Archive for Phillies

Utley’s Chase for Cooperstown

Joe Mauer got there, but Chase Utley won’t. By there, I don’t mean the Hall of Fame, at least not directly, but the 2,000 hit plateau, which has functioned as a bright-line test for BBWAA and small-committee Hall voters for the past several decades. As I wrote back in April after Mauer collected his milestone hit, voters have effectively put an unofficial “Rule of 2,000” in place, withholding election from any position player below that level whose career crossed into the post-1960 expansion era, no matter his other merits. For anyone holding out hope that Utley would stick around long enough — while playing well, of course — to reach that marker, Friday was a rough day.

At a press conference at Dodger Stadium on Friday afternoon, the 39-year-old Utley announced that he would retire at the end of the season, forgoing the second year of a two-year, $2 million deal he signed in February. With “only” 1,881 hits over the course of his 16-year career, and less than half a season remaining, he’ll fall short of the marker.

After beginning the press conference by deadpanning that he’d signed a five-year extension, Utley said:

“I transitioned to a part-time player, something new for me, but I took it in stride… Also, a part-time strength coach, part-time pitching coach, occasionally part-time catching coach as well as a part-time general manager. The thing I’m having the most difficult time with is being a part-time dad. So that’s really the reason I’m shutting it down. I’m ready to be a full-time dad.”

While evolving from Phillies regular to Dodgers reserve/elder statesman, Utley has collected at least 100 hits just once in the past four seasons, and has just 30 this year. As injuries to Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Logan Forsythe decimated the Dodgers’ infield this spring, he appeared in 36 of the team’s first 40 games, 22 as a starter, and as of May 11 (through 38 games, selective endpoint alert!), he was hitting .271/.370/.412 with a 13.0% walk rate and a 114 wRC+ in 100 plate appearances. With Forsythe and Turner both back in the picture, however, and with Max Muncy hitting his way into regular duty, Utley went just 1-for-26 without a walk from May 12-29, after which he missed 20 games due to a sprained left thumb. Since returning, he’s made just four starts in 20 games, going 7-for-20 in that span, albeit with some big plays off the bench.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/10

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Maverik Buffo, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: NR   FV: 30
Line: 8 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 5 K

Notes
Buffo, who has a tailing upper-80s fastball and average slider, is probably an upper-level depth arm. He throws strikes and has great makeup, so he’s nice to have in an organization. Sometimes those guys shove and make the Daily Notes, and sometimes they’re also named Maverik Buffo.

Carlos Hernandez, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 21   Org Rank: 24   FV: 40
Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 1 R, 12 K

Notes
Hernandez has a golden arm that produces plus-plus velocity and riding life, but he also has several traits that will likely push him to the bullpen. His secondaries are inconsistent, as is his fastball command, and Hernandez is a relatively stiff short-strider. It’s possible that some of these things improve, just probably not enough for Hernandez to be an efficient starter. Not much has to improve for him to be a bullpen piece, though — and potentially a very good one.

Victor Santos, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Complex (GCL)   Age: 17   Org Rank: NR   FV: 35+
Line: 6 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 9 K

Notes
Santos is a strong-bodied teenage righty with a bit of a longer arm action and presently average stuff for which he has advanced feel. He sits 90-93 with arm-side run and he locates it to his glove side, often running it back onto that corner of the plate. Santos doesn’t have much room on his frame, but at just 17, he’s still likely to get stronger as he matures, and there may be more stuff in here anyway.

Tristen Lutz, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 3   FV: 50
Line: 2-for-3, 2B, HR, 3 BB

Notes
Lutz had a putrid April that he followed with two months of pedestrian .250/.320/.420 ball, but he’s been hot of late and has been a .280/.350/.500 hitter since mid-May. Lutz is striking out more than is ideal and has a maxed-out frame, but he already possesses all the power he needs to play every day as long as a viable on-base/contact combination develops.

Notes from the Field
AZL games were rained out last night, so nothing today.


Daily Prospect Notes: 7/9

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals (Profile)
Level: Rehab   Age: 21   Org Rank: 1   FV: 65
Line: 0-for-1, BB

Notes
Robles has begun to make rehab appearances on his way back from a hyperextended left elbow that he suffered in early April. He’s gotten two plate appearances in the GCL each of the last two days. The Nationals’ big-league outfield situation should enable Robles to have a slow, careful rehab process that takes a few weeks. He is one of baseball’s best prospects.

Adam Haseley, CF, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Hi-A Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45
Line: 2-for-5, HR

Notes
The homer was Haseley’s fifth of the year and his slash line now stands at .301/.344/.417. He’s undergone several swing tweaks this year, starting with a vanilla, up-and-down leg kick last year; a closed, Giancarlo Stanton-like stance early this season; and now an open stance with more pronounced leg kick that loads more toward his rear hip. All that would seem to be part of an effort to get Haseley hitting for more power, his skillset’s most glaring weakness. But Haseley’s swing plane is so flat that such a change may not, alone, be meaningful as far as home-run production is concerned, though perhaps there will be more extra-base hits.

The way Haseley’s peripherals have trended since college gives us a glimpse of how a relative lack of power alters those variables in pro ball. His strikeout and walk rates at UVA were 11% and 12% respectively, an incredible 7% and 16% as a junior. In pro ball, they’ve inverted, and have been 15% and 5% in about 600 pro PAs.

Akil Baddoo, OF, Minnesota Twins (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19   Org Rank: 12   FV: 45
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, SB

Notes
Baddoo is scorching, on an 11-game hit streak during which he has amassed 20 hits, nine for extra-bases. He crushes fastballs and can identify balls and strikes, but Baddoo’s strikeout rate has doubled this year as he’s seen more decent breaking balls, with which he has struggled. Considering how raw Baddoo was coming out of high school, however, his performance, especially as far as the plate discipline is concerned, has been encouraging. He’s a potential everyday player with power and speed.

Jesus Tinoco, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23   Org Rank: NR   FV: 40
Line: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 7 K

Notes
Tinoco didn’t make the Rockies’ offseason list, as I thought he had an outside shot to be a reliever but little more. His strikeout rate is way up. He still projects in the bullpen, sitting 93-95 with extreme fastball plane that also adds artificial depth to an otherwise fringe curveball. He’ll probably throw harder than that in the Futures Game.

Travis MacGregor, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 20   Org Rank: 21   FV: 40
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 R, 6 K

Notes
MacGregor is a projection arm who is performing thanks to his ability to throw his fastball for strikes, though not always where he wants. His delivery has a bit of a crossfire action but is otherwise on the default setting and well composed, with only the release point varying. It’s pretty good, considering many pitchers with MacGregor’s size are still reigning in control of their extremities. MacGregor’s secondaries don’t always have great movement but should be at least average at peak. He projects toward the back of a rotation.

Austin Cox, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Short Season Age: 21   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 10 K

Notes
Cox, Kansas City’s fourth-rounder out of Mercer, has a 23:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11.2 pro innings. He put up goofy strikeout numbers at Mercer, too, but struggles with fastball command. He’s a high-slot lefty who creates tough angle on a low-90s fastball, and his curveball has powerful, vertical shape. It’s likely Cox will be limited to relief work due to fastball command, but he could be very good there, especially if the fastball ticks up in shorter outings.

Notes from the Field
Just some pitcher notes from the weekend here. I saw Rangers RHP Kyle Cody rehabbing in Scottsdale. He was 94-96 for two innings and flashed a plus curveball. Joe Palumbo rehabbed again in the AZL and looked the same as he did last week.

Cleveland has another arm of note in the AZL, 6-foot-1, 18-year-old Dominican righty Ignacio Feliz. He’s one of the best on-mound athletes I’ve seen in the AZL and his arm works well. He sits only 88-92 but that should tick up as he matures physically. His fastball has natural cut, and at times, he throws what looks like a true cutter in the 84-87 range. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball that flashes plus.

Feliz could develop in a number of different ways. Cleveland could make a concerted effort to alter his release so Feliz is more behind the ball, which would probably play better with his curveballs. Alternatively, they might nurture his natural proclivity for cut and see what happens. Either way, this is an exciting athlete with workable stuff who doesn’t turn 19 until the end of October.

Between 15 and 18 scouts were on hand for Saturday night’s Dodgers and Diamondbacks AZL game. That’s much more than is typical for an AZL game, even at this time of year, and is hard to explain away by saying these scouts were on usual coverage. D-backs OF Kristian Robinson (whom we have ranked No. 2 in the system) was a late, precautionary scratch after being hit with a ball the day before, so he probably wasn’t their collective target. Instead, I suspect it was Dodgers 19-year-old Mexican righty Gerardo Carrillo, who was 91-96 with a plus curveball. I saw Carrillo pitch in relief of Yadier Alvarez on the AZL’s opening night, during which he was 94-97. He’s small, and my knee-jerk reaction was to bucket him as a reliever, but there’s enough athleticism to try things out in a rotation and see if it sticks.


Phillies Prospect Darick Hall on Learning to Launch

Darick Hall was leading the Florida State League with 11 home runs when he was promoted to Double-A Reading on the first of June. That should come as no surprise. One year ago, the 22-year-old first baseman led the South Atlantic League with 27 bombs in first full professional season. In 2016, he went deep 20 times at Dallas Baptist University prior to being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 14th round.

Hall, who was slashing .277/.367/.538 at the time of his promotion, began thriving after he adopted a high-launch-angle swing in his final collegiate season. And he’s certainly not turning back. While the 6-foot-4, 240-pound left-handed hitter is off to a slow start in the Eastern League — a .497 OPS and a pair of home runs in 12 games — he profiles as one of the best young power hitters in the Phillies system.

Hall talked about his game, including his power stroke and improved plate discipline, shortly before moving up to Double-A.

———

Hall on becoming a more complete hitter: “Any time you’re labelled a power hitter, your power tool is kind of what shines. But you always want to be a complete hitter. You don’t want to sacrifice at-bats just to hit home runs. Your goal is to hit the ball square as many times as you can, and you definitely want to walk. Power hitters sometimes have a high strikeout rate, a low walk rate, and a low average. That’s not something you aspire to. You obviously want the home runs, but you also want to get on base.

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The Phillies Have a Brand-New Starting Pitcher

Let me share with you a familiar-sounding story. As a rookie back in 2016, Zach Eflin wasn’t good. There were 181 starting pitchers that year who threw at least 50 innings, and only two of them wound up with a lower strikeout rate than Eflin did. And then as a sophomore in 2017, Eflin wasn’t good. There were 189 starting pitchers that year who threw at least 50 innings, and only four of them wound up with a lower strikeout rate than Eflin did. Yes, there’s more to pitching in the major leagues than generating strikeouts, but Eflin didn’t have anything going in his favor. So he showed up to camp this past spring feeling especially optimistic. In February of 2018, Zach Eflin felt like he was in the best shape of his life.

Admittedly, the story had some substance. Eflin had felt knee pain for most of his life. After the 2016 season, he had surgery to repair the patella tendon in both of his legs. That was good for the pain, but bad for his strength. Eflin didn’t get to have a normal offseason, and he pitched while underweight. The idea this time around was that Eflin would be able to use his lower body. Over the winter, he added something like 20 pounds of muscle to his legs. It all sounded good. But then, best-shape stories always sound good. In the moment, it’s impossible to know who’s going to be better, and who’s going to be the same.

Well, Zach Eflin isn’t the same. He isn’t the same, for the reasons just stated. He’s got the same strikeout rate as Chris Archer. He’s got the same strikeout rate as Jose Quintana. He nearly has the same strikeout rate as Aaron Nola. Eflin is pitching to keep a rotation spot. But in the bigger picture, it’s like Eflin is debuting all over again. His career simply had a false start.

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Are Young Teams More Likely to Fade After Hot Starts?

Heading into the 2018 season, the NL East picture appeared to be pretty clear. The Washington Nationals — while having just one more year of Bryce Harper — entered the campaign as presumptive favorites. The Mets, despite possessing a talented roster, were conducting their affairs in an all-too-familiar way, while the Marlins were conducting their affairs in a way that made their roster much less talented.

In Atlanta and Philadelphia, meanwhile, the future was on the horizon. The Braves boasted a stable of young arms, Freddie Freeman, and the best prospect in the game (mon-Ohtani division). The Phillies supplemented their equally impressive young core with the signing of Jake Arrieta, announcing that they were ready to end the rebuild and begin contending. It only seemed a matter of time before the division would be theirs.

A couple months into the season, the picture is somewhat less clear. Indeed, it seems as though the future has arrived a little early in the NL East. As of this morning, the Braves sit atop the NL East at 35-25, with the Phillies just a couple games behind in third. (The Nationals sit in second.) The two teams have gone about things in different ways: where the Braves — led by Ozzie Albies, the aforementioned Freeman, and a surprising Nick Markakis — boast a top-five offense, the Phillies have benefited from a top-five pitching staff.

Whenever a young team makes this sort of run, it’s inevitably accompanied by discussions concerning the importance of experience. Experience, so it is said, leads to more staying power over the course of a long season or playoff run. Young teams are then expected to fade or fall short, thus earning some “much needed experience” and checking off that box on their development path.

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Sunday Notes: Phillies First-Rounder Adam Haseley is Getting Off the Ground

Adam Haseley was drafted eighth overall last year, so his potential goes without saying. That doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks in his profile. When Eric Longenhagen blurbed the 21-year-old University of Virginia product in our Philadelphia Phillies Top Prospects list, he cautioned that “Some scouts have concerns about his bat path.”

I asked the left-handed-hitting Haseley why that might be.

“My interpretation would be that I was wanting be more direct to the ball,” responded Haseley, who put up a .761 OPS last year between short-season and low-A. “Something I’d started doing at UVA was trying to create more launch angle — I wanted to hit balls in the air with true backspin — but coming into pro ball there was more velocity than I’d ever seen in college. I had to adjust to that, and my way of adjusting was to get more direct, which resulted in a flatter angle. Now I’m trying to find that happy medium between the two.”

His quest for middle ground remains a work in progress. Two months into his first full professional season, Haseley has a 48.4 GB% and just three home runs in 217 plate appearances with high-A Clearwater. Compare that to his final collegiate campaign, where as a Cavalier he went deep 14 times in a comparable number of chances. Read the rest of this entry »


Finding the Next Edwin Díaz

This is Jake Mailhot’s fourth post as part of his May Residency at FanGraphs. A lifelong Mariners fan, Jake now lives in Bellingham, Washington, just a little too far away from Seattle to make it to games regularly, which is sometimes for the best. He is a staff editor at Mariners blog Lookout Landing. He can be found on Twitter at @jakemailhot. Read the works of all our residents here.

Among the various career arcs in professional baseball, the conversion from starting pitcher to reliever is one of the more common ones. It’s a last resort for aging veterans and a tried-and-true way to get the most out of middling starters. But when a talented prospect is moved to the bullpen, there are bound to be questions. It has been generally understood that a starting pitcher is more valuable than a relief pitcher, so teams are usually more conservative with their prospects, often letting them at least try to work things out as a starter before pulling the plug. But in an era when relievers are throwing more innings than ever before, a high-octane reliever might prove to be more valuable than just another starter.

Back in 2016, the Mariners moved one of their best pitching prospects from the rotation to the bullpen. Edwin Díaz took to the conversion quickly and was in the majors a few weeks later, completely skipping Triple-A. He was soon installed as the Mariners closer and has been one of the best relievers in the majors since. His already excellent fastball velocity received the usual boost from shorter stints on the mound, and his slider has developed into a plus-plus pitch.

It was a risky move for the Mariners. Instead of letting the 22-year-old try to develop his changeup in the rotation, they shifted him to the bullpen and aggressively promoted him because the major-league team needed bullpen help desperately.

I wondered if any other teams had tried something similar. Below you’ll see the results of a very specific query: every relief pitcher who has thrown at least 10 innings in the majors and had been a starting pitcher in the minors as recently as last year. To narrow the field even further, these pitchers all recorded fewer than five innings pitched in Triple-A and have posted an average leverage index greater than 1.25 when entering the game.

Recently Converted Minor-League Starters
Name IP K% BB% ERA FIP
Jordan Hicks 27.2 14.2% 14.2% 1.63 4.02
Brad Keller 22.1 14.6% 7.9% 2.01 3.46
Justin Anderson 15.2 30.9% 13.2% 3.45 4.20
Seranthony Domínguez 11.2 35.1% 0.0% 0.00 1.14

It’s an interesting list. Jordan Hicks, the man with the fastest fastball in all the land, sits atop it with almost 27 innings pitched and just 16 strikeouts to his name. Then we have a Rule 5 pick, Brad Keller, who has recently been in the mix for high-leverage innings in the Royals bullpen. Moving on. Justin Anderson wasn’t a highly regarded pitching prospect in the Angels organization, but he has added more than 6 mph to his average fastball velocity out of the pen and given Mike Scioscia another option in his constant closer carousel. This article was almost about Anderson. But the final name on the list is far more intriguing — and not just because of his 80-grade baseball name.

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Odubel Herrera Is Chasing Derek Jeter’s Record

When a rebuilding club begins its transformation into playoff contender, one can usually identify certain players who emerged during the team’s lean years and made that transformation possible. In the case of the Cubs, for example, that player is Anthony Rizzo. For the Astros, that player is Jose Altuve. For the Phillies, that player might be Odubel Herrera. The former Rule 5 pick is now in his fourth year with Philadelphia, and he has a contract that could keep him with the team for another five seasons beyond this one. He’s been the best player — averaging 3.5 WAR per year — on Phillies teams averaging 95 losses. He might now be the best player on a team that appears to be reversing its fortune and contending for the first time in a half-dozen years.

It would be fair to call Herrera’s 2017 campaign — despite an average offensive season, solid defense, and three wins at 25 years old — a disappointment. After two seasons during which he flirted with four wins, a drop in what should be his prime might have been slightly concerning. However, Herrera really just had a poor two months to start the year. As the calendar turned to June, Herrera was hitting .218/.262/.326 with a 48 wRC+ in 206 plate appearances. The rest of the way, he slashed .318/.361/.526 with a 130 wRC+ in 357 trips to the plate. Even including a couple rough weeks to end last May, Herrera has a 126 wRC+ over the past calendar year and 4.4 WAR, ranking 28th among position players and including a rolling mark that is likely to rise over the next few weeks.

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You Can’t Blame Tanking for the Lack of Competitive Teams

Tanking is a problem. Professional sports like baseball are built on the assumption that both sides are trying to win. Organizations putting forth less than their best efforts hurts the integrity of the sport and provides fans with little reason to engage. That said, the perception of tanking might have overtaken the reality of late. Competitive imbalance is not the same as tanking. Sometimes teams are just bad, even if they are trying not to be.

Tanking concerns are not new. Two years ago, just after the Astros and Cubs had turned their teams around, the Phillies were attempting to dismantle their roster by trading Cole Hamels. The Braves had traded multiple players away from a team that had been competitive. The Brewers, who traded away Carlos Gomez, would soon do the same with Jonathan Lucroy after he rebuilt his trade value.

The Braves, Brewers, and Phillies all sold off whatever assets they could. Two years later, though, those clubs aren’t mired in last place. Rather, they’re a combined 54-37 and projected to win around 80 games each this season in what figures to be a competitive year for each. While the Braves and Phillies could and/or should have done more this offseason to improve their rosters, neither resorted to an extreme level of failure, and the teams are better today than they would have been had they not rebuilt. While accusations of tanking dogged each, none of those clubs descended as far as either the Astros or Cubs. None came close to the NBA-style tank jobs many feared.

One might suspect that I’ve cherry-picked the three clubs mentioned above, purposely selecting teams with surprising early-season success to prop up a point about the relatively innocuous effects of tanking. That’s not what I’ve done, though. Rather, I’ve highlighted the three teams Buster Olney cited by name two years ago — and which Dave Cameron also addressed — in a piece on tanking.

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Is Baseball Ready to Love Dick Allen?

This is Shakeia Taylor’s fourth and final piece as part of her April Residency at FanGraphs. Shakeia is an avid baseball fan and baseball history enthusiast. Her main interests include the Negro Leagues and women in baseball. She has written for The Hardball Times and Complex. She hosts an annual charity bartending fundraiser for Jackie Robinson Day, all of tips and raffle proceeds of which are donated to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Though not from Baltimore, she’s still an Elite Giant. Shakeia can also be found on Twitter (@curlyfro).

“I believe God Almighty hisself would have trouble handling Richie Allen.”

–Phillies interim manager George Myatt, 1969

Despite a somewhat itinerant career and a relative lack of notoriety, there’s some evidence to suggest that Richard Anthony Allen was among the best players of his era. From the moment he debuted, Dick Allen made an impact, nearly helping the Phillies win their first National League title since 1950 in his rookie season. His professional baseball resume features a .292 career batting average, including seven seasons of .300 or better. He won the 1964 Rookie of the Year award and the 1972 MVP award. He posted a .534 career slugging percentage, which ranks second best among qualified players during his career. During the period in which he was active, Allen also produced the eighth-highest WAR among all position players — more wins than Hall of Famers Lou Brock or Willie McCovey or Willie Stargell recorded during the same timeframe, despite all benefiting from more plate appearances than Allen.

While Allen was noted for his talent, he also developed a reputation as one of the most controversial players in the game. He arrived for games hungover and would smoke in the dugout. He was often fined for showing up late or not showing up at all. He was known as a “divisive clubhouse guy.” His attitude would shape future perceptions of him, changing the way fans viewed him as a player.

As the years have passed, though — and as his Hall of Fame case has been evaluated and re-evaluated — those perceptions have shifted, giving way to a more complete understanding of what he endured. Many attribute his “bad attitude” to the racism and mistreatment he suffered in the minor leagues, an unfortunate trend that would follow him to the Phillies clubhouse.

Allen suffered through more unfortunate chapters that I can recount here, but perhaps the defining one came before a game on July 3, 1965, when Allen got into a brawl with Phillies teammate Frank Thomas. According to late Daily News writer Bill Conlin, the fight stemmed from an incident a week earlier when Thomas jokingly asked Allen, “Hey, boy, can you carry my bags to the lobby?” The fight solidified Allen’s bad reputation; his life in Philadelphia became hell. The city was still dealing with the effects of the 1964 racial riots and many white people sided with Thomas. The team put Thomas on irrevocable waivers. Fans began to boo loudly after Thomas, in a radio interview, said that Allen should’ve been punished, too. Allen’s left shoulder was injured in the fight with Thomas, making it difficult to play third base. He was moved to left field. The booing turned to death threats, which turned into fans throwing things at Allen on the field. He began to wear a helmet in the outfield to protect himself from further injury.

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Jarrod Dyson Bunted With the Bases Loaded

Even at FanGraphs, I’m one of the last people you should ask about swagger. Among the few things I know about swagger, though, is that Jarrod Dyson has it. He plays his game with a particular flair, and it was on display earlier Thursday, when Dyson struck a pose after lifting his 14th career home run. You wouldn’t think that a hitter with Dyson’s profile would necessarily recognize a homer off the bat, but for a fleeting instant, as Dyson’s body twisted on its right heel, he looked like he’d done this a hundred other times.

Dyson knew it right away. Apparently, so did the catcher. The game was one of those miserable new Facebook broadcasts, so I can’t speak highly of the viewing experience, but as the feed rolled into a replay of the swing, one of the announcer’s voices cracked as he exclaimed, “He bunted last night! With the bases juiced!”

He wasn’t wrong, and if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have known. On Thursday, Jarrod Dyson went deep. On Wednesday, he dropped down a bases-loaded bunt. Both of these events are unusual, but I’d like to now focus on the latter.

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The Newest Good Phillies Starter

The Phillies wouldn’t have signed Jake Arrieta if they didn’t think they had some chance to win right away. Arrieta would improve that case himself, and his acquisition addressed what had been a thin pitching staff, but even a few months ago, the Phillies were expressing some cautious optimism. Aaron Nola, obviously, is incredibly good. The team was willing to dismiss Jerad Eickhoff’s rough 2017 as a consequence of injuries. And much of the organization was excited about Nick Pivetta. With Nola, Eickhoff, and Pivetta, the Phillies could dream on a rotation that could hold its own, even before Arrieta came along.

Pivetta now has three 2018 starts under his belt, and the last two have been terrific. In fairness, we’re talking about a Marlins lineup that’s not at 100%, and a Reds lineup that’s even further from 100%. The competition has not been stiff. But Pivetta’s struck out 16 of 47 batters, without issuing one single walk. There’s improvement in the results, and even more important than that, there’s improvement in the process. As a rookie in 2017, Pivetta flashed a promising weapon. It would appear he’s now using it with more confidence. It’s time for the National League to get accustomed to seeing Nick Pivetta’s curveball.

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Top 26 Prospects: Philadelphia Phillies

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Philadelphia Phillies. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

Phillies Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 Sixto Sanchez 19 A+ RHP 2020 60
2 Scott Kingery 23 AAA 2B 2018 55
3 J.P. Crawford 23 MLB SS 2018 55
4 Adonis Medina 21 A RHP 2020 50
5 Franklyn Kilome 22 AA RHP 2019 50
6 Mickey Moniak 19 A OF 2021 45
7 Adam Haseley 21 A CF 2020 45
8 Jorge Alfaro 24 MLB C 2018 45
9 Jhailyn Ortiz 19 A- 1B 2021 45
10 JoJo Romero 21 A+ LHP 2019 45
11 Seranthony Dominguez 23 A+ RHP 2018 45
12 Enyel De Los Santos 22 AA RHP 2019 45
13 Daniel Brito 20 A 2B 2020 40
14 Arquimedes Gamboa 20 A SS 2021 40
15 Luis Garcia 17 R INF 2023 40
16 Roman Quinn 24 MLB CF 2018 40
17 Kevin Gowdy 20 R RHP 2020 40
18 Spencer Howard 21 A- RHP 2020 40
19 Francisco Morales 18 R RHP 2022 40
20 Jose Taveras 24 R RHP 2018 40
21 Thomas Eshelman 23 AAA RHP 2018 40
22 Ranger Suarez 22 A+ LHP 2020 40
23 Dylan Cozens 23 AAA OF 2018 40
24 Cole Irvin 24 AA LHP 2019 40
25 Jake Holmes 19 R SS 2022 40
26 Jose Gomez 21 R UTIL 2020 40

60 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic
Age 18 Height 6’0 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command
70/70 45/50 50/55 55/65 45/55

Hitters like to shorten up against Sixto after he’s blown well-placed, sinking, upper-90s gas past them for strikes one and two, which leaves them vulnerable to any of his three viable secondary offerings later in at-bats. Sanchez sits 95-99, has touched 102, and possesses advanced command. He has a long, cutting slider in the mid-80s and a two-plane curveball, both of which flash above-average, but his best secondary is a ghosting, mid-80s changeup which embarrassed hitters five years older than him at Hi-A last year.

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Scott Kingery and the Problem of the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Scott Kingery just signed a long-term deal with the Phillies for life-changing money. Congratulations, Scott! Of course, Kingery has yet to play in the big leagues, and that makes this deal unusual. The previous largest extension ever for a player who hadn’t yet debuted in the big leagues was Jon Singleton’s deal. That didn’t work out too well for the Astros, but Kingery is a great prospect. Odds are, Kingery will be fine, and this deal will be fine. That’s hard-hitting analysis for you.

There are two things in baseball that really pique my interest: rules and things that have never happened before. The Kingery extension is an example of the latter. This is something new, and that makes it interesting. What makes it doubly interesting is how my Twitter feed populated immediately after news of this deal had percolated through the interwebs for a time. People seemed to have one of two reactions:

  1. Kingery signed a below-market deal just to avoid starting in the minors and having his service time manipulated, and therefore this contract is a joke.
  2. The Phillies paid too much money to a guy who hasn’t shown anything (literally) at the big-league level yet, and therefore this contract is a joke.

The People seem to agree that the contract is a joke, but can’t quite agree on why. And both points can’t be true: if the contract is a joke because it’s a gross overpay, then it can’t also be a joke because it pays too little. And this got me thinking about the prisoner’s dilemma.

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The Opt-Out Clause Is Evolving

Jake Arrieta is now officially a member of the Phillies. For a few weeks, this arrangement was feeling increasingly inevitable, as Scott Boras wasn’t finding longer-term offers, and as the Phillies have had tens of millions of dollars of payroll space. The Phillies are getting closer to relevance, and, among the would-be Arrieta suitors, they have to worry about efficient spending the least. So, here we are, with Arrieta having had his formal press-conference introduction. The Phillies still aren’t anyone’s wild-card favorites, but Arrieta unquestionably makes them stronger. The rotation is now deeper than just Aaron Nola.

The player in question is interesting enough on his own. Entire books could be written about Arrieta’s career, and he still has another few chapters to go. Arrieta has experienced dizzying highs and unthinkable lows, which makes him out to be something inspiring. But let me warn you right now, this is not a post about Arrieta’s professional achievements. It’s not a post about whether I think Arrieta is going to age gracefully. This is a post about the contract. The inanimate paper contract. Specifically, this is a post about a clause in the contract. You should leave now if you don’t care about this. But with the Jake Arrieta deal, the Phillies and Scott Boras have agreed to something new.

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No $200 Million Deal for Jake Arrieta

Jake Arrieta received the highest AAV of the winter, but only the fifth-largest deal overall.
(Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

The combination of a Cy Young award, a strong postseason track record, a relatively low total of innings thrown, and a history free of major arm injuries was supposed to carry Jake Arrieta to a nine-figure free-agent deal this winter. Agent Scott Boras was said to eye Justin Verlander’s $180 million extension and Max Scherzer’s $210 million free-agent contract as ballpark figures for and templates for Arrieta. But in a winter during which the hot stove’s pilot light went out, the 32-year-old righty didn’t come anywhere close to landing such a megadeal. Instead, he settled for a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies, albeit one with some bells and whistles that could make it considerably more lucrative.

Via FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, Arrieta will make $30 million in 2018 and $25 million in 2019, before having a chance to opt out. If he doesn’t opt out, he’ll make $20 million in 2020. If he does opt out, the team has the option to override that by triggering a two-year extension at a minimum of $20 million per year, with incentives (whose exact parameters are unknown at this writing) based on 2018-19 games started that could take those years to $25 million, and further incentives based on Cy Young finishes that could take them to $30 million. The maximum deal becomes five years and $135 million.

Nobody is going to weep for Arrieta, but based upon the guaranteed money, it does appear that Boras overplayed his hand. In early January, USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reported that the Cubs, for whom Arrieta pitched from mid-2013 through 2017, were willing to bring Arrieta back via a four-year deal “for about $110 million,” which represents a higher average annual value ($27.5 million) than he ultimately got, unless one simply assumes he’ll opt out without the Phillies overriding. A month ago, just before they closed a six-year, $126 million deal with Yu Darvish, the Cubs reportedly circled back to Arrieta with a similar offer. As he had done when the team tried to secure him via long-term extensions in 2016 and 2017, Arrieta declined.

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Jake Arrieta Joins Phillies Club Marching Towards Relevance

In a maneuver already utilized too often by clubs this offseason, the Phillies have selected a weekend night — a time when right-thinking people everywhere have already filled their glasses with some of the unmixed Falernian — to announce a deal of some note. In this particular case, what Philadelphia has done is to sign free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta.

Bob Nightengale was among the first with the terms of the deal:

Jay Jaffe will address the agreement in greater detail soon. For the moment, however, it makes sense to consider the implications of this transaction on two fronts — in the context both of (a) the Phillies’ rotation and (b) this winter’s very strange free-agent market.

First, the Phillies. Here, we recognize one of the great benefits of acquiring a frontline starter — namely, that he replaces not another frontline starter, but whichever pitcher has been designated to occupy the very last spot in the rotation. Our depth-chart projections call for Arrieta to produce something just shy of three wins in 2018. How does that compare to whomever he’s displacing?

By way of reference, here were our projections for the Philadelphia rotation before the addition of Arrieta:

Phillies Rotation, Pre-Arrieta
Name IP ERA FIP WAR
Aaron Nola 177 3.58 3.46 4.3
Nick Pivetta 157 4.54 4.45 2.1
Vince Velasquez 122 4.50 4.41 1.7
Jerad Eickhoff 157 4.74 4.74 1.6
Mark Leiter 93 4.83 4.83 0.8
Ben Lively 110 5.15 5.17 0.6
Adam Morgan 28 4.53 4.59 0.3
Zach Eflin 46 5.01 4.98 0.3
Ricardo Pinto 9 5.44 5.46 0.0
Drew Anderson 9 5.33 5.31 0.0
Jose Taveras 9 5.54 5.62 0.0
Enyel De Los Santos 9 5.18 5.23 0.0
Jake Thompson 9 5.05 5.17 0.0
Total 936 4.55 4.50 11.9

The rotation spots of Eickhoff, Nola, Pivetta, and Velasquez are all probably safe. In this case, Arrieta is probably replacing some combination of Leiter and Lively. The immediate benefit to the Phils, in that context, appears to be about two wins for 2018. The secondary benefit is that, if and when a Phillies starter is unable to make an appearance, his spot will be assigned to Mark Leiter and not someone residing even closer to replacement level.

So that’s the signing from Philadelphia’s side. What about Arrieta’s?

At the end of February, Craig Edwards made a noteworthy observation — namely, that free agents who receive the largest projected contracts in our annual crowdsourcing exercise are actually the most likely to exceed their crowdsourced estimates.

Consider this table from Edwards’ piece:

Crowdsourcing Projection Accuracy: 2014-2017
Crowd ($/M) Actual ($/M) Difference %
Above $80 M 2408.5 2595.3 7.8%
Between $40 M and $80 M 1770.0 1675.0 -5.3%
Between $10 M and $40 M 2137.5 1723.6 -19.3%
Up to $10 M 182.0 232.5 27.7%

Players who have been projected to receive $80 million or more have actually signed worth about 8% more than the crowd anticipated. Players forecast for lower amounts have actually received less. Edwards points out that, despite this strange offseason, the top free agents were still doing quite well.

Consider the free-agent signings of $80 million or more at the time of his piece:

Crowdsource Projection Accuracy: 2018
Name Date Signed Crowd Actual Difference
Eric Hosmer 2/19/2018 $95 $144 51.6%
Yu Darvish 2/13/2018 $125 $126 0.8%
J.D. Martinez 2/19/2018 $110 $110 0.0%
Total $330 $380 15.2%

While neither Darvish nor Martinez hit quite the 8% mark, both basically nailed their crowdsourced projections. And overall, including the Hosmer deal, the top free agents were actually outperforming previous seasons.

Since Edwards’ post, however, both Mike Moustakas and (now) Jake Arrieta have signed. The results for the $80-plus million demographic are a bit less impressive:

Crowdsource Projection Accuracy: 2018 (Updated)
Name Date Signed Crowd Actual Difference
Eric Hosmer 2/19/2018 $95 $144 51.6%
Yu Darvish 2/13/2018 $125 $126 0.8%
J.D. Martinez 2/19/2018 $110 $110 0.0%
Jake Arrieta 3/11/2018 $110 $75 -31.8%
Mike Moustakas 3/8/2018 $85 $7 -91.8%
Total $525 $462 -12.0%

Arrieta was forecast for $110 million but came up $35 million short of that. As Jon Heyman notes, there’s actually a strange clause in the deal that could allow the Phillies to extend the deal to five years and $135 million, but it’s based on a couple unlikely contingencies. So, for the moment, we’ll treat it as $75 million. Unlike top free agents in years past, Arrieta has signed for considerably less than the crowd anticipated. It seems possible, as a result, that even more than baseball’s middle class is embattled.


Effectively Wild Episode 1186: Season Preview Series: Angels and Phillies

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Ichiro Suzuki’s return to Seattle, Neil Walker’s perplexing unemployment, the unreliability of bullpens, Anthony Gose’s extremely rough start to spring training, and Kyle Jensen’s extremely hot start to spring training, then preview the 2018 Angels (20:44) with The Athletic Los Angeles’s Pedro Moura, and the 2018 Phillies (51:19) with The Athletic Philadelphia’s Meghan Montemurro.

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What Are the Phillies Waiting For?

The Phillies don’t look like a very good team this season. They haven’t looked like a very good team in some time, really. That said, they aren’t all that far from contention in a muddled NL Wild Card race. After enduring 96 losses in 2017, the club enters the upcoming campaign with an improved roster, having replaced Freddy Galvis with J.P. Crawford and Tommy Joseph with Carlos Santana. They’re poised to receive a full season from Rhys Hoskins. They’ve also added Tommy Hunter to the bullpen.

The result of those additions to last year’s returnees is a projection for 74 wins. Improving by eight games in a single offseason is pretty impressive. The Phillies aren’t really expected to do that, though. By BaseRuns, which removes sequencing from a team’s run-scoring and -prevention, Philadelphia was actually a 70-win team last year. So the gain this offseason is more like four wins. Still, it’s something.

It’s also something that has come at little expense. Yes, the team added free-agent Carlos Santana this winter for an average of $20 million per season. Given the team’s financial wherewithal and the potential to compete now, however, it’s fair to wonder why the Phillies haven’t done more.

In recent weeks, Philadelphia has been connected both with Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn but appear reluctant to continue moving forward this offseason. While a 74-win team will get nowhere near the playoffs, the current state of the club’s rotation means that the Phillies could easily spend their way to something closer to contention this season without greatly impacting their ability to contend in future years. In November, Travis Sawchik wondered when the Phillies would spend. With pitching still available in the free-agent market and a relatively mediocre set of Wild Card candidates, the time for the Phillies to spend at least a little bit of their reserves should be now.

Before getting to the Phillies’ present finances, let’s take a brief step back and remember where the club has been. Here are Opening Day payrolls for Philadelphia since they moved into Citizens Bank Park in 2004.

From 2010 to 2014, the Phillies’ payroll placed among the top four in the majors. It went down a bit in 2015, followed by a huge dip in 2016, and then another big drop this year. For some perspective, consider the Houston Astros’ tank-job, for which that club has been criticized. From 2009 to 2011, Astros payrolls averaged $91 million. Then, while tanking between 2012 and -14, the average payroll dropped 57% to $39 million. By comparison, the Phillies’ average payroll from 2013 to 2015 was $161 million, a figure which dropped 48% to $84 million in 2016-18. Philadelphia’s drop in payroll has been nearly as severe as the Astros’ own decline earlier this decade.

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