Recapping 2018: Philadelphia Phillies Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Philadelphia Phillies Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason.

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA PIT CHC SEA ATL NYM TBR COL PHI

Winning is hard. The twenty-aughts saw competent Philadelphia Phillie teams stagnate in the 85-90 win arena before the team finally getting over the hump closer to the turn of the decade collecting talent all the while. There you see not only progressively more wins, but the cost required to add on those last few that can take a good team to greatness. While they ran extremely strong dollar per marginal win figures during that time, upon adjusting for inflation by pegging past to present prices, the impact of the stratospheric payrolls was felt once the bottom fell out on what was once an ever-flowing fountain of talent. The ensuing years saw a Haz Mat crew clean up the fallout with the team finally getting back near the .500 level for the first time in six years this past season. The rest of the league must feel like they have woken a sleeping giant as Philly looks poised to add even more talent through the farm and in free agency. In a division that is utterly up for grabs will they pay the price to add the pieces that can put them over the top? Let’s take a look at where those holes were last year.

Much like the previously covered Colorado Rockies, the strength of the Philadelphia Phillies lied within the pitching unit. They were even slightly better, and they gave even more back with the bats, as you’ll see further along, as to make these two teams very close. Utilizing a unique approach that involved tons of quick hooks and ensuing matchups, the Phils rode their strategy and talent to a season-long run of excellence. They rarely popped up into the bad side of average, though there were plenty of concerns with how things were reflected in reality as actual production outstripped expectations for two prolonged stretches including what amounted to a poor finish after a year of contention. We have seen that separations can hold a bit more sway when factoring in team defense, where Philly was one of the worst in the game. That might help explain the rough finish, but this doesn’t appear to be a season long consistent thing like we saw with good defensive clubs like Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays. The lack of persistence in the gap might indicate that worse than expected results could have been more flukey later on, but the inference I would make is that a young club got worn out over the course of the season and didn’t have their legs under them later in the year. Watch for that as we go along here.

Any team with a stout staff is going to need an Ace. The Phils have that in spades with the young Aaron Nola coming off another fantastic year where he added more bulk to go with outstanding rates. Stronger than average strikeout rates come with better than average walk rates, bt where he really shines is in his ability to induce unproductive contact when batters do manage to put it in play. He would look even stronger if not for a bit of a weaker finish when the team played their way out of contention. While the actuals came in worse for one of the few times all year he never looked more average. The strikeouts were still there, but the uptick in exit velocity may point to a player showing some fatigue in his longest year yet. Something he is likely to improve upon next year when he stands as one of the brightest stars in the sky.

Aaron Nola

The deep rotation saw a troika of starters that also showed the ability to rack up punchouts, while also limiting harder contact. Zach Eflin even manages to run a strong walk rate while Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez run more towards the average or worse. All three saw similar worse results than expected on their contact, perhaps mudding up some of the otherwise shine. This stemmed mostly from prolonged stretches of a small gap that widened considerably at least once for each. Pivetta’s came in the middle of the season with no clear indicator in the data as to what brought it about. Fatigue, tipping pitches, predictability or weather could be any number of factors with more or less weight for the clear outliers, and the more persistent underperformance may well be owed to the bad outfield defense routinely seen. Eflin is better at keeping his contact down, though also ran the more pedestrian strikeout rate. He makes up for it by generally having less walk concerns. None provided the volume of a full-time starter like Nola, but part of that is the progressive management that seeks to hide pitchers from their worst transgressions. Something that is likely to continue.

Nick Pivetta

Zach Eflin

Vince Velasquez

A big part of those efforts involves heavy usage of a fairly stout bullpen. We can find the strongest performers here with each profiling as a better than average offering. Seranthony Dominguez burst upon the scene this year running strong strikeout rates that gradually came down to the merely extremely good 30% level. Of more concern was his dramatic jump in walks as batters learned to ease off the throttle a bit leading to his increasing ordinariness as the season went along. He does well to keep his contact down, and utterly obliterated righties. Less of a heralded name, but a strong performer on the back of tons of weak flyballs was Edubray Ramos. He won’t sit down nearly as many, but still around the average and with the benefit of a low walk rate.

Acting as the lefty specialist was Adam Morgan. The converted starter was fairly average for much of the season before finding another gear later on. The gradual pump up in punchouts looks almost as nice as his avoidance of the nitro zone. The other side of the coin showed righty specialist Victor Arano. Striking out 30% of righties, while walking 5% is a good way to draw notice, and that success extended to his weak contact induced, as well. Avoiding lefties in leverage is a good idea, but yet another under-the-radar useful option. Tommy Hunter got a late start on the year owing to injury, and spent some time around the average upon return. The strikeouts are less eye-popping here, but made up for by weak contact that he does a good job of keeping down. Lastly, Hector Neris might have piled up some saves these past two years, however, it took a late season surge to get back to better than average. The massive chasm in his strikeout to walk shows how we was able to start having some success, but the spray also shows us why it was necessary to run some absurd rates as a plethora of pokes rained on his parade.

Seranthony Dominguez

Edubray Ramos

Adam Morgan

Victor Arano

Tommy Hunter

Hector Neris

Bringing in a veteran arm to help stabilize a young rotation proved to be a sound idea for the Phils. He wasn’t his former Cy Young self, but he was pretty good a lot of the time and acceptably bad at others. The poor close to the season helped contribute to the team’s exit from grace, but as a mid-rotation starter now Arrieta still provided real production that the team needed. He didn’t strike out as many as in the past, and he often had to battle to keep his walks under control. While his exit velocities were pretty strong they did come at the kind of trajectories that can often lead to base hits. It’s counter-intuitive, but it is often better to see harder contact put on the ground than softer stuff that has a chance to clear the infield. Those hits might only go for singles, but they add up to enough tough innings to cause frustration.

Jake Arrieta

Despite a promising start to the season it was the offense that really held the team back. That early stretch was followed by a prolonged period that saw the team give everything back, and then it was mostly average or worse from there on out. The trio of good hitters were more than outweighed by a laundry list of below average offerings with two anchors that saw a ton of opportunity. The team has already signed Andrew McCutchen to help shore up one outfield spot, but there is still room for improvement. Talks of signing Manny Machado might be one-sided at this point, but either him or Bryce Harper would help add on to the couple of bright spots. As they would for any team.

That trio of performers was led by Rhys Hoskins who followed up an impressive debut with a ton more volume, though a touch of mortality as walks fell from the absurd 19% and his contact fell back to merely strong rather than the elites rate shown in the year prior. The middle of the season saw a fair bit of overperformance, which is primarily driven by his incredibly high average launch angle. You can see a large group of balls in the yellow section north of the nitro zone, and with the carry he can generate perhaps that is a repeatable thing. Little surprise that this played up during the warmer months with a good deal of underperformance early on. Strikeouts were also an issue during that time, but he got that sorted in short order to sit around the average, while walking at a well above average rate. There was enough averagey stretches to keep Hoskins from being one of the very best hitters in the game, but the strong runs showed him as a good hitter that can sit in the middle of a lineup for many years. It is also reasonable to expect the offense to pick up with a move back to first base. Softest of the year exit velocities to close the year to go with even higher launch angle perhaps indicating more mishit balls that almost always go for outs might lead one to believe fatigue down the stretch played a role after a long season of playing the outfield. Better conditioning might help, but the position change will very likely lead to harder contact at the plate.

Rhys Hoskins

Playing Gary to Rhys’s Ace was Carlos Santana who put in a fairly typical season that saw him walk more than he struck out, though his contact fall off what was around the average in 2017. This leads to more of an OBP over SLG approach that can leave players a bit overlooked at times. The woeful start in actual production belied strong peripherals, but is something that has been a plague upon his career as his bat warms up with the weather. A strong multi-month run showed both perspectives at that higher level with a blip in the expected, but then a cliff around the 420 plate appearance mark. That falloff was commensurate with a dramatic reduction in his walks, which were reaching incredible heights for a minute, but he showed a nice gradual uptick for much of the rest of the season in production. The spray shows a ton of balls on the periphery of the nitro zone, but few out and out shots. The lack of strikeouts allow him to put the ball in play a ton with a lot of that being more base hit than extra base territory. The lesser thump might not make him icky, but it should lead teams to view him as more of a third best bat than one of your very best.

Carlos Santana

The last above average contributor was the outfielder Nick Williams. In limited viewings he has seemed like a poor defender, but with Hoskins being even more obviously bad he probably avoided the worst of the scorn. Improving upon the glove might help the pitchers, but the team would have to shop at the top of the market to improve upon the bat as he looked like a solidly above average hitter until a late season collapse. Possibly another player that wore in his longest season, which could tamp down an otherwise bright light. Similar to Hoskins, Williams showed a fall off in exit velocity that coincided with an uptick in launch angle at the end of the season, perhaps, indicating some fatigue. The team did well to hide him from lefties where he will likely not get his shot to figure it out due to the weak glove so shorter than typical workloads look likely to continue.

Nick Williams

Two homegrown players that might be running out of time on a team running out of places to improve are righties Aaron Altherr and Maikel Franco. Altherr got off to a nice start even if his actuals didn’t quite get all the way there, but as the strikeouts climbed his production dropped and the team eventually demoted him. Upon being called back up in September he didn’t do a whole lot more to shine a good light, though the strikeouts did show the beginnings of a nice adjustment. The walk rate fell down closer to the average after carrying the performance early. Without a good glove it’s hard to see him getting more run going forward. Things aren’t quite as dire with Franco, who showed enough overperformance to keep himself in good graces. The expected point of view looks more averagey with the massive slump pulling everything down on the year. The low strikeout rate helps him put the ball in play a ton, and also like the aforementioned Santana, he walks at an average or better rate including a pronounced plateau later on that might indicate the kind of approach change that can help push him up over the average.

Aaron Altherr

Maikel Franco

Second sacker Cesar Hernandez is one guy who knows who he is at the dish. A passive approach helps him get on via the walk, while mostly keeping his strikeouts around the average. With his ability to pilfer a pillow he can often help his team in ways that aren’t going to show up in this kind of analysis. It’s a fine skillset, but production is what matters at the end of the day, and it’s there where you see a fairly linear downturn in production over the course of the season. He started from a strong place keyed by the walk, but most of it didn’t get into the boxscore, and then it was all downhill driven by limited exit velocity. The fine rather than good or great production is, well, fine for the next two years of control, but the free agent market held several better players that ultimately signed for easily doable money. The team’s fixation on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and to be fair, those players dragging out the market, has caused the team to remain in something of a holding pattern while missing out on effective alternatives. Second base was one place they could have improved, but no biggie if they couldn’t. The problem is that you can say the same about third base and, perhaps, the other two outfield positions after talk about getting “stupid” with money to chase both. Expect fans to riot if the team cheaps out in failing to take advantage of a solid core of talent.

Cesar Hernandez

Sorry for the rant. Moving on to the catchers you can see Jorge Alfaro starting to make good on previous promise. He was an above average hitter versus lefties, and not just for a catcher. A strong close to the season showcased his best performance after an awful slump through the middle of the season. This looked to be driven by boosting his walk rate tremendously, and showing some progress in getting his strikeout rate down from the comical 40% level. Continued progress like this will help augment a bat that shows very real strong exit velocity the few times he does manage to make contact. He is very much in the mold of the Mike Zuninos of the world including the cannon arm. Andrew Knapp is a switch-hitter more in name with struggles against righties. He doesn’t have the exit velocity that Alfaro showed, but he also struck out a good deal less with better walk rates. These two complement each other well, but it would be even better if Knapp could handle righties better.

Andrew Knapp

Jorge Alfaro

So far we haven’t seen a terrible lineup. A couple of well above average hitters that aren’t quite stars, some guys around the average and then the catchers being around where they need to be. The problem for the team was that they still had two more lineup slots to fill. Scott Kingery brought a lot of promise as a quick-moving prospect ready to start making a name for himself. Being asked to play shortstop for, essentially, the first time in pro ball was likely a challenge that required much of his focus. It’s quite possible this upcoming season goes better, but what we have so far is a well below average hitter who struggled to produce. The strikeouts ticked up, while the walks cratered once pitchers had a chance to get a book on him. He hits the ball in the air a lot, which seems like the wrong approach considering his low exit velocities. Seeing the acceleration in that launch angle might indicate yet another young player that was starting to show some fatigue and getting under the ball more.

Scott Kingery

While Kingery showed poor acclimation to the highest level, this next player was supposed to be one of the core pieces of this team after good production was rewarded with a longterm deal coming into the 2017 season. Early on Odubel Herrera showed that type of strong production that enticed the team, but it fell off precipitously before settling in as an average or worse batter. Controlling the zone early helped lead to that success, but it would not last as the walk rate collapsed and strikeouts climbed. Dwindling exit velocity over the course of the season wasn’t a good sign, either. The team will be counting on a bounceback, but performance like this is untenable for a contender, and there does not appear to be a ready replacement if the team has to move him out of center or outright find a replacement.

Odubel Herrera

 

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

Yacksel Rios

Luis Garcia

 

Asdrubal Cabrera

 

 

 

 

 



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