Maikel Franco Did A Thing

With yesterday’s win over the Brewers, the Phillies currently have a 9-9 record and .500 winning percentage. In an accomplishment that’s more an indictment of recent performance than actual current achievement, this marks the latest the Phillies have been at .500 since they were 12-12 on May 5th, 2014.

Yesterday’s win was fueled by the incredible performances of Odubel Herrera (3-for-4, 4 R, 2 BB, 1 HR, 2 SB) and Maikel Franco (3-for-5, HR, 4 RBI). Herrera is now leading the majors in walks with 17 and has a slash line with a correspondingly high on-base percentage: .283/.442/.433. With three home runs in the past two games, Franco has taken over the team lead in home runs at five and is sporting a thoroughly impressive slash line of his own: .299/.338/.552. Given that Herrera and Franco are the only two current Phillies position players with the potential to be key mainstays for the organization going forward, the two of them finding early success is obviously a welcome development.

The reason I’m writing up this brief post, however, is not because of their brilliant days at the plate, it’s because I wanted to be sure you had a place to appreciate that thing Maikel Franco did in the fifth inning. With a runner on second, no outs, Ryan Braun at the plate and Phillies reliever Andrew Bailey struggling in his season debut, Franco did this:

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The Phillies’ Other Platoon Off To A Strong Start

The Phillies have an expensive and bulky platoon situation at first base which is most generously described as functional. Darin Ruf and Ryan Howard are physically capable of standing at the position and taking at bats against opposite-handed pitching with moderate potential for success. So far, the results have been thoroughly unimpressive with the duo combining for a 65 wRC+ and hideous first base defense. But there is one other less prominent platoon on the roster and, so far, the results have been far more encouraging.

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Checking Up On Jerad Eickhoff’s Changeup

Yesterday Spencer Bingol provided a great break down of Jerad Eickhoff‘s current repertoire and the ways in which it’s helped Eickhoff exceed expectations to date. If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend reading that piece because it provides the foundation for the analysis to follow.

The most defining characteristic of Eickhoff’s early career is his extraordinarily effective curveball. As Bingol illustrates, he also unleashes a slider which induces whiffs at a high rate which may not be entirely sustainable and a relatively non-descript fastball. But his fourth pitch, the changeup, is by far the weakest and, consequently, least used pitch in his arsenal.

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Positive signs from expectation-exceeding Jerad Eickhoff

Scouting baseball players has traditionally relied on the 20-80 scouting scale. It’s a system for grading both individual skills (called “tools”), and total value of the player. It mirrors the 68-95-99.7 Rule in statistics, referencing the percentage of values contained within one, two, and three standard deviations of the mean of a normal distribution. A “50” grade player represents a Major League average talent, a “60” grade player represents a well above-average talent (a likely All-Star), and a “40” grade player represents a talent equally far in the opposite direction (a bench player, sixth starter, etc.).

As the name implies, the scale extends in both directions to evaluations of “20” (organizational filler) and “80” (a superstar). This system doesn’t imply that there are an equal number of 20-grade and 80-grade talents in the world – obviously, the former outnumbers the latter – however, it attempts to describe the distribution of talent in the Major leagues, and organizational filler very rarely receives a roster spot.

Enter Jerad Eickhoff. Continue reading…

Guest Post: Aaron Nola Proving He Knows How To Pitch

This guest post was written by Ben Harris. Follow him on Twitter: @Ben27Harris

With 2016 came the Phillies first full campaign boasting their hopeful future trio of young rotation arms. Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vincent Velasquez had just 28 combined starts during their rookie years in 2015. But, to open this season, the trio of right-handers – whose average age rests just above 23 and a half – have dissected opponents in unique ways, providing Phillies’ faithful with bright rays of hope.

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Odubel Herrera’s Refined Plate Discipline

Believe it or not, the Phillies outfield has not been the worst offensive outfield in the majors so far this season. While their cumulative slashline of .162/.255/.279 is truly abysmal, Twins outfielders have managed to produce an even worse .171/.252/.236 line. The one person keeping the Phillies out of last place in this category has been center fielder Odubel Herrera.

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Crash Landing: Joy Is Good

Through the first two weeks of the season, many words on this website have been dedicated to what’s important about the 2016 Phillies season and, just as critically, what’s not important. Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera? Important. The roster placeholders in the outfield? Not. The trio of young starters? Important. The bullpen? Not. The development of minor league prospects? Important. The 2016 Phillies win-loss record? Absolutely not.

I’ve urged you to forget losses and to shrug off the underperformance of players whose stays in Philadelphia are temporary. From a strictly rational and analytical perspective, I’m convinced that this is not just the right approach but also the only satisfying approach to following the 2016 Phillies season. This team is not designed to win right now, but if you look in the right spots, there are really exciting things happening and with Franco/Herrera/Nola/Eickhoff/Velasquez, many of those exciting things are unfolding at the major league level. It only makes sense to focus on what the team is building toward instead of bemoaning what this team is not currently equipped to do.

But when I started this weekly column, I told you that the title of the column is more than an obnoxious pun, it’s also a reminder to myself to keep my analysis grounded in reality. Although in a very real sense yesterday’s win over the Washington Nationals didn’t truly matter — after all the heroes of the game were Peter Bourjos, Andres Blanco, and Freddy Galvis, all of whom are functionally “roster placeholders” — I would be an absolute fool to tell you that the biggest takeaway from the game should’ve been the performance of Franco and/or Herrera. The greatest lesson from yesterday is what any Phillies fan from age 3 to 103 watching would’ve been able to tell you at the end of the game: baseball is great.

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Mackanin Shakes Up the Lineup in Inexcusable Ways

Darin Ruf spent all of spring training working at first base and preparing to be in a strict first base platoon with his left-handed counterpart, Ryan Howard. Through four seasons and 671 innings spent in a major league outfield, the Phillies had seen enough to know that the Darin Ruf outfield experiment was a failure. His range is abysmal and, although his arm is surprisingly strong, it’s also woefully inaccurate. There’s no getting around the fact that he is a massive liability in the field.

Ruf also sports an overwhelmingly large career platoon split — 156 wRC+ vs. LHP, 80 wRC+ vs. RHP. Given Howard’s struggles against left-handed pitching, this has made the platoon match ideal. Ruf should not start against righties and Howard should not start against lefties. Splitting first base duties is common sense and, just as importantly, it keeps Ruf’s glove out of the outfield.

The Phillies did a commendable job sticking to this plan even when outfielders Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche went down with injuries in spring training. Unfortunately, that admirable dedication to a logical, if unappealing, plan went out the window today with a brash and downright panicky starting lineup —

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