Phillies 2016 Season Infographic

(If the graphic below appears slightly compressed, widen your browser window.)

The 2016 season was a necessary evil in the long, plodding course of a Major League Baseball rebuild. Even the kick in the pants provided by Ruben Amaro Jr. on his way out the door could not avoid the slop that constituted last season’s roster. That’s just the way she goes.

So in light of that, in order to fully take stock of that roster and to shed some light on the changes made by the front office since the season mercifully came to an end on October 2, I broke down the team’s performance on a position-by-position basis using wins above average figures courtesy of the lovely folks at Baseball-Reference. Below that – in case you forgot just how bad the second half of the season was – is a graphic showing the team’s proximity to the .500 mark. Red, as depicted by the uptick in wins in May, shows days when the Phillies were above .500. Days below .500, as the Phillies were each and every day after the first of June, are shown in blue.

Left Field

Among other glaring deficiencies, the corner outfield spots were black holes in Pete Mackanin‘s daily lineup card. The cumulative left field wins above average of -4.4 was the worst mark in the league, over a full win worse than the Colorado Rockies who trotted out the likes of Gerrardo Parra, Ryan Raburn, Brandon Barnes and Daniel Descalso before finding some relief in the late July call-up of David Dahl. Not even the thin air at Coors Field could make that contingent worth watching without one (or several) Coors in hand.

What began in Philadelphia as a tryout for Cedric Hunter quickly turned into a mélange of mediocrity. And that’s putting it kindly. David Lough got his reps in April before Tyler Goeddel stole the spotlight to begin May. Starting all but three games from May 4 to June 1, he hit .286 with an .818 OPS. That translated to a 118 OPS+, a figure that – for a Rule 5 rookie – one could only expect to have solidified him at least as a part-time left fielder for a team with no win-now urgency. Instead, Cody Asche returned from an oblique injury and started 45 of the next 54 games in June and July with a blistering 219/.292/.375 slashline and a .667 OPS that was 21 percent worse than the league average. August and September saw starts handed to a recovered Aaron Altherr, Jimmy Paredes, Darin Ruf and Roman Quinn. But the position never saw any success quite like it did when Goeddel routinely stepped to the plate three or four times a night in May.

That slew of left fielders combined for the worst on-base percentage in the majors (.278), a .316 slugging percentage 30 points lower than any other team’s left fielders and an OPS last in the league by 35 points. By wRC+, the Phillies’ left fielders produced at a clip 40 percent lower than league average. No team’s left fielders had posted a wRC+ that low in over a decade. By wRAA (weighted runs above average) those same left fielders contributed -50.4 runs over the course of the season, the fourth-worst mark in baseball history.

With that said, it’s no surprise the first move Matt Klentak made to bolster the offense was to snag Howie Kendrick from the Dodgers for Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney. The latter was originally traded to the Phillies in the Chase Utley deal, sparking quite possibly my favorite opening paragraph in Crashburn history, courtesy of Tim Guenther.

“In a move that shows just how easy it is to improve the Phillies’ roster, Matt Klentak struck yet another trade in the early offseason. Howie Kendrick will bring his league average bat to Philadelphia, presumably to play a league average left field, and to run the bases in a somewhat league average manner. Heading to LA are the inexplicably divisive Darin Ruf and a confused Darnell Sweeney, who was reportedly last seen mumbling to himself, “No…the Dodgers traded me…to the Phillies.”Tim Guenther on November 12, 2016

Right Field

If only slightly less depressing than left field, the cluster of outfielders that patrolled the right field line posted -2.2 wins above average last season, good for second-worst in the majors. Improvement! That figure, however, would be lower without both the defensive exploits of Peter Bourjos in his 92 starts, and his inexplicable late June/early July stretch of 23 games in which he hit a league-leading .440 with a top-five 1.208 OPS. Let me break that down for you into digestible pieces: Peter Bourjos. Had a 23-game stretch. With a top-five OPS. In Major League Baseball. In this universe. Yes, that Major League Baseball. Playing the game with the round horsehide ball, wooden stick, dirt and grass.

He ended 2016 with as good a season as one could expect from the defensively inclined outfielder, essentially posting his career averages in every triple-slash category while playing right field for the first time in his career and playing it at an above-average level.

The right field position yielded the following numbers in 2016:

  • League-worsts in: wRC+ (70), wOBA (.279), wRAA (-27.2)
  • Second-worst in: Slugging percentage (.324), batting average (.231), runs batted in (67)
  • Third-worst in: On-base percentage (.291) and isolated power (.119)

If any more moves are to be made this offseason, as Ken Rosenthal pointed out last week, it very well could be to upgrade right field. For now, right field looks to be shared by a fully healthy Aaron Altherr, if he remains so, and Roman Quinn who is bound by that very same health-dependent qualifier.

Up the Middle

If I were to tell you heading into the season that the only three positions in which the Phillies would post average or above-average numbers could be found straight up the middle of the diamond, you’d have closed CrashburnAlley.com and never returned. Yes, Odubel Herrera’s success, while not a given by any means, would have been pointed to as one of the team’s few positions of strength. The success at catcher and second base, however, came unanticipated.

Cesar Hernandez played a rather inspiring second base in his 143 starts, especially given his prior career performance. He posted career highs in every major offensive statistic, albeit it running the bases at a high-school level.

Eric’s report card on Carlos Ruiz noted that the 37-year-old’s bat likely benefited from his decreased workload in 2016. And with less Chooch in the lineup, Cameron Rupp turned into a better than league-average option behind the plate. Among the 24 catchers who logged over 300 plate appearances, Rupp’s .447 slugging percentage was fifth-highest. Rupp’s 99 wRC+ was 12 percent better than the average backstop and he nearly turned himself into a mid-season trade candidate.

Rest of the Infield

While Hernandez held his own and then some at second, the rest of the infield fell remarkably flat. The cumulative WAA of the first base, shortstop and third base positions all ranked in the bottom-six in MLB.

Split almost evenly by Tommy Joseph and Ryan Howard in 2016, first base for now is the sole property of Joseph in his first full major league season. The pair (in addition to seven starts combined from Ruf and Andres Blanco) posted a .285 on-base percentage, the second-lowest for any team’s first basemen and 49 points below average for the position. Their 43 home runs were the most any team garnered from the first base position, although in reality, that was just about the only thing the pair did well. They were the only team that had two first basemen topping 20 homers (23 from Howard, 20 from Joseph). But with -3.1 wins above average, they were the least effective first base platoon in the majors.

After his spring training-leading nine homers and 23 RBIs, Maikel Franco could not follow up that power in the regular season. Instead of cementing himself at third base for the foreseeable future, he pushed back his own timeline at least a year, entering 2017 with that same goal in mind. Just 11 teams had negative wins above replacement at third base, and Franco’s underwhelming performance landed the Phils in that bottom-third.

There’s not much to say about Freddy Galvis aside from his 20 home run explosion. Only 10 teams received more homers from the shortstop position in 2016. His Gold Glove finalist performance at shortstop was expected, and aside from the unexpected power, he put up career averages in on-base percentage and batting average. But in a league with a surplus of young talent at shortstop, Galvis’ career numbers won’t cut it. The .284 combined OBP the Phils saw at shortstop was worst in the league and 34 points below league average, nearly all of which came from Galvis’ league-worst .275 OBP.

Rotation

Powering the 24-17 start to the season, the young starting rotation showed promise despite receiving the second worst run support in the majors. Every pitcher but one (Jeremy Hellickson, 29 years old) that started more than four games was younger than 26-year-old Jerad Eickhoff. The rotation’s particular strength was their minute walk-rate, a league-leading 6.5% from an inexperienced corps that has thus far headlined the rebuilding efforts. Zach Eflin, Aaron Nola, Adam Morgan, Alec Asher, Hellickson and Eickhoff all posted better than league-average walk-rates. Vince Velasquez and Jake Thompson did not. Thompson’s 11.8% walk-rate was worst for and Phillies starter and the second-worst at any level in his professional career. Velasquez, however, made up for his high rate of free passes with a team-best 27.6% strikeout-rate among starters that ranked eighth in the majors for all pitchers with 120 innings pitched.

FanGraphs’ soft/hard-hit rates for the rotation were also encouraging; Starters allowed the fifth-highest soft-hit percentage and the 24th lowest hard-hit percentage.

Bullpen

The 2016 bullpen left much to be desired. Other than Hector Neris – who shined in his first full season in the majors (80.1 IP, 2.58 ERA, .200 opposing batting average) – and 40 innings from Edubray Ramos, there was little for Mackanin to hang his hat on. Jeanmar Gomez’s 37 saves were only possible due to a lucky streak of close games. His peripherals significantly undermined those 37 saves, and made his 13.20 ERA after August 14 less than surprising. No closer with at least 18 saves had a lower strikeout percentage (15.8%), and his .286 batting average against and 1.46 WHIP were wholly unconvincing. No decision will be made until spring training about filling the closer role, but the most likely candidate seems to be Neris.

As a whole, the pen’s K-rate hovered around the league average, but their walk-rate (9.4%, 23rd in MLB) was less than ideal. And it only goes downhill from there. They held the fourth-highest WHIP (1.47), allowed the third-highest batting average at .266, had the second-worst FIP (4.57) and were one of only three teams with a bullpen ERA over five.

Just as the organization upgraded the worst left field position in the league, and just as they may still upgrade in right field (which was second-worst in the majors last season), the Phillies made two bullpen moves to bolster what was the second-least effective relief corps in the league by wins above average. Trading for Pat Neshek and signing Joaquin Benoit to a one-year deal, the club filled in two bullpen spots with veteran placeholders on short-term deals.

Note: All pitching wins above average numbers do not include batting outcomes. They only take into account pitchers’ contributions on the mound.

Crash Bag, Vol. 1: Death, Hurdles, and the Great Outfield Hoagie

The Crash Bag is officially back and I promise you, dear reader, that it is here to stay for as long as I’m around. Especially now, there’s not much going on here in Philliesland, so let’s get to things you want to talk about and have a little fun while we’re at it.

@JohnMorgera: What do you see being the biggest hurdle in the Phillies rebuild?

Let me let you in on a secret with the hurdles, as someone who ran both the 400m hurdles and the 110m hurdles in high school: they aren’t all that high. Any relatively in-shape person can physically get over a single hurdle on the highest setting (42 inches). The key to navigating them well is maintaining your rhythm and just extending your stride over them, not jumping or stuttering in your approach.

Continue reading…

A New Year’s Crashburn Roundtable

It’s the New Year, which means it’s either time to reflect on the year just was or look forward to the year that has begun. With our report cards, we’ve already suffered too much reflection of 2016. So, now it is time to look forward to what will hopefully be a brighter 2017 for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Assuming you unilaterally make decisions of the entire Phillies front office, what it your New Year’s resolution?

Tim Guenther: An ambitious goal with a reasonable likelihood of failure? Establish five regular position players for the next playoff bound Phillies’ team. This season will offer a healthy mix of young players looking to take a step forward and real prospects looking to force their way into a major league role. Finding over half your future lineup from that group would be a huge success heading into next offseason. Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Nick Williams

Reaching back to last offseason, the prevalent expectation for Nick Williams was simple: spend a few months tearing apart AAA pitching, fine tune the outfield defense, get fitted for red pinstripes. By the summer, the front office would be forced to bring the Cedric Hunter experience to an abrupt end. By the end of the season, the outfield would have twice as much certainty. This Report Card would be glowing.

It’s fair to say those expectations were not met.

Continue reading…

Should the Phillies Upgrade Howie Kendrick?

When the Phillies traded for Howie Kendrick in November, everyone knew what the plan was: deal him at the trade deadline for something, anything really. In a lot of ways, the deal is reminiscent of the 2015 acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies gave up very little of value to the franchise to potentially get more value back a couple months down the road. Both Hellickson and Kendrick were coming off down years at the time and had a clear place to play for the Phillies, at least for the first half of the season.

With Hellickson, it seemed entirely likely that the Phillies would be abundantly ready to move on after half a season. With Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff already in the rotation and Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, and, generously, Mark Appel all potential contributors by midseason, it was easy to envision a world in which Hellickson’s season-long presence would hold the rebuild back. Obviously, due to injuries to Eflin and Nola, that scenario didn’t materialize, but it was reasonable to assume his replacement would come internally.

With Kendrick, that scenario isn’t quite as clear. Currently, the only internal lock to be a major-league caliber starter in the outfield is Odubel Herrera. Aaron Altherr and Roman Quinn both come with some combination of injury and performance-based concerns about their long-term viability in the outfield. Even with Kendrick in the fold, both should get chances to play from the outset.

After that, they have Nick Williams set to repeat at AAA after a tumultuous season in which not only his strikeouts and plate approach remained questions, but he clashed with manager Dave Brundage over a perceived lack of hustle and saw more time on the bench than a prospect of his ilk typically does. Maybe Dusty Wathan–the new man in charge in Lehigh Valley–will be able to create an environment for Williams to thrive. Or maybe he won’t. Beyond Williams, there’s no one sniffing the majors worth banking on at this point.

That leaves a somewhat likely case where the Phillies don’t have a palatable replacement for Kendrick if and when the time comes to trade him at the deadline. He only has one more year remaining on his deal and, at 33-years old, is unlikely to play his way into being a qualifying offer candidate. That means that the Phillies won’t be able to play the game of chicken they did at the deadline with Hellickson. They’ll have to trade him for whatever they can get or keep him an get nothing. In other words, they’re going to trade him, and if two of Altherr, Quinn, Williams, and Tyler Goeddel aren’t playable major leaguers by mid-season, you’re looking at another August and September of a Jimmy Paredes type. No one wants that. Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Pete Mackanin

Evaluating managerial performance remains one of the more elusive tasks of publicly available baseball analysis. Based on the aspects of the role that are relatively easy to quantify and assess–reliever usage, lineup construction, defensive shifting–it appears that managers have a minimal impact on team performance. Yet, teams continue to hire, fire, even trade for managers as if they have more impact than our simple analytical tools suggest.

All of which is basically to say that I actually have no idea whether Pete Mackanin is a good or bad manager. With that out of the way, let’s approach this effort at assessing his performance from a completely unscientific angle, listing two good things and two bad things Mackanin did in 2016. At the end, we’ll arbitrarily plop a grade on it that will so accurately capture his performance that it will render the previous analysis useless. Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Aaron Nola

When a cornerstone of the future of an organization struggles, for what seems like no good reason, it can be a hard on the fans, but it has to be brutal on the player. And so it was with Aaron Nola in the summer of 2016. It got so bad that Nola was shelved for a short period to “clear his head” and allow a bit of arm fatigue to pass.

Upon his return from this break, things went really well for one start – a six inning, two-hit shutout performance against Miami. Then the wheels came off again in Pittsburgh, and again in Atlanta, where he felt pain in his throwing elbow, and his season was over. And through all of this, all of us, rightly or not, freaked the heck out.

Embed from Getty Images – Us, too, Aaron, Us, too.

Continue reading…

John Sickels Weighs In On Phils’ Prospects

On Tuesday, John Sickels of Minorleagueball.com ranked 20 Phillies prospects. Sickels does it a little differently than most anyone you’re likely to see write up every system in the game. His lists are based on grades, from A on down, and we’ve seen before that he is not one to fall into the group think that sometimes plagues prospect reporters/scouts. His style can create a list that can feel “wrong”, but the logic behind it is up front, and as we know, prospect evaluation is terribly subjective. So, with that in mind, here are a couple places where he is JUST PLAIN WRONG. (This implies that I am right, which, if you follow me on Twitter, you know is not always a reasonable assumption). Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Carlos Ruiz

This time last year, most Phillies fans had all but declared Carlos Ruiz’s career over. He had just completed an age-36 season in which he posted the lowest batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and isolated power of his career. According to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, he contributed negative value above replacement to the Phillies for the first time in his career in 2015 (Baseball Prospectus rated his 2007 season as below replacement level). As the season wore on, the Phillies had gradually replaced him as the starter with Cameron Rupp. With a club option coming up following the 2016 season, it stood to figure that neither the Phillies, nor any other team for that matter, would sign up for a year of a 38-year old catcher.

Since that moment of doom and gloom for Chooch, two different teams have decided he was worth parting with not-quite-trivial players to acquire. How did that happen for a 37-year old at a strenuous defensive position who is clearly on the decline? Well, unsurprisingly, he benefitted from rest.

Entering 2016, the Phillies (unofficially) made very clear what had been (unofficially) somewhat clear over the second half of 2015: Carlos Ruiz was the second-string catcher behind Cameron Rupp. Sure, Chooch started opening day against the Cincinnati Reds, but there wasn’t a single week before his late-August trade to the Dodgers where he started more than three games. Whether the team depth chart reflected it is immaterial to the reality: Carlos Ruiz was the Phillies backup catcher.

Instead of viewing that change of role as a demotion resulting from a decline in performance–which it may well have been–I prefer to interpret it as a smart move on the part of the Phillies to nurse as much effective performance out of their aging catcher. While it’s difficult to say whether the additional rest was the cause*, Ruiz was once again a positive contributor to the Phillies (and later, the Dodgers) in 2016. With the Phillies, he recorded his highest OPS (.719) since 2012 and his exit velocity was uniformly up on all batted ball types over 2015.

Whatever the cause (probably additional rest), Ruiz had a successful 2016 relative to expectations with a batting line that was more or less league average (100 wRC+ and 97 OPS+ with Phillies). As a testament to his value as a baseball player in 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are generally regarded as a progressive, “smart” front office, thought Chooch was a worthwhile player to acquire for their race to a division title and, later, the postseason. Not only was he worth getting, but he was worth potentially angering Clayton Kershaw, et al. by giving up A.J. Ellis and throwing in a not useless relief prospect in Tommy Bergjans on top of that. After appearing in seven of the Dodgers’ 12 postseason games, they traded him for a bona fide major league reliever in Vidal Nuno this offseason.

In terms of grading, we have to adjust relative to expectations. As a nearly-perfectly league-average player in 2016, Ruiz earns a solid unadjusted “C”. However, considering the reasonable expectation entering the season that 2016 would be Chooch’s last as a major leaguer, that he performed as well as he did, albeit in a limited role, and will likely continue to play major league baseball in 2017 for the Seattle Mariners has to count for something. How much count that is a matter of personal taste and Chooch has undoubtedly earned the benefit of a generous adjustment.

Grade: B+

*While it is certainly possible that “bad luck” explains his down 2015 season as evidenced by an uncharactaristically low .242 BABIP (.287 career), his 15.9 percent hard-hit rate was by far the lowest of his career, suggesting that there was an actual performance dip. Further, it stands to reason that a 37-year old playing the most physically taxing position on the diamond would benefit from additional off days.

2016 Phillies Report Card: Alec Asher

In June, Alec Asher became the second Philadelphia Phillie suspended for a positive PED test in 2016. Asher and reliever Daniel Stumpf were both pegged for drug tests that revealed Turinabol, an anabolic steroid popularized by East Germany’s propensity to feed it to their Olympic athletes in the 1970s and 80s.

Called up for his first taste of the big leagues late in 2015, Asher made seven starts for a pitiful starting rotation that most frequently handed the ball to Aaron Harang (29 starts, 4.86 ERA) and Jerome Williams (21 starts, 5.80 ERA). Pause for gasps of horror.

Somehow, Asher fared even worse. He went 0-6 allowing over a run an inning and a hit in one-third of all at-bats while striking out just two hitters for each of his eight home runs surrendered.

After that disappointing start to his Phillies career, the coaching staff assigned him some winter homework: focus on your two-seam fastball, the four-seamer lacks velocity and is simply too flat.

To begin his 2016 season, Asher pitched well in four starts each in double-A and triple-A in large part due to a dependency on his shiny new two-seamer. He threw 25.1 innings in April for the Reading Fightin Phils with a 3.20 ERA and went 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in four starts for Lehigh Valley, allowing 15 hits in 29.1 innings.

Shortly thereafter, news of Asher’s 80-game suspension broke. The 25-year-old would not pitch again until three short appearances for the Phillies’ rookie affiliate in the Gulf Coast League and a start for Reading as his suspension wound down in August.

That two-seamer propelled him to a much more stable second stint with the big club. In his five-start, 2.28-ERA month of September with the Phillies, he held opponents to a .216/.257/.294 slash line with a 3.6% walk-rate.

Asher completely reversed his fastball usage this season in accordance with the organization’s wishes. Where in 2015 Asher threw his four-seamer four times more than his two-seamer, the story this season was the opposite. He threw his two-seamer more than four times as much as his flat four-seamer that Pete Mackanin saw knocked around in 2015.

In 2015, Asher went to his four-seamer 49.3% of the time while throwing his two-seamer for just 11.6% of all offerings. This season, exactly half of his pitches were two-seamers, throwing just 38 four-seamers (9% of all pitches).

Opponents struggled to make solid contact, hitting .191 against the two-seamer. Lefties, more than righties, struggled with the pitch that tailed away from their barrels. In 28 left-handed at-bats that ended with a two-seamer, only four came on the inside half if the plate, proving the pitch’s effectiveness in drawing swings as it dives away from the hitter.

The alteration seemed to work for Asher on each level he pitched at this season. He no longer displays the borderline mid to low 90s fastball advertised when he came over from Texas. He is firmly planted in the low 90s and now that he relies on the two-seamer, he resides most often around 90 mph. His groundball rate in the majors wasn’t as high as it was in the minors. That is something to look out for in 2017 if injuries allow him to crack the starting rotation at some point this season.

In just five starts, he accrued 0.6 WAR, the same as number as Adam Morgan in his 23 appearances. Yes, I too am baffled that Morgan managed a positive WAR this season (113.1 IP, 81 runs, 6.04 ERA, 4.98 FIP, 1.500 WHIP), but I digress.

All in all, Asher didn’t pitch at any one level for more than five consecutive starts, making it very tough to make appropriate judgments about his play this season. Assigning a firm grade, to me, feels a bit misleading with such small, chopped up sample sizes. When he pitched, he pitched well. But he couldn’t play consistently after being popped for taking gym candy. He didn’t earn any credits toward his degree for his shortened 2016 performance, but pitched well enough not to fail.

Grade: Pass