Thursday, November 17, 2016

2016-7 Off-season Update 1

Hello, folks. Been awhile once again. Here's update No. 1 on the Phillies' off-season. Lots to discuss.

First, the Phillies did, in fact, offer starter Jeremy Hellickson the $17.2MM qualifying offer. Surprisingly, he accepted it. I'm glad this move worked out for the Phillies. Obviously there's a risk of injury and/ or regression, but if Jeremy does even 70-80% as well as last year, it'll be a win for the Phillies. If he didn't accept, I would have stood by what I said earlier: we need[ed] to resign him to a 2-3-year deal.

The Phillies were able to shore up their offense by adding Howie Kendrick in a trade with the Dodgers for Darin Ruf & Darnell Sweeney. Ruf, 30, has been shuttled back and forth between Allentown and Philly the last 4 years. He got opportunities, albiet not lengthy ones, but failed to capitalize on the chances he was given. The 25-year-old Sweeney, oddly enough, is back with the Dodgers. Darnell was part of the deal that sent Chase Utley to them and Sweeney got the call as soon as he arrived. Both players spent most/ all of 2016 in AAA. Kendrick played for the Angels and the Dodgers. His playing time cut last year, he became a utility player (2B, OF, 1B?) and suffered a bit - most notable is his BABIP last year was .300: a great number by the usual standard (.275-.305 for most) but down from a career .335-.340 BABIP. He'll play LF this year and possibly some IF when Crawford comes up. CF goes to Hererra and RF is open.

The Phillies also shored up their bullpen but more is needed. They traded money or a player to be named later for Pat Neshek. so he joins Gomez, Neris, Ramos, and others. The core was overused but did well enough that only a few depth moves will suffice. Neshek is a great start. But guess who's available? Good Ole' Kentucky Joe Blanton. Remember him? He reinvented himself as a reliever and middle relief (innings 5-7) is something the Phillies need. I'd say go for it, despite the need to move on from 2008.

And my phinal piece of news - the Pharm system: MLB, as I may have mentioned in an earlier post but no doubt you heard, has ranked our Pharm No. 1 in the majors. Here's one reason why we deserve it - we have 13 top-30 players requiring protection from the Rule 5 draft (Friday deadline):

3. Nick Williams, OF
6. Dylan Cozens, OF
10. Mark Appel, RHP
11. Andrew Knapp, C
15. Ricardo Pinto, RHP
17. Nick Pivetta, RHP
19. Elniery Garcia, LHP
21. Malquin Canelo, SS
22. Carlos Tocci, OF
23. Ben Lively, RHP
26. Jose Pujols, OF
28. Alberto Tirado, RHP
29. Deivi Grullon, C

Thanks to MLB prospects expert J. Mayo for this list. We have about 24 hours to decide who to protect (8-choose-13 - a great problem to have):

  • OF: There is no need for Tocci given his age (21 Y.O.). I think with Williams and Cozens, we're pretty much set, which leaves Pujols out. I don't think Jose will be taken by another team.
  • C: Knapp is a lock and with Ellis worth re-signing and Rupp & Alfaro here, there's really no room for Grullon.
  • IF: Despite Crawford not needing protection, his prominence and proximity to the majors prevents the Phils from protecting Canelo.
  • LHP: Garcia, being the only lefty on this list, is a lock to be protected.
  • RHP: Lively, a starter, is a sure lock and could even make the team out of Spring Training. Appel, also a starter, didn't do so well. Leaving him off will be a low (but non-zero) risk option. Pivetta has done very well and is worth keeping, making it a battle of Pinto vs. Tirado.
The Phillies are headed in the right direction. Lots of decisions to make now. I'll have another update - probably in 2-4 weeks. In the meantime, I'm planning to look at Asche (probably worth outrighting), Franco, Galvis and Hernandez (a trade chip, which I'd approve at this time) in an analysis post.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Case for Medium-Term Contracts

Hello folks. Hope everyone is enjoying the early fall and a World Series that will inevitably make history: the Indians have not won since the 40s and the Cubs haven't won it in over a century! Meanwhile, the Phillies are out of the playoffs, in the midst of a rebuild that began in Dec. of 2014. Over the last year, the Phillies starting rotation has jumped at least 10-15 ranking spots among all MLB teams in IP, WAR, & ERA (and lots of other categories, too). The bullpen, feeling less stress has been doing well, except for middle relief & lack of back-end depth (Neris literally pitched the equivalent of every other game!). The offense has taken a slight step back but the front office has indicated exploring free agency to help all aspects. There is a Catch-22 and I agree that one exists: a balance between veterans to alleviate stress on the young developing core and allowing players to move up to the big leagues.

So how do we balance those out? Writers at, my favorite blog to read, and Phillies Beat Reporter for MLB Todd Zolecki have essentially said one-year free-agency deals only. I vehemently disagree. There is one player we have now that deserves an extension - Jeremy Hellickson. The former Rookie of the Year rebounded nicely and helped contribute to a rotation that seemed to take steps back (poor performances and injuries) but in reality took a huge leap forward. I think Hellickson is worth extending at a high price ($18MM AAV over 2-3 years). He's a great candidate to take us to contention and the market is weak anyway. The Phillies have no commitments from the World Champions year (Oct. 29th, 2008 BTW!) and LOTS of money to spend.

Overall in free agency, if you limit your spending to 5-6 guys where all but 1-2 have one-yr deals and those one or two are only here for 2-3 years each... there will be PLENTY of space for guys to move up. We have a lot of young talent up here already (Galvis, Herrera, Franco, Nola, Eikhoff, Neris, Alfaro, Rupp, Joseph, Hernandez) and a good chunk of that (Cozens & Lively come to mind) will be added to the 40-Man within the next few weeks (we'll get rid of the pot. FAs & maybe Asche & Goedell and that opens up 5-10 spots to fill w/ the guys that need Rule 5 protection).

Lots of money to spend, most of your young future core already on the 40-man roster and a relatively weak free-agent market make a couple of 2- to 3-year deals worthwhile now.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ryan Howard's Legacy

Good day. THe Phillies closed out the 2016 season with a win against the Mets for a final record of 71-91, an 8-game improvement over last year. Before that game, the spotlight was on Ryan Howard. It has not been explicitly stated but Klentak will almost certainly buyout his 2017 option at a cost of $10MM.

We all know about his decline. There were some subtle signs: showed up big in the 2009 NLCS but not the following [World] Series'; a slow decline in reg. season HR & especially RBI #s since signing the 5-YR/ $125MM extension. Then came the Achillies injury - the final out of the Phillies 2011 season (a 1-0 loss in NLDS Game 5 vs. the Cardinals). The injury and subsequent knee issues did two things: (1) really accelerated his decline when he returned and (2) allowed him to provide 0 wins above replacement (WAR) for two half-years during yrs 2 & 3 of his extension (more on #2 in a bit).

The injuries are only part of the tale. Had they not happened, he still would have declined but a few steps slower. Off the field and field-related issues plagued him: family sued him for wealth, Al Jazeera drug report and everyone constantly telling him he's a bum... just to name a few. I'd say he certainly got through the injuries and all the anti-Howard stuff with grace, publicly, but you cannot go through that without it affecting you mentally. That's too much for anyone to handle IMO. But handle it with grace he did. Sorry you had to go through that, Ryan.

There is one thing he needed to do though: come to the ballpark early at least twice a week (like Halladay & Utley have done practically everyday in their careers) and work on some stuff in the cage. Why was he always one of the last to the ballpark? I don't know but I'm sure he thought I'm earning this much so no need. Even so, I don't think he'd beat the odds and rebound big (~40 HRs we'll say - it was certainly a pitching-dominated era). But getting to 35 HRs was doable with some extra work.

His line from 2012-2016: 108 GM/YR, .226/.293/.426 line; 95 HR (19/YR), 327 RBI (65/YR), 169 BB (34/YR), 639 K (~1/GM).

Pretty bad, but only a 96 OPS+ BTW, so league avg. in terms of total offense (adjusted for league & ballpark). Back to the "providing 0 WAR for two half seasons": it could have been worst had he been putting up slightly better but still lousy numbers for all of 2011 and all of 2012 (his oWAR was also low, an avg. of -0.1 per year with a range of +0.8 to -0.7 per season). We also have strong memories from 2005 to 2011: without Ryan, we do not win five consecutive NL East titles nor two pennants/ one crown.

His line from 2004-2011: 128 GM/YR (153 using an 06-11 avg), .275/.368/.560 line (138 OPS+), 286 HRs (36/YR & 46-per-162 GMs), 864 RBIs (108/YR & 137-per-162), 540 BB (68/YR, 86-per-162), and a >1/GM K-rate. Looking at the top stats (.930 ± .084 OPS, 45 ± 10 HR, 135 ± 20 RBI per 162 games), I don't see how anyone can average that over 7 years being that consistent (in terms of st. deviations). One or two seasons, yes, but over SEVEN years? No way that'll ever happen again!

All he did for us from Sept. 2004 to the end of 2011 outweighs what little he took away from us in 2012-2016. Looking at advanced stats - his 100 OPS+ and avg of near-0.0 offensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR) - he didn't take away much for too long: 11 seasons - 7 successful and only 4 failures, the failures driven mostly by extenuating circumstances & poor management and still amongst the top 5 active, over-30-YO sluggers during that time. That's enough to call his ENTIRE Phillies career a huge success. However, he is still the best example of why we don't extend a guy two years before arbitration, despite winning an arb hearing.

Now the big question: Phillies Wall of Fame or not? I vote yes. However, he and Lidge should be the last two up there as individuals (behind J-Roll, Utley, Hamels, Madson, Ruiz, Victorino) but with an interruption: at some point, you need a year (I'd say 2017) in which you dedicate a plaque titled something along the lines of "The [10-15] Core Players from the 2007-2011 Years".

Thank you for the memories, Ryan, and mentoring of the youth the last few years! Best of luck

Notable: he is the Phillies nominee for the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award. He contributes to the Phillies' "version" of the MLB RBI program: The Phillies Urban Youth Academy (in conjunction with the Police Athletic League).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2016 Season Review

Hello, readers. Hope all is well. I haven't had many pressing thoughts but until recently. Before I delve into those, let's see how the team looks heading into the off-season:
  1. The starting rotation seems to have taken a hit by with the struggling youngsters & injuries (Morton, Nola & Eflin), but stellar seasons by Hellickson, Velasquez and Eickhoff have resulted in significant improvement in the rotation from last year - we jumped above 20 teams in WAR, 13 in IP, and 14 in ERA over the last year. Our investment the last few years (last year in particular) is starting to pay dividends, but more depth at the top is clearly needed. Let's re-sign Hellickson and promote guys who spent '15 & '16 in AA up to AAA, including borderline players. Time to start pushing these guys along. Paul Owens winner Ben Lively (acq'd in Marlon-Byrd-to-Reds trade) will be at the forefront of those promotions, which are finalized during Spring Training.
  2. The Phillies replaced the back end of the bullpen: spots occupied by Papelbon, De Fratus and power-throwing arms Diekman & Giles are now taken by Gomez, Neris, Hinojosa, and Ramos. They're doing well for us - a combined 3.20 ERA entering the White Sox game on 9/21. Again, more depth is needed but continued improvement of the rotation will also help alleviate the workload of these guys, particularly Hector Neris.

    UPDATE - noon Wed. 9/28: The bullpen has been atrocious in Sept. - 60+ ER in nearly 80 IP. The core of Gomez, Hinojosa, Neris & Ramos is probably tired, having taken the workload of the season. Between appearance nos. (roughly) 50 & 70, fatigue is not an excuse but certainly is a factor: you have to execute your pitches - keep your fastball down and your secondary pitch is 8-12 mph less than your fastball. As for the fatigue, the players now have this experience & will learn from it. Hopefully, MacKanin, BP Coach Kranitz & P Coach McClure will adjust how they use the core and that will lead to less fatigue. He may also request a reliever at a meeting with the front office on Fri.

    One more thought is that I've always liked Neris since his debut. So far, he's lived up to my hunch. He did his job this year by appearing on over 75 games and doing so well. Pitching beyond that number just can't happen and I blame the coaching staff for putting him out there too much.
  1. In terms of slugging, it is a better year for everyone around the big leagues and the Phillies are no exception - four players have 20+ HRs. The Phillies' problem is their league-low, sub-.300 on-base percentage. I keep in mind two things: (1) most of the guys who hit 1-3 this year (Galvis, Herrera & Hernandez) are better suited for the bottom half of contending teams' line-ups and (2) we are essentially waiting for Quinn & Crawford.

    Aside: Crawford wasn't promoted, which is fine. He needs more time in AAA (rough transition) and is not needed on the 40-man yet. Tons of other names need to be protected from the rule 5. He's still has the same ceiling at the next J-Roll but the time isn't right yet.

    Other names on offense crop up in the slugging dept. and we have power down in the pipeline too. We'll get there. However, we have no veterans coming into 2017 and we could use some. Now that Howard's $23MM is out of here, time to spend the money.

    UPDATE - noon Wed. 9/28: At Friday's meeting, MacKakin will advocate for the signing of at least one bat.
So, where does that put the Phillies? Taking into account only a single-digit's improvement this year in wins, I'd say we contend in 2 years (2017). The pitching will be ready by then while the hitting will improve enough over that time, especially if they sign solid veteran hitters, to allow the Phillies at least a wild-card spot. We'll be golden in 2018 offensively, which will combine with the pitching to result in a division title and an NLCS appearance/ win later that postseason.

Notice that I put that progress on the players in the pipeline and continuing to strive for success at the majors. There is one thing these guys need and that is playing time. Hector Neris has 76 appearances and Tyler Goeddel is on the bench. WE NEED A BALANCE. I cannot stand a manager/ head coach that doesn't use his roster effectively. In football, you have 53 players and most of the time I see only about 36 getting to play for more than one series (3-4 downs) per game. In baseball with the 162-game, 183-day schedule... I judge a manager on how many games per week he plays someone.

I like to see - for any one player - a maximum of 65-70 appearances or 30-34 starts (along with a 5-man rotation thru 95% of the off-days) or an average GS-per-week closer to 6 (along with 3 platoons amongst defensive positions 3-8). Manuel kept his guys out there closer to 7 GS/wk and had about one platoon per year. It wore down Utley. And Howard? Rest would benefit him and the team, which it is doing this year. And MacKanin?

Well, let's say he says that the young guys need to get out there but he completely ignores this when it comes to Tyler Goeddel. Unless he strives to get more playing time for everyone, I want him gone when his extension is done... and I share Phillies Nation's concerns.

Enjoy the rest of the season. Maybe we'll see some better baseball the last 10 days of the 2016 season. My next entry will be Ryan Howard's legacy. Until then, have a great rest of the week.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Baseball to Return to Olympics in 2020 - What Should MLB do?

Check out my last entry on the Phillies rebuild. Unfortunately, they're back to being more out of contention than in and this inconsistency led to no major moves at MLB's trade deadline. Now to the Olympics...

It was recently announced that baseball and softball have returned to the Olympics from 2020 on. - my favorite Phillies blog - has posted a Writers' Roundtable Discussion on it here. I offered my comments, which are a mix of some of theirs. I expand on those here:

Americans - myself included - hardly watch the All-Star Game (ASG) and barely tune into the World Baseball Classic (WBC). I do not mind following a World Championships-Olympics-NHL model:
  • Quadrennial Olympic Games in 2020, 2024, 2028, etc. - in lieu of ASG like the NHL
  • ASG follows in 2021, 2025, 2029, etc.
  • Quadrennial WBC in 2022, 2026, 2030, etc. - similar schedule to World Championships
  • ASG follows in 2023, 2027, 2031, etc.
I know the WBC could continue to take place in the Spring but due to the ASG's unpopularity, having the WBC in July in lieu of the ASG at various location throughout the mid-Northern hemisphere is preferred. I know it is a bad argument given the WBC's unpopularity with Americans... however, this diversity might give me, along with many other Americans, the motivation to tune into all 3 events.

One thing is for sure... the decision-making process by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (scheduling these events) will be intriguing to follow.

Speaking of Manfred, I also like the changes he suggests in which the strike zone is decreased by ~2" at the bottom. Those balls are harder to hit and the result of that change will be two-fold: more balls in play along with possibly quicker walks. I also like the quicker IBB suggestion, too. This, to me, certainly seems to be a creative way to speed up games. There's obviously more work needed on pace of play, along with the anti-collisions rules and, in a much smaller part, replay. So far so good!

Back to the Olympics, what are your thoughts on this? Feel free to leave a comment on this post. See ya!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

July 2016 Update - Rebuild Going Well in Year 2!

Hello, folks. It has been awhile. The Phillies have been evolving themselves in all aspects of the game and seemingly quickly. The rebuild is going great at all levels with at least half the names of last year have moved up a level and are keeping the AA & AAA squads well above .500. We’ll see most of them in the majors by next September (2017), with a chunk of them coming this year. At the major-league level, the Phillies are 6 games under .500… they are 12 games back of the division and 6 games back of the 2nd wild card, with the NL East taking both wild card spots (St. Louis & Pittsburgh are between the Phils & Mets-Marlins). The 2015 Phillies were 33 games under .500 at the break and ended up the worst team in the majors at 63-99 and were able to draft OF Mickey Moniak at No. 1 this year. Nice improvement!!!

The rebuild is still the same as it was under Ruben Amaro, Jr. (no, the Red Sox are not failing at base-running): get some veterans to fill-in at the major-league level while the guys continue to develop in AA & AAA. Everyone should be ready for being traded or promoted (respectively) come July 31st or even Aug. 31st. There is a bit more emphasis on utilizing sabermetrics and advanced stats to sign certain players. So, here’s the new front office:

Team Owner: John Middleton
President: Andy MacPhail
Chairman: David Montgomery
Chairman Emeritus: Bill Giles
Sr Advisor: Pat Gillick
Gen. Manager: Matt Klentak

And the coaching staff has some changes now that Pete MacKanin is secured at the helm for the next 2-3 years:

Bench: Larry Bowa
Hitting: Steve Henderson
Pitching: Bob McClure
Bullpen: Rick Kranitz
1st Base: Mickey Morandini
3rd Base: Juan Samuel
Catching: John McLaren

The only changes are new coaches at Bullpen, First Base and Catching. Congrats, Mickey, on your promotion. He has been a manager for short-season A-affiliate Williamsport and low-A Lakewood and an All-Star 2B for the Phillies. A year or two ago, the Phillies coaching staff emphasized fundamentals (the whole organization did as well). So far at the majors, I am not dazzled by the results, despite their near-winning record at the Break. But I’ll cut them some slack as most of them only just got to the majors and had many coaching changes over the last few years. It is time to push though!

So the rebuild is going well – the AA & AAA teams are winning and the Phillies have drastically improved over this time last year. I must say that Pete has impressed me in that he is and was able to get his players on the same page unlike Ryne - do know that I really liked Ryne. The team does have some players improving in the fundamentals department... the best example of that is our lone representative to the All-Star Game, Odubel Herrera.

His walk rate has increased every half-season since an impressive rookie campaign where he put himself into consideration for a top-ten position in RoY voting. He’s even hitting more, trading off 2B for HRs, and taking better routes to fly balls! It’s not just Herrera that is better this year – the rotation has improved; Jenmar Gomez has found that he can be a good closer; and Franco, Joseph and Rupp are hitting like crazy. If the team as a whole can get better plate discipline, follow Burjols’ lead on defense, and keep the team in games pitching-wise, they will certainly contend for a division crown next year. This year, a WC berth is in reach but with a team of guys with little experience in being a part of a push for the post-season and meager experience in the majors; they ultimately will fall short in my opinion. Would be a great experience for these guys!

Speaking of Burjols, the trade rumors are flying like crazy. Howard, Chooch, Hellickson, and even guys like Rupp & Galvis are being talked about in addition to Pete B. While they need to make room for some guys this year, here’s an idea: the first three names on that list have experience with successful playoff races/ runs in Aug. & Sept. This would be a great mentoring opportunity, which the first two names on that list have been doing the past couple of years. And while Howard really has to go, he will be gone at the end of the season and I don’t think anyone will take him. Since they are contenders right now, they should strongly consider standing pat. I don’t think you need to trade for veterans – that will come this off-season or more likely next July or the following off-season. Back to this year… if the return is dazzling – probably won’t be – Klentak should go for it like he did with Ken Giles.

Enjoy the games!