Miguel Gonzalez signed with the Phillies in 2013, on the day that the Phillies recorded their 73rd loss of the season — and it was only August 30th. There was no shortage of divergent opinions about where the Phillies had gone wrong, but pretty much everyone agreed that they weren’t headed anywhere good. So Gonzalez joining the team on a 3 year, $12 million deal (revised downward significantly due to health concerns that would prove to be prophetic) was refreshing for a team that doesn’t typically make a splash in the international market.
The book, and later the film, Moneyball famously championed Billy Beane‘s Oakland Athletics — a small-market team who managed to push out the big spenders by using statistics to identify market inefficiencies, like players with low batting averages but high on-base percentages. As Beane’s numbers-savvy approach contributed to the Athletics reaching the post-season four years in a row between 2000-03, other richer teams caught on and the Scott Hattebergs of the world weren’t available the way they once were, so the A’s had to adapt to continue to stay afloat.
Talent identification is a constantly-shifting landscape, but so too is talent usage. The game has changed enormously over the last five years, going from an offense-dominated league to one heavily influenced by pitching and defense. Run-scoring is at its lowest point since 1992. Come-from-behind home runs no longer cover up poor managerial decision-making at the rate they once did. Those decisions on the margins — giving up an out with a bunt, not using your closer in a tie game on the road — are more important now than they have been in over two decades.
The Phillies, who became the laughingstock of baseball in recent years due to the glacial pace at which they’ve modernized and their public contempt for analytics, would do well to watch how managerial orthodoxy has backfired big time for many participants in the playoffs this year. Ryne Sandberg would have made the same decisions Matt Williams or Mike Matheny would have made. That’s not a defense of orthodoxy; the Phillies should be looking for those edges as should every team. The Phillies should contemplate zigging when others zag.
We’ve come full circle. My first article for this site was a look at Jimmy Rollins‘ early-season success. It’s fitting, then, that I was (randomly) tasked with evaluating the 14th season of the greatest shortstop in Phillies history. Because of his past performance for this team and a skill set that still plays very well at his position, I expect a lot of Jimmy Rollins, and I know many of you do as well. Overall, I love the way he plays. I love watching him play defense, which he does better than most shortstops in the league. But man, sometimes I hate watching his plate appearances.
This is where expectations become a little unkind. In absolute terms, Cody Asche‘s not that bad. In 613 plate appearances over two seasons–about a season’s worth of work for a full-time starter–he’s hit .252/.309/.390, very slightly below the National League averages in all three rate categories in that time. Despite obvious comparisons in statue, stance, pigmentation and even uniform number to Chase Utley, Asche lacks the athleticism and defensive instincts Utley used to become one of the greatest defensive second basemen ever, so he’s in a little bit of a tough spot.
You see, being a slightly below-average hitter–and he’s still only 24, so it’s probably uncharitable to say he’ll surely never improve–is fine for a third baseman if you can really pick it, but barring some sort of unforeseen defensive transformation, that’s not the case. The first part of the 2014 season was murder on Asche defensively, and while he wound up being just bad defensively, it was so much worse than that for a long time. Continue reading…
The story of Chase Utley‘s 2014 season is the story of the fickle nature of our expectations. The instant we silly humans attain what we think we want, we suddenly find ourselves wanting more. Louis C.K. said it best in a bit, “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy,” during which he describes an airplane passenger’s immediate sense of entitlement to a technology — in-flight wireless internet — he didn’t even know existed mere moments prior. Check out the clip below from 1:58-2:30. Continue reading…
Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders finally had a breakout year offensively, posting a .346 weighted on-base average. Only one problem: he only took 263 trips to the plate. Saunders had one stint on the disabled list between June 11-27 due to inflammation of the A/C joint in his right shoulder. Then, on July 11, Saunders again went on the disabled list, this time for a strained left oblique. He didn’t return until September 8. Still, he finished out the season strong, putting up a .257/.409/.543 triple slash line in 44 plate appearances.
Saunders showed good plate discipline, drawing walks at a 10 percent rate. He hit for decent power, posting a .177 isolated power, which is nearly 40 points above the major league average for outfielders. Defensively, both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference rated him as slightly above average, which contributed to his WAR range between 2-2.5 — quite good for less than half of a full season.
What does that word mean to you? From artists to politicians to baseball people, this multifaceted word wields lots of power, and calibrating it properly is critical. As it relates to baseball – and, specifically, Phillies rookie Maikel Franco – perspective is important for realizing exactly what a given thing means at a point in time.
Take Franco, who turned 22 years old just shy of two months ago: a near-consensus top-100 pick (or better!) made his debut for the Phillies this summer and logged 58 plate appearances. By and large, they were not great plate appearances, but this is where that pesky word “perspective” comes into play, full-bore.
The Phillies could head in one of a number of directions during the off-season, depending on whether or not A.J. Burnett decides to return (it seems likely given a recent report), if Kyle Kendrick isn’t brought back, and if GM Ruben Amaro finds an irresistible trade offer for Cole Hamels. Assuming Cliff Lee makes a full recovery from the left elbow injury that cut his 2014 season short, he and David Buchanan could be the anchors of the starting rotation in this circumstance.
Jayson Nix came to the plate 43 times for the Phillies in 2014, mostly in April and early May, before refusing a hard-earned assignment to AAA Lehigh Valley. After a tireless and penetrating analysis of these 43 plate appearances, on behalf of Crashburn Alley and the larger Phillies blogging community, I am prepared to defend the following conclusion: Jayson Nix was very bad.
Lee’s season wasn’t much better, as he made only 13 starts, due to two separate trips to the disabled list. The first, between May 19 and July 20, was due to a flexor pronator strain in his left arm. He returned, making three starts including the aforementioned outing against the Giants, before landing back on the shelf at the end of July with the same injury, ending his season.
When he was on the mound, he posted a 3.65 ERA with a 72/12 K/BB ratio in 81 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate fell a bit, but the ERA retrodictors were still fans of his work: FIP had him at 2.96 and his xFIP was only five points higher. The clear culprit for his inflated ERA was a .358 batting average on balls in play. Hard to blame him for that, particularly since his line drive rate wasn’t abnormally high. Lee continued to lose velocity on his fastball (down to 89.6 MPH on average from 90.7 in 2013 and 91.7 in 2012), but otherwise, he was the same old dominating lefty pitcher that we’ve come to know and love over the years.