Is César Hernández For Real?

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 second baseman César Hernández.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, César Hernández surprisingly managed to lead the Phillies in fWAR last year with 4.4. This was also third best among second basemen in the National League. At the beginning of last season, if you had given me 5 guesses on who would lead the Phillies in WAR, I don’t think Hernández would have made the cut, but here we are.

His path to very-good-playerdom followed the Luis Castillo precedent of good defense, high average, lots of walks, little power, and decent baserunning, but how much of that is sustainable for the 26-year-old’s upcoming seasons? Let’s pick this apart piece by piece. Continue reading…

Look Ma, Two Hands! Phillies Trade for Ambidextrous Pitcher Pat Venditte

Two hands are better than one.

Sunday afternoon, the Phillies acquired switch-pitcher Pat Venditte from the Seattle Mariners. He’s light-handed, he’s reft-handed, he’s ambidextrous.

The 31-year-old, currently pitching for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, has spent time with four different organizations since the Yankees drafted him in the 20th round in 2008 from Creighton University.

He’s excelled in the high minors, with a career 2.93 ERA in four seasons in triple-A and a 3.09 ERA in parts of four seasons in double-A.

The cost for the Phillies was minor league outfielder Joey Curletta. If you haven’t heard of Curletta, it’s not just because of the numerous outfield prospects adorning the top of the team’s prospect rankings. Curletta was acquired from the Dodgers in September, after minor league seasons concluded, to complete the Carlos Ruiz-for-A.J. Ellis trade. His main (and debatably only) skill is hitting for power. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 10: A Foray into Guesses at Probability

Can you feel it? Real baseball is not only growing closer, as is typical of this time of year, but it is actually already upon us. The World Baseball Classic is on out televisions, though, so far, only at weird times for our East Coast sensibilities. I have to admit to being a skeptic about the WBC entering this year’s tournament. I had never watched it before, and with the relative dearth of major league players competing, I wasn’t optimistic about the quality of play. I was wrong. It’s great. There are rally plantains, a Mensch on the Bench, and generally, people having obvious fun playing baseball at a high level. You should tune in.

That said, there are no WBC questions in what follows, but there are questions about Phillies and major league baseball more generally.

@PompeyMalus: What have you seen in Franco so far? Signs of improved approach or no?

Spring Training is a difficult time to gauge any changes in a player’s approach at the plate. While it’s tempting to make a big deal about him seeing fewer than two pitches per plate appearance this spring, the fact is that just about every player is seeing minimal pitches. If you take a look at the Phillies Spring Training stats, it turns out that Franco’s two pitches per plate appearance is actually right in line with everyone else, if not sort of high for the team.

Continue reading…

Jeremy Hellickson: The Anatomy of a $17.2 Million Contract

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 Jeremy Hellickson.

For two years, Jeremy Hellickson was an above-average major league starting pitcher. That was 2011-12, the first two years of his career, during which he picked up a American League Rookie of the Year award and a Gold Glove. His ERA was 3.02.

For two years, Hellickson was a below-average major league starting pitcher. That was 2013-14, the following two years, and the end of his time in Tampa’s organization.

On November 14, 2014, he was traded to Arizona. Another below-average season followed, but he showed enough for the new Phillies brass to buy low on him one year to the day after the that trade sent him to the Diamondbacks. It was one of Matt Klentak’s first moves with the team, sending tall, physical right-handed pitching prospect Sam McWilliams for Hellickson’s services. Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…