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.

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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

A Crashburn Transition

When I really started getting interested in sabermetrics several years ago, there were a few places that, as someone invested in the Phillies, really stoked my passion for baseball and the analysis of the game. One of the most prominent was Crashburn Alley, a site that has always mixed analytics, scouting, and fundamentally great writing about the team in a way that made writing about baseball seem really appealing.

That is why I was so excited to be given the opportunity to manage the site when Corinne Landrey approached me about the position. Not only have I (hopefully) been able to continue the work done by previous writers like Bill Baer, Michael Baumann, Eric Longenhagen, Ryan Sommers, Paul Boye, and Corinne, but I’ve gotten to do work with all of the great writers currently on staff, establishing themselves on the site.

However, I am excited to say that I’ve been hired by the Boston Red Sox, and I’ll begin there come January. That does mean that this will be my last post on the site.

Happily, Crashburn Alley will continue and be in good hands with the new editor-in-chief, Eric Chesterton. I’m sure you are all familiar with him as a long time statistically-inclined writer at the The Good Phight and FanRag Sports, where he is known for his Phillies coverage. I’m excited to see where he leads the site, and I know he will do great work here.

I want to thank the staff – Ben Harris, Michael Schickling, Tim Guenther, Dave Tomar, Brad Engler, and Adam Dembowitz – for their many contributions during my admittedly brief time with the site. Bill Baer also deserves a lot of thanks for creating and maintaining such a great place to write.

And finally, thank you to everyone who reads and comments on the site. The readership has always been one of the greatest strengths of Crashburn Alley, and I hope that continues well into the future.

2016 Phillies Report Card: Roman Quinn

I’m going to run through this report card quickly, before a sudden injury prevents me from completing it. In the sporadic moments when Roman Quinn is on a baseball field, his talents are apparent. He is fast. Very fast. And there is obvious benefit to possessing such elite speed. Defensively, it translates to range in the outfield. Offensively, it means creating havoc on the base paths. But in order to run the bases, the rules of the game require that you first reach them. Quinn spent his brief time with the Phillies hinting at his capacity to do just that.

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Phillies Acquire Another Roll Of The Dice

The Phillies today traded for walking model of inconsistency Clay Buchholz. Along for the ride is a $13.5 million, one year commitment for 2017, which appears the preferred contract length of their offseason. Heading to Boston in the exchange is prospect Joshua Tobias, a 24 year old second baseman who most recently demonstrated his baseball aptitude at A+ Clearwater. It remains uncertain whether the Phillies are buying low on Buchholz, or just buying.

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