Tommy Joseph: Swing At The Strikes

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is first baseman Tommy Joseph.

For the ardent reader of the Crashburn Roundtable, my enthusiasm for Tommy Joseph should come as no surprise. For those who chose baseball dormancy as Citizens Bank Park was preparing to close its doors, a quick review of said enthusiasm.

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Maikel Franco: Can He Just Chill Up There?

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is third baseman Maikel Franco.

Maikel Franco certainly makes himself look silly sometimes at the plate. As it became clear that his 2016 sophomore campaign was going to be a year-long source of frustration, spilled drinks, and, in it’s more unfortunate moments, broken screens of various sorts, the sight of Franco’s helmet flying off while reaching for a pitch low and away felt more rule than exception.

Because of Franco’s above-average ability to make contact on pitches out of the zone, his regression in plate discipline and strike-zone discernment don’t necessarily manifest themselves in more strikeouts or fewer walks. Of course, it did to some extent: Franco struck out in 16.8 percent of 2016 plate appearances versus 15.5 percent in 2015 and walked only 6.3 percent of the time versus 7.8 in 2015. Those are steps backwards, to be sure, but hardly alarming ones on their own.

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Jerad Eickhoff: Two Things to Watch For

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff.

To start off this preview, I want to give you the story of Jerad Eickhoff, the Phillie. Eickhoff was considered something of a throw-in, quad-A type pitcher in the Cole Hamels trade. He had 8 strong starts to finish out the 2015 season, which generated tempered optimism for the 2016 season. The fact that he was essentially Hamels’ equal last year in fWAR is nothing short of amazing.

He posted a 3.65 ERA over nearly 200 innings last year on the strength of a league-average strikeout rate and the 8th-best walk rate among qualified starting pitchers. Offsetting his mediocre fastball is a spectacular curveball and a solid slider. He’s also thrown a change about 5% of the time, but it’s gotten rocked (opponents slugged .643 against it). One of his Spring Training goals is to improve that change into a respectable pitch. The idea is that having a fourth option in his arsenal will make him less predictable and also allow his fastball to play up.

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Vince Velasquez: Trouble with the Curve

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is starting pitcher Vince Velasquez:

It’s no secret that Vince Velasquez, despite his electric fastball, struggled to pitch deep into games because of a lack of effective secondary pitches. He often looked like he was just trying to strike batters out, while forgoing other pitch-to-contact methods that can minimize pitch counts while still recording outs, albeit those not as flashy as 95-mph fastballs blown by helpless hitters.

By his own account, he’s is focusing on gaining trust in his curveball during spring training, a pitch he threw 13.6 percent of the time last season.

He had this to say of his struggles with the pitch: “If you have no conviction in it, no trust in it, why even throw it?” Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 9: Milestones, Brock, and Baseball

When the Crash Bag came to these pages last week, we were merely excited about the return of baseball to our televisions that very afternoon. This week, we have seen that base balling firsthand. On account of that, perhaps, the Crash Bag was full with questions about baseball. Weird, I know. But it’s the truth.

@PompeyMalus: Should I be excited about Brock Stassi?

Excited isn’t exactly the word I would use for it, but whatever floats your boat. At the end of the day, all we’re talking about is Stassi potentially breaking camp as the 25th man on a 25 man roster. That’s exciting enough. If he continues to hit like he has for another week or so, we’ll be in the midst of a full-fledged roster battle.

Maybe there’s still something to be excited about long-term with Stassi, but I guess I don’t really see it. He’s entering his age 27 season and has been generally old for his level–especially as a prospect–throughout his entire professional career. Unlike another recent old-for-his-level star Darin Ruf, Stassi’s level of success throughout the minors would be best described as merely above-average. Ruf, if you’ll recall, essentially hit like Mike Trout (by wRC+) before making his major league debut.

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Misguided Early Spring Training Analysis: 5th Outfielder Battle

Spring Training statistics are just short of utter meaninglessness. This likely isn’t news to you as a reader of Crashburn Alley. Bill Baer made it a point to provide an annual reminder of this fact on these very pages. That first link offers a particularly comprehensive reason for unreliability of Spring Training statistics. To start, the length of Spring Training is such that all sample sizes are small. Added to that are considerations such as players working on weaknesses rather than playing and competing as they would in regular season play and quality of competition.

In the first five games of 2017 Spring Training, we have seen all of that. Obviously, five games is a minuscule sample. We had reports yesterday of Clay Buchholz only working at 80 percent effort, which, presumably, would inflate the stats of hitters facing him. Phillies hitters have likely faced similar non-100 percent efforts from opposing pitchers. Early in the spring, especially, low-level minor leaguers see time in Grapefruit and Cactus League games, diluting the quality of competition even further than the spring on the whole. All that is to say that none of what follows matters much at all.

Even so, as a Phillies-centric site, it behooves us to focus on what is perhaps the only truly interesting roster battle in camp for the glorious role of fifth outfielder.

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If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It Till It Is

Spring Training is upon us, as signaled by the onslaught of upbeat stories about how the players spent their winter hibernation. Maikel Franco has slimmed down. Finally, a stolen base threat! Cesar Hernandez packed on fifteen pounds of muscle. He won’t have to run the bases if he’s hitting the ball over the fence! Mark Appel is finally getting full extension in his delivery. I had no idea full extension was still in play for Appel. This is a game changer!

Most of these anecdotes are forgotten by the time real baseball gets underway. A few, however, will remain relevant. One story with that potential: Hector Neris decided he needs a third pitch.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 8: The Hairy Walk of Time

Baseball is back! The college baseball season started last week and, just yesterday, players wearing Phillies uniforms played a baseball game in Clearwater, Florida. Those players mostly weren’t guys we’ll see much of in 2017, but they were Phillies. Today, marks the beginning of Grapefruit League play, so we’ll see even more Phillies.

Baseball is back!

@Phrozen_: is the IBB change a) the absolute worst idea ever or b) only the second worst idea ever after the DH?

Not to be pedantic, but we’ve had a lot worse ideas than the IBB change in the history of human civilization. Slavery, genocide, non-24-hour diners to name a few. The IBB change is small bones on a wider scale.

More to the point, I was sort of with you when this rule change was floated out as a possibility last week. I immediately thought of instances where runners advance on an IBB wild pitch or a pitcher gives up a hit when the intentional ball drifts back over the plate or a runner on third steals home on an overly nonchalant lob. Those instances will be sorely missed, to be sure. But they are so rare that we get, what, one of these events every three to five years?

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Who Are You Series Wrap-Up

For the past five weeks, we’ve been looking in depth at new members of the Phillies roster. In case you missed any of the profiles, here are links to all five of them:

OF – Howie Kendrick (link)

RP – Pat Neshek (link)

RP – Joaquin Benoit (link)

OF – Michael Saunders (link)

SP – Clay Buchholz (link)

Before putting a close on this series, I wanted to get some thoughts on some notable non-roster invites who didn’t merit due to questionable odds of making the team. Some were explored in some depth in our other preview series that attempted to predict the Opening Day roster well before it was prudent to do so.

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MLB Pipeline Releases Phillies Top 30 Prospects

On Tuesday, MLB released their top 30 prospects for every National League East team on MLBpipeline.com. While for many this was a chance to see what the league’s prospect gurus had to say about the Braves farm system, which is one of the best, we here at Crashburn were interested in getting our first look at their take on a Phils farm system that has seen some mixed reviews throughout the offseason.

While the general consensus is that the organization is above average, opinions have varied. Keith Law ranked the Phillies as the 14th best system, down from sixth heading into 2016, while Baseball Prospectus tabbed only three teams as having more Top 101 prospects than the Phillies.

A few factors combined to lower the esteem held toward what many in Philly think is a bright prospect-studded future. First, the organization graduated a handful of upper-level prospects last season. The last MLB Pipeline ranking in 2015 had Jake Thompson ranked third, Zach Eflin as a top-10 prospect and Alec Asher also listed at 25. All three played with the big club in 2016.

In addition, a few of the best prospects in the system didn’t take expected steps forward. Nick Williams tried to swing his way to Philadelphia with no such luck, J.P. Crawford, who many also assumed would debut with the Phillies late last season, didn’t make the adjustment to triple-A as swimmingly as hoped for a top-5 prospect in all of baseball, and Mark Appel struggled before having season-ending elbow surgery.

You lose some players to the majors, a few top guys don’t make statements that incite the greatest level of confidence, and your stock realistically will drop. So it went.

So how do they rank the current prospects? Continue reading…