Utley Retrospective – The Minors and Rookie Campaign(s)

I’m going to take a close look at Chase Utley‘s minor league career and rookie season(s), much like I did with Jimmy Rollins when he was traded to The Dodgers. When I wrote about the franchise-best shortstop last winter, I called James Calvin Rollins “the rarest of the rare”. Damned if we didn’t have two gems surrounding the Keystone Sack in the Keystone State for more than a decade. This is how we got from the draft to a big-league superstar named Chase Cameron Utley. Continue reading…

Ruben Amaro: Fans Don’t Understand the Game

If there’s one thing GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. has not been in his tenure with the Phillies, it’s a good communicator. It didn’t take long after taking over for Pat Gillick that he was branded with the nickname “Smuggy” for the condescending way he would deal with reporters while hunching into his phone.

Amaro’s gone public with not understanding the value of walks, he verbally devalued his own asset in Ryan Howard, and he called former Phillie Andy Oliver‘s decision to look elsewhere for work “foolish”. His latest comment will also likely draw some heat, though this time he may have a legitimate point.

Continue reading…

Gertrude and Anatoli

December 21, 2315
Somewhere Near the ruins of Cherry Hill, Federated Union of North America

Dearest Gertrude,

I write to you knowing that in all probability, you will never lay eyes on this letter. The ion storms coursing overhead leave streaks of lighting as piercing blue as your eyes and as breathtakingly beautiful as your face, and they too imprison me in a state I may never escape. Long have I regretted the actions I took that allowed The Event to separate us, and my guilt is only assuaged by the fact that I was able to love you, and you me, for what time we had together.

I write to you because I learned something today that shows, in clear terms, how nothing changes in this world. Carlos Tocci is the Phillies’ eighth-best prospect. Civilizations have risen and fallen, the Moon  revolves around the Earth and the hoverships glide lazily from here to there, and Carlos Tocci is still 19 years old and slugging .280 in the low minors.

Continue reading…

Why the Phillies Can’t Trade Cole Hamels Rashly, Before I Kill Someone

This isn’t a great time to be a Phillies fan–the team has been bad for a couple years now, and will probably be bad for at least one more, and while there are a few exciting young players on the horizon, odds are the next good Phillies team will not resemble this one very closely.

And quite frankly, this blows, because nothing interesting is happening. No big signings, no anticipation for breakout seasons from prospects, no sizing up competitors’ moves, because the Phillies are probably going to finish last in the division in 2015. So we’re waiting on trades–Marlon Byrd, Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, maybe even Jimmy Rollins. But the big one is Cole Hamels. Where might he go, and when, and what might he bring back in return when he does?

I get the anticipation, because any headlining prospect in a Cole Hamels trade would be a building block for a good Phillies team, and Hamels is the only trade chip the Phillies have that could really bring back a needle-moving return. We want to see action.

But all the news coming out of the national media is that potential trade partners–particularly the Dodgers–aren’t interested in paying Ruben Amaro‘s asking price. And Amaro’s asking price is high–outrageously or preposterously so, or so it is said.

Good. That’s exactly what Amaro should be doing, and that’s exactly what I’d do in his place, and because the kvetching about how the world is ending because the Phillies haven’t traded Hamels for Mookie Betts by Thanksgiving is driving me into a homicidal rage, I thought it’d be helpful if I explained why this is so.

Continue reading…

2014 Phillies Report Card: Luis Garcia

There are 25 Luis Garcias on Wikipedia. I’m surprised there aren’t more. I wouldn’t mind talking about this one, who won the Champions League with Liverpool, a little more than the Phillies’ Luis Garcia, their minor-league pitcher of the year.

It’s not even remotely Garcia’s fault, but it’s impossible to discuss  him now without that context. You can talk about the small sample of Garcia’s major league career, how stupid good he was as Lehigh Valley’s closer last year, how plus-plus Longenhagen says his fastball is, and the extenuating circumstances surrounding the Phillies’ other top pitchers: Aaron Nola only turned pro in midseason, while Ken Giles got called up to the majors. Yoel Mecias was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and neither he nor Nefi Ogando pitched even close to as well as Garcia, despite facing lower-minors competition. Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin both hurt their shoulders, and Morgan’s re-learning how to throw hard, while Martin’s re-learning how to throw strikes. And I know I’ve said this before, but in case you were still unsure of how black the cloud surrounding the Phillies is right now, Jesse Biddle essentially lost a season to a chain of events that starting with him being hit on the head with a hailstone.

I’m so entirely aware of this–and you should be, too–and Garcia didn’t do anything except pitch very well in AAA in order to deserve this. And yet I can’t get over the fact that the Phillies’ reigning minor league pitcher of the year is a former barber who’s older than I am, who’s got a ceiling as a middle reliever even in a best-case scenario, and who’s walked more major league hitters than he’s struck out.

Continue reading…

2014 Phillies Report Card: Cole Hamels

From way out west there was this fella I wanna tell ya about. Goes by the name of Cole Hamels. At least that was the handle his loving parents gave him, but he never had much use for it himself. See, this Hamels, he called himself “Hollywood”, (does anyone still call him that?). Now, “Hollywood” – there’s a name no man would self-apply where I come from, (no politician here in DC ever wants to be labeled as “Hollywood”). But then there was a lot about Hollywood that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, (his baffling change-up, for the most part). And a lot about where he played, likewise, (their reluctance to come into the modern age of player analytics, among many, many, many other things). But then again, maybe that’s why I found the place so darned frustratin’. 

See, they call Philadelphia the “City Of Brotherly Love”; but I didn’t find it to be that, exactly, (what with all the fans booin’ and battery chuckin’ and security guards tasin’ folks and closers crotch grabbin’). Continue reading…

2014 Phillies Report Card: Ken Giles

Ken Giles pitched the first 45.2 innings of his Major League career in 2014, which is about 60% of a full season for a reliever. We can’t really draw any meaningful conclusions from a sample size that small. Sure, we could run through all the awesome highlights from Giles’ statistics in those 45.2 innings – for example, the fact that of 171 relievers who pitched 40 innings or more, Giles was seventh in K% at 38.6%, behind Aroldis Chapman (a ridiculous 52.5%), Andrew Miller and Brad Boxberger (42.6% and 42.1%, both also completely ridiculous), Dellin Betances and Wade Davis (39.6% and 39.1%) and Craig Kimbrel (38.9%). Or we could talk about his K-BB% of 31.9%, which was sixth behind Chapman, Miller, Sean Dollittle, Boxberger, and Betances (and better than Davis, Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland, Koji Uehara, Kimbrel, and David Robertson). Since this report card is supposed to be an evaluation of the player’s performance this season, that kind of analysis is warranted. OK, fine.

Giles 1.18 1.34 2.03 1.51 38.6% 6.6% 31.9% 0.79
Rank (of 171 RP with 40+ IP) 3rd 3rd 7th 5th 7th 49th 6th 5th

Any way we slice it, Giles had a fantastic season in 2014. He struck out everybody, didn’t walk nearly as many batters as he did in the minors, and the ERA retrodictors indicate his performance is backed up by his skills. I don’t want to go any further with the numbers now, and if you want more, Bill already did some good statistical analysis in this August 20 article. I want to step away from the nerdtastic data analysis we usually do, just for a moment, to take a longer-angle view of Giles and how he symbolizes the next era of Phillies baseball.

Continue reading…

Game 060 - RDG vs HBG-2655 Nola

Aaron and Jesse (Wait, Aaron Paul = Jesse Pinkman…Whoa)

What a night to be alive and a fan of Phillies Minor League baseball. Aaron Nola made his AA debut in Reading in front of a huge contingent of media and a couple members of the Phils’ front office. And Jesse Biddle made his return to starting at Single-A Clearwater after about six weeks on the inactive list and throwing only a couple innings in the rookie Gulf Coast League.

Nola was, by all accounts, quite good, if not dominant.  For a guy who was still playing college ball two months ago, and despite it being predicted by professional evaluators the sport over, his rise to Reading and successful night there is pretty remarkable. Nola’s career path seems to be lining up similarly to the Cards’ Michael Wacha, with some work the summer of his draft, and an eye towards a mid-season call up from AAA the following year. If that’s how it turns out, he won’t be on many prospect lists for very long, but to be sure, he’ll be on all of them this winter. I would guess he’s in the 30-50 range most everywhere, but a very strong showing in his AA stint could puff that up some.

I’ve followed Phillies prospects closely for going on six years now, and there’s never been an Aaron Nola in my world. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 109: The Utley/Halladay Buddy Film

@Dweebowitz: “How *do* they get out of the mess their stripped farm system and grotesquely overpaid geriatric lineup have become?”

I can’t emphasize this enough: there is no easy fix. There is no quick fix. There is no way the Phillies can overhaul the roster and contend next year, and barring some unforeseen run of luck, probably not the year after that.

The answer is time. You can’t build a contender overnight anymore by buying established players, and the Phillies’ greatest resource, money, makes buying established players the course the Phillies are most able to take. But that’s not how things work anymore. Look at any team that’s currently in good playoff position–either they’ve developed their own talent, or used homegrown talent to acquire established talent, or they’ve been particularly good at picking up pieces off the scrap heap, like the A’s.

The good news is that the Phillies aren’t trying to buy their way back into the playoff race anymore. Signings like Byrd and A.J. Burnett might look like that, but they’re not. They’re damage control. Meanwhile, the farm system isn’t stripped anymore–two years ago, the Phillies were sneaking one guy into the back end of top 100 prospect lists, but after two pretty good drafts, they’ve got three no-doubt top 100 prospects in J.P. Crawford, Aaron Nola and Maikel Franco, and several other interesting prospects besides, and whereas two years ago, all the talent in the Phillies’ system was buried in low-A and rookie ball, those kids–Crawford and Franco among them–are slowly climbing the minor league rungs. Of course, the Phillies haven’t had much success converting minor league talent into major league production in the past five years or so, but that’s a different problem. Continue reading…