Hector Neris Sure Looks Like An Elite Reliever

Entering the season, Hector Neris was in possession of one of those beautiful back-of-the-bullpen starter kits. He had the requisite devastating, whiff-inducing secondary pitch as well as a solid fastball off of which to work. However, as we have seen time and again, possession of a promising pitch arsenal does not an elite reliever make. The proof is in the pudding or whatever your preferred cliché is.

At the start of the season, it looked as though Hector Neris was whipping up a fine batch of proof that he would be able to put it all together. Through the month of April, he posted a stellar 0.63 ERA to go along with an equally as impressive 43.4 K%. Much of this success was attributed to a splitter which was downright unhittable.

But then, as you might expect, his stat line appeared to regress towards the mean. He posted a 4.95 ERA and pedestrian strikeout and walk rates (21.8 K%, 12.6 BB%) over his next 20 innings. As a result, Neris found himself on June 15th with an uninspiring 3.15 ERA next to his name. He looked like a pitcher who had pitched over his head in April and it was natural to wonder if, perhaps, the magic of his splitter had worn off. But then something changed.

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Crash Landing: Braves Celebrate the Future as Phillies Celebrate the Past

Last night, fans of the two teams at the bottom of the NL East had occasion to partake in standing ovations. In Philadelphia, fans got to their feet for the fourth time in two nights in order to welcome back an icon of the past. After all the joy he brought to the city, Chase Utley was extraordinarily deserving of the warm welcome he received, but the atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park was starkly juxtaposed against what happened in Atlanta. While Phillies fans celebrated the past, Braves fans cheered for their future by giving a standing ovation as their top prospect and new starting shortstop, Dansby Swanson, made his major league debut.

When midseason prospect lists were released last month, Swanson found himself on the lists just below Phillies’ top prospect and fellow shortstop, J.P. Crawford.

2016 Midseason Prospect Rankings
J.P. Crawford #3 #1 #4
Dansby Swanson #7 #10 #12

Swanson was drafted first overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks last June before being traded to the Braves in the Shelby Miller trade last winter; Crawford was drafted by the Phillies in the first round two years earlier. Swanson began the season in High-A and made just 372 plate appearances in Double-A after a midseason promotion; Crawford reached Double-A last summer and now has 571 plate appearances in Double-A and 306 in Triple-A. Swanson uniformly ranks lower than Crawford on prospect lists. So why are Atlanta fans cheering for him in the major leagues while Crawford remains stuck in Triple-A leaving Phillies fans to cheer for relics of past glory?

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Phillies Roster Moves Officially End Nola’s 2016 Season

Aaron Nola‘s 2016 season is officially over.

It’s important to remember that moving players to the 60-day disabled list at this point in the season is more procedural than anything else. This doesn’t necessarily mean Aaron Nola’s prognosis is any worse or better than it was when the injury was first announced, only that the team is prepared to accept that he will not be returning before the end of the 2016 season. [UPDATE: His official diagnosis has now been described as a “mild UCL sprain and mild flexor strain.”] Moving him to the 60-day frees up a spot on the 40-man roster which will now be taken by relief pitcher Frank Herrmann.

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Once The Man; Always The Man

I’m in the business of words, but sometimes words simply aren’t necessary, so I’ll keep this short. When Chase Utley was traded a year ago, we ran a series paying tribute to our fondest memories of his Phillies career. You can find that series here — Utley Retrospective — if you want to read about Harry Kalas giving him his legendary nickname or one of the greatest plays in World Series history or moments when he lived up to hype in the most remarkable of ways.

As you know, last night was his return to Citizens Bank Park and I find myself speechless. There’s genuinely nothing left to be said about his Phillies legacy. He was a legend before last night’s game and he would’ve remained a legend this morning whether he went 0-for-4 or 5-for-5. Of course in retrospect, it feels entirely natural that he came in, put on a show, and became one of the few (if not the only) to receive three standing ovations and two curtain calls in a visiting stadium. But I’ve already written enough words. It was a moment beyond sense and coherent thought. It was a moment for feeling. So here’s the video for you to enjoy and feel whatever feelings you like, whenever you like:

Living Aloha: How I Rekindled My Love of the Game

I spent the last two weeks on-site at the Cal Ripken World Series as a team reporter for Team Pacific Southwest, a group of 15 12-year-old boys and three coaches from Honolulu, Hawaii. Oh, and upwards of 50 friends and family members who made the 4,863-mile trip from the island of Oahu to the expansive Cal Ripken complex just off I-95 in Aberdeen, Maryland.

Some necessary background: Cal Ripken Baseball is the youth division of the Babe Ruth League, the main competitor of Little League Baseball. In 2007, it wove an innovative thread into the time-honored quilt of youth baseball.

The unique twist debuted exactly 60 years after Little League Baseball determined all kids under the age of 13 would play on 60-foot base paths with 46 feet between the rubber and the plate. This new division, dubbed Majors/70, boasted 70-foot base paths and a 50-foot offering from pitcher to hitter.

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Crash Landing: Alumni Weekend; Looking Backwards and Forwards

This weekend is one of my favorite annual events on the baseball calendar. Opening Day is a clear number one, but behind that is a cluster of events which are hard to separate. The World Series has the highest upside as an event, but can also be devastatingly disappointing due to a lack of consistency year to year. Although I can understand why this is not a universally held opinion, the Wild Card games are high on my personal list due to the guaranteed high stakes drama. There are other calendar highlights — the All-Star Game and the buildup to the July trade deadline, to name a couple more — but when new schedules are released on event eyes will inevitably gravitate to each year is Phillies Alumni Weekend.

This is already starting to feel a bit like a cheesy commercial and for that, I apologize. If you’ve been reading my work for a while, it won’t surprise you to know that I’m extraordinarily sentimental and, as someone who grew up with the Phillies and their history, an annual celebration of that history is tailor-made for someone like me. I love the fact that historical Phillies greats like Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Dick Allen, and Robin Roberts have been a part of my own baseball life even though I never watched them play. Alumni weekend and Wall of Fame induction ceremonies are a big part of that personal connection I’ve developed with Phillies history.

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Another of the Phillies Young Starting Pitchers Hits the DL

Here we go again.

Of course this comes not even a week after the news of of Aaron Nola‘s trip to the disabled list. Freddie Mercury has a few thoroughly unwelcome thoughts on the matter.

On the plus side, it’s not an arm injury for Zach Eflin. On the other, knees are a thing you definitely need in order to pitch effectively. Just as with Nola, it’s possible a trip to the disabled list so close to the end of the season may effectively end Eflin’s season here. Across Triple-A and the majors, he’s accumulated 131.2 innings, exactly the same innings total as he had last year in Double-A.

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Aaron Altherr: The Best Extra-Base Hitter In MLB History, Sort Of

So here’s the thing about Aaron Altherr: he is the best* extra base hitter in major league history. (*Okay, sure, we’re going to need a few qualifiers here.)

During his major league career, Altherr has stepped to the plate 199 times and recorded 40 hits. If you think that sounds like it should result in a low batting average, you are correct. He’s batting just .237, but sports a significantly more impressive .338 on-base percentage thanks in large part to a 10.6 BB%. Now let’s take a look at a breakdown of those 40 hits:

Aaron Altherr’s 40 hits
Type #
Single 17
Double 12
Triple 4
Home Run 7

Add that all up and you’ll find 23 of Altherr’s 40 hits (or 57.5%!) have been of the extra-base variety. This got me wondering who holds the record for highest extra-base hit percentage (XBH% = XBH/H) and so I went to the best place to answer a question like that, the Baseball-Reference Play Index. I set the plate appearance minimum of 170 so that it was low enough to include Altherr and generated the following All-Time XBH% Leaderboard:
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Jake Thompson To Debut Saturday

It started last year with Alec Asher and Jerad Eickhoff. But Saturday, the first of the three marquee names in the 2015 Cole Hamels’ trade makes his big league debut with the Phillies. Jake Thompson came to the club last July with other top-flight prospects Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro, injured MLB starter Matt Harrison, and Asher and Eickhoff, in exchange for Hamels and lefty reliever Jake Diekman. This weekend he becomes a big leaguer, and the 2000th player ever to wear the uniform of the franchise, (as has been tracked by The Good Phight’s @tgpschmenk, among others).

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Crash Landing: Watching Howard One Last Time

As I’m writing about baseball more and more, I have fewer and fewer opportunities to sit down and watch a game as a fan. I don’t mean that to sound like a complaint — writing about baseball is a joy and I’m incredibly blessed to have the gigs I have — but it is a statement of fact and it’s a big part of why I write this column each week. This column is part of my attempt to stay grounded in the emotional impact of the sport and it forces me to think about not just what I’m seeing in baseball but how I feel about it. Last night, baseball made me feel things.

I was at Citizens Bank Park sitting in the upper deck to watch the Phillies play the Giants. The crowd was sparse in comparison to the days of guaranteed sell-outs, but still sizable enough that the section I was in was packed. There were countless wonderful moments that I may or may not remember months or years from now — Odubel Herrera’s shoestring catch, the bullpen’s outstanding performance, Maikel Franco’s walk-off and Altherr’s Boner, Cameron Rupp’s mammoth home run to dead center — but there was one thing I know I’ll remember.

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