote: “The act of gathering such material has always been comforting. It is reassuring to know that without being force-fed information, I can still gather, analyze, and learn about the world around me.”

What is writing if not taking in the world around you and adding your own spin, observation and personal experiences?

Writing about baseball has held a special importance for me. It has helped me cope and provided the context to understand jarring experiences in my life, a cathartic release I have turned to when life has felt it’s most unfair. So it’s no surprise, in retrospect, that some of my favorite writings are only tangentially about baseball, using the game as a framework to appreciate, to understand, but not as the story itself.

It helped me mourn the loss of a friend. It helped me put into context the loss of Jose Fernandez.

Looking back, it’s not surprising I dug my teeth into this type of analytical assessment of the game, and even less surprising that—once finding my passion for writing—it transferred into performing my own sabermetric analyses.

I owe my current career path to the game of baseball and my love for it. Not because it is what I will be covering, but because it is the reason I have an opportunity, and eagerness, to cover anything at all.

I’ve made the climb up the ranks in the past two and a half years, working my way from youth baseball coverage to my new position covering a major league club from within the league’s own editorial branch. I’ve covered the 12-year-old Cal Ripken World Series, collegiate summer league ball, D-I NCAA baseball, blogged here about the Phillies and will cover them in earnest as a member of MLB.com this season.

I’m sure a call-up to the bigs elicits memories of the climb for journeymen ballplayers. While I have not logged the years of prep and practice those ballplayers have, I’ve put in the time at every level possible to prep for such a promotion in similar fashion.

I’ll always remember the pre-teen boys from Hawaii I covered last summer, their love and respect for their game and their opponents shining brighter than anything, a constant reminder of why these sabermetric analyses matter so much to me—because I love the game. I’ll always remember the frigid weekend afternoons spent in the Maryland press box and the hours spent creating Excel spreadsheets of starting pitcher game logs, the infographics made, the game stories chronicled. And I’ll always remember the hours spent down the rabbit holes of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball, that allowed me to share my opinions and observations here with you, all rooted in cold, hard fact.

If you’d like to keep up with my work, you can find me in the usual places on twitter, while my byline will appear on MLB.com and Phillies.com, supplementing the great work of Todd Zolecki whom you should already be reading.

Despite my departure, this is not the end. It is an end, of sorts, but not the end. Not the type of the end that accompanies the resolution of a children’s book, but instead the unsaid the end that is replaced by the blank space below the final words of a book chapter. It is a pause, however brief, before another chapter picks up where the previous one left off. The topic may differ, or may stay the same, simply viewed through a different lens.

This is the beginning of a professional career, one I am blessed to begin with a dream job covering the team I grew up watching, and the end of my regular contributions here at Crashburn Alley. But it is not the end.

To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.

Phillies Prospect Matt Imhof Retires from Baseball

In June, former Phillies second-round pick Matt Imhof was involved in a terrifying accident during training that resulted in the loss of his right eye. Though not regarded as an elite prospect for the team–he did not appear in Brad Engler’s list of the top-40 Phillies prospects in 2016–that does not diminish in any way the tragedy of what happened.

As a professional baseball player, Imhof undoubtedly set aside many other opportunities in his life to pursue his dream to play in the major leagues. He was unbelievably close to realizing that dream. He was drafted in the second round of the MLB draft, advanced to High-A ball as a 22-year old, and was considered by many publicly available prospect rankings to be among the top-30 or so prospects in a deep system. In the grand scheme, he was on the doorstep with his hand on the knob of an unlocked door that led to the fulfillment of his life-long dream. Continue reading…

Phillies trade Severino Gonzalez for PTBNL or Cash

In a startlingly inconsequential move, the Phillies have traded RHP Severino Gonzalez to the Marlins for cash or a Player to be Named Later. A move seemed imminent as Gonzalez was designated for assignment following the last week’s signing of Michael Saunders. The former Phillies top ten prospect has sputtered in his two years in the Majors, posting an ERA just below 7 in 66 innings split between the rotation and the bullpen.

Continue reading…

A Crashburn Transition

When I really started getting interested in sabermetrics several years ago, there were a few places that, as someone invested in the Phillies, really stoked my passion for baseball and the analysis of the game. One of the most prominent was Crashburn Alley, a site that has always mixed analytics, scouting, and fundamentally great writing about the team in a way that made writing about baseball seem really appealing.

That is why I was so excited to be given the opportunity to manage the site when Corinne Landrey approached me about the position. Not only have I (hopefully) been able to continue the work done by previous writers like Bill Baer, Michael Baumann, Eric Longenhagen, Ryan Sommers, Paul Boye, and Corinne, but I’ve gotten to do work with all of the great writers currently on staff, establishing themselves on the site.

However, I am excited to say that I’ve been hired by the Boston Red Sox, and I’ll begin there come January. That does mean that this will be my last post on the site.

Happily, Crashburn Alley will continue and be in good hands with the new editor-in-chief, Eric Chesterton. I’m sure you are all familiar with him as a long time statistically-inclined writer at the The Good Phight and FanRag Sports, where he is known for his Phillies coverage. I’m excited to see where he leads the site, and I know he will do great work here.

I want to thank the staff – Ben Harris, Michael Schickling, Tim Guenther, Dave Tomar, Brad Engler, and Adam Dembowitz – for their many contributions during my admittedly brief time with the site. Bill Baer also deserves a lot of thanks for creating and maintaining such a great place to write.

And finally, thank you to everyone who reads and comments on the site. The readership has always been one of the greatest strengths of Crashburn Alley, and I hope that continues well into the future.

2016 Phillies Report Card: Aaron Altherr

Aaron Altherr was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley in August 2015 to replace Maikel Franco, who had his wrist broken by a Jeremy Hellickson fastball a week prior. This was not his MLB debut, as he’d taken 6 trips to the plate in 2014, but for all intents and purposes, this was the first glimpse of Altherr Phillies fans got. And he did not disappoint.

Despite a 25.5% K-rate, Altherr powered himself to a 125 wRC+ over 161 plate appearances on the strength of a .248 ISO. That, along with above-average outfield defense and baserunning, earned him 1.8 WAR, or about what you could expect an average major leaguer to produce in a full season. Altherr did that in a quarter of a season. He also did this.

Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Peter Bourjos

These report card grades we’ve been giving out are not meted on an absolute scale. If that were the case, the best players would get A’s and a player like Peter Bourjos, who just hit 21% worse than league average as a right fielder, would earn a failing grade. But like all baseball evaluation, these grades are given on a relative scale, based on expectation.

If you’ve followed Peter Bourjos for much of his career, you essentially knew what was coming. Last offseason Bloglordess Corinne Landrey wrote a post about the Phillies outfield options for the upcoming season. In this post, she talked about Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, and even trading for Marcell Ozuna. However, shortly after the post went live, the Phillies claimed Bourjos from the Cardinals and Corinne added an update blurb about him. This is what it said:

UPDATE: The Phillies announced that they’ve claimed outfield defensive guru, Peter Bourjos, on waivers about two hours after I posted this. Bourjos is entering his final year of arbitration and adds very little on offense.

Bourjos was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball for the first several years of his career. He’s always been very fast with great range but limited arm strength. That’s not to say he’s Juan Pierre out there, but perhaps he would have been better off spending time in left field than right.  According to both DRS (+1) and UZR (+1.1), he was a slightly above average right fielder, but for a guy with a reputation as a “defensive guru,” that’s faint praise.

As for the bat, well, let’s just say Corinne was spot on with her analysis there. Outside of a June in which he posted a 190 wRC+ in 23 games, he was absolutely dreadful at the plate in 2016. Bourjos stepped to the plate 383 times and posted a .291 wOBA with an on-base percentage below .300 on the season. Bourjos is a good baserunner, but with so few chances to showcase it, his prowess on the basepaths was wasted. He had just 6 stolen bases against 4 times getting caught.

Bourjos wasn’t always a black hole at the plate. Through the first three years of his career Bourjos posted a 97 OPS+ and 7.1 fWAR over almost two full seasons of playing time. Since, his OPS+ has dropped to 83 over 414 games, and he’s posted just 2.5 fWAR. This year? He posted an 82 OPS+, right in line with his previous three seasons.

The most succinct way I can sum up Bourjos’ year is as follows. He was a bad hitter after a career of bad hitting. His fielding went downhill as he approaches his 30th birthday. He continued to be a below-average player after being a below-average player for several years now. If you had realistic expectations for Bourjos entering the year, as Corinne did, I don’t think you can really fail Boujos despite his bad year. He gave us exactly what was advertised.

Grade: C-

2016 Phillies Report Card: Jimmy Paredes

Everyone who watches baseball has a player type they like the best. Some people like sluggers, some like line drive hitters. Some like their players “flashy,” while others like them “gritty.” I’m not sure why everyone else likes the player type they like, but I know why I like the player type I like. I wasn’t very good at baseball at a young age. I routinely didn’t get chosen for the travel team, and I think I drew a lot of walks, just because I knew nothing good could come of my swing. Eventually I wound up giving up actually playing the sport for basketball and football.

There was one thing I was pretty good at in my Little League days though: defense. I was pretty fast and could track a ball well in the outfield. My throws usually made it somewhere near the appropriate base (which was pretty good when you consider the age group). I always wanted to pitch and play second base, but my coaches never let me. I used to think it was because they would miss me in centerfield, but it’s probably actually because I wasn’t any good.

Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Jorge Alfaro

In 2016, perhaps no one in the Phils minor league system bolstered their claim to national rankings as much as Jorge Alfaro. Crawford, Williams, Thompson and Kilome, among others, all had at least some struggles, or at best maintained the outlook national evaluators will put on their game. Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins certainly put people on notice at AA, as did some low level arms, particularly Adonis Medina. Alfaro, on the other hand, grew into his already-high ceiling, with reportedly improved defense and steady offense. His minor league season on the whole, and the reports about his progress lead me to believe he is closer to becoming a star than any Phillie under 25 not named J.P. Crawford. Continue reading…