Sunday, September 28, 2014

Season Over, Preview of Posts

Well, the Phillies lost their final game of the season 2-1 against the slumping Braves, giving the Phillies the same record as last year: 73-89. Here's a brief recap:

Hamels' 30th start of the year was another great outing: 2 ER, 8 IP, & 7 K for another tough-luck loss. If you want proof that the win statistic should no longer be considered for the Cy Young award, listen to this: Since June 1, Cole Hamels has the 2nd best ERA in the majors behind Clayton Kershaw. Hamels' effort gives him ~200 K & ~203 IP for the year, becoming the first Phillies Pitcher since Steve Carlton to throw 200-plus innings in five consecutive seasons, a feat "Lefty" accomplished from '72 to '80.

Hamels' bounce-back (off-season shoulder tendinitis), Cy-Young-esque 2014 is one of many bright spots this year, but in a loosing season, the bad will outweigh the good. I will break down the performances of the 2014 Phillies in a game of "Stay or Go?". Look for that entry, off-season previews, 2014 moments and possibly more entries over the coming days/ weeks. I can tell you this: changes are coming. One has already occurred: the team announced that Marti Wolever (the long-time scout-in-charge of the first-year player draft) will not return in 2015. Good luck, Marti.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pitching Projections for 2015

Well, the Phillies have been loosing again, but still hold a near-.500 record in the 2nd half. All they need is four wins (nine games left) in order to achieve a better record than last year, which is attainable given the past few months of games, especially the contributions by the young players & Sept. call-ups. Now, the Phillies were mathematically eliminated from post-season contention during the Padres series, so let's continue with projecting the needs for 2015; this time, I'll cover pitching. Next entry on 2015, will be a game of "stay or go?"; date TBD.

I mentioned the young players are doing very well and the biggest area besides seeing Ruf & Franco is the bullpen. Papelbon, except for last week, has been lights-out. Look for him to be on the trading block, again, but that may be difficult given the suspension & salary ($13MM plus still-attainable vesting option). Bastardo is lights-out 75% of the time but has been relegated to match-ups as of late. That will affect him in negotiating his final year of arbitration. The primary reason for that has been the emergence of Ken Giles, Jake Diekman, & Justin De Fratus. Combined stats: 11-6 rec., 2.62 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, & a 3.60 K:BB ratio. Simply stellar. Let's say all five secured spots on the Opening Day (4/6 vs. Red Sox) roster.

The long men (Manship, Hollands, Martin, & Gonzalez) have been ok... showing promise despite a 5.07 ERA. The reason: being used less and less as the season wore on despite injuries to the rotation. They have the pitches to succeed, just not the playing time... some in the minors & DL, others because of ineffectiveness & the emergence of Giles, De Fratus, & Diekman. They represent 1/6 of the team's innings pitched by relievers & 5.5% of the team's total innings. It looks like Hollands & Manship (contract status?) will get a look next year along with Neris and perhaps Rosenberg, Martin, & Gonzalez... with the latter two probably getting looks for the rotation. One spot will be open for these guys, maybe two spots. It's my thinking that Gonzalez is a lock due to contract (2 yrs., $8MM remaining) and the final spot goes to a veteran free agent, especially if Pap is traded.

Before I go into the rotation, I do want to say that it's been a shame that Mike Adams (completing his 2-yr. deal) had dealt with all those injuries. I liked the intent of the signing by Rube, but it didn't work out. Great guy... I gained a lot of respect for him when he said that (warning: badly paraphrasing a quote from months ago) he's sorry he ended up not earning the $12MM.

Now for the rotation. A.J. Burnett will retire. Kyle Kendrick will sign elsewhere at 2 yr./ $16MM or 3 yr./ $21MM. Lee (60-Day DL with strained flexor pronator tendon) will come into spring training healthy (last guaranteed year of contract). You can give the 4th spot to Buchannan. And that leaves Cole Hamels, who has been absolutely stellar for the Phillies since June 1. I do not think he'll ultimately be traded, so put him in as the No. 1. So far:
  1. Hamels
  2. Lee
  3. OPEN
  4. Buchannan
  5. OPEN
So, you see two open spots vacated by K.K. & A.J. Burnett. The first probably goes to a free agent or, better yet, Jerome Williams (3-2, 2.84 ERA) if he's re-signed. The final spot will be a competition between a(nother) free agent and Miguel Gonzalez if the Phils audition him for the rotation. You'll see some younger guys here competing: 2014 1st Round Pick Aaron Nola (AA), 2010 1st Round Pick Jesse Biddle (AA or AAA), Ethan Martin (AAA), Sean O'Sullivan (AAA), & Jon Pettibone (AAA); ultimately, they'll be competing for positions on the Phillies' depth chart & start the year in the minors (their likely assignments are in parentheses). Expect one of the free agents to be signed to a two-year deal probably, if the Phillies go that route. The free agent market is very strong, even after the top three of Scherzer, Shields, & Lester are signed.

Looks like the Phillies are going in the right direction pitching-wise with the young 'pen holding leads & fresh faces in the rotation expected over next two years. Keep up the great work guys!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Papelbon Situation

I won't go into the glory details of what happened during the 9th inning Sunday as I'm sure most know, but here's a quick refresher: after blowing a save out of the water, Pap is walking to the dugout when two things happen... fans boo and he grabs his crotch "to adjust himself", according to Pap. He is ejected by Joe West and Pap goes on a bit of a tirade. MLB later suspends Pap 7 games for making the gesture, running at Joe, and publicly displaying his anger. Joe got one game for improperly restraining Pap.

So, why did Pap do that? I do think he was adjusting himself, but that does not excuse his timing. Now, I do think a fine and one- or two-game suspension is necessary as he needs to learn to control himself, especially with the anger & frustration part of the incident. Yes, the gesture can be interpreted as toward the crowd as he did that after the crowd booed him, but Pap needs to be careful with stupidly running in Joe's path back to the IF. For that, a suspension is clearly warranted, usually one game for the first offense.

So, let's say that the first game of the seven Pap can't partake in is for contacting an ump. That means that MLB suspended him 6 games for the gesture, which he says was adjusting himself. Let's put that in perspective:
  • Hitting a batter costs 5 games (a la Hamels vs. Harper)
  • Pineda got 10 for pine tar on neck (he kept his salary).
  • Sosa got 7-8 for the corked bat.
  • Brawls result in suspensions ranging from 1-2 games for coaches/ managers to 7 games for the players whose actions caused the brawl.
So, in MLB's view, this is worse than hitting a guy on purpose/ instigating in a brawl and as bad as cheating. I think MLB has mixed up priorities. Still, it does not excuse Pa's behavior. Pap accepted his suspension, which isn't a bad thing in the long run - shows he accepts the consequences for his behavior.

Now, I have one questoon to ask & I'll also give my opinion on it: Did Pap deserve the boos?

Here's why he did deserve the boos:
  • Blows 4-1 lead in 9th.
  • Says he'll accept/ request trade to contender & questions front office decision-making.
  • Makes other inflammatory comments from time to time.
Here's why he didn't deserve them:
  • 2.48 ERA, 104 saves, and 88% success rate in three seasons with the Phils entering Sunday
  • Came into Sunday's game with near-1.5 ERA for 2014 (ERA inflated by 0.6 runs with BS)
On the field, when the Phillies have a lead entering the 9th inning, I trust the Phillies to hold the lead 90% of the time, and that's because I know Pap has an 88% save pctg. w/ the Phillies. It seems that the fans are not willing to overlook his off-the-field comments, that most seek an opportunity to boo him. I don't think that's fair. He is overpriced & controversial, yes; however, he finishes our games successfully ~90% of the time.

I will gladly approve if the Phils trade him, but I won't ask for him to be traded just to trade a player. It needs to be for the right price: Pap & 50% of salary for A+ prospect is a good deal. More on roster moves in the pitching considerations for 2015 entry coming this month. For now, enjoy the games, what little there is to enjoy about the Phils. Who knows what the last two weeks hold with a full roster. Might see something cool: Franco, Giles, Gonzalez, and perhaps a winning record for September.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How to Handle Howard

Ryan Howard is out of the line-up today: Maikel Franco gets his first career start at 1B, batting 2nd, with Byrd in the clean-up spot and Ruf protecting him in the 5-hole. Right now, in 147 team games, Howard appeared in all but seven (7), and has 21 HRs & 92 RBIs, putting him on-pace for 23 HRs & 101 RBIs. We all know that Howard stinks: He has the most opportunities to drive in runs, but only does so in about 16% of his PAs, one of the lowest rates in the majors. Why? He strikes out in 26.7% of his plate appearances in those situations. It's clear the Phillies need to go in a new direction, but he's owed a minimum of $60MM over the next two-plus years ($25MM per year for 2015 & 2016 plus $10MM buyout for 2017): Very tough to move. So, what can the Phillies do? There are three options: trade him, buy him out, or keep him. The latter looks the most likely with a trade a distant possibility. Let's break each one down:

  1. Trade him: Ok, his contract is immovable, even if he drives in 100 batters or more this year. what does he have going for him: he's healthy for the first time since the end of the 2011 season and he has a .371 BABIP w/ RISP. Against him: high K-rate, low RBI/OPP rate, no speed on bases, and terrible fielding. So, the only option is to send him to the AL so he can DH. The only way this happens is if the Phillies eat at least 50 of the 60 million dollars left on his contract.
  2. Buy Him Out: This will cost the Phillies more than the $60MM he's owed due to luxury tax considerations despite the Phillies' new long-term broadcasting deal. Need I say more? It's not happening. Maybe in 2016 when he's owed $35MM and a LOT more contracts expire, but that doesn't help them this year.
  3. Play him: This is what they'll have to do if Howard's here on 4/6/2015. I don't see a trade and he's not being released, so do play him, but a lot less and at least have him bat 6th or 7th in the order (hitting streak the only exception). We have the players to spell him: Ruf; Utley possibly; and from the 2nd trimester/ half onward, Maikel Franco. Maybe he'll take extra BP and improve. Heck, he's a much better pinch-hitter anyway. One thing's for certain: he's no longer an everyday player, particularly in the games before the All-Star Break.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Phillies Winning since 7/24, 2015 Line-Up Considerations

Overall Record: 65-75 (.464)
O.D. to 7/24: 43-58 (.426)
7/24 to 9/5: 22-17 (.564)

Nice rebound and all those wins are the result of playing fundamental baseball! An 81-81 record won't happen given that the Phils are facing playoff-bound opponents the rest of the year (22 games left). Not sure they can win more than 14 of those, but anything more than 8 wins gives them a better record than last year: glass half-full. As stated in previous entries, the pitching has improved greatly over the course of the year, which I'll talk about in terms of 2015 later. But today, I'll break down the position players in defensive order (2-9). Here is what the front office & Sandberg need to consider next year to have more/ continued (?) success:

  1. Rotation & 'Pen: Expect a pitching entry later this month.
  2. Catchers: Expect Ruiz to be the primary catcher and relieved as normal (day game before/ after night game/ extra innings, etc.). I expect & hope Rupp is our back-up, so look for more caught stealings while all other categories, especially rapport w/ pitching staff, remain sound & steady.
  3. First Base: Expect Howard & Ruf to split time here, then factor in Franco. Howard needs to rest more (3 days off per week) and start hitting 5th or 6th in the order, especially in the first half.
  4. Second Base: Chase, over the past two years, has certainly proven he can remain healthy and be productive, however, Sandberg must rest him more often. A day off per week with Galvis, Hernandez, and even Asche as back-ups will guarantee Chase a .300 avg for the season.
  5. Third Base: Asche is still in development and Franco had a slow start in AAA last year, so giving these players a half-year of 500-PA-pace play will benefit the organization greatly. Franco is the better player overall, but I see .280 AVG with sound 3B defense in Asche in future years. And yes, do put Asche in at 2B & LF in Spring Training b/c Franco will be a Phillie sometime in 2015.
  6. Shortstop: Rollins has certainly bounced back by hitting more line drives vs. pop-ups and can still flash the leather. Rest him once or twice per week, too, so he can be most productive.
  7. Left Field: I think a platoon between Brown & Ruf with cameos by Revere & Asche is the best course here. I think Brown will bounce back: he knows what to do to hit more. With Ruf splitting time at 1B and Brown no longer an everyday option, keeping Grady Sizemore may be a good option, especially for the 1st half of the season.
  8. Center Field: The NL batting title for Revere with screws in his ankle? That's gettin' it done! However, I don't think Revere is an everyday player, especially in CF (bad routes, weakish arm). Moving Byrd here and Revere to a corner spot is probably the best course for the team.
  9. Right Field: Kudos to RAJ for signing Byrd as he certainly stabilized a least one OF position compared to last year, albeit overvalued by 1-3 million bucks. I think the OF is set, but trades may complicate matters. However, all the OFs can play more than one OF position (something to try in S.T.), so there's some flexibility. I'd say keep Sizemore as a means to an end: player development.
So, the theme: Go young, Phillies! Develop the players at a fast rate and get them more playing time in the majors. Yes, you're bound to the aging veterans a bit, but you know who they are as players. You still have more info to gather on the under-30-YO players.

Today: 4 PM game... Phils at Nats on CSN.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sept. 1 Update: Combined No-No, Roster Expansion

Wow! What a game! Not many good things happening in a loosing season, but Phinally, Cole Hamels has his no hitter. It wasn't a pretty outing for him with 108 pitches in 6 innings, one hit batsman and FIVE walks, but he kept the hitters from making hard contact, except for the 3rd inning fly ball snagged by a diving Marlon Byrd. The bullpen - Diekman, Giles, and Papelbon - did its job, striking out five in three consecutive 1-2-3 innings. It was the first combined no-no for the team and the eleventh (11th) combined no-hitter in MLB history (first since the Mariners in 2012). It was the Phillies first no-hitter since Roy Halladay's NLDS no-no vs. the Reds at CBP. The Phillies won the game 7-0 and the team dedicated a game ball to recovering President Dave Montgomery, who's taking a leave of absence.


Another awesome story are the Taney Dragons, who were the third-best team in the LLWS this year. I'd like to congratulate them on their spectacular season and wish them all the best in the future! I'm sure we all hope they stick with baseball, but I certainly will be happy if they're happy with their choices, whether they stay with the sport, go to another sport, or do something on the academic side of things.



The Phillies went with a 25-man roster in that game as the Ironpigs had one more game to play. The Phillies have been preparing for the expansion by trading 1B-OF John Mayberry, Jr. to the Blue Jays (one of his dad's former teams) and transferring Cliff Lee to the 60-Day DL. Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer has at least two sources confirming our suspicions that the Mayberry trade was to free up a roster spot for 1B-3B Maikel Franco to be promoted Tuesday. Moving Lee to the 60-Day DL allows the Phillies to promote Tony Gwynn, Jr., who was released then re-signed to a minor league contract shortly after returning from his dad's funeral. May your dad continue to RIP, Tony.

Other call-ups will likely include: Mike Adams (60-Day DL), P Miguel Gonzalez, C Cameron Rupp, and IF Cesar Hernandez. It is possible that than P Etan Martin, P Hector Neris, and OF Aaron Alther will be called up after their cups of coffee earlier this year.

Also, Amaro hinted at a probable start of a long rebuild with clever roster moves like the trades that sent Roberto Hernandez to the Dodgers and Mayberry to Toronto in order to free up space for "new blood." Speaking of a rebuild, I would like to revise my estimate from a two-year process to a by-mid-2017, especially considering that J.P. Crawford won't be ready until Sept. 2016.



There have been many mistakes made by Ryne this year, which is normal for a 1st-year manager. I had hoped he'd be able to squeeze every possible win out of this roster, but his decisions have been questioned by almost every player on the roster and also by fans & media. He has been making a lot of bad decisions, very similar to decisions that Manuel made late in his career: playing certain players (mainly the aging veterans) too much over the younger guys, pulling starting pitchers early, keeping them in too long, using the wrong guy out of the bullpen. This is normal, but it's hard to blame Sandberg for the loosing record: I blame Amaro and the stone-age-of-stats front office. So, what went wrong for the Phillies? Let's grade four "groups":

Ruben Amaro, Jr.: F+. Largely a failure, but his signings of Jon Papelbon, Marlon Byrd, & Carlos Ruiz are panning out as expected (hence the plus). I'm glad he finally has come around to the idea of a rebuild, but despite the clever trades mentioned earlier, I (and most fans) don't trust him to rebuild smartly.

Ryne Sandberg: D+/C-. He would still have a loosing record even if he'd made better decisions, but that's no reason to pull the plug on him. It's too early for that, so FIRE RUBEN!!!

Starting Line-Ups: F+/D-. Inconsistency has been the story this year, especially considering the lack of offense. However, the team continues to show flashes of brilliance. While they've limited the no. of errors this season, most games with errors have resulted in losses. New blood and 130 starts for the "everyday" players will greatly benefit the team in 2015.

Pitching: C/C-. The team's 3.92 ERA is 10th-worse in MLB & 3rd-worse in NL, but most of the bad stuff happened in the first quarter. Most of the personnel on 9/2 roster, which had been largely successful during this span, will return next year. I predict continued success for most in 2015.

Enjoy the rest of the season. Future entries: individual grades, roster moves for 2015, top moments, a mid-month update (poss.), big news items, etc.