Asche Found His Bat

Back in 2013, Cody Asche made his major league debut for the Phillies following a quick rise through their minor league system. While he wasn’t topping any prospect lists, Asche looked to have a capable bat, and he represented a much needed injection of youth in an otherwise aging roster. But the capable bat didn’t fully translate to the major league level, and Asche spent the next few years posting consistently sub-par offensive numbers while working his way down the defensive spectrum. So coming into the 2016 season, it’s fair to say that most fans had given up on Asche as any part of the team’s future.

But following an oblique strain that kept him sidelined through the end of May, Asche has spent the better part of the last month looking like the hitter the Phillies thought they were getting back in 2013. Through 80 plate appearances this year, Asche has a wOBA of .343, a number that places him 14% better than the league average. And while this wouldn’t be the first time Asche has hit this well over the course of a month, it is the first time his success at the plate is supported by any underlying changes.

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Is 2016 Offense Worst in Phillies History?

In a season once illuminated by a delightful yet fleeting month-and-a-half of overachievement, the Phillies uninspiring offensive attack has once again grabbed the headlines as they enter the meat of their summer schedule. Manager and resident mad scientist Pete Mackanin has done everything in his power to concoct a productive lineup, testing 68 different batting orders through the first 77 games. Who can blame him?

The team’s recent streak of hot hitting hasn’t significantly boosted the their overall numbers, or even put more tallies in the win column for that matter. Led by none other than offensive tour de force Peter Bourjos, the Phils have nearly doubled their run production in their last six games, posting six runs per contest, but have generated just a 2-4 record to show for it. In their first 71 games on the year, they scored all of 3.11 runs per game. While this offensive hot hand is surely just a blip on the radar, a faint mirage in the early summer heat, it got me thinking: just how bad is this offense really?

Well, buckle up.

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First Impressions of Edubray Ramos

This weekend, right-handed reliever Edubray Ramos became the most recent in the seemingly never-ending parade of prospects to make their Phillies debuts. Given that he’s “just” a relief pitcher, he wasn’t nearly as highly regarded a prospect as recent call-up Zach Eflin or the Iron Pig teammates he leaves behind like Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford, and Jake Thompson. He is, however, a legitimate prospect. Last year was just his first season in full-season ball and the Phillies saw enough to protect him from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to the 40-man roster this past winter. That’s one hell of an indication as to how much the organization believed this 23-year-old has a future as a major league pitcher. Given that he’s arrived in Philadelphia this quickly, it would appear the organization was right.

Ramos made his major league debut during a third of an inning of work in Friday night’s game and pitched his first full inning in Saturday’s game. He’s recorded just four outs in the major leagues and, in doing so, he’s used just 12 pitches. That’s all we have to go on — twelve pitches. I mean, sure, there are minor league numbers and scouting reports to take into consideration. Heck, I even saw him in pitch in person at a Double-A game last season. (His control was horrific that night and I came away wondering what the hype was all about — it’s important to note I am not a scout.) So we have information about him, but now we actually get to watch him live in high-definition and start to get to know what Edubray Ramos: Major League Pitcher actually looks like.

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What’s Wrong With Aaron Nola?

The 2016 Phillies were supposed to be a terrible team and lately they’ve been living up (or down) to that expectation. What was not expected, however, was the complete deterioration of Aaron Nola‘s early season success. Entering play on June 11th, Nola had a 2.65 ERA, but now, three starts later, that ERA has risen all the way to 4.11.

2016 Aaron Nola
GS IP H ER R BB K ERA OPS
Through 6/10 12 78 62 29 23 15 85 2.65 .580
Since 6/10 3 9.2 22 20 17 7 10 15.83 1.191

He’s gone from one of the best pitchers in the league to a guy who is allowing the opposition to hit like peak Barry Bonds. That’s… well, it’s not good. But is it worth worrying about? Is it just three starts or is it a sign that something is wrong with the 23-year-old pitcher who looked, just weeks ago, like he could be a top of the rotation pitcher for the Phillies for the foreseeable future?

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Crash Landing: The Familiarity of Losing Baseball

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at watching bad baseball. Outside of Royals, Pirates, and maybe Padres fans, it’s hard to find baseball lovers my age who have watched more bad baseball in their lives than people like me who are afflicted with the disease of reflexive Phillies watching. I’ve watched the *insert your favorite mediocre 90s Phillie here* Phillies. And I’ve watched the *insert your favorite mediocre current Phillie here* Phillies. I’ve seen some garbage baseball, is what I’m saying.

I don’t mean this as a complaint. Not at all. The Phillies run of success from 2007 to 2011 made for an absolutely incredible baseball viewing experience which was more than worth all the down years. In my experience, watching bad baseball has deepened my appreciation and awareness of those glorious fleeting moments when good baseball actually cycles around. Plus, any baseball is better than no baseball.

But here’s the thing: I’ve recently found myself perversely comforted by the familiarity of the Phillies recent awful performance. The Phillies playing winning baseball is still foreign and unnerving. But losing? I get that. I know how to watch it. I’m good at this. Defensive miscues, failures to hit in clutch situations, pitching staffs getting lit up by the opposition… it’s like a home-cooked meal for me. Sure, it’s a blue box mac-and-cheese kind of home-cooked meal, but it’s comforting and familiar, no matter how poorly it resembles the ideal version of the food/sport it represents.

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In June, Eickhoff Increasing Slider Usage and Effectiveness

Much has been made of the importance of furnishing Jerad Eickhoff’s arsenal with an offering that complements his existing fastball-curveball combination.

After Eickhoff’s initial success in April that featured his curveball nearly every third pitch (4-for-48, .098 batting average and .244 slugging), hitters began to lay off his deuce and do damage against his fastballs. Only 26 at-bats in May ended in a curve. With a heater and a hook that the league had adjusted to, Eickhoff was faced with the most important hurdle all wannabe starters must surmount: what’s your third pitch?

Starters essentially can’t exist in the majors with only two offerings, regardless of how devastating they are. Especially not one who entered the season with just 51 major league innings on his resume. Eickhoff couldn’t effectively set down big league hitters once the book was out on both pitches.

In his newly polished slider, Eickhoff has found that elusive third pitch.

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Odubel Herrera Isn’t Walking Anymore

Aside from a shockingly positive win-loss record, the most talked about development of the early Phillies’ 2016 season was the explosion of Odubel Herrera‘s walk rate. Herrera said that he was disappointed with his rookie season strike out, and merely worked in the offseason to improve on his discipline. Whatever he did, it certainly worked early on – through the end of April, his 22.1 percent walk rate was tied for the league lead with Paul Goldschmidt.

However, much like that unexpected early season success, Odubel hasn’t maintained the walk rate. He’s still been a productive hitter (126 wRC+), but a rate that was tied for the league lead in April became tied for 69th in May, and has only been tied for the 114th-highest June walk rate (through 6/21). His cumulative 13.3 percent walk rate is still among league leaders – it just appears to have regressed to the mean over the last two months.

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Phillies Announce Signing Of Mickey Moniak

The Phillies announced late this afternoon that they have agreed to terms with OF Mickey Moniak, first overall pick in this year’s amateur draft. Sounds like a press conference is coming early this week, with @KevinCooney calling it “the next day or so”. Jim Callis is reporting the bonus at $6.1M, which is well shy if the $9.015M value for the pick, and less than the reported $6.2M bonus for #2 overall pick Nick Senzel.

That savings will come in handy in signing second round pick RHP Kevin Gowdy, as he was due to make well over his pick value of $1.54M. Jim Salisbury had reported that number was something like $4.5M, but later mentioned that his figures were incorrect and did not correct the number publicly. Third Rounder Cole Stobbe has been reported to have signed for $1.1M, (Callis again), a good bit north of his pick’s value of $813k, and the Phils will want some savings for a handful of their 11-40th round picks, including their 11-13 rounders Josh Stephen, Justin Miller and Andrew Brown, who seem to be overslot  candidates – bonuses over $100k count towards the Phils bonus pool for anyone beyond Round 10. Miller is listed as signed on various sources, though no bonus has been quoted.

The Potentially Underrated Tyler Goeddel

The Phillies are a difficult team to watch right now. The unexpected, early season run is over, the briefly dominant pitching has taken a few steps backwards, and the offense has slowly ground to a complete halt. The upper levels of the minors seem to be teeming with exciting prospects, but we’re stuck in limbo until the front office deems them ready to handle a major league job. The only fun in watching a game these days is following the few players on the team that have both youth and potential still on their side. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see one such young player, Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel, riding the bench on a regular basis.

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Severino Gonzalez, Flamethrower

In a somewhat problematic admission as it relates to my baseball writing career, I’m still fairly new to the sport. I didn’t actually start following along until the end of my freshman year of college, and as I’m oft to mention, the first game I watched from start to finish was Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. As someone from South-Eastern Pennsylvania, that’s not an ideal first memory.

However, I caught on, and as a result of this late start, I’ve always had a fascination with likely-fungible-relief-arm Severino Gonzalez. A great story (a $14,000 signing as an undersized 18-year old in Panama), he was putting up video game numbers in the waning Venezuelan Summer League in 2012, and the low minors in 2013, as I was gaining an understanding of the Minor Leagues and the prospect industry. I didn’t *really* have an appreciation of the relationship between advanced command and low-minors video game numbers, so despite his size and lack of inherent stuff, he always seemed like an overlooked and underrated prospect.

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