Crash Landing: Tommy Joseph, The Information Gap, and Open Minds

I don’t know what to make of Tommy Joseph. I don’t know whether it’s more realistic to be optimistic or pessimistic. Without any real track record over the past four years, he’s as close to a baseball mystery as we get in the modern game. All I know to feel is excitement. Any dreams of a legitimate major league future for him were dismissed as fantasy months if not years ago and now here he is, the Philadelphia Phillies starting first baseman. That’s a terrific, incredible story, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering whether we’re witnessing the end of a comeback story or the beginning.

There are a few reasons why sabermetric analysis appeals to me, but perhaps the biggest one is the most basic — it’s a remarkable tool in the search for baseball truths. We’ve all been wrong more than we’ve been right about players in this beautifully unpredictable sport. Sabermetric principles, however, give us a means to help fight that unpredictability. A year ago it helped me look at two of the Phillies few bright offensive spotsOdubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez – and identify which one provided more cause for optimism going forward. It also gave me the tools a year and a half ago to look at Domonic Brown and find reasons for hope that now look foolish in retrospect. As I said, we’re still going to be wrong about this silly sport frequently. Truth in baseball is a mirage which doesn’t actually exist, but smart, thoughtful analysis is the best way I’ve found to try to understand the game as well as our flawed minds can.

Entering play on Wednesday, Tommy Joseph had accumulated 642 plate appearances in affiliated ball for the Phillies organization since being acquired in July 2012. That’s nearly four years and he’s taken just 642 plate appearances. In the majors last season, 49 different players racked up 642 or more plate appearances. Four years in the system and we have barely one season’s worth of data on Tommy Joseph. With that extreme lack of statistical information to go on, this is one of those times were sabermetric analysis fails us.

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I Didn’t Know We Had Zac Efron (It’s Zach Eflin, Mom)

No, my mom didn’t say that to me. But she might. (If I ever bothered to call her).

Did you know Zac Efron is a Dodger fan? I mean, I guess he is. Getty shows him at a Dodger game once, wearing a Dodger cap. Though it was hard to resist him standing with Barry Bonds on the Red Carpet for High School Musical 3. Anyway, Efron’s a Dodger guy, and so, for a minute, was Zach Eflin.

Eflin came through LA on his way from San Diego to Philly in the Jimmy Rollins/Matt Kemp maneuvering the Dodgers pulled off in late fall 2014. It remains to be seen whether the Phils long-time shortstop played his last big league game last week. But the young righthander who was the primary return for a year of his services will make his big league debut today for The Phils, and it should be a night to remember, except it’s the early afternoon getaway day game at Toronto today, (wait, what time is it? Oh, 12:37 EST), as The Phils and Jays do their annual Home and Home 2×2 series which should probably have a name and a trophy like College Football. “The Blue Jay Trophy” would be appropriate, except it seems to weight to The Present Day Jays. We’ll come up with something.

So who is this young man, and what are we to expect from this debut, his start of something new? Continue reading…

Tommy The Usurper

For the first time in almost 11 years, Ryan Howard is not the Phillies’ everyday first baseman. What did it take to supplant the former National League Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and World Series champ?

It took a former second round pick drafted out of high school in Scottsdale, Arizona. It took a prospect originally acquired in the 2012 trade that sent Hunter Pence to San Francisco. It took a Triple-A performance from a catcher-turned first baseman that the big league club couldn’t ignore. It took Tommy Joseph.

Even given Howard’s vile 2016 performance—his .150 batting average is worst of any major leaguer with 100 plate appearances—there was reason to not rush Joseph into a starting role. An injury-plagued minor league career saw Joseph appear in just 176 games (671 plate appearances) in the Phillies organization between August 2012 and May 2016, when he was called up to the bigs. His experience in the minors fell far short of what one would normally expect from a 24-year-old career minor leaguer.

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Phillies Pitching Roster Moves

As expected, Vince Velasquez is headed to the 15-day disabled list with an injury described as a right biceps strain. The immediate diagnosis is encouraging:

Given Velasquez’s significant history of health concerns, an overabundance of caution was to be expected. Hopefully the reports are accurate and the injury is a minor one which can be treated with rest. However, there has not yet been a timetable given for his return to the major league mound.

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Phils Pick RHP Kevin Gowdy, Plus Day 1 Wrap and Sentimental Rambling

With the first pick in round two, and 42nd overall on the night, The Phillies picked RHP Kevin Gowdy from Santa Barbara High School in (wait for it) Santa Barbara, CA. He’ll be an overslot sign to buy out his commitment to UCLA, and he’s been ranked #24 overall by Keith Law, #33 by John Sickels at Minorleagueball.com, #39 by Baseball America, #37 by MLB.com. Sickels is right at the average, and pick 33 this year was worth $1.9M. So probably we can start there and go up. The club likely knows what he’ll take and is ready to nab someone else tomorrow morning at 3.1 with some or all of whatever bonus money’s leftover. Continue reading…

Phils Make Mickey Moniak Top Draft Choice Of 2016

In what was only a surprise move if you weren’t paying attention for the last 24 hours or so, The Phillies selected Outfielder Mickey Moniak from La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California. Moniak will likely sign for well below the assigned pick value of just north of $9M, though it could be some time before we get an official number there. I’d guess it’s not less than $5.25M, but not much more. Sense was he would not get picked by Atlanta or Cincinnati, so his point of leverage for bonus would by the fourth pick – slotted at $5.26M.

Moniak’s been described as having the best prep hit tool in the draft, and I’ve seen that unqualified as well. Word seems to be that scouts believe in his glove and legs enough that he should stick in centerfield, and the arm will hold up there as well. The only ceiling issue is his power – he’s listed at just 6’2″, 190lbs, and the swing is geared for line drives, not fly balls. If you’re an elite bat playing solid defense at a plus position, you don’t need much power to be an above league-average player, so even if it never develops, Moniak could still be all-star caliber on a regular basis.

If I were to guess on where he’d start his pro career, I would suggest that like JP Crawford a couple years back, he’ll hit the Gulf Coast League whenever he signs, and his play thereafter will dictate whether he ever has to stop off in Williamsport, or if he can cruise to a full-season league. Just a sense here based on how his tools have been lauded- they could probably start him in Williamsport or even Lakewood and see how it goes, but my gut says that he’ll be held at their minor league home base in Clearwater instead. If he has success on the field, it may not be long at all before he is jumped up.

We’ll see you at Pick 42 – 2.1. Cross your fingers someone good falls that far.

2016: Philadelphia’s Year of the Draft

Continuing our draft coverage, I took a macro look at the Phillies’ draft day situation in relation to the rest of the city’s pro teams. For a good read on just how convoluted the MLB Draft is a la “slot values” and high schoolers attempting to exert leverage over multi-billion dollar organizations, check out Corinne’s rundown. It’s the Wild Wild West…in Secaucus, New Jersey. It’s all meaningful for the Phils, who control the board with the first overall selection. For a taste of what Klentak, MacPhail and Co. may do with 1/1, read Brad Engler’s preview.

The folklore surrounding the first overall selection in professional sports drafts is unparalleled. It’s the sole factor linking the Greg Odens, Ryan Leafs (Leaves?) and Brien Taylors of the sporting universe, whose immense expectations are met only with more significant letdowns.

But here in Philadelphia, the first city ever bestowed with three top-two picks in the same calendar year (Phillies and Sixers with no. 1 overall, Eagles with no. 2), the repercussions of each selection could not be more different.

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Franco’s Problems Are Popping Up

There is one number that sums up the frustration of Maikel Franco‘s season thus far: 26.5%. That’s the percentage of hard hit balls, according to Baseball Info Solutions, that he has hit this year, and that ranks him 151st out of 175 qualified hitters in MLB. It’s not that Franco is incapable of hitting the ball hard, as he has certainly shown the ability to crush a baseball. His problem is in doing it with any consistency.

The obvious answer to this is the approach. Franco is an aggressive swinger, and this year he has increased his rate of swings specifically on pitches in the strike zone. This aggressiveness would be justified if he was choosing the right pitches to swing at, but a small piece of Franco’s batted ball profile hints that he is not.

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What To Expect When You’re Expecting (Too Much)

I trust you all read Corinne’s piece earlier, and so you’re up on the big picture. I’ll try to get a little more detailed and throw out some of the names that everyone who follows the draft closely has been discussing the last couple weeks and months.

We all have this problem right now. Our team has this very valuable commodity, and they want to turn it into the best player they can. In another year, you may turn that commodity into a Harper, or a Griffey or Rodriguez, or a grown-ass man named Chipper (eww) or Pat the Bat (hmm).

But alas, transcendent talents don’t necessarily come along every year. This year we have a choice between a couple very good college bats with differing levels of risk/reward at the plate and differing levels of defensive ability and speed, a couple prep guys with equally warty baseball complexions due to bust potential and “character” questions, and a Big Old Southpaw from a Big Old College Conference, who would probably be an easy pick if he weren’t so danged inconsistent with his danged command. Yes, I imagine everyone from Florida talks like that.

And such is the conundrum we face, as we wonder just who, in fact, the Phillies will take just after 7pm Thursday night with their hard-earned 99-loss first overall pick in the MLB Draft, (it sure was hard on all of us to watch). The club’s front office’s version of the problem is far worse, of course, as their jobs depend on the answer and the outcome in years to come, but one would hope they’re equipped to deal with it a little better than we are. If not, we all should start rooting for The Cubs or something.

So who is the pick? Continue reading…

Crash Landing: The Dreams of Drafting #1 Overall and the Reality

The phrase “#1 overall pick” has a peculiar, almost mystical quality to it. As a concept a “#1 overall pick” is almost always Ken Griffey, Jr. or Alex Rodriguez or Chipper Jones. Maaaybe if we’re feeling reasonable “#1 overall pick” only means something like David Price or Stephen Strasburg or Justin Upton — merely All-Star level talents instead of surefire Hall of Famers. One thing is for sure, though, “#1 overall pick” in the abstract never means Delmon Young or Bryan Bullington or Tim Beckham. We’ve been talking about the Phillies #1 overall pick in the abstract for at least a year now and it’s meant nothing but fantasies of greatness, but tonight that all changes. Tonight the “#1 overall pick” gets a name. Tonight it becomes real.

I didn’t expect it the 2016 draft to shape up like this. Two years ago when the Phillies picked seventh overall everybody knew Aaron Nola would be the pick. Sure, there were other possibilities and other names to track, but by the time the draft rolled around there was little-to-no mystery. If Nola was there, the Phillies were going to take him. And, hey, that’s worked out pretty darn well! So, I figured, now that the Phillies have the first pick it’s guaranteed that we’ll know who the pick will be, right? It doesn’t matter what any other team does, the Phillies can pick absolutely anyone they want. If we knew Nola was coming, then of course we’ll know who’s coming with the first pick. It was a given.

Except of course it’s not. It seems so simple on the surface — the Phillies get to pick whoever they want! — and somehow it’s become maddeningly complex. There’s no clear cut #1 overall pick and, with the structure of the draft being what it is, money may well be the deciding factor in a scenario I just didn’t see coming.

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