Crash Landing: Joy Is Good

Through the first two weeks of the season, many words on this website have been dedicated to what’s important about the 2016 Phillies season and, just as critically, what’s not important. Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera? Important. The roster placeholders in the outfield? Not. The trio of young starters? Important. The bullpen? Not. The development of minor league prospects? Important. The 2016 Phillies win-loss record? Absolutely not.

I’ve urged you to forget losses and to shrug off the underperformance of players whose stays in Philadelphia are temporary. From a strictly rational and analytical perspective, I’m convinced that this is not just the right approach but also the only satisfying approach to following the 2016 Phillies season. This team is not designed to win right now, but if you look in the right spots, there are really exciting things happening and with Franco/Herrera/Nola/Eickhoff/Velasquez, many of those exciting things are unfolding at the major league level. It only makes sense to focus on what the team is building toward instead of bemoaning what this team is not currently equipped to do.

But when I started this weekly column, I told you that the title of the column is more than an obnoxious pun, it’s also a reminder to myself to keep my analysis grounded in reality. Although in a very real sense yesterday’s win over the Washington Nationals didn’t truly matter — after all the heroes of the game were Peter Bourjos, Andres Blanco, and Freddy Galvis, all of whom are functionally “roster placeholders” — I would be an absolute fool to tell you that the biggest takeaway from the game should’ve been the performance of Franco and/or Herrera. The greatest lesson from yesterday is what any Phillies fan from age 3 to 103 watching would’ve been able to tell you at the end of the game: baseball is great.

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Mackanin Shakes Up the Lineup in Inexcusable Ways

Darin Ruf spent all of spring training working at first base and preparing to be in a strict first base platoon with his left-handed counterpart, Ryan Howard. Through four seasons and 671 innings spent in a major league outfield, the Phillies had seen enough to know that the Darin Ruf outfield experiment was a failure. His range is abysmal and, although his arm is surprisingly strong, it’s also woefully inaccurate. There’s no getting around the fact that he is a massive liability in the field.

Ruf also sports an overwhelmingly large career platoon split — 156 wRC+ vs. LHP, 80 wRC+ vs. RHP. Given Howard’s struggles against left-handed pitching, this has made the platoon match ideal. Ruf should not start against righties and Howard should not start against lefties. Splitting first base duties is common sense and, just as importantly, it keeps Ruf’s glove out of the outfield.

The Phillies did a commendable job sticking to this plan even when outfielders Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche went down with injuries in spring training. Unfortunately, that admirable dedication to a logical, if unappealing, plan went out the window today with a brash and downright panicky starting lineup —

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Vince Velasquez Pitched An Absolute Gem

Where do you even start? Is it with the fact that the complete game shutout Vince Velasquez twirled today was the first shutout by a Phillies starter since Cole Hamels’ no-hitter last July and just the second since Cliff Lee threw a shutout on 5/22/13? Or do you instead go with the fact that Velasquez’s 16 strikeouts marked just the sixth 16 strikeout game in franchise history? Load up Baseball-Reference tomorrow morning and there will be one more game added to this illustrious list:
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Stumpf PED Suspension Shakes Up Phillies Roster

Prior to the Vince Veleasquez eviscerating the Padres lineup today, the Phillies announced that their Rule 5 reliever Daniel Stumpf tested positive for an anabolic steroid called dehydrochlormethyltestosterone and will serve an 80-game suspension.

Matt Gelb did an excellent job laying out the specifics of what this means in regards to Stumpf’s Rule 5 status. The key takeaways:

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Link: Why Gibbons’ Casual Sexism Matters

As some of you may know, I write about non-Phillies-centric baseball topics at a couple other places on the internet. The vast majority of my Phillies content is housed right here on Crashburn Alley, so if that’s all you care to read from me there’s no need to update your bookmarks. If you are interested in reading my other work, however, you can do so at The Hardball Times or Today’s Knuckleball.

I’ve never plugged my other work here and don’t intend to start doing so, but I wanted to make an exception today and encourage you to read a piece I have up at The Hardball Times. Last week Blue Jays manager John Gibbons made an off-the-cuff remark with sexist undertones which reopened discussions about gender and baseball. Although I’ve largely steered clear of writing about gender and baseball, it would be disingenuous to deny that being a woman impacts the way I’ve interacted with baseball throughout my life. For a variety of reasons, this was the right time for me to tell my story and explain why language, jokes, and comments like the ones Gibbons made have a real impact on fans of the game and people like me. The full article is here: When The Sport You Love Doesn’t Love You Back

I hope you read it because I think it provides important background about who I am and the lens through which I view baseball. And, as always, thank you to all the readers of Crashburn for helping create an environment where I am free and able to just be another baseball writer.

Fun Facts: The Phillies Early Rotation Success

Entering today there had been 218 team games played (109 actual games) in the majors this season of which just ten have been a shutout. Two of those ten shutouts have been thrown by the Phillies. It’s the first time since 1972 that the Phillies have tossed two shutouts in their first 8 games of the season. Unsurprisingly, both of those 1972 shutouts were started by Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. Of course those 1972 Phillies ended up going 59-97 in a strike shortened season which put them on pace for a 61-101 record in a 162-game season. But let’s not let that inconvenient fact dampen our fun.

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The First Base Platoon Hits a Snag

Through the first seven games of the season, the Phillies have been opposed by a right-handed starting pitcher six times. As a result, Darin Ruf has made one start so far this season and racked up just nine plate appearances. With only one single and two walks to his name, his stat line is abysmal — .143/.222/.143 — in his extraordinarily limited playing time.

Things were supposed to start going Ruf’s way tonight, however, with the lefty Robbie Erlin on the bump for San Diego and another lefty, Drew Pomeranz, on the schedule for Thursday’s game. Yesterday Pete Mackanin demonstrated his dedication to a strict first base platoon when he pinch hit Ruf for franchise legend Ryan Howard with the bases loaded and a lefty on the mound. This left no doubt that Ruf was going to get his chance to start against San Diego’s southpaws.

And then the Phillies released tonight’s lineup…

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Adventures With The Infield Fly

Infield Fly Rule controversies are to baseball what sharks are to the Jersey shore. You’ve heard about them enough that you have a vague idea of what will happen if one shows up, but you don’t ever expect one to actually impact your day. Unless you’re the 2016 Phillies, evidently. For the second time in just four days, the Phillies found themselves victims of the typically mundane rule.

In the eighth inning of Friday night’s game against the New York Mets, Odubel Herrera came up to bat with runners on first and second, one out, and the Phillies trailing the Mets 7-2. Herrera worked the count full, but popped the ball straight in the air and, well, this happened:
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The Young Pitching Trio By The Numbers

The first week of the Phillies season couldn’t have gone much better. To accept this fact, you must buy in on the philosophy we’re working under this season which is that two things don’t matter for the 2016 Phillies: 1) the team’s win-loss record and 2) the performance of roster placeholders. Yes, it’s possible that players under contract for just 2016 like Jeremy Hellickson or David Hernandez may build up a modicum of trade value, but the likely return on any of this team’s free-agents-to-be is small enough as to be hardly worth mentioning. All that truly matters is the continued development and performance of the Phillies next wave of talent.

From this mindset, the only disappointment thus far is Odubel Herrera who racked up just four hits through the first week of the season. Of course yesterday he went 1-for-3 with a homer and a walk and with a few more games like that he’ll be right back on track.

The big positives have been exceedingly encouraging. There’s Maikel Franco who is hitting .333/.429/.556 through 21 plate appearance and looks to be picking up right where he left off when a hit by pitch essentially ended his 2015 season and then there’s the extraordinarily promising young trio of starting pitchers. Through one turn in the rotation, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez have combined for this stellar pitching line:

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