Player Watch: the Philadelphia Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies project to be one of the worst teams in all of baseball in 2016 and for good reason. There simply isn’t enough talent at the major league level to be competitive, but with a rebuild in full swing, this is still an exciting team.

Several players are going into their sophomore campaigns, so there is plenty to watch for in the upcoming season. The second-year can be one of the most important developmental seasons for a young player. Let’s look at the players who should determine Philadelphia’s ability to finish better than last place in 2016.

Please note: fWARe = 2015 fWAR extrapolated to 2016 projected PA

Major Players

Maikel Franco, 3B

2015 fWAR: 1.5

2015 fWARe: 2.5

2016 Projected fWAR: 2.6

Maikel Franco’s biggest fault is his defense. His athleticism leaves room for optimism, but Franco has poor range and may be better suited at first base in the future, despite his strong arm. It’s possible adjusting over a full season could make Franco more comfortable and improve his fielding percentage on routine plays (93.8%), but I just don’t think the instincts are there.

Pessimism aside, Franco has the makings of a fantastic hitter. He has great bat speed, is willing to walk (7.8% BB%), and doesn’t show too many glaring weaknesses at the plate. PITCHf/x:

(note, Pitch Values are per-100 pitches)

Pitch-Values wFA/C wFT/C wFC/C wFS/C wSL/C wCU/C wCH/C wSI/C
Maikel Franco 2.26 -0.29 4.15 -2.05 0.98 -0.74 -1.88 4.43
2015 League Average 0.14 0.32 -0.26 -0.26 0.17 0.04 0.00 0.17

One thing that jumps out is Franco’s apparent difficulty with off-speed pitches (splitters and change ups). But with quick hands and great power (.217 ISO), he’s able to handle 4-seam fastballs, cutters, and sinkers very well. Perhaps not coincidentally, Franco has a strong pull tendency. and has trouble with slower pitches like curveballs and change-ups.

franco 1

We can see that when he elevates the ball, Franco uses a greater portion of the field, so his high Pull% is mainly due to the cluster of balls hit between second and third base. Pulling off slower pitches and driving them into the ground may potentially explain his lack of production on curves and change-ups.

Compared to league average, Franco saw a lot of 2-seam fastballs and sliders. Conventional wisdom suggests this could be an effective strategy against a pull-heavy power hitter, but Franco showed some ability to hit sliders. I expect some more curveballs in his future while RHP in particular will continue to challenge him inside with 2-seamers.

All things considered, around 3 WAR is a fair projection with slightly over being more likely.

Aaron Altherr, RF

2015 fWAR: 1.7

2015 fWARe: 4.7

2016 Projected fWAR: 0.6

Altherr made quite a bit of noise in an extended look last year by combining an above average glove with good power and discipline. Over the last 3 years, he really solved the minor leagues, posting a 145 wRC+ in AA in 2015 and a 147 wRC+ following his promotion to AAA. Altherr was then called up to the majors and produced a 124 wRC+.

With an average BABIP (.301) and a strong ISO (.248) keeping his BB% up, Altherr shouldn’t have too much problem buoying his high strikeout rate (25.5%) with a decent average for his type of hitter.

Altherr has a fairly balanced approach, as he tried to use a lot of the field in his 2015 cup of coffee. He hit many line drives (22.4%) and fly balls (37.8%), but had much more success pulling the ball.

aarpn 1

Keeping his GB/FB around the 1.05 mark he posted last year (league average: 1.34) should play well into good power numbers, but more ground balls will really limit Altherr’s value. A SwStr% of 9.6% should help compensate by keep his Ks from trending too far in the wrong direction, but pitchers may exploit his tendency to whiff on off-speed pitches.

aarpn 2

Altherr in fact struggled to get anything going against change-ups (-3.90 wCH/C) and unsurprisingly, splitters as well (-11.26 wFS/C).  I wouldn’t be surprised if pitchers try to keep Altherr from elevating the ball by mixing in more change-ups. 2-seamers and curves gave him less significant trouble, but this all together paints him as a hitter with clear weaknesses.

Although few players find much success hitting behind in the count, Altherr hit an abysmal .160 when behind or even in the count (discounting first pitch production), suggesting that he’s a bit easier to take advantage of than more established players because of something like a still developing sense of pitch recognition.

That said, I think 0.6 fWAR is still really selling him short. He could be a solid, 2 or 3 WAR right fielder in 2016.

Vincent Velasquez, SP

2015 fWAR: 1.0

2015 fWARe: 1.4

2016 Projected fWAR: 1.2

Primarily a fastball pitcher, Velasquez is going to have to better utilize all of his pitches to be successful over a full season. When a player jumps from AA to the majors, then splits 55 IP between starting and relieving, you can’t put too much stock into his numbers.

But Velasquez has the ability to rather easily earn the 5th starter job in Philadelphia. Just by pitching more innings, he should fairly easily eclipse his projected 1.2 fWAR over 75 IP, but Velasquez’s production should sway greatly with his use of breaking balls, and likely more consistency on the road.

Other than continuing to strike guys out, Velasquez was a much different pitcher on the road. Advanced stats aside, his Home vs. Away BB/9 is quite telling. At home, Velasquez walked just 2.14 per 9 while he walked 5.32 per 9 on the road. His fastball location was a bit less consistent on the road, but not enough to suggest he just lost the ability to pitch on the road.

Given that he rarely used sliders against LHB, rarely threw change-ups to RHB, and threw either a fastball or curveball about 85% of the time last year, let’s focus on the curve.

velasquez 1velasquez 2

It isn’t a great pitch right now, but he has the right idea, as shown at home on the left. However, he has struggled to execute that plan during away games (right). A simple event breakdown of these same pitches shows that hitters failed to get much going against it at home.

velasquez 3

But on the road, batters took it for a ball more often in addition to decreasing whiffs, fouls and called strikes.

 

velasquez 4

To me, the key for Velasquez is trusting that his slider will better compliment his hard fastball and the curve itself may benefit from being used a little less. To become a true impact arm, Velasquez will have to vastly improve his change-up, but there’s still a lot to like here. Velasquez’s 7.1% HR/FB (league average: 11.6%) should regress and inflate his numbers.

I think he’ll more than prove his ability to start games, even if the end results aren’t stellar.

Other Notable Players

Odubel Herrera, OF

2015 fWAR: 3.9

2015 fWARe: 4.1

2016 Projected fWAR: 1.1

Herrera made a surprisingly successful transition from the AA Frisco RoughRiders (TEX) to the Phillies’ major league club in 2015 as a Rule 5 draft pick. To his credit, Herrera was a good base-runner and covered center field very well, generating 2.1 and 11.7 runs above average, respectively.

But his .387 BABIP resulted in a comparatively lackluster .297 batting average. For comparison, Dee Gordon’s .383 BABIP netted a .333 batting average. The difference mainly lies in Herrera’s tendency to strike out. He posted a 24.0% K% last year and that figure is projected to improve, but he is a bit of a free-swinger, has some trouble making contact, and has a vulnerability to sliders and cutters that could be exploited.

Plate   Discip. O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zonc% SwStr%
Herrera 35.1% 63.5% 48.9% 61.9% 85.4% 76.7% 48.6% 11.6%
’15 LG AVG 30.8% 64.6% 46.9% 63.3% 87.3% 79.0% 47.6% 9.8%
Pitch Values wFA/C wFT/C wFC/C wFS/C wSL/C wCU/C wCH/C wSI/C
Herrera 1.17 0.67 -1.78 -3.61 -1.28 -0.11 0.14 1.95
2015 League Average 0.14 0.32 -0.26 -0.26 0.17 0.04 0.00 0.17

I’ll consider struggling with the splitter to be due to unfamiliarity since Herrera may not have seen many in the minors. Herrera can hit change ups though, which often have similar movement, so he may be likely to improve. What is notable is that Herrera is very much a fastball hitter, hitting 4-seamers, 2-seamers, and sinkers well, but cutters and sliders got the best of him. It’s possible he does not recognize those pitches well, which may contribute to his high O-Swing% and SwStr%.

Something he may have going for him is that he recognized off-speed pitches better as the season when on:

herrera 1

Pitchers may try to exploit his weakness by trying to get to their sliders and cutters more often, but if Herrera can maintain his ability to spray fastballs around and make contact with off-speed pitches, he could limit his exposure to them. Coupled with steady defense in either left or center field, these trends should help Herrera easily outpace his projected fWAR.

Tyler Goeddel, OF

2016 Projected fWAR: -0.1

The Phillies are looking to have consecutive successful Rule 5 draft picks with Goeddel in 2016. He projects to be a more-or-less average fielder after a transition from third base in 2015, so his success will be largely determined by his bat and ability to effectively steal bases.

He hit well in the minors and can take a walk, posting a 122 wRC+ and 9.0% BB% in AA last year. His continued ability to walk as he moved from A-ball to AA suggests he could maintain a closer to league-average rate (7.8% in 2015) than projected, but walk rate is best predicted by its collinear relationship to ISO, so the main focus will be on his ability to drive the ball.

Ultimately, the goal here is to hit well enough to jump Peter Bourjos on the depth chart. Having a defense-first outfielder like Bourjos can work very well for a competitive team with a good lineup, but getting Goeddel as many plate appearances as possible will be more useful in the long run. Meanwhile, Bourjos would profile well in a more traditional fourth-outfielder role.

In each season in the minors he stole between 20 and 30 bases over ~120 games at roughly an effective rate (~75%) per this article from 2011. It’s reasonable to expect this rate to take a slight hit, running against major league catchers, but he could provide a good amount of value on the base paths in stealing bases and taking extra bases.

Keeping the strikeouts in check could be a problem as he’s making the jump up from AA and has had “trouble making contact” before, but he blends good speed with the ability to drive the ball (.141 ISO 2012-2014), so I expect him to become about an average regular left fielder sooner than later, pushing Odubel Herrera back to center field.

Impact Minor-Leaguer

J.P. Crawford, SS

Crawford seems like an obvious pick here. His tools aren’t awe-inspiring, but he is solid or better all around and could easily supplant Freddy Galvis at shortstop right now. The idea, however, is to stick in the majors, so despite his talent Crawford should get a good look in AA and perhaps a call-up to AAA before he debuts.

A strong showing in spring training and a hot start in the minors may have Crawford pushing 400 at-bats in 2016.

Final Thoughts

It should be a miserable season for Phillies fans who like to see the team win, but for fans who also enjoy the players and the game itself, Philadelphia is most certainly a team to watch in 2016. There’s enough upside here to jump the Braves and finish in fourth place, but I expect to see the Phillies in the NL East cellar once again.

Statistics provided by: FanGraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, Highcharts, and baseballsavant.com

Images thanks to: Fox Sports

One thought on “Player Watch: the Philadelphia Phillies

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