Phillies Upgrade Right Field, Sign Michael Saunders

In what will likely be the final piece added to the offensive puzzle heading into 2017, the Phillies signed Michael Saunders Monday to a one-year deal worth $9 million with an incentivized option for 2018 worth between $11-14 million. The 30-year-old Saunders, an All Star last season in his second of two with the Toronto Blue Jays, will help plug the Phillies’ right field leak that last season put up the second-fewest wins above replacement (according to Baseball-Reference) in the majors, and finished last in weighted on-base average and wRC+. The position, which was manned in 2016 by Peter Bourjos, Aaron Altherr, Jimmy Paredes, Tyler Goeddel, David Lough, Roman Quinn and Cedric Hunter also ranked in the bottom three in the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

That cadre of right fielders hit just eight home runs last year, tied for fewest in the majors. Saunders, whose main draw is his power from the left side, has matched or topped eight homers in every season that he’s played at least 78 games.

Pete Mackanin made it known at the end of 2016 that he wanted to add a professional hitter or two to the lineup. With Howie Kendrick and now Saunders strengthening their deficient corner outfield spots, Matt Klentak granted him that wish. Continue reading…

Reminiscing with Graphical Representation: The 2008 Phillies

On Tuesday, I unveiled my full-season infographic detailing the season that was for the Philadelphia Phillies using Wins Above Average (WAA) by position. The season was, for all intents and purposes, pretty ugly. But what makes a (hopefully) successful rebuild so rewarding, what makes the special seasons (like 2008) so truly special are the years like these that often proceed them.

As a quick reminder, here’s what the 2016 season looked like for the Phillies. The full story and graphics can be READ AND SEEN HERE.

In 2016, the Phillies tied for last in the league with -16 wins above average. They played at or above league-average in just three positions: catcher, second base and center field. Of the remaining positions, their starting rotation ranked 18th in the league while every other position ranked no better than 24th. Spelling the rotation, the bullpen’s WAA was second-worst in the league and the position players as a whole posted the lowest wins above average in the majors with -11.2.

Terrible position players, terrible relievers, okay starting pitching. Thus was the story of 2016.

So were this rebuilding process to bare similar fruits to the most recently constructed Phillies powerhouse, what would that look like? Here’s what the Phillies 2008 roster looked like when it took home the team’s first World Series trophy in 28 years.

*Reminder: positions marked in red are the top half in the league, those in blue are in the bottom half. The darker the red, the closer to the position was to leading the league, the darker the blue, the closer it was to league-worst.*

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A New Year’s Crashburn Roundtable

It’s the New Year, which means it’s either time to reflect on the year just was or look forward to the year that has begun. With our report cards, we’ve already suffered too much reflection of 2016. So, now it is time to look forward to what will hopefully be a brighter 2017 for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Assuming you unilaterally make decisions of the entire Phillies front office, what it your New Year’s resolution?

Tim Guenther: An ambitious goal with a reasonable likelihood of failure? Establish five regular position players for the next playoff bound Phillies’ team. This season will offer a healthy mix of young players looking to take a step forward and real prospects looking to force their way into a major league role. Finding over half your future lineup from that group would be a huge success heading into next offseason. Continue reading…

Should the Phillies Upgrade Howie Kendrick?

When the Phillies traded for Howie Kendrick in November, everyone knew what the plan was: deal him at the trade deadline for something, anything really. In a lot of ways, the deal is reminiscent of the 2015 acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies gave up very little of value to the franchise to potentially get more value back a couple months down the road. Both Hellickson and Kendrick were coming off down years at the time and had a clear place to play for the Phillies, at least for the first half of the season.

With Hellickson, it seemed entirely likely that the Phillies would be abundantly ready to move on after half a season. With Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff already in the rotation and Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, and, generously, Mark Appel all potential contributors by midseason, it was easy to envision a world in which Hellickson’s season-long presence would hold the rebuild back. Obviously, due to injuries to Eflin and Nola, that scenario didn’t materialize, but it was reasonable to assume his replacement would come internally.

With Kendrick, that scenario isn’t quite as clear. Currently, the only internal lock to be a major-league caliber starter in the outfield is Odubel Herrera. Aaron Altherr and Roman Quinn both come with some combination of injury and performance-based concerns about their long-term viability in the outfield. Even with Kendrick in the fold, both should get chances to play from the outset.

After that, they have Nick Williams set to repeat at AAA after a tumultuous season in which not only his strikeouts and plate approach remained questions, but he clashed with manager Dave Brundage over a perceived lack of hustle and saw more time on the bench than a prospect of his ilk typically does. Maybe Dusty Wathan–the new man in charge in Lehigh Valley–will be able to create an environment for Williams to thrive. Or maybe he won’t. Beyond Williams, there’s no one sniffing the majors worth banking on at this point.

That leaves a somewhat likely case where the Phillies don’t have a palatable replacement for Kendrick if and when the time comes to trade him at the deadline. He only has one more year remaining on his deal and, at 33-years old, is unlikely to play his way into being a qualifying offer candidate. That means that the Phillies won’t be able to play the game of chicken they did at the deadline with Hellickson. They’ll have to trade him for whatever they can get or keep him an get nothing. In other words, they’re going to trade him, and if two of Altherr, Quinn, Williams, and Tyler Goeddel aren’t playable major leaguers by mid-season, you’re looking at another August and September of a Jimmy Paredes type. No one wants that. Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Carlos Ruiz

This time last year, most Phillies fans had all but declared Carlos Ruiz’s career over. He had just completed an age-36 season in which he posted the lowest batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and isolated power of his career. According to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, he contributed negative value above replacement to the Phillies for the first time in his career in 2015 (Baseball Prospectus rated his 2007 season as below replacement level). As the season wore on, the Phillies had gradually replaced him as the starter with Cameron Rupp. With a club option coming up following the 2016 season, it stood to figure that neither the Phillies, nor any other team for that matter, would sign up for a year of a 38-year old catcher.

Since that moment of doom and gloom for Chooch, two different teams have decided he was worth parting with not-quite-trivial players to acquire. How did that happen for a 37-year old at a strenuous defensive position who is clearly on the decline? Well, unsurprisingly, he benefitted from rest.

Entering 2016, the Phillies (unofficially) made very clear what had been (unofficially) somewhat clear over the second half of 2015: Carlos Ruiz was the second-string catcher behind Cameron Rupp. Sure, Chooch started opening day against the Cincinnati Reds, but there wasn’t a single week before his late-August trade to the Dodgers where he started more than three games. Whether the team depth chart reflected it is immaterial to the reality: Carlos Ruiz was the Phillies backup catcher.

Instead of viewing that change of role as a demotion resulting from a decline in performance–which it may well have been–I prefer to interpret it as a smart move on the part of the Phillies to nurse as much effective performance out of their aging catcher. While it’s difficult to say whether the additional rest was the cause*, Ruiz was once again a positive contributor to the Phillies (and later, the Dodgers) in 2016. With the Phillies, he recorded his highest OPS (.719) since 2012 and his exit velocity was uniformly up on all batted ball types over 2015.

Whatever the cause (probably additional rest), Ruiz had a successful 2016 relative to expectations with a batting line that was more or less league average (100 wRC+ and 97 OPS+ with Phillies). As a testament to his value as a baseball player in 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are generally regarded as a progressive, “smart” front office, thought Chooch was a worthwhile player to acquire for their race to a division title and, later, the postseason. Not only was he worth getting, but he was worth potentially angering Clayton Kershaw, et al. by giving up A.J. Ellis and throwing in a not useless relief prospect in Tommy Bergjans on top of that. After appearing in seven of the Dodgers’ 12 postseason games, they traded him for a bona fide major league reliever in Vidal Nuno this offseason.

In terms of grading, we have to adjust relative to expectations. As a nearly-perfectly league-average player in 2016, Ruiz earns a solid unadjusted “C”. However, considering the reasonable expectation entering the season that 2016 would be Chooch’s last as a major leaguer, that he performed as well as he did, albeit in a limited role, and will likely continue to play major league baseball in 2017 for the Seattle Mariners has to count for something. How much count that is a matter of personal taste and Chooch has undoubtedly earned the benefit of a generous adjustment.

Grade: B+

*While it is certainly possible that “bad luck” explains his down 2015 season as evidenced by an uncharactaristically low .242 BABIP (.287 career), his 15.9 percent hard-hit rate was by far the lowest of his career, suggesting that there was an actual performance dip. Further, it stands to reason that a 37-year old playing the most physically taxing position on the diamond would benefit from additional off days.

Amaro Full-Blows It On Biddle’s Brain

Among the bizarre health issues that have befallen Jesse Biddle in the last couple years, (you may recall he basically pitched through whooping cough in 2013), getting a concussion from a hail stone takes the cake. He was pitching well at AA Reading early in 2014, then he got plunked fleeing for cover from his busted up car during a wild storm, and his season all but fell apart.

Continue reading…