2014 Phillies Report Card: Wil Nieves

As a former catcher (OK, in Little League) I have a soft spot for those brave souls who don the tools of ignorance. Some of my favorite Phillies are Darren Daulton, Mike Lieberthal, and Carlos Ruiz. Of course, my favorite catchers of all time are Crash Davis and Jake Taylor.

The catcher’s viewpoint is unique and beautiful, but comes with a heavy price: knee pain, foul tips off the mask, balls in the dirt, backswings, and hot, stinky umpire breath. The catcher is often looked upon (or perceived) as a team leader and a quasi-manager on the field. A catcher is asked to do so much more than any other player, which is why a catcher who can hit really well – like Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, or Jonathan Lucroy – is so impressive and valuable. Unfortunately for the Phillies, and despite attempts to address the issue, catching depth at the upper levels is a significant organizational problem. Continue reading…

2014 Phillies Report Card: Sean O’Sullivan

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about fate. How much of what we achieve is predetermined, and how much is the result of our own agency and conscious choices? I’d long rejected the idea of hard determinism as a philosophy, but recent events in my own life have made me reconsider. I wrote a book this spring, and as of about a week ago, it’s out for delivery (SHAMELESS PLUG: BUY IT HERE), and it’s not because of some sheer force of willpower. It’s because I was born with a talent to supportive parents who lived in a town with good public schools, then in middle school I met a kid who, 10 years later, would introduce me to an internet community surrounding the Phillies at just the right time, and an editor at the publication I’d always wanted to work for was a huge Philly sports fan who read this blog and hired me, which put me in a position where a publisher would notice me.

I worked my ass off to achieve even a modest degree of success as a writer, and I don’t think that work accounts for more than 5 percent of the end product. Hard work counts for nothing without the underlying conditions that come with it.

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Report: A.J. Burnett Likely to Return to the Phillies in 2015

Last week, CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury suggested that starter A.J. Burnett was leaning towards retirement. Salisbury added that Burnett didn’t have all that much fun in Philadelphia and kept game balls from his final start of the season, the 404th of his career, which is only a noteworthy game if it marked the end of his career.

However, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that it’s looking likely that Burnett will exercise his $12.75 million player option for the 2015 season with the Phillies, citing “people close to Burnett”.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Darin Ruf

Do you remember 2012? Those glorious days when we hadn’t yet accepted what the Phillies would become? In those days, Darin Ruf was the shining light, the prospect everyone held up as the answer, the heir to Abreu, Werth and Pence as the slugging corner outfielder. That was before everyone realized that “playing well in AA and not having any major league experience” isn’t the same thing as “prospect.”

I’m sorry. I’ll let that go. It’s time.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Justin De Fratus

Did you know that the Phillies had an exciting young right-handed reliever dominate the league with a slider this past season? Did you know they had another one not named Kenny Giles?

For the first time in his career, Justin De Fratus spent Opening Day on a Major League roster. Unfortunately for him, his stay in the bigs was notably short lived. He threw five innings over four games and surrendered four runs on a 2-run homer by Mark Reynolds and a 2-run homer by some guy named Giancarlo Stanton. The day after the Stanton blast, the Phillies took advantage of De Fratus’ final option year and sent him down to Lehigh Valley.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: David Buchanan

On May 21, Cliff Lee hit the disabled list for the first time. Their pitching depth in the upper minors thin, the Phillies turned to a 25-year-old rookie to fill Lee’s spot in the rotation, an unheralded seventh-round draftee who made an impression in the spring. That rookie, David Buchanan, would go on to spend the next month-and-a-half pitching frequently respectable outings. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Carlos Ruiz

Catcher Carlos Ruiz could have signed with another team — perhaps a contender, for one last shot at a championship — but both he and the Phillies decided to continue their partnership, agreeing on a three-year, $26 million contract last November. Ruiz became one of only three catchers to ink a contract of three years or longer during the off-season, joining Brian McCann (five years, $85 million with the New York Yankees) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three years, $21 million with the Miami Marlins).

To some, Ruiz was a microcosm of the modus operandi that has doomed the Phillies over the last five years: signing aging, injury-prone players to expensive multi-year deals. However, while the Phillies had catching depth, there was no obvious candidate with whom they felt comfortable starting five or six games a week. Cameron Rupp would have been the first choice, and the Phillies weren’t even confident in him backing up Ruiz, so they signed Wil Nieves for the back-up role in December. While Ruiz’s deal was for multiple years and relatively expensive given what other catchers received, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a contract that will affect their payroll flexibility nor does it have any sizable risk attached to it.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Jake Diekman

Here’s a pretty thing:

RP K IP K/9 G
Dellin Betances 135 90.0 13.50 70
Wade Davis 109 72.0 13.63 71
Aroldis Chapman 106 54.0 17.67 54
Brad Boxberger 104 64.2 14.58 63
Andrew Miller 103 62.1 14.93 73
Kenley Jansen 101 65.1 13.96 68
Jake Diekman 100 71.0 12.68 73
David Robertson 96 64.1 13.48 63
Craig Kimbrel 95 61.2 13.97 63
Cody Allen 91 69.2 11.84 76

That, friends, is a who’s who of the elite relief pitchers in Major League Baseball. Aroldis Chapman. Craig Kimbrel. Kenley Jansen. Wade Davis. Dellin Betances. Andrew Miller. And … Jake Diekman? The Phillies’ lefty from Nebraska, who was picked in the 30th round of the 2007 draft, finished seventh in the majors in strikeouts among qualified relief pitchers.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Mario Hollands

Mario Hollands‘ name was something of a surprise on the Opening Day 25 man roster. The 25 year old had pitched well in the spring, during which Ryne Sandberg appeared to take quite a shining to him; only 3 other pitchers made more spring training appearances than Hollands, a non-roster invitee who spent all of 2013 in either Clearwater or Reading.

The notion of spring-training-as-tryout should probably draw more ire than it does from those of us that wring our hands constantly about sample size. Maybe Sandberg saw some potential in Hollands’ 94 to 95 mph fastball generating ground ball outs, or a slider which, at its peak, can be impressive. Or maybe he was just pleased that Hollands allowed only 4 runs in 11 and 2/3rds innings. Either way, he certainly does not wring his hands about sample size, and not only did Hollands make the Opening Day roster, Sandberg tossed him into the furnace on opening day in Arlington, into a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the 9th against the Rangers.

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2014 Phillies Report Card: Tony Gwynn Jr.

When Jayson Werth went to the Nationals after the 2010 season, the Phillies not only lost their primary source of right-handed power, they also lost their back-up center fielder. From 2008 to 2010, the Phillies played 70 games with a starting center fielder not named Shane Victorino and of those, Werth played center in 60. His positional flexibility allowed the Phillies to roster corner outfielders as their 4th and 5th outfielders rather than worry about keeping a backup center fielder on the 25-man.

From 2011 to 2013, however, the most commonly used backup center fielders by games played in CF is a damning list: Continue reading…