Koufax vs. Kershaw

Recently on a local sports radio show that I enjoy, the hosts came to the conclusion that Sandy Koufax was a much better pitcher than Clayton Kershaw. They focused on wins, strikeouts and post-season record. Certainly no disrespect to Sandy Koufax and his remarkable career, but I’d like to make the argument that Kershaw is a better pitcher. Now, I am not old enough to have seen Koufax pitch, but I am well aware of how great he was, both anecdotally from what I’ve heard from my father and as well as Koufax’s stats. When it comes to comparing players, looking at the stats is best as it can cut through any perceived notions we have about a player. (As a side note, while I have come to enjoy and appreciate “sabermetrics” I am not someone who totally ignores the human side of the game, either.) Now on to the facts….

First, the hosts focused on Koufax’s dominant last five years in the game, and it was very dominant. However, when it comes to comparing players, you can’t just focus on a segment of a career, but the whole career. If this were to be done, Chase Utley would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer instead of a bubble candidate. The fact is, Koufax had a number of mediocre seasons preceding this dominant stretch, about five of them. Kershaw had only one mediocre season, his first. How do I define mediocre? I am using ERA+, which, as you probably know, compares a pitcher’s ERA to the rest of the league, with 100 being average. It also takes the pitcher’s ballpark factors into account. This is valuable because, as we know today, a pitcher’s ERA in the American League is going to generally be higher than if he pitched in the National League due to the DH. Throwing out Koufax’s first year due to it being a small sample size (five games started), over the next five years he never had an ERA+ of over 106; therefore he was an average pitcher during that stretch. Kershaw, on the other hand, after his rookie year has not had an ERA+ of under 133. For most of this argument, though, I will stick to comparing each of these pitchers’ best five years to keep with the hosts’ parameters. Even if we only take each player’s most dominant five years (playing into their argument and Koufax’s strength) Koufax’s ERA+ for those years is 168 and Kershaw’s best five is 196.

This means that Kershaw has been much better than the average contemporary pitcher than Koufax was in terms of ERA. While ERA+ is a better stat when comparing pitchers as it takes into account the League’s average as well as the pitcher’s ballpark, let’s take a look at traditional ERA as well. Again, let’s take a look at Koufax’s last five years. His average ERA during that time is 1.98 while Kershaw’s is 1.94 during his five best years. So again, Kershaw comes out on top (barely). One of the reasons why the differential in ERA+ is greater than traditional ERA is probably because pitching around the league was a little more dominant. One could argue that it was before most expansion (although Koufax saw a lot of the expansion Mets during his last five years) and the pitching was less diluted making Koufax look less dominant than Kershaw. That could possibly be it, but let’s also not forget that Koufax pitched during an era when the pitcher’s mound was five inches higher, giving pitchers an advantage that got so great statistically, it was lowered after the 1968 season (in which Carl Yastrzemski won the batting title with a .301 batting average). Therefore, it could also be argued that Koufax enjoyed a greater advantage in that way.

One of my favorite stats when it comes to pitching is WHIP. It’s a great way to see if a pitcher has been lucky and the runners he allows just haven’t been scoring….yet. It’s safe to say that neither Kershaw nor Koufax are lucky pitchers. However, it can also give you a sense of a pitcher’s dominance. So, let’s take a look at their average WHIP over their five most dominant years (keeping with the hosts’ original argument). Koufax’s was .936 and Kershaw’s has been .865, significantly better (the lower the number, the better with WHIP as it is walks and hits per inning pitched).

One less traditional stat is a pitcher’s FIP, or fielding-independent pitching. This is a measure of what a pitcher can control—home runs, strikeouts, HBP and walks, instead of hits within the playing field that could be given up due to a fielder’s lack of range, etc. The way it is calculated allows one to view it like an ERA. Koufax’s five-year average was 2.02 and Kershaw’s has been 2.09. Very close, with the edge going to Koufax.

One of the main arguments the radio guys put forth was regarding post-season play. Typically, I would leave that out because the sample size is usually pretty small. However, Kershaw has thrown a lot of innings in the post-season and has certainly not pitched the way he does during the regular season, with his ERA being about two full runs higher during October. Koufax was spectacular in the post-season, albeit in only seven games started. Edge to Koufax here.

They also pointed to Koufax’s seasonal win totals and strikeouts. No doubt they are impressive (While win totals aren’t a great way to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness as run support can be a big factor, but let’s examine this anyway.) However, while Koufax won 25 or more games three times, Kershaw has won 21 games twice. Koufax seemingly has the edge here, but let’s not forget the difference in how pitchers were/are handled during these two eras. Koufax threw during the years when there were four-man rotations and less bullpen-specialization. Koufax started more than 40 games a season three times in his career. Kershaw has maxed out at 33 several times, which in two seasons were enough to lead the league. During those seasons in which Koufax won 25 or more games, he also threw over 300 innings. No pitcher today could do that even if they wanted to. While you can’t hold that against Koufax, it needs to be a consideration when comparing these two pitchers. I’d say the win total category is about equal. Also, Koufax’s strikeout totals are very impressive, but Kershaw actually has a slightly higher strikeout per nine innings ratio. I’d still give the slight edge there to Koufax as he pitched during an era when it wasn’t a regular occurrence for a batter to strikeout 180+ times a season like it is today.

Lastly, let’s look at WAR (wins above replacement). I am not a huge fan of that stat, but I think it’s value is best when used as a comparative tools. Koufax’s average WAR for his last five years was 8.2. For Kershaw’s best five years it was 7.1. Koufax has the edge here. However, it should be noted innings pitched is a factor in this average with which Koufax has a significant advantage due to the era in which he pitched as was noted above.

In conclusion, I believe that even if you look at both pitchers during their best five years, Kershaw is a slightly better pitcher (unless you’re in the post-season). At the very least, it is much more close than the radio hosts believe. If you take their full careers into consideration (and why wouldn’t you?), Kershaw has had the better career. I won’t go into those numbers here, but Kershaw would have a significant edge.

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What the Phillies Should Do Next

The MLB trade deadline is one of the more exciting days on the calendar (as well as the weeks leading up to it). First, it’s just fun to speculate what a team may or may not do, who’s staying, who’s leaving. Of course, when your team is in contention and they are looking for a player to put them over the edge or solidify their standing, it can be very exciting. It wasn’t long ago that the Phillies were that team getting players such as Cliff Lee (most notably), Roy Oswalt, and….yes, Larry Anderson!  But they have also been on the other side when they traded Curt Schilling and later Scott Rolen (Hall of Famer?) away.

This year, the Phillies will be sellers again, but not in the depressing trade-away-a-talented-veteran-player-because-our-team-has-no-future kind of deal like Schilling and Rolen. Yes, the Phillies have been horrible, but they do have a lot of young players that still show promise, with more in the upper minors. Point-of-fact, some of these trades may open the door for some of those players to get to Philadelphia. Let’s take a look at some of the  moves the Phillies might or should make:

Trade Tommy Joseph This one has been written about for a few weeks in the media and I totally agree. Joseph hasn’t under performed or been a problem in the clubhouse. In fact, he’s been one of their better players, which will give him some value. He has a .796 career OPS and has been steady as his numbers this year are very similar to last year.  He probably won’t ever be an all-star, but he will probably hit between 25-30 home runs a year for the next few years and will get on-base enough to not be an issue. He’s not a free agent until 2023, so that’s a lot of team control. There will be a market for Joseph as either a first baseman or a DH. This is probably the most essential trade the Phillies can make, so they can make room for Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins has had an excellent minor league career and has nothing left to prove there. While Joseph has proven himself to a degree in the Majors, and Hoskins hasn’t which involves some risk, but Hoskins has a higher ceiling and the Phillies need the offense which he can provide.

Trade Pat Neshek, Howie Kendrick, Jeremy Hellickson, and any other veteran on a one-year deal- This one is pretty obvious and is mostly why you pick up these guys. It hasn’t always worked out well for the Phillies (Charlie Morton, Clay Bucholz), but they will be able to get something for them. They won’t get great prospects, but it makes no sense to hang on to them as most of them are in their 30s. More importantly, you will be opening up room for younger players to play more often or get called up. Aaron Altherr has impressed so far, and now Nick Williams will get more time to show his abilities, or lack thereof. Roman Quinn would be another one, but he has yet to come off the DL after an elbow sprain back in June. Once he does and gets some time in at AAA, he will be back in Philadelphia.

Look into trading Maikel Franco– There have been reports that the Phillies have made Franco available but the price is very high. At first I wondered why the price would be that high, but looking at the advanced stats there may be a reasonable answer.   It could be that his BABIP is quite low at .215, suggesting a good amount of bad luck. He’s actually swinging at less pitches out of the strike zone and is making a little more contact than the past two years, but the hits just aren’t falling for him. However, the bottom line is that the results aren’t there. One issue with trading Franco is that the Phillies don’t have any third base prospects. There has been talk of Scott Kingery, top second base prospect, switching to third, but that doesn’t appear to be too serious.

Shop Odubel Herrera Too-  As for Herrera, he has taken a pretty big step back this year, losing focus at times as well as almost 100 points in OPS. Herrera has always had a very high BABIP which is interesting. Part of that may be his speed and being able to beat out more hits. Unlike Franco, Herrera’s problem is more obvious: his strikeout rate is up and his walk rate is down.  He’s also swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone and making contact with fewer of those pitches as well. Because of this, and the fact Roman Quinn plays center field, Herrera might be more of a trade candidate, or a candidate to go back to AAA.

Figure out what to do at shortstop and second base- This is a pretty intriguing story line because there isn’t a clear answer yet. Cesar Hernandez has had a solid career and is one of the few Phillies who can get on base at a respectable rate. However, Scott Kingery is an excellent prospect and plays the same position. Over at shortstop, Freddy Galvis has always played great defense and has developed into an average hitter with some pop, but a questionable ability to get on-base. He has also become a leader in the clubhouse. The Phillies also have a prospect at AAA that plays shortstop, and that would be JP Crawford who we’ve heard so much about. Crawford has always been able to get on base, but brings little power to the plate. He has struggled mightily this year, but has improved lately. The Phillies don’t have to do anything quite yet as Kingery just got to Lehigh Valley and Crawford needs more seasoning there. Galvis becomes a free agent after next year, so a lot of it will depend on how Crawford plays the rest of this year and the next. The Phillies need to also figure out if anyone can switch a position in the infield in case of a trade. We also can’t forget Jesmuel Valentin who got noticed in spring training this year and where he could fit in.

September call-ups- In September I would call up the aforementioned Rhys Hoskins (if Joseph hasn’t been traded by that point) as well as pitcher Tom Eshelman and possibly outfielder Dylan Cozens. Eshelman has pitched great since his call-up and Cozens has played better since a very rough start. It would be great to start seeing the power Hoskins and Cozens have displayed in Philadelphia.

The State of the Phillies Halfway Through the Year

Well, it’s been a horrible year and it’s not even half over yet. I was way off with my prediction, so I will have to talk to the people in our analytics department.  Almost everything that could go wrong has gone wrong this year. I didn’t think the offense would be great, but I thought it would be better than last year which was abysmal. Technically it is slightly better at this point with a team OPS of .696 over last year’s .685. Plus, the Phillies are not last in team OPS like last year, they’re….in second to last place  in the NL. But it’s still no real improvement. Let’s take a look at what has gone wrong.

Most concerning to me has been the pitching. This team’s strength was supposed to be a group of good, but not great, young pitchers they could build around.  Right now only one of their starters has an ERA under 4.0 (Nola just arrived after his last excellent start) with only Nola and Hellickson having WHIPs of under 1.3. And while Hellickson’s WHIP may be half-decent his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is sky high at 5.58. Jerad Eickoff had a good year last year only to follow it up this year with a disappoint result at a 4.93 ERA and a WHIP of over 1.5. And Vince Velazquez is looking more like a bullpen arm at this point. I had high hopes for Zach Eflin after a strong end of the year and corrective knee surgery, but his ERA of 6.03 says otherwise. And it seems like every young starter that they call up is getting hammered almost every outing. To be fair, Nick Pivetta has shown flashes and Ben Lively has been decent, but with small sample sizes. Even Jake Thompson who had an amazing year at AAA last year before getting called up and rocked, is now getting rocked at AAA to the tune of a 5.98 ERA.  What positives can be taken from this? The first is that Aaron Nola’s arm has been fine, which is actually really important. If he can somehow keep from hurting his arm again and improve his pitch location he could be a solid number 2 or 3 starter in their rotation. The only other positive you can really glean from this horrible staff performance is that these young pitchers are getting experience and it’s fairly rare I’d say that pitchers dominate from the start of their careers.  Greg Maddux had an ERA of almost six his first full year, and in the five starts the year before that it was almost as bad. Randy Johnson had an ERA of over four his first two years as well. So hopefully some of these young guys can figure some things out over the course of this year.

I was thinking that the offense would be moderately better this year due to some of the free-agent signings like Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick. On the contrary, as I noted above, it’s just marginally better than last year. I wasn’t expecting much from Saunders as he has really only had half a good season in his whole career, which happened to be the first half of last year. However, I thought he would be able to give a little more than what the 2016 outfielders had (e.g. Peter Bourjos, Tyler Goeddel). He was so bad, though, that the Phillies had to release him and eat the remainder of his contract this year. Howie Kendrick has been good, but also hurt too often.  GM Matt Klentak’s goal of signing veterans to one-year free agent contracts in order to trade them for young talent has not gone well the past two years. It’s a good strategy, but for the Phillies most have either gotten hurt (Charlie Morton, Clay Buchholz) or played played too poorly (Michael Saunders, Joaquin Benoit) to be traded or even to stay on the team. There have been some successes in this area: Pat Neshek is one of the best relief pitchers in the Major Leagues this year and Howie Kenrick has played great (when he is able to stay on the field). Jeremy Hellickson may fall into this category if he can keep it together and pitch well before the trade deadline. They won’t get any great prospects for these players, but they could get some decent prospects. Acquiring veterans on short contracts to flip generally don’t get top prospects; it’s more about volume and acquiring young role-players like bullpen arms, super-utility guys or 4th and 5th outfielders. And if you’re lucky, you may wind up with an everyday player, a la Jayson Werth.

As for the the bullpen it’s been all over the place. Benoit has been a bit of a mystery as he still has good velocity but has been hit around pretty well. Hector Neris came into the season projected as a closer-in-waiting, but has had a rough year. As it stands right now, the bullpen has settled down a bit. Luis Garcia and Pat Neshek have had excellent years, but the latter will soon be on another team.

Before the season began I wrote about ten questions the Phillies had going into the season. Let’s check in to see how those have been answered thus far:

1.Will Odubel Herrera put together a full season of good play? The answer is “no”.  Herrera’s stock has really dropped and a trip to Lehigh Valley shouldn’t be ruled out.

2. Will one of the outfield prospects the Phillies have stick in 2017?- The answer appears to be “yes”. Aaron Altherr has had a nice season and Nick Williams is now on the clock.

3. What will Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens do now that they are not playing in Reading? Hoskins has continued to due very well and Cozens is rebounding after a horrible start. Hoskins has to be brought up this year and Joseph needs to go (my next post).

4. Can Tommy Joseph build on a good 2016 season?  The answer appears to be yes to an extent. After a slow start, Joseph has put together a solid season with a slash line of  .251/.311/.467. Not great, but a good slugging number. It’s actually very close to what he had last year. Joseph will have trade value (but again, that’s the next post).

5. Will Mikel Franco live up to his prospect label and have a good year? The answer again is “no”. Franco has been a big disappointment to say the least with a slash line of .219/.277/.381 and a WAR of -.9. He’s lucky the Phillies have no third base prospects (although super-prospect Scott Kingery has been taking balls at third) and are miles from contention. Unless Franco has a monster second half, the Phillies will look to move on from him soon.

6. Will Freddy Galvis realize he’s not a home run hitter and try to get on base at least at a somewhat respectable rate? Galvis is having a little better year at the plate this year and continues to play excellent defense. His OBP is up and he continues to hit with some pop. He has also emerged as a leader on a young team. What the Phillies will do at shortstop in the next few years will be a good side story. Galvis has one more year before he is a free agent and prospect J.P Crawford has struggled at AAA this year.

7. Can Aaron Nola stay healthy? Yes, he has! While on the disabled list this year, it was not for his elbow, which is huge. However, there’s a whole second half to play, so we will see.

8. Just what is Vince Velasquez? Good question. Right now, he’s not looking like a major league starter. He’ll need a great second half to stay in that conversation.

9. Which of the Phillies young pitching prospects will be for real in 2017? This one is still up in the air. Eickoff, as mentioned, has taken a step back. Eflin disappointed. Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta have shown the most promise this year, but they will need many more starts to fully prove themselves.

10. Will the catcher of the future be identified this season? Not really. Cameron Rupp had a nice season last year, but has struggled in 2017. Andrew Knapp and his mustache have hit to the tune of a .755 OPS. However, prospect Jorge Alfaro is at AAA now so we’ll see. Alfaro has cooled off greatly after a strong start offensively and rarely walks. While he has a very strong arm, he is still a work in progress defensively. I believe he has to be in the majors next year, so it’s possible you may see a platoon with he and Knapp with Rupp back in AAA or on another team.

As you can see, some questions remained unanswered, so we’ll check back in at the end of the season. The trade deadline should be interesting for the Phillies and could help clear up some of those questions. It’s been a tough season for the team, but hopefully it’s part of the “process” and the Phillies will soon be improving in the win column.

 

Ten Questions For the Phillies Heading Into Spring Training

It may be a chilly January morning in the Philadelphia area, but pitchers and catchers report in less than a month to sunny Clearwater, Florida. The Phillies have been turning their farm system around in recent years due mostly to trades, but some drafting as well. Hopefully the latter is a trend as a team needs that for sustained success and without it, it will go into a prolonged period of bad performance. Here is a list of ten questions for the Phillies major league team as well as some of their prospects:

1.Will Odubel Herrera put together a full season of good play?– Herrera got a long-term deal in the 0ff-season after putting together two decent seasons of play. The thing with Herrera is that they were basically two very good half-seasons with two not-so-good. In 2015 Herrera’s first half slash line was .268/.297/.398, while the second half was .329/.394/.440. The first half was an average season while the second half was all-star caliber. In 2016, it was the opposite. Herrera got off to a fast start with a slash line of .294/.378/.427 but slowed down in the second with a line of .277/.337/.411. The first half numbers don’t quite show how good his start of the season was because he began to slow down before the all-star break. I don’t think anyone really expects him to maintain numbers that were almost historic (Herrera peaked May 16th last year with a line of .343/.453/.471), but more even play would be nice. Hopefully 2017 will be the year that he can put together a full season of above-average performance.

2. Will one of the outfield prospects the Phillies have stick in 2017?- The Phillies have quite a few outfield prospects that have yet to make a statement that they belong in the Major Leagues. Last year was supposed to be Aaron Altherr’s year, but he got hurt in spring training and was probably still hampered by the wrist injury when he returned. Roman Quinn has a lot of tools, but also was injured after he was called up, which has been hard for him to avoid throughout his career. Out of the two, Quinn had better numbers in Philly. Of course, the Phillies picked up Howie Kendrick from the Dodgers to play left field, but at age 33 and coming off a bad year, he is not a long-term solution. Tyler Goeddel is another outfield prospect who spent the year playing sparingly as a Rule 5 pick. While Goeddel is a former first-round pick and showed some flashes last year, he ended the year with a batting average of under .200 and an OPS of .549. There were some concerns with Goeddell’s bat speed last year and at 6′ 4″ and 180 lbs, he could probably stand to add some strength. At this point Goeddell doesn’t appear to be anything more than AAA depth. Nick Williams is another outfield prospect that came over in the Hamels deal and had been putting up good numbers until he hit AAA. He could have been called up at the end of last season, but his numbers, especially the strikeouts, did not warrant such a move. It would be nice if he could play well enough to force the Phillies to call him up sooner than later next year. I currently don’t have a lot of confidence in Williams, though. Out of all these prospects, I think Quinn has the best chance to stick as an everyday player.

3. What will Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens do now that they are not playing in Reading?– Speaking of prospects, these two sluggers put on a show at Reading last year hitting about 80 home runs between the two. The big question is what will they do now that they are in AAA. Reading Municipal Stadium is know to be quite hitter-friendly. Darin Ruf if a good example of how the numbers there don’t always translate to the Major Leagues. On the other hand, Ryan Howard had no problem after dominating there. Having one, or even both, of these guys continue to play well would be a huge thing for the Phillies moving forward. Cozens is an outfielder, so he could also be placed in the mix for question number 2. Hoskins is a first baseman, whose path may be blocked by Tommy Joseph depending on how well he plays next year. The good news with these two guys is that neither of them are 20th round picks who suddenly played well at Reading. Hoskins was a fifth round pick (like Howard) and Cozens was a second-round pick. Both showed some power previously, but not like last year. Their performance with the Iron Pigs should be closely watched by all Phillies fans. If they play well, they most certainly could be second-half call-ups depending on the play of those listed in the previous question. I hope both have great careers, but right now I am giving the edge to Hoskins who has shown a better ability to get on base. Hoskins career OBP is about 40 points higher than Cozens’ number.

4. Can Tommy Joseph build on a good 2016 season?- Of course, Joseph has a great story. A catching prospect that came over from San Francisco in the Hunter Pence trade who, after experiencing a number of concussions, was left unprotected to the Rule 5 draft. He wasn’t selected and, after a vision issue was corrected, put up good numbers in AAA at the start of 2016, was called up, and continued to hit. While he hit 21 homers in just 315 at bats, his on-base percentage of .308 could use some help. However, if he continues to slug at the .505 rate from last year, that is not a major concern. Joseph’s numbers against left-handed pitchers are much better than the other way around, which has led some in the front office to say they might look for a left-handed hitting first baseman for a platoon situation. However, since the Phillies are not expected to be contenders next year, I think they should play him full time to see if he can improve those numbers. Last year, he was platooned with Howard for most of the year, so he didn’t see right-handers that often. The only way to get better with that is to play more, and there’s not much to lose doing that next year. If both Joseph and Hoskins have good year, the Phillies will have a decision to make, but we’re not there yet.

5. Will Mikel Franco live up to his prospect label and have a good year?- Franco had a lot of people buzzing about his future after playing well at AAA and then putting together a nice 2015 in Philadelphia, hitting 14 home runs with an OPS of .841 in a partial season. Last year, Franco was pretty streaky, but overall had a disappointing year. He did hit 25 home runs, but his percentage numbers took a general fall leaving him with an OPS .733. The Phillies would be wise to wait before they give him an Odubel Herrera-like contract. If he puts together a season like 2015 for a full year, then that would the time to do it. The Phillies had one of the worst offensive years in their team’s 130+ year history, so a Franco that hits 30+ home runs with an OPS of .850+ would be most helpful.

6. Will Freddy Galvis realize he’s not a home run hitter and try to get on base at least at a somewhat respectable rate?- As I mentioned, the Phillies were really bad last year offensively. They had the second worst on-base percentage and the worst on-base plus slugging percentage in the Majors last year at .301 and .685 respectively. While it was nice to get 20 home runs from a shortstop, it can’t make up for the fact that Galvis had an absolutely horrendous OBP of .274. Unfortunately, that is around his career average, so improvement is unlikely. I think the front office would trade ten of those home runs if Freddy could raise his on-base percentage to .320. Galvis’s time at shortstop is most likely numbered as prospect JP Crawford will hopefully be ready to play by 2018. It’s possible he is moved to second base at some point as he plays great defense and is a leader of a time that is quite young. However, that means Cesar Hernandez won’t have a position, and while he has several shortcomings, getting on base is not one of them. If Hernandez has another offensive year like he did last year (BA of .294, OBP of .371), I don’t see how the Phillies can take him out of the lineup, unless they have someone else to replace him. Scott Kingery has been a name floated as a future replacement, but he’s still a ways off. Closer to the Majors is Jesmuel Valentin who played at Lehigh Valley last year.

7. Can Aaron Nola stay healthy?– This is a very big question for the Phillies. Nola’s story is well known. Drafted out of LSU, Nola was billed as a good, safe pick as he was very polished but maybe didn’t have as high a ceiling as other prospects coming out of college. After years of trying to outsmart people in the draft and take raw, “high-ceiling” players, the Phillies went for the safer pick and it really paid off. Nola rocketed to Philadelphia and put up good numbers in 2015. In 2016 Nola started very strong and was pitching like an ace through June. He was striking out around 10 batters per nine innings and had a sub-3.00 ERA. However, in July he lost his characteristic control and was being hit pretty hard. It was found he had a sprained elbow ligament. Rehabilitation rather than Tommy John surgery was recommended. This kind of injury was actually predicted by some who saw flaws in his mechanics. Nola has rested and rehabbed and will ready to pitch again in 2017. I hope he doesn’t have to have Tommy John surgery, but I would not be surprised if that happens.

8. Just what is Vince Velasquez?- Velasquez is one of the Phillies more intriguing young players. He came over from Houston in the Giles deal and has dominating stuff which hasn’t always appeared in his starts. One game he’s striking out 16 batters and the next he’s giving up 9 hits in 5 innings. He was pretty inconsistent, but to make matters worse there is a question about his arm health, due to which he missed several starts last year. There was talk about Velasquez not using his breaking stuff more often last year to put hitters away. He certainly gave up too many hits and home runs. It will be interesting to see which Velasquez we will get next year and if he can pitch a full season.

9. Which of the Phillies young pitching prospects will be for real in 2017?- This is a questions that will be answered over the  next few years rather than just next year. However, the Phillies have quite a few strong pitching prospects who will battle for spots this year and next. There doesn’t seem to be any aces at this point, but having very strong 2, 3, and 4 starters is also important. Jerad Eikoff, who came over from the Hamels deal, has surprised me. He can no longer be viewed as a prospect as he threw 197 innings last year with a very solid 3.65 ERA and WHIP of 1.165. He needs to allow fewer home runs, but has proved he is a capable middle-of-the-rotation starter. I had hopes Adam Morgan could stick as a starter, but 2016 showed that it probably won’t happen. Once a top prospect who got hurt, Morgan had enough starts last year to prove himself, but pitched very poorly. Zach Eflin is another intriguing pitcher. Eflin was a former first round pick of the Padres and pitched himself to Philadelphia after a good year in AAA. If you take away his last three starts, he had a decent showing in Philadelphia. Eflin had surgery to correct chronic knee pain (which ended his season early), so it will be interesting to see how he does in 2017. He will be in a battle for the fifth spot. Jake Thompson is another enigma. Coming from Texas in the Hamels trade, Thompson dominated at AA and AAA in 2015 and 2016 when he was called up in August and pretty much pitched terribly for the Phillies. Thompson’s biggest problem in Philly was walking too many hitters. He did show some improvement in his September starts. He, too, will try for the fifth starter spot. Lastly, Alec Asher is another pitcher to watch for the fifth spot. Asher, too, came to the Phillies in the Hamels deal and had a great few starts in September with a 2.28 ERA and a WHIP under 1.0. He was suspended for 80 games last year for a positive PED test.  Asher was up in September in 2015 but did not pitch nearly as well. His improvement has been credited to the use of a two-seam fastball, making it less straight and harder to hit. Two more pitchers to keep an eye on are Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta.

10. Will the catcher of the future be identified this season?-  Cameron Rupp had a nice year last year, hitting 16 home runs to go with a respectable OPS of .750. Rupp is only 28 so he could be considered part of the future. However, prospect Jorge Alfaro is generally seen as Rupp’s heir to the catching position. His arm is regarded as off the charts, and he had a good offensive year at Reading last year. Like many young players, he needs to walk more as he only drew 22 walks last year. Alfaro needs some more seasoning and will most likely start the year in AAA. Another candidate is Andrew Knapp who will probably be Rupp’s backup next year provided he doesn’t have a horrible spring. Knapp was once higher on the prospect radar after having an amazing season between high A and AA ball in 2015. His stock dropped last year after a mediocre year in AAA. So, Phillies fans will have to keep an eye on how Alfaro progresses (or not) in AAA and how Knapp does as a Major League backup. And, of course, let’s now rule Rupp out as he has already proven himself at the top level.

There you have it Phillies fans. While the team probably be all that competitive, there is certainly a lot to watch this year. At this point, the Phillies strength this pitching as they have quite a few good prospects about to break into the Majors. If any combination of Franco, Cozens, Hoskins, Joseph, and Alfaro have good to great years, then there will be real reasons to be excited for the future of this team.

Don’t Overlook Cameron Rupp

People have been very excited about Jorge Alfaro, the catching prospect the Phillies received from Texas in the Cole Hamels. This has been a fruitful trade so far, as Alec Asher and Jerad Eickoff already seeing action in the major leagues, with Nick Williams close to a call-up from triple A. Cole Hamels has been having an excellent year for Texas at 12-3 with an ERA of 2.89. His secondary numbers suggest that success may not last (FIP over 4 and a fairly high WHIP, although he has brought that number down over the past few weeks), but maybe it will. It was the right trade at the time, because many of Hamels starts would have been wasted on this feeble offense the Phillies have, and the Phillies got a number of promising young players.

Alfaro, as I have mentioned, is one of them. Recently I heard Angelo Cataldi say that Alfaro will be in Philadelphia in two years. There was also some talk  of the Phillies trading Rupp because they have Alfaro in the system. Now it may be true that Alfaro will make it to Philadelphia in 2018, but any assumption that he will be the starting catcher is way too premature. First, Rupp is having an excellent year. His slash line is .278/.329/.502, which is good for anyone, let alone a catcher.  Finding a catcher who can also hit is not an easy thing to do. The percentage of base runners he’s caught stealing is down from the previous two years at 24%, but that’s not horrible either, plus he’s working with a lot of young pitchers who may not be doing a good job of holding runners on first base. One might say that he’s playing over his head this year and will come down to earth. That is possible, because he hasn’t hit like this really at any point before and his BABIP is a little on the high side. However, he was also a high draft pick (third round), and he’s hitting the ball a little harder this year. His exist velocity average is among the highest in the National League. Let’s not forget that Carlos Ruiz was never a hitter in the minors either until he started playing full time in the majors. Rupp has also been praised for his leadership skills, something important for a young team to have.

There’s no doubt that Alfaro is an exciting prospect. His hitting statistics in the minors have been solid, if not that spectacular (although he’s having a very nice year this year at the plate). He certainly could stand to walk more as he is average less than a quarter of a walk per game, but his on-base percentage is a respectable .330 this season.  Alfaro’s throwing arm has gotten him most of the attention and he’s thrown out a very impressive 42% of base stealers this year. However, AA is a long way from Philadelphia. It may very well be the Alfaro has another good year in AAA next year, but it is way too early to start showing Rupp the door or granting Alfaro the title of “future starter at catcher for the Phillies”.  The last thing they should do is trade Rupp, assuming Andrew Knapp or Jorge Alfaro will soon step in to do the job.

Cody Asche: A Cautionary Tale

I was recently looking at Cody Asche’s minor league numbers, and I had forgotten how good he was in the minor leagues, especially before he was first called up in 2013. I may have forgotten this because Asche has struggled since that time, to a tune of a .242/.300/.390 slash line for his ML career. Manager Pete Mackanin has recently grown impatient with Asche saying that he “needs to step it up” as Aaron Atherr is also now competing for an outfield spot. It got me wondering why Asche has struggled so much after a very nice minor league career. Was he brought up too soon? Is he just not good enough? Let’s take a look at his numbers…

If we throw out his first year in short-season single A ball and his recent minor league at-bats, Cody Ache never had an OPS of under .825 at any stop in the minors. He hit over .300 at every stop except for his last AAA and that was .295. He never had an OBP of under .352. In other words, he was a great hitter. There was no noticeable dip at AAA where he no doubt faced pitchers who had major league experience. In Lehigh Valley he hit .295/.352/.485 with 15 home runs and 68 RBI.

Could it be the Phillies brought him up too quickly? Phillies fans have long accused the Phillies of letting their prospects stay in the minors too long, like with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Ache rose through the ranks very quickly, with a different minor league team each year. He only played in 432 minor league games, which is not a huge amount of time. Granted, it could be said he played himself out of the minors with his performance. In retrospect, though, maybe more time would have been better. Like a lot of the Phillies top prospects, Asche did not walk a lot, averaging .32 walks per game. In the majors, it has gone down to about .25 walks per game. He’s walking a little less, but hitting a lot less. My point is that if a prospect has not developed a good sense of the strike zone and plate discipline, when they face a higher level of pitching in the major leagues it can be a problem. With fewer hits, the player’s OBP will be even lower. With poor plate discipline, it makes playing more difficult for a young hitter as pitchers will exploit this weakness and give them few good pitches to hit.

The second possibility is that maybe Asche is just not good enough. There have been many, many players who can hit really well in the minor leagues, but not in the big leagues. It’s really hard to say, but the reason why this is a cautionary tale is because some of those prospects who are doing well now, may not do the same in the majors. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee. Also, some of those same prospects have poor plate discipline as well (see the last post). Fans have been clamoring for the team to bring some of them up, but maybe waiting wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Phillies need hitters who can get on base as they are last in ALL of major league baseball in team on-base percentage at a meager .295. This will be something the Phillies will have to address.

Down On The Farm

There’s been a lot written lately about the Phillies farm system, and rightly so. For many years the cupboard was raided in an attempt to win now. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that and, really, no prospect the Phillies traded away has done anything of substance. The larger problem was poor drafting of players. More recently, the Phillies have restocked the system by trading away Cole Hamels and Ken Giles, among others. At the same time, some of the players they have drafted are getting noticed, such as Dylan Cozens, Rhys Hoskins and J.P. Crawford. Others who arrived though the trades are already here making a difference like Zach Eflin and Jerad Eickoff. MLB.com rated the Phillies system as 7th best in baseball even before some of the prospects began having breakout years. Minorleagueball.com had them at number 10 , and Baseball Prospectus had the Phillies in the 4th spot. I haven’t written on this blog in quite some time; I’ve been busier than I expected I would be this summer. I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the prospects and give them a rating.

I am not going to go through every prospect obviously, but some of the ones that have been in the news lately. The following rating system will be used: 4= MLB All-Star   3= above average   2= average   1= bench player. For pitchers, the system will be: 4= Legitimate ace 3= number 2/3 in rotation  2= 4/5 in rotation 1= bullpen piece.

Let’s start of with J.P. Crawford. I am giving him a 4, I believe he will be an all-star one day in the Major Leagues. Of course, I am not going out on a limb as he is ranked the number 3 prospect in all of baseball right now by MLB.com.  The main reason why I think he will be an all-star is because of his plate discipline. It is so rare for a young player to have such good discipline. At every level he has walked about the same amount of times that he has struck out. During his time at double A, he actually walked more than he’s struck out. AAA has been a little different story, but he has not been there the whole season, plus it should be kept in mind that he is 5.6 years younger than the average AAA player, a good number of whom have Major League experience. Some knocks on Crawford have been his defense, having only a .956 career minor league fielding percentage. He has played good defense in 2016, however. At the same time however, his range factor per game is quite good.  He does not hit for a whole lot of power, with a career slugging percentage of .400. However, he is a shortstop, so power would be a bonus (and he did hit 11 home runs one year, so he could develop into a guy who could hit 10-15 home runs a year with a good number of other extra base hits) and he does make up for it by getting on base at a nice rate- .378 career. I have no doubt that if Crawford continues to do well that he will be a September call-up.

Next up let’s take a look at Jake Thompson, who’s been on an amazing roll over the last few weeks after a rough start to the season. Originally a second round pick by the Tigers, the Phillies picked him up in the Hamels trade. Thompson is also young, just 22 and is knocking on the door to the big leagues. He’s had a successful career in the minors with an ERA of 3.06 and a WHIP of 1.209. This year he has an excellent 2.42 ERA (over his last 9 starts he’s only surrendered three earned runs) and a WHIP of 1.101. He strikeouts per nine innings average is a little lower than one would like at 6.2, but he’s certainly getting the job done. There’s not much more Thompson can prove at AAA and will be up as soon as there is an opening in the rotation. I’d give Thompson a rating of 3.

Another guy at AAA that some people have talked about, and not always for good reasons is Nick Williams. Williams is another player who came from Texas in the Hamels trade. Williams is one of a few up-and-coming outfielders that Phillies have. Like Thompson and Crawford, Williams is also young for AAA, but after a slow start is having a good year. His slash line is .290/.324/.470 which is around his career minor league average. Williams has shown some power, twice hitting 17 home runs in a year, and can swipe a few bases, too. He strikes out too much, but hopefully he can cut down on that as he matures as a hitter. He could also stand to walk more, too. The biggest knock on Williams is that he’s been benched twice for not running out hits which is not what you want to see from a young prospect. Williams could probably stand to be spoken to by more than just a manager, but by a veteran player who’s had success in the major leagues. If I am the Phillies, I would not bring Williams up in September so as to send a message that he needs to tighten up his game more. Williams is a bit of a wild card but I will give him a 3.

The last AAA player we will look at is Andrew Knapp, a catcher who was a 2nd round pick in 2013. Knapp had a fairly average minor knappleague career until he was promoted to AA Reading last year and responded by hitting .360/.419/.631. Those numbers made a lot of people take notice, and for good reason. At Lehigh Valley this year, his numbers have really come back to earth and are probably a better picture of what he is capable of. Knapp certainly is not ready to be promoted and with another, better catching prospect at AA, Knapp will probably be moved to another position at some point. Or, he may just be a backup; it really depends on how well he can hit. It may help to bring back the AA mustache again. I think Knapp will be a 2. His great season last year seems to have been a bit of an aberration.

The AA guys are obviously a little tougher to project, but let’s give it a shot. Let’s start off with their very exciting catching prospect, Jorge Alfaro. Alfaro came over to the Phillies from Texas for Hamels and impressed during spring training this year mostly due to his arm strength. Pete Mackanin, who’s been in the game a long time, said it’s probably the best he’s seen. Vincent Velasquez also spoke highly about him as well after his rehab stint in the minors this year. Alfaro has thrown out an impressive 42% of base runners this season.  Alfaro has good pop in his bat, but rarely walks. In 69 games this year, he’s only walked 16 times. He just won’t have success in the majors with that kind of walk rate. At this point Knapp seems to be the odd-catcher out and Alfaro will eventually be a catcher with the Phillies. Cameron Rupp has had an excellent season this year (and the Phillies should not look to trade him) so Alfaro will most likely start as a backup, maybe late next year or 2018. I’ll give Alfaro a 3.

The Phillies have a few good prospects in Reading- Roman Quinn, Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens. Quinn would probably be knocking on the door to the big leagues by now, but has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. Quinn has excellent speed, and was having a very nice year (.288/.361/.420 25 SB in 50 games) when he got hurt. He only recently returned to the field. If he can stay healthy, I like Quinn to be in the Phillies outfield in 2018. I’ll give Quinn a 2.5.

Rhys Hoskins was a 5th round pick two years ago and has shown excellent power his whole time in the minors, especially this year. Hoskins, a first baseman, has 29 home runs so far along with a very solid .285/.356 BA/OBP line. Reading is known as a hitters park, and Darin Ruf had a even more impressive total a few years ago and never really made an impact in Philly, so the number should be taken with a grain of salt. He’s hit about twice as many home runs in Reading than away. He will no doubt be in AAA next year, so it will be interesting to see how he does there. The Phillies first base situation is definitely not settled, although Tommy Joseph has performed well enough to be the presumptive starter next year for now. Joseph really needs to get on base more, though.  It’s tough to judge, but I will give Hoskins a 3.

Lastly, we have Dylan Cozens, a right fielder who is also have a monster year at Reading with 25 home runs and a .279/.366 line. The two have very similar stats and there have been quite a few news reports featuring both these guys.  Cozens has walked more this year, but he’s also struck out more. Cozens is a really big guy at 6′ 6″ and 235 pounds, but is quick, with 17 stolen bases so far. He’s also hitting a lot of home runs in hitter-friendly Reading, so that should be a consideration, too. Of his 25 home runs, 20 have been hit at home, which is an even more extreme split than Hoskins. The Phillies have quite a few outfield prospects to sort through, so it will be interesting to see over the next two years who are for real and who are just mediocre players. I think I will give Cozens a 2, although he may come through as a 3. Hoskins has shown a better ability to get on base and that just is so important at the major league level.

So there you have it folks, so armchair scouting for you.  I think it’s a pretty safe bet we will see Thompson in Philly soon (it really seems Jeremy Hellickson will be traded). I also think we will see JP Crawford up in September. Nick Williams is also a possibility, but I’d hold off on that as I mentioned above. Also, keep an eye on Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery, two players recently promoted up the ladder. There really is a lot to look forward to as a Phillies fan. The Phillies could very well be in a good position to spend a lot of money over the next few years in free agency thanks to salaries coming off the books and the Comcast contract kicking in.