PHILLIES crushed 13-2 by Brewers at Miller Park...PHILS now 35-32, 4GB in NL East...ZACH EFLIN gets 4:10pm Saturday start...BE BOLD ...

Saturday, June 16, 2018

What do the Phillies have at the back of the rotation?

Zach Eflin hopes to be long term member of Phils rotation
The Philadelphia Phillies have been experiencing a number of problems over the past two months. Since April 25, the team has struggled along with a 20-24 record.

Fingers have mostly been pointed at an offense that is now 12th of the 15 National League clubs in both OPS and Runs scored.

There have also been numerous critics of the constant lineup and positional juggling by rookie manager Gabe Kapler, including from yours truly.

One area where the Phillies have generally received solid performances on a consistent basis has been the front of their starting pitching rotation.

Aaron Nola has broken out to legitimate ace status. He is currently 8-2 with a 2.27 ERA, a minuscule 0.934 WHIP, and a fantastic 90/22 K:BB ratio. He has yielded just 63 hits over 91 innings across 14 starts.

Having turned just 25 years old earlier this month and not eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, Nola should be counted on as a key cog moving forward.

Veteran free agent signee Jake Arrieta has been less consistent than Nola, but has still been generally effective. Even after a poor outing last night, the 32-year old is 5-5 with a 3.33 ERA, and has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. He'll be fine.

It is the back end of that Phillies starting rotation the brings the most open questions. Is Vince Velasquez actually a starting pitcher long term, and not better utilized out of the bullpen?

Are either or both of Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin starting pitchers who can be counted on for the long term as the Phillies build toward true contention?

Velasquez, who came to the Phillies as part of the Ken Giles trade with Houston, is the most interesting. He clearly has dominating stuff at times, as he demonstrated in his most recent outing on Thursday afternoon when he surrendered just one hit to the Colorado Rockies over 6.2 innings.

But the problem with Velasquez, who turned 26 years of age earlier this month, has never been pure stuff. He has shown that kind of dominance before.

The problem is that the talented right-hander never carries it forward with any consistency, usually following up a great game or two with another three or four less-than-satisfactory efforts.

Pivetta, who arrived from Washington in a trade for Jonathan Papelbon, is a 25-year old right-hander. He is just 4-6 this season with a slightly elevated 4.25 ERA.

However, Pivetta also has a strong 81/21 K:BB mark, and has surrendered just 68 hits over 72 innings across 14 starts.

Pivetta cannot be a free agent until after the 2021 season, so the Phillies theoretically have a long time to measure his results and his future role.

At 24 years of age, Eflin is the youngest of this mostly young group. He came to the Phillies as part of the Jimmy Rollins deal a few years back.

This season, Eflin is 3-2 with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.185 WHIP, both solid marks. He has a 40/10 K:BB ratio, and has allowed 37 hits over 39.2 innings pitched.

Eflin had a horrendous three-start stretch from mid-late May. Across those starts he was ripped for a dozen earned runs and 19 hits in 13.1 innings, losing two of the three. But aside from that he has performed well.

The only other pitcher to make a start for the 2018 Phillies was Ben Lively. The right-hander is currently battling back from an injury. While Lively is a nice pitcher who competes well many nights, I believe that he is a depth starter best suited to AAA and emergency fill-in status on a contender.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler is wrong on use of Seranthony Dominguez

Seranthony Dominguez should be the Phillies closer
The Philadelphia Phillies have six relief pitchers who have recorded a Save at this point in the 2018 season.

But right now the Phillies don't have a closer, and their manager seems to believe that they don't need one.

None of those six relievers with a Save has more than nine, which is the total achieved by Hector Neris, the man who was once considered the team's closer.

That ranks Neris at 25th in Major League Baseball. As a team, the relief corps is in a six-way tie for 17th, or 22nd if you want to be a pessimist.

The bullpen as a whole has been, how shall we say, not good. Luis Garcia (24.2), Neris (24.1), Drew Hutchison (21.1), Tommy Hunter (17.2), and Yacksel Rios (17) have all been given significant opportunities. All have largely failed. Each carries an ERA above the 4.00 level of mediocrity, with four of them over or approaching the 5.00 mark.

A little more than a month ago the team promoted a lights-out reliever from the minor leagues to help right the ship. Seranthony Dominguez was dominant in stints at AA and AAA over the first six weeks. He had allowed just eight hits over 16.2 innings with a 21/3 K:BB ratio.

Dominguez quickly proved to be the Phillies best reliever. Opponents were unable to score on the 23-year old right-hander over his first dozen appearances.

To this point over his first 15 appearances, Dominguez has produced a 1.42 ERA and a 0.421 WHIP. He has surrendered just seven hits over 19 innings with a 22/1 K:BB ratio in the big leagues.

Dominguez is clearly the Phillies best option to close. But manager Gabe Kapler, a big "new age" baseball thinker, doesn't see it that way. Kapler revealed his thought process during an interview on Sportsradio WIP on Wednesday morning.

The problem with Kapler's line of thinking is simple when you think about it. Sure, there are going to be times when a critical point is reached in the 6th, 7th, or 8th innings. No arguing there.

However, you can say the exact same thing about the 3rd or 4th inning. The game is a high-scoring 6-6 affair in the 4th and your starter is getting knocked around. The opposition has the bases loaded and one out. Do you bring in your best reliever then to get out of the jam?

The fact is that you need your very best reliever available as the "closer", that hammer to nail the door shut on a game once the rest of your team has battled through eight tough innings to earn a lead.

Once you burn a Seranthony Dominguez in the earlier innings, now what do you do when the 9th rolls around and you need someone to close it out? Ahh, I know, you trust another one of your "lesser" relief pitchers who you weren't willing to trust earlier. Brilliant!

Part of the Phillies dilemma, as I see it: they don't want to trust the kids who are actually getting the job done over veterans who are getting paid more money and have more experience.

Kapler should be using 25-year old Edubray Ramos and 23-year old Victor Arano in the 7th and 8th innings to set up the 23-year old Dominguez for the 9th inning.

Ramos has a ridiculous 0.75 ERA mark and a low 1.167 WHIP. He has allowed just 18 hits over 24 innings with a 27/10 K:BB ratio. Arano has fashioned a 2.11 ERA and 1.031 WHIP mark, allowing just 17 hits over his 21.1 innings. He has a fine 23/5 K:BB ratio thus far.

Let the team battle through the first half-dozen innings as a whole. Use the veteran relievers to get through any tough situations that might pop up when the starters falter or tire. Then turn to the lights-out kids to hold down any leads you take into the late innings.

Despite what some try to say, baseball does not need to be reinvented constantly. What a baseball team that really wants to win needs is for the people running the ship to believe what their eyes are seeing. It request them to understand the formula that has been proven effective over decades of experience.

Seranthony Dominguez should be the Philadelphia Phillies closer right now, and hopefully for years to come. It is then up to the manager and the rest of club management to find the pieces and place them properly to get through tough innings that come up prior to the 9th rolling around.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Phillies sign top draft pick Alec Bohm

Alec Bohm becomes Phillies third baseman of the future
On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Phillies announced the signing of 2018 first round draft pick Alec Bohm to a $5.85 million contract. The 21-year old third baseman out of Omaha, Nebraska and Wichita State now heads down to Clearwater, Florida to begin his minor league development.

Bohm (pronounced "Bome") is an advanced college hitter whom the Phils selected with the third overall pick in last week's 2018 MLB Draft.

If you are thinking already about when he might get to Citizens Bank Park to make his big league debut in red pinstripes, it is wholly reasonable to think that could happen early in the 2020 season, if not sooner.

It is anticipated by scouts that Bohm will hit. He has a great eye at the plate, good patience, and big time power. The question has never been with his right-handed bat. What has concerned some with the 6'5", 225-pounder is where he will end up defensively.

Phillies director of amateur scouting Johnny Almanzar, addressed this question specifically in the aftermath of his selection. Per Matt Gelb at The Athletic, Almanzar stated the following:
“We loved the bat. We loved the offensive capabilities, so we would have taken him regardless [of] whether he felt he could stay there. But we don’t believe that. We believe he can stay there. He’s a very athletic player. He’s a good third baseman and, with some instruction, I believe that he’s got the chance to be an average to an above-average third baseman at the major-league level. Very, very athletic for his size at 6-foot-5.”
Bohm hit well at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha, and won the Home Run Derby at the Connie Mack World Series in 2015. But he went undrafted out of high school and moved on to Wichita State.

During his collegiate career, Bohm blasted 40 doubles and 33 home runs, 16 of those homers in this past Junior season. He became an all-star in the Cape Cod League, and was named a first-team All-American by Baseball America.

Bob Brookover at pointed out just how important it will be to the Phillies for Bohm to be able to stick at the hot corner: 

"...mostly third base has been a huge hole for the Phillies over the last 15 years. The Phillies have finished 21st or lower in OPS at third base 12 times during that stretch, including 28th last year. This year, the Phillies’ third basemen ranked 25th in OPS at .698 going into Tuesday night’s game against the Colorado Rockies."

Bohm was in attendance at the draft, and it was clear in his post-selection on-air interview that he isn't particularly comfortable in front of the cameras just yet. His answers to local reporters have been just as succinct.

“It’s been a wihirlwind for me,” said Bohm per Tom McGurk at The Courier-Post. “I’m excited to get started. I just want to get out there and get some at-bats, get back into playing, it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve played.”

That's fine. Some of that hesitation will melt away the more he faces reporters questions and matures as a person and a ball player. More importantly to Phillies fans is that Bohm speaks loudly with his bat, and that he advances to play in South Philly as quickly as possible.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

My ideas to "Be Bold" and fix the 2018 Phillies

Machado is key to a "Bold" contending future for Phils
Anyone who has been following the Philadelphia Phillies on a regular basis knows simply by watching that this is an improved baseball team.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Phillies currently have more legitimate rising talent at the Major League Baseball level than at any point in the last half-dozen or so years.

However, partly because there is so much youth at one time, and partly because some of that youth is being mishandled, the team has not been maximizing its potential. This has begun to show up in the results and the standings over the last few weeks.

Four times the Phillies lifted themselves up to nine games over the .500 mark during the month of May. All four times they followed with a loss, never capable of pushing to the double-digit mark.

Their recent 3-7 road trip was disheartening. It added to what has been a month and a half of sub par baseball. The Phillies have now gone just 16-20 stretching back to an April 27th win over Atlanta. That victory gave them 15 wins in 20 games, and they simply haven't been the same ever since.

The club wakes up this morning at just three games over that .500 mark, three games off the pace in both the NL East and NL Wildcard races, and fading fast. This kind of thing has happened twice in recent years as well. A nice start over the first month and a half, followed by reality setting in.

How do these Phillies reverse this present-day skid? How do they keep themselves from becoming just another short-term tease and long-term disappointment to the fan base?

I believe there are things that can be done. Hard things for sure, at least based on the way that the club has chosen to conduct itself in the early months of the Gabe Kapler era.

And while some of it is indeed on the rookie skipper, he is going to need help from management if the Phillies actually envision a summer of postseason contention.

The most difficult thing can often be admitting that you made a mistake. That is especially so if that mistake actually cost you a large amount of money, and you still have years to pay on that mistake.

Signing Carlos Santana was such a mistake. The Phillies handed the aging first baseman with limited power a $60 million, three-year contract as a free agent this past off-season. This, when they already had that position answered for the long term with power-hitting Rhys Hoskins.

The Phillies need to recognize this mistake for what it was quickly, move Santana to anyone willing to eat a piece of that contract, and put Hoskins back at first base where he belongs. Toronto, Minnesota, and Colorado might fit the bill.

The second difficult move that the Phillies brain trust needs to make happen is also on the right side of their infield: a trade of second baseman Cesar Hernandez. He has always had empty offensive numbers, but right now is in his prime and playing well.

Some team (the LA Dodgers?) with a need and aspirations of contending might be willing to part with a half-decent pitching prospect (Dennis Santana? Dustin May? Caleb Ferguson?) for the 28-year old.
In my "Bold" plan, the Phillies would deal
both Santana (L) and Hernandez (R)

This would make room for Scott Kingery to get to his natural position of second base, where he is clearly the future at the position. Putting Hoskins and Kingery out as the regular, everyday starters at their natural positions should result in them becoming more comfortable. I believe it would result in increased offensive production and consistency from both players.

These moves would also result in clarifying the starting outfield roles for the time being. Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, and Nick Williams become the starting outfield from left to right. This youngish trio should have the opportunity to grow and show what they can do against all pitching over an extended period of time.

The left side of the infield needs to be Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford - again, for the time being. Both players are still young enough, Crawford obviously so, that they need to be playing in secure, everyday roles. We'll get to the "for the time being" situation later in this piece.

The next move is to formalize what everyone already seems to know is the best move at the closer position: formally anoint Seranthony Dominguez to the role.

Also in the bullpen, give Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano key late innings roles. Move veterans Hector Neris, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia, and Adam Morgan to the earlier 6th and 7th inning roles.