Archive for Phillies

Prospect Watch: Revisiting Predictions

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment of the Prospect Watch, I check in on the progress of three players whom I discussed last year.

Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh, Pirates (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 20  Top-15: 3   Top-100: 43
Line: 41.2 IP, 22 H, 11 R, 48/26 K/BB, 2.16 ERA, 3.17 FIP

Glasnow continues to put up big numbers, though his rawness remains significant.

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16 Facts About Ben Revere’s Home Run

The world hasn’t ended, or at least not the part I’ve been in. And while the world is indeed ending, technically, it isn’t ending any faster than it was a day ago or a week ago. Ben Revere hit a home run and it seems there haven’t been any greater, big-picture consequences. You ordinarily don’t expect there to be, but as far as Revere was concerned, we couldn’t be absolutely sure until now. Ben Revere homered and things kept on keeping on. It’s how it was with Joey Gathright. It’s how it was with Jason Tyner. It’s how it was with Tony Campana, if you choose to count his inside-the-parker. It looks just the same in the box score.

Revere’s homer wasn’t witnessed by that many. Paid attendance was barely 23,000, and the game had an extended rain delay. It made little significant difference, turning a 4-1 deficit into a 4-2 deficit on the way to a 6-2 loss. And Revere, otherwise, had an ordinary game. His first time up, he made an out to third. His second time up, he made an out to first. His third time up, he made an out to third. His fifth time up, he made an out to second. It was a regular Phillies game with Ben Revere in it, save for his fourth plate appearance. But that fourth plate appearance is something we’ve been waiting for for years, so we can’t just let this go by. We have to seize this occasion to dwell, and so, let’s go over some pertinent facts.

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The Phillies Are Failing In a Different Way Than Expected

All throughout the winter — and for the last few winters, really — the Philadelphia Phillies have been the go-to for easy jokes to make about seemingly terribly-run baseball teams. We’ve wrung years of hilarity out of the Ryan Howard extension, dating to basically the exact moment it was signed. We cringed at the riches awarded to the declining Jonathan Papelbon in an era where teams are getting smarter about the values of closers. We watched GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. squeeze a few more good years after Pat Gillick’s 2008 World Series champs once he was promoted in Nov. 2008, then ride the team downward from 102 wins in 2011 to 82 in 2012 to 73 in 2013, all while refusing to trade any of the team’s clearly aging core. Just days ago, the Sporting News ranked all 30 GMs. Amaro came in last, and while none of those rankings have a lot of science to them, it’s hardly the first time.

And really, it was a different kind of bad for the Phillies. The Astros are worse on the field, and so are the Cubs. But those teams, and others like them, seemed to have a plan. They were willing to suffer the pain of 100-loss seasons in order to rebuild barren farm systems. They’re not there yet, but they’re both going in the right direction. The Phillies, meanwhile, refused to trade Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels or Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins for talent that could have been on track to form the core of the next good Phillies team with J.P. Crawford and Jesse Biddle. Amaro, likely with his own employment status in mind, chose to retain or re-sign all while reloading with the likes of Michael Young and Delmon Young in 2013, then to get even older with his main moves for 2014: Read the rest of this entry »

Why Cliff Lee’s Injury is Somewhat Surprising

Baseball is a presentation. It’s a thing that is part of our lives, but isn’t our lives. It lies in the world of the else. It’s theater, it’s drama, it’s entertainment. Because of this, we tend to romanticize it some. This is a totally normal response. We pull for teams, we root for certain guys, we sometimes wish others would fail. Just like any drama, there are heroes and villains and fools and underdogs. Every story has characters and every character has an archetype.

I’ve written about labels in baseball in the past. It’s a subject that interests me. Labels are just like any other word really, they only have meaning because we say they do. The thing you are looking at isn’t really a computer screen; it’s a thing we call a computer screen because we needed to call it something, so we picked that. We couldn’t call it a dog because we already named something else a dog. Words are placeholders, they are helpers. There’s nothing intrinsic about the words computer or screen beyond the value and definitions we place on them. I’d go deeper into this, but it would probably end with me telling you that you’re just a battery fueling the system of our robot overlords. Plus, I need to start talking about baseball.

The idea of a workhorse pitcher has been around the game for some time. You perhaps have read an article or a hundred articles about the death of the workhorse pitcher — how the days of Seaver and Carlton and Feller are over, how our pitchers are now babies and/or being babied. The reasons for this phenomenon are fairly clear and aren’t something I’m terribly interested in discussing at the moment, but the basic facts are true. Pitchers are pitching less innings than they used to. Because of this shift, certain pitchers who do perform at a greater frequency are still revered.

And this isn’t without good reason. We know that the ability to pitch a good deal of innings is a valuable skill. It keeps the pressure off the bullpen, and helps teams keep the amount of pitchers they need to use during a season low. High-volume pitchers are usually good performers as well, as even a pitcher with the rubberiest arm wouldn’t go that many innings if he was always getting lit up by the fifth. There are a lot of useful skills a pitcher can have, durability is one of them. Read the rest of this entry »

Cliff Lee is Still Awesome

Last night, Cliff Lee dominated the Dodgers, throwing eight shutout innings, while striking out 10 batters without walking anyone. In other words, it was just your normal Cliff Lee start. For the season, Lee now has 38 strikeouts against two walks; this is just what he does. But just because we’re used to Cliff Lee’s ridiculous command doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember to appreciate it.

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Terrible Months in Good Seasons

Even good hitters go through a cold streaks at some point. If they want to avoid fan panic, though, they need to make sure and save those week or month-long slumps for later in the season. When slumps happen at the beginning of the season, they sandbag the player’s line, and it takes a while for even a good hitter’s line to return to “normal.” Most FanGraphs readers are familiar with the notion of small sample, and thus are, at least on an intellectual level, hopefully immunized against overreaction to early season struggles of good players.

Nonetheless, at this time of the year it is often good to have some existential reassurance. Intellectually, we know that just because a cold streak happens over the first two weeks or month of a season it is not any different than happening in the middle of the year. Slumps at the beginning of the year simply stand out more because they are the whole of the player’s line. One terrible month (and we are not even at the one month point in this season) does not doom a season. Rather than repeat the same old stuff about regression and sample size, this post will offer to anecdotal help. Here are five seasons from hitters, each of which contain (at least) one terrible month at some point, but each of which turned out to be excellent overall.

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The Masahiro Tanaka of the National League

Masahiro Tanaka has now made two starts for the Yankees, and outside of a couple of home runs, he’s been ridiculous. He’s rung up 18 strikeouts while issuing just one walk, and he’s posted a 51% ground ball rate in the process, leaving him with a nifty 1.81 xFIP. His splitter is as good as advertised, and while it’s just two starts, it’s two starts that suggest that the hype was probably correct; Tanaka likely is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.

But, a little more quietly, there is a pitcher in the National League that has put up a very similar line, and you probably won’t believe who it is.

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Jonathan Papelbon’s Issues Go Beyond Declining Velocity

When writing about Jonathan Papelbon in the year 2014, there’s a few things that we can stipulate as fact, if only because you all already know about them and there’s not really much point in spending time rehashing them.

We know that his velocity has been dropping steadily for years. We know that the four-year, $50 million contract he signed prior to the 2012 season looked bad at the time and looks even worse now, both hampering the Philadelphia budget and helping to usher in a world where closers don’t get big money on the market any longer. (No closer has earned as much since, and with Craig Kimbrel extended, it’s possible no one will for years.) We know that he’s not exactly considered the best teammate in the world. We know, we think, that the Phillies badly wanted to be rid of him and couldn’t, for all of these reasons.

Even still: 2014 has provided some additional information, and it’s not exactly encouraging. Read the rest of this entry »

The Return of Regular Baseball and a Monday of Miracles

Monday featured, for the first time in 2014, a full slate of meaningful baseball, albeit with a bit of a lull in the late afternoon as the only live game for a stretch had the Rockies and the Marlins. I met a friend at a neighborhood bar a little after 5, and the bar had the game on all of its screens, and after a little conversation I found I was completely hanging on the action. Come August, I probably won’t be watching the Rockies and the Marlins, but this early in the year, everything’s interesting. And while we always know that anything can happen, there’s no cynicism around opening day. By the middle of the year, anything can happen, but we know what’s probably going to happen. In late March and early April, it’s more fun to imagine that baseball’s a big giant toss-up. That Marcell Ozuna looks good. If he hits, and if the Marlins get their pitching…

I don’t remember what most opening days are like, but this one felt like it had an unusual number of anything-can-happens. That is, events that would take one by complete and utter surprise. What are documented below are, I think, the five most outstanding miracles from a long and rejuvenating Monday. From one perspective, this is evidence that the future is a mystery and all a surprise is is a run of good or bad luck. From another, more bummer of a perspective, this is evidence that opening day doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things and come on why are you already projecting Grady Sizemore to be a five-win center fielder? Why are you already freaking out about the 2014 Blue Jays? Be whatever kind of fan you like. Just remember that baseball is a silly game, and you’ll never outsmart it.

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Jimmy Rollins and the Incentives of Vesting Options

The news out of Phillies camp this week is that Ryne Sandberg and Jimmy Rollins were not on the same page. Despite being healthy, Rollins wasn’t in the line-up for four straight games, and Sandberg went out of his way to praise Freddy Galvis‘ energy. Suddenly, a pretty cut and dried starter/backup depth chart seems to be not quite so cut and dried.

In the end, this may turn out to be nothing. Perhaps Sandberg is just trying to motivate Rollins by letting him know that he’s not guaranteed a spot in the line-up everyday. Perhaps he was just resting an aging player in meaningless spring training games. Perhaps the team just wanted to see if Galvis could hit big league pitching, and the only way to get him those at-bats in March is to let him play the first few innings. But because of the structure of Rollins’ contract, it isn’t too hard to see that this could also be the groundwork for ensuring that 2014 is his last year in Philadelphia.

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The Phillies and the Unambiguous Bad

As much fun as it can be to criticize, the reality is that nearly every decision made by an MLB organization is justifiable. It’s a competitive business, after all, with great potential rewards, so organizations have to look out for themselves, and they have to make sure they’re going down the right path. Decisions have to be made rationally, intelligently, and that’s what makes the occasional transaction so extraordinary. There was simply no reasonable explanation for, say, the Angels trading for Vernon Wells. Likewise, there was no reasonable explanation for the Tigers getting so little for Doug Fister. These decisions have stood out specifically because of how unambiguously bad they were. Decisions of that ilk are few and far between.

The Phillies, as an organization, are no stranger to criticism. This is a team that has yet to rebuild, the same team that gave Ryan Howard way too big of a contract. It’s an aging team, a team that’s easy to mock, a team that might believe it’s more than it is, but the latest issue with the Phillies has nothing at all to do with the payroll or major-league roster. It has to do with the draft, and with the Phillies turning in unsigned collegiate players to the NCAA for dealing with professional agents.

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A.J. Burnett Finds New, Mediocre Home

A.J. Burnett‘s been real good for two years, and he was better last year than he was the year before, so there’s good reason to believe he’ll be an effective pitcher in 2014. On paper, he was one of the best pitchers available this offseason, but for the longest time he was a special case because it seemed like he’d either retire or return to the Pirates. Only more recently did Burnett express his desire to play, and his openness to playing elsewhere. Immediately he looked like an interesting short-term target for probable contenders. What’s happened instead is that the Phillies have signed him, for a year and $16 million.

The Phillies were long thought one of the finalists. It seems Burnett didn’t want to stray too far from home, and that eliminated plenty of would-be interested baseball teams. And I want to make it clear that one-year deals for good players are usually good deals, and for the Phillies, I don’t have a big problem with this roll of the dice. But Burnett probably took the biggest contract, and he wound up with a mediocre ballclub. Burnett probably doesn’t make the Phillies a playoff team, and an interesting question concerns what might happen in June or July.

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Steamer Projects: Philadelphia Phillies Prospects

Earlier today, polite and Canadian and polite Marc Hulet published his 2014 organizational prospect list for the Philadelphia Phillies.

It goes without saying that, in composing such a list, Hulet has considered the overall future value those prospects might be expected to provide either to the Phillies or whatever other organizations to which they might someday belong.

What this brief post concerns isn’t overall future value, at all, but rather such value as the prospects from Hulet’s list might provide were they to play, more or less, a full major-league season in 2014.

Other prospect projections: Arizona / Baltimore / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Colorado / Houston / Kansas City / Los Angeles AL / Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York NL / San Diego / San Francisco / Seattle / Tampa Bay / Toronto.

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The Phillies Take the Middle Road

The FanGraphs community exists in an echo chamber. As far as echo chambers go, it’s not a bad one. We expect baseball teams to (mostly) make objective, rational decisions. But we do have our own pre-conceived ideas about what makes a decision objectively rational. We also have a lot of contrarians in our midst, which prevents an echo chamber from becoming stodgy and outdated. Bill James is a noted contrarian as are many other sabermetricians. That basic instinct – it’s almost an assumption that conventional thinking is wrong – has helped our little closet industry grow to one that front office personnel read on a regular basis.

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Trying to Understand Bronson Arroyo

Bronson_Arroyo_2011For five years now, Bronson Arroyo has been better than his peripherals. Since 2009, only three pitchers have a bigger gap between their fielding independent numbers and their ERA, and those three didn’t come close to pitching as many innings. It’s tempting to say the free agent 36-year-old has figured something out… but what has he figured out, exactly? How has he become more than the sum of his parts? It has to be more than a whimsical leg kick.

Let’s use some basic peripherals to find comparable pitchers. His fastball struggles to break 90 mph, he doesn’t strike many out, and he doesn’t have great worm-burning stuff — but the control has been elite. Here are a few other pitchers that fit that sort of mold.
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Don’t Expect Big Changes in Philadelphia

Late last week, it was announced that the Philadelphia Phillies had reached a 25-year, $2.5 billion TV rights deal. The club will remain with its current network, Comcast SportsNet. The Phillies have reportedly upped their equity stake in the network to 25 percent and will receive some portion of the ad money. 2016 is the first season under the new contract and revenues are expected to escalate over time, starting at around $65 million. I assume that our own Wendy Thurm will offer her usual sharp analysis on the business components of this deal. Today, let’s focus on why this won’t immediately affect the team’s overall strategy.

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Jonathan Papeldone?

Nearly five seasons ago, Jonathan Papelbon was awarded a $6.25M figure in arbitration, which at the time, was the largest deal in history awarded to a closer in the first year of arbitration. At that point in his career, he had saved 113 games with a 1.84 ERA and the arbiters rewarded him nicely for those figures. He would pitch three more seasons in Boston and left the Red Sox having been worth 16.4 RA9-WAR while converting 88% of his saves.

Philadelphia handsomely rewarded the closer with a four-year deal with a vesting fifth option. Thus far, Papelbon has been worth 4.4 RA9-WAR and has converted 86% of his saves. Yet, two years into the four to five-year commitment, the Phillies are reportedly looking to move him. A quick search of MLB Trade Rumors has Papelbon mentioned in rumors regarding the Orioles and both local and national writers hearing the team is actively attempting to move the closer.

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has his work cut out for him as Papelbon is guaranteed at least $26M with the potential of a very achievable trigger option pushing the contract to a $39M value. That is well above the money that has been doled out to any free agent closer this offseason.

On Sunday, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer laid out some of the challenges in front of Amaro Jr.

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Phillies Grab Whatever Roberto Hernandez Is

I remember the way things used to be. Used to be, writing about baseball analysis was pretty easy. Inflated or deflated BABIP over here. High groundball rate over there. This guy has a big difference between his ERA and his xFIP. That guy is miscast as a role player. That’s not the way things are anymore. Many of the principles were fine, and you still see a lot of the same ideas, but over time things have grown more complex, more nuanced. We’re moving beyond pointing out weird things, and we’re moving toward trying to explain weird things. It’s all in the name of identifying what is and isn’t sustainable. All of us want to be fortune tellers.

The Phillies signed Roberto Hernandez today, as a starting pitcher. He’s going to get a base salary around $4.5 million, and with incentives he can top out around $6 million. If writing were the same as it was a few years ago, I could just write a few paragraphs about how Hernandez put up a 4.89 ERA and a 3.60 xFIP. On that basis alone, hey, look, bargain! But because of what writing and research have become, now you also get that intro paragraph.

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What Can Domonic Brown Do For You?

It appears, once again, that Domonic Brown‘s name is out there cooking up in the hot stove.  Dave and Jeff each touched on Brown when his name last came up in rumors last month when a Brown for Jose Bautista rumor was floated out of Philadelphia. Both pieces laid out the caveats of such a move in that Brown’s career is still immature enough that it could go in either direction. 2013 could as much be his baseline as much as it could be his peak.

Brown’s major league career has consisted of just 1032 plate appearances. Prior to 2013, Brown was on the Philly to Reading shuttle a number of times and also had to recover from a hamate injury, which sapped some of his power through the recovery process. The amount of plate appearances he received in parts of three seasons from 2010 to 2012 were nearly identical to the ones he received in his 2013 as a full-time player for the first time. Not only were the plate appearance totals nearly identical, so were the skills.
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2014 ZiPS Projections – Philadelphia Phillies

After having typically appeared in the entirely venerable pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections were released at FanGraphs last year. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Philadelphia Phillies. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Boston.

Citizens of Philadelphia will be glad to see that their club’s first baseman, Ryan Howard — to whom is still owed no less than $85 million — isn’t projected by ZiPS to produce only a single win like last year. What’ll be less encouraging is how it’s because he’s projected to produce more like zero wins in ca. 400 plate appearances.

Fortunately, the club profiles as generally average almost everywhere else — with a number of starters apparent candidates to improve upon their 2013 campaigns. Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz: all four receive here projected WARs better than their actual WARs from this past season. Difficult to ignore, as well, is the very encouraging projection for Maikel Franco, who recorded a 30:70 walk-to-strikeout and 31 home runs in 581 plate appearances last season between High- and Double-A. Some question remains as to whether Franco will ultimately play third or first base in the majors. Conveniently, however, those appear to be the parent club’s greatest weaknesses at present.

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