Matt Klentak made several moves this past offseason in an attempt to improve the team’s future. Not in the more obvious ways of signing a franchise player or trading for a building block, but in acquiring short term, low risk players. The hopes were that at least a few of these players would assert their trade value in the first half of the season in order to be flipped for future assets. A defensible strategy given that even if one of these players didn’t perform well, they would both help the Phillies draft earlier and no longer be around next year. When a team is rebuilding, you have a larger margin for error.
Some of the players acquired didn’t pan out (Buchholz, Saunders), but there are others that look to be extremely desirable as trade deadline draws nearer. Chief among these – a resurgent Howie Kendrick, who has a career high 143 wRC+ (previous career high wRC+: 123 in 2011). For players with at least 130 PA, Kendrick’s wRC+ ranks 30th out of 295. Despite the extremely positive contributions with the bat and OK work with his glove, his legs are doing their damnedest to take all of that value away.
The problem is two-fold. First – Howie Kendrick is not fast. This is not some baseless observation, either. On Tuesday, Statcast released a sprint speed page that documents the top speeds for every major leaguer. (Spoiler: Billy Hamilton is the fastest player in baseball. Albert Pujols is the slowest.) This page includes team-by-team and position-by-position breakdowns. Here’s what left field looks like. The red dot is who you think it is.
Among the Phillies, there are only two full time players slower than Kendrick – Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp. Surprise! Catchers and first basemen are slow!
The second problem – he isn’t using the little speed he has wisely. Despite being slower than Maikel Franco, Andrew Knapp (CATCHER), Freddy Galvis, and Aaron Altherr, he has more stolen base attempts than all of those players combined (in only 134 PA!). Unsurprisingly, he has been caught stealing in 3 out of his 11 attempts (A not-great SB% of 72%). Phillies first base coach Mickey Morandini needs to give Kendrick a talking to about his impractical plan.
Stolen bases are one way to get an idea about a player’s base running value, but we can do better. At this point, you’ve probably heard of WAR (wins above replacement). It’s an all-in-one stat that attempts to capture a player’s value by lumping together fielding, hitting, and base running into one number. BsR (base running) is the base running component of WAR. You can read more about it on FanGraphs, but to summarize – BsR looks at how often a player takes the extra base, grounds into double plays, steals a base, gets caught stealing…all of the ways in which a player can add (or detract) value on the basepaths. The sprint numbers we looked at earlier correlate with BsR. Howie is, once again, the dubious red dot on the graph.
On a rate basis, there hasn’t been a worse base runner in all of baseball. This hasn’t completely destroyed his offensive value, but there is some cause for concern – his offense is being propped up by a sky-high .452 BABIP (behind only Ben Gamel of the Mariners, a player I am just now aware of existing). Statcast agrees that a regression is coming – his xBA is 0.291, 70 points below what it currently sits at. I’m a firm believer in larger samples when looking toward future performance, and for his career Kendrick has been a neutral base runner. If (when) his BABIP takes a step backward, a step forward on the basepaths will help both his trade value and the franchise’s future.
- Game 69: Loss, 1-8. The Phillies and the Cardinals were knotted up at 1-1 through 10 quick innings. The bottom of the 9th and entirety of the 10th were especially efficient, taking a total of 28 pitches to record 9 outs with no hits or walks allowed (Perspective: Keep that up for 9 innings and you have an 84 pitch perfect game). When Edubray Ramos came in to pitch the 11th, nobody had an idea as to how bad things would get. Likewise, Ramos had no idea where the strike zone was – of the 9 pitches he threw en route to issuing two free passes, only one found the zone. In 2017, there have been 416 pitcher appearances that lasted either 8 or 9 pitches. Of those 416, only 5 times did a pitcher manage to walk 2 batters (1.2%). Two of these five pitchers were sent down or released after their 9 pitch/2 BB game. In the Phillies case, all they can do is helplessly shrug and hope that Ramos’s next outing goes more smoothly (which would be hard not to do). Ramos was pulled in favor of Casey Fien, who did not fare any better – Fien gave up two homers, a double, and by the time the book had closed on the inning, the once tied game was now a 7-run deficit. Once again, Phillies baseball was must-watch TV – just not for the reasons they wanted.
- Game 70: Loss, 6-7. Did I say it’d be hard for Ramos to not do better? Because he managed to do just that. To reprise his 9 pitch, 2 walk appearance, Ramos demonstrated his versatility by melting down in an entirely different way. Once again the Phillies were tied up in the 10th inning, and Ramos was handed the ball. A leadoff double and a balk later, and the Cardinals had the go-ahead run on third with no outs. Ramos then recorded an out via strikeout, which would end up being his only one of the series (opponents recorded an .800 OBP against him). He intentionally walked Dexter Fowler to set up the double play, and did something unexpected. Sometimes, the unexpected is good – a trick play to catch a runner off-guard, a fastball when the batter is sitting on offspeed, a Nintendo Switch sitting on the store shelf instead of a blank space. This was not one of those times, as the unexpected was an attempted pick-off by Ramos that was instead airmailed to a fan in section 113. The runner on third scored, and the Phillies went quietly in the bottom of the 10th. At the end of the year, this game will be blend in as one of the 100+ losses the Phillies piled up, but for now I will be amazed at the number of different ways the Phillies are managing to lose.
- Game 71: Win, 5-1. The Phillies led this game the entire way on the strength of Aaron Nola’s pitching. Nola went 7.1 innings with 8 K’s and 2 BB’s. Offensively, Tommy Joseph led the way with his 11th home run of the season (one behind team leader Aaron Altherr).
- Game 72: Win, 6-1. Back-to-back victories. Outscoring their opponents 11-2. Only 1 run given up by the bullpen. Who is this team? Props to Mark Leiter – his first major league start was a solid 6 innings and no runs allowed. Also interesting to note – Tommy Joseph hit his 12th homer of the season. That’s his 2nd in two days after a 70 PA home run drought.
- Game 73: Loss, 2-9. If you haven’t been paying attention (and who could blame you), you might’ve missed that Michael Saunders and Jeanmar Gomez were released, with Cam Perkins and Hoby Milner taking their places respectively. Perkins has batted leadoff every game from June 21 to June 25, tallying 2 hits and striking out 34.8% of the time. Hoby Milner has pitched two games and by WAR has already outperformed 7 other relievers by nature of not sucking yet. This is the current state of the Phillies.
- Game 74: Loss, 1-2. Jeremy Hellickson struck out a season high 7 batters and only allowed one run, but the offense hung him out to dry, scattering 9 hits and scoring 1 run. For the third time in a week the game went to extra innings, the Phillies turned to Ramos, and Ramos blew the game and took the L. Ramos traded in those three L’s for three A’s, as he was optioned to Lehigh Valley on Monday.
Around the League Round-Up
- The Atlanta Braves have created the coolest between innings entertainment maybe ever. It’s called “Beat the Freeze”. A fan is given a 100 foot head start in a race around the warning track before the Freeze crushes hopes and dreams. Shakespeare only wrote five act plays because .gif’s like this didn’t exist yet.
- Joe Maddon defended it, but that doesn’t change that this slide by Anthony Rizzo was totally illegal. No discipline for this play, either.
- Someone put together a list of what teams will travel the most in 2017. The Phillies are in 9th, which doesn’t include their trips to purgatory.
- Aaron Judge.
- I love the Phanatic, but it wouldn’t hurt to have pups on the field too.
The good news – The Phillies have won more games in June than May!
The bad news – They’ve only won 7 games (29.2%, a 47 win pace over 162)
The ugly news – In order to reach 70 wins, the Phillies would need to play the rest of the season as well as the Cleveland Indians have played.
87 games left. It’s a long season.