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.
The Phillies entered 2016 with low expectations and big dreams for the future, so it kind of makes sense that some of their brightest spots shone from FirstEnergy Stadium. Home to the Reading Fightin Phils, FirstEnergy hosted the most exciting hitting tandem in minor league baseball this year.
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.
Joely Rodriguez joined the Phillies after the 2014 season, following an inconsistent season between the rotation and the bullpen while with Pittsburgh’s double A affiliate. He performed well in the Arizona Fall League, at which point he was requested in return for long time Phillies’ bullpen stalwart Antonio Bastardo. This is apt, as both teams were exchanging similar skillsets, just at different places on the risk/team control curve.
Both Rodriguez and Bastardo are sturdy-bodied left hand pitchers, relying (at their best) on mid-90s fastballs and whiff-inducing sliders. They both rose through the minors as starting pitchers, but due to fringe-y changeups and control problems, were likely to move to the bullpen. Certainly, there are some differences. Rodriguez throws a sinker, has a harder slider, employs a lower arm slot, and focuses more on generating ground balls. Bastardo has always had a very high strikeout rate, and relies far more heavily on a 3/4 arm slot and fourseam fastball to accomplish that end.
However, as a general profile, they’re undoubtedly similar – left-handed, likely seventh-inning arms with a possible setup man peak. The trade was instead more interesting as a trade of risk, potential, and inexpensive team control for an established arm with a track record, even if it was more expensive and for a shorter period of time. The trade-off was mutually beneficial, because of both teams’ competitive windows. The Phillies were becoming more realistic about their competitive chances and entering a rebuild head-on. The Pirates finally had a competitive core with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, Neil Walker, and a breakout performance from Josh Harrison. Behind Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, Bastardo provided another late-inning option for a team expecting to compete.
When writing these report cards, players are evaluated a few different factors each comprising their own sort of curve, which are all then weighed to the tastes of the writer reviewing the player’s season. These factors include grading the player’s season relative to the rest of the league, their personal expectations (preseason projections), and the role the team expected the player to fill.
Personally, I tend to weigh the latter two factors fairly heavily, which leaves me at something of a loss when evaluating Tommy Joseph. He was the headline piece of the Hunter Pence trade to San Francisco back at the 2012 Trade Deadline. At the time a catcher, he was placed on the 40-man roster ahead of the 2013 Rule 5 Draft, before a series of concussions forced him to move from catcher. At the less valuable defensive position of first base, much more was required from his bat, lessening his prospect value. In fact, prior to the 2016 season, Joseph was outrighted from the 40-man roster and left exposed in the Rule 5 draft.
If part of the grading criteria is an evaluation of the player relative to his expected role on the team, it seems clear that Joseph had no expected role entering 2016. A blistering first five weeks of the season in triple A – he hit .347/.370/.611 with 13 extra-base hits in exactly 100 plate appearances – pushed him into the conversation. On May 13, he was promoted to the Major League roster as Darin Ruf was optioned to Lehigh Valley.
On Thursday, the Phillies gazed into the long-term future of the franchise. What they saw was Odubel Herrera, roaming the outfield grass of Citizens Bank Park, tossing live baseballs into the stands while daydreaming about his next bat flip. Would it come on a home run? A pop-up? A called strike three? There’s only so much you can know about the future. But convinced that Herrera would be a part of it, the Phillies decided to offer the young outfielder a long-term contract that potentially keeps him in Philadelphia through the end of the 2023 season.
Once upon a time, Adam Morgan was a touted pitching prospect, a third round pick in the 2011 draft and a standout performer in the Phillies farm system. In May of 2013, the young lefty was on a sharp upward trajectory, carving up hitters at the AA and AAA levels when a torn rotator cuff sidelined him for the next two seasons.
So when Morgan stepped onto the big league mound midway through 2015 and pitched to a 4.48 ERA/1.245 WHIP across 84.1 innings, it was seen as an encouraging step forward. The performance was good for a 5-7 record. Approaching the 2016 season, Morgan was never likely to make the starting rotation but he was at least poised to build on his promising work as a rookie spot starter.
But that’s not how it went.
Entering 2016, Freddy Galvis has been known as a small, defensive wizard at shortstop with a light, switch-hitting bat. He had the occasional big home run, but would have consistently ranked highly on a hypothetical list of the “least likely power hitters.” However, Galvis ended up being one of the most conspicuous examples of the heightened home run rate that affected all of baseball in 2016.
Freddy Galvis hit 20 home runs in a single season. That’s an unbelievable thing. He hit as many home runs as Carlos Correa, Anthony Rendon, and Russell Martin, all of whom qualified for the batting title. He hit more home runs than Adrian Gonzalez, Ben Zobrist, Alex Gordon, or Dustin Pedroia, all of whom qualified for the batting title. He hit as many home runs as Joe Mauer and Starling Marte, combined (again, both of whom qualified for the batting title).
The San Francisco Giants’ three biggest, healthiest bats – Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey – all produced at least 4.0 fWAR while accumulating over 600 plate appearances, and all hit fewer home runs than Freddy Galvis. The Giants as a whole had a 90-72 pythagorean win-loss record and made it to the NLDS, and not a single batter on that team hit as many home runs as this 5′ 10″ switch-hitting shortstop.
Galvis’ race to 20 home runs felt almost like a weird record chase by the end of the year, and anticipation rose with every game in an otherwise dreary season. What began in the second half as an earnest look at a potential breakout spawned a fun and incredulous series of takes related to Galvis’ impending milestone.
Note: For this report card, I am only grading Thompson on his major league production. He set triple-A on fire and would score straight-A’s for his time in Lehigh Valley while four-and-a-half years younger than the average player in the International League. He threw 129.2 innings with a 2.50 ERA, the best mark in the league by over a half of a run, including going 8-0 in his final 11 starts with a 1.21 ERA and 0.942 WHIP.
The last time you saw Jake Thompson, he was pulled after four innings of work trailing 3-0 against the New York Mets during a game that in a few short innings would become the worst shutout loss in modern Phillies history.
The next 14 unanswered runs – surrendered by the likes of Phil Klein, Colton Murray, Frank Herrmann, Patrick Schuster and Luis Garcia – went a long way toward the bullpen’s MLB-worst 7.88 ERA in September. Not exactly a batch of world-beaters.
The start was the last of 10 for the 22-year-old after an August call-up, his first taste of the big leagues with his third MLB organization. As a prospect included in two swaps for big-name pitchers, the former second-round draft pick of the Tigers was sent to Texas as part of a Joakim Soria deal in the summer of 2014, and exactly a year and one week after that, left the dry heat of Texas as one of the four prospects sent to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels trade.
For the least two seasons, he’s graced each of the three most prominent pre-season Top 100 prospect lists.
|Baseball America||MLB Pipeline||Baseball Prospectus|
The last of the three pitching prospects netted in the Hamels deal to pitch for the big club, Thompson debuted on August 6, splitting 10 starts evenly between August and September before being shut down after his aforementioned start in Queens. His season inning total climbed to 182.1 IP combined between triple-A Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, the most for a season in his career, prompting Pete Mackanin to cut his season short.
Thompson’s year-by-year innings totals are as follows. 2012: 28.1 (rookie ball), 2013: 83.1 (single-A), 2014: 129.2 (high-A and double-A), 2015: 132.2 (double-A), 2016: 182.1 (triple-A and MLB). Overall, a very reasonable workload inflation.
A rough August for Thompson was remedied with a much more stable September, as evidenced by nearly every split shown above. The lone stats that remained identical were his BB/K figures. Thompson has always been a strike-thrower with a wide arsenal of pitches, but has never truly established himself as a strikeout guy. His BB% showed promising decline as he climbed the minor league ranks despite multiple organizational switches and coaching staffs, and remained in the 7-8% range from his time in double-A with Texas through his promotion to the Phillies. At 11.8% in his 10 starts this season, it was just about the highest in his career. His 13.8% K-rate was the lowest in his career.
His fully-stocked, six-pitch mix is what I call a firework repertoire. Imagine a four-seam fastball as the center of an exploding firework. His off-speed pitches include a slider with right-to-left movement and some downward plane, a left-to-right changeup that backs up on right-handers and has fair downward movement as well, and a curveball with average drop. In addition to his four-seamer, he throws a hard sinker with arm-side tail and a cutter with the opposite action. All originating from that four-seam fastball slot, this gives him offerings that move in every conceivable direction with speed and depth variations for each.
The slider was his go-to out pitch in the minors, but he struggled with it toward his call-up. He threw it the most of any of his non-four-seam options in the majors and saw fair success with it.
In his disappointing August, he mixed up his pitches and struggled. The main adjustment he made entering September was to rely more on his four-seamer; It was the only pitch he threw more in September than August, while using every other offering less.
I think it is unlikely he continues to progress as a six-pitch pitcher. None of the six seem to be so detrimental that they are taking away from his ability to pitch as of now, but look for him to potentially scrap an offering in the future as he learns more about who he is and how he can be most effective as a major league starter.
Gun to my head, I’d guess he drops the curveball. He threw it sparingly both months – just 17 times (3.57%) in August and twice in September – and didn’t get a single whiff on it. But if his slider regains it’s minor league form and go-to status, maybe he discards the cutter that shares similar, albeit significantly less, gloveside run. No decisions need be made so early in a career, and he’s shown he’s not too set in his ways to make adjustments, be it mechanical or arsenal-related. Late in August, Bob McLure simplified Thompson’s windup by scrapping his hands-over the head trigger and molding it into a modified stretch.
My main takeaway from a ten-start major league debut is the adjustment from one month to the next. The lack of what would be understandable frustration after opening his MLB career in such a fashion is encouraging. And we should get to see a lot of Thompson this year as he presumably slots into the fifth spot in the rotation behind Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez. I’d grade Thompson’s August as a D- and September as a B-, averaging out to a C-. Still a passing grade.
Not one local paper seized the opportunity to use the headline “VERY VERY EXTRAORDINARY” when Vince Velasquez struck out 16 Padres en route to a three-hit shutout on April 14. No wonder the industry is on the decline. You can pin it on the internet if you want, but when you miss out on Nat “King” Cole references, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.
A highlight of his and his team’s season, VV’s early-year gem may have put unattainable expectations on the second-year hurler’s season. Set those aside, and what’s left is a very very strong year for a potential stalwart in the Phils’ approaching competitive window. Continue reading…