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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Baseball Is Bad

This is not good.

The popular refrain around Vince Velasquez when he was a prospect was something along the lines of: “The stuff is excellent, but can he stay healthy?” And it looks like his health is back in question again.

Prior to being removed from the game, Velasquez made no obvious gestures as to what exactly was bothering him. He didn’t grab his elbow. He didn’t particularly grimace. He simply started the game without an ability to throw a baseball the way we all know he can. Given the long-term significance of a healthy Velasquez, expect the Phillies to exhibit an abundance of caution with this injury — whatever it may be.

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Exploiting Bottom of the Zone Amplifies Phils’ Dominant Curveballs

Last week I explored the Phillies’ pitching staff’s ability to make hitters chase pitches while keeping swing rates down on balls in the zone. The numbers are staggering, but how exactly are they doing it? The answer: their most potent weapon, the curveball, plays incredibly well off their location-based, non-overpowering fastballs.

Exploiting the bottom-most edge of the strike zone makes a lot of sense given the current make-up of the arms manager Pete Mackanin sends to the mound. The staff as a whole lacks the dominant velocity that allows some leeway when leaving balls up in the zone. Despite an average fastball velocity only better than the Angels and Astros, according to Statcast, opponents haven’t punished the Phils’ offerings up over the plate.

Opponents are slugging .494 (eleventh-lowest in the league) against Phillies’ fastballs up in the zone with middle tier .224 isolated power. The teams with the three highest opposing batting averages against fastballs up in the zone all rank in the bottom five in average fastball velocity. But the Phillies are the outlier. Continue reading…

So, Jerad Eickhoff Had Himself A Game

The Cubs are 40-17 with a +142 run differential so massive that the Cubs are actually underperforming their Pythagorean record — by four games! Their 44-13 Pythag record indicates they’re scoring and preventing runs at a rate in line with a 125-win full season pace. Or, more simply, the Cubs are a really stinkin’ good baseball team right now. And, yet, check out Jerad Eickhoff‘s line against those dastardly Cubs last night:

7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8K

Yeah, that’ll do. In the previous four games the Phillies played against the Cubs, their starters (Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and Morgan twice) combined to give up 33 (!) hits and 20 earned runs over the span of just 20.2 innings. The Cubs were absolutely destroying Phillies pitching and then Jerad Eickhoff took the mound last night.

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Odubel Herrera Is Out Of The Lineup Tonight And That’s A Good Thing

I feel like every time I write something about the Phillies it starts with “hoo boy, that Phillies offense sure is bad, isn’t it?” I apologize for the repitition. I know you know the Phillies can’t hit. I know you know that if it weren’t for the Braves everyone would be talking about how historically bad this Phillies offense is. You don’t need me to repeat myself, but unfortunately, the analysis which follows requires this statement of fact to provide the necessary context and so…

The Phillies offense is bad.

With that out of the way, a bad offense can put a disproportionate amount of pressure on any good offensive players in the lineup. In the case of the 2016 Phillies, the only *good* offensive players are Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco. Sure, there are varying degrees of hope and optimism for Tyler Goeddel, Tommy Joseph, and perhaps even Cameron Rupp, but functionally, the offense rests on the shoulders of Herrera and Franco at the moment. With Franco struggling so far this season, this leaves Herrera as The Guy.

Herrera has done everything necessary to earn that reputation as the linchpin to the Phillies offense. He’s thrived in his new role as a leadoff hitter, leading the team in virtually every significant non-power driven statistical category from batting average to wRC+ to stolen bases to walk-rate. With that in mind, when the Phillies release a lineup like tonight’s lineup against the Cubs, it’s devastating due to the lack of The Guy at the top:

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Let’s Talk About Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco is not off to the start Phillies fans hoped to see. He’s posted a 91 wRC+ and his 0.2 fWAR ranks 25th of 26 qualified major league third basemen. Last night, he hit his ninth home run of the year and over his past ten games he’s batting .306/.350/.500; so, maybe a corner has been turned. But whether brighter days are on the horizon or not, it’s worth taking the time to look at what’s gone wrong.

I’ve stopped and started writing an analysis on Franco’s struggles multiple times over the past month, and the reason why I haven’t completed one until now isn’t good. It’s been hard to find an interesting or compelling angle on this analysis because what Franco has been doing is in line with his known profile. To be clear, there have been changes and areas where we can expect to see Franco improve going forward, and we’ll get to those; but, overall, what’s happened in 2016 so far aligns well with what we know to be true about him. Maikel Franco has been Maikel Franco this year and, given the results, that’s a scary thing.

If you were to boil down Franco’s offensive profile to one sentence, it might look something like this: Franco is an aggressive hitter with power and strong bat-to-ball skills. Now check out Brooks Baseball’s automatically generated profile of Franco at the plate in 2016:

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Rising from the Ashes: Asche Activated; Lough DFA’d

The changes keep on coming. Yesterday, the Phillies swapped Emmanuel Burriss for Jimmy Paredes and today the Phillies have made another change to their outfield composition. Today, the Phillies have finally activated Cody Asche who had been recovering from an oblique injury since the start of spring training.

For a fleeting moment in 2015, Asche looked like an important piece for the future of the Phillies. Nine games into the season he was slashing a tremendous .500/.571/.667 and it looked as though Maikel Franco was going to have his work cut out for him in trying to dethrone Asche at third base. But Asche’s star faded quickly as his BABIP normalized and people remembered that he was a miserable defender at third base.

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The Spin On Bailey’s Fastball

Andrew Bailey‘s four seam fastball is a remarkable pitch. At 2693 RPM, it leads all major league fastballs in spin rate. To quote directly from the Statcast glossary on the benefits of increased spin on a pitch:

“As more data have become available, most experts have agreed that fastballs and breaking balls are tougher to hit when they possess higher Spin Rates. In fact, some data suggest that Spin Rate correlates more closely than Velocity to swinging-strike percentage.”

The results that Bailey has received from his fastball attest to this statement. While major league pitchers average around a 7% swinging strike rate on the four seam fastball, Bailey has gotten whiffs at a 15.7% clip this year.  And when batters have put the pitch in play, the resultant exit velocity is on par with that against Clayton Kershaw‘s fastball.

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Phillies Acquire Jimmy Paredes

UPDATE 3:27 PM ET: As expected, the Phillies have officially added Paredes to the 25-man roster and designated Emmanuel Burriss for assignment.

It’s not much, but it’s something. After reportedly placing a waiver claim on Jimmy Paredes when the Orioles designated him for assignment, and then losing said claim to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Phillies had a second crack at acquiring their guy. The Blue Jays DFA’d Paredes on Monday and today the Phillies announced they have successfully acquired him this time.

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Against Starting Rotation, Opponents’ Plate Discipline Vanishes

Past the 50 game-mark, it’s time to—ever so slowly—place the small sample size disclaimers in the rearview mirror and appreciate the corps of young arms that has single-handedly made this Phillies team not only watchable, but an above .500 ball club for the vast majority of the season despite a wholly depressing offensive effort.

The rotation, averaging just over 25-and-a-half years old on the second-youngest team in the bigs (averaging 27.4 years old), ranks seventh in the league in WAR (5.6) even after coming back to down to earth a bit in the last handful of weeks. With surprising depth, it is believed the starters have sped up the rebuild by as much as a full year. But, while the jury is still out on the exact timetable, it’s important to note just how this rotation is succeeding without much major league experience—besides elder statesman Jeremy Hellickson, six years removed from winning the American League Rookie of the Year—or overpowering arms. Continue reading…