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Phillies Nation Player Review: Darin Ruf

Posted by Alex Lee, Wed, November 06, 2013 04:16 PM Comments: 51

Despite launching 14 homers in three months in 2013, Darin Ruf again finds his future in Philadelphia uncertain.

Despite launching 14 homers in three months in 2013, Darin Ruf again finds his future in Philadelphia uncertain.

For the second straight season, Darin Ruf did all he could in his time with the Phillies to dispel the notion that his 38 AA homers in 2012 were some sort of fluke. In September of that year, he launched three bombs in 33 at-bats with the big club. He got a much longer look this season and didn’t disappoint, posting an .806 OPS and all but cementing himself a roster spot next spring.

Ruf bashed 14 home runs and knocked in 30 runs in just under three months with the Phils this summer, compiling a slash line of .247/.348/.458 over 73 games that were split between first base and the outfield. Ruf certainly has his warts. But he also has 17 big league home runs in 284 at-bats with the Phils, leading many to consider a reality in which the immense power he flashed in Reading that magical summer might be real.

Now… about those warts. Ruf, already 27, is essentially a man without a position. With Ryan Howard manning first base for at least the next three years, Ruf must play passable defense at a corner outfield spot to keep his bat in the line-up. Ruf is a liability in the outfield and, from what I saw this year, is also pretty shaky defensively at his “natural” position of first base. The only good news on this front is that the outfield is a new endeavor for Ruf, and he improved enough in a year for the Phillies to tolerate his defensive shortcomings out there for 40-plus games in 2013. There have also been whispers that Ruf could see time at first in some sort of platoon with Howard during the 2014 season. Continue reading Phillies Nation Player Review: Darin Ruf

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Phillies Nation Player Review: Cody Asche

Posted by Alex Lee, Sat, October 19, 2013 06:00 AM Comments: 26

Cody Asche is the favorite to start at third base for the Phillies in 2014. (AP Photo)

Cody Asche is the favorite to start at third base for the Phillies in 2014. (AP Photo)

A miserable late September stretch tarnished what was otherwise an impressive major league debut for 23-year-old Cody Asche in 2013.  Asche, who manned the hot corner for the Phils in August and September, finished the season hitting .235/.302/.389 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 162 at bats.  In the minors, Asche hit .295/.352/.485 with 15 bombs and 68 RBIs in 404 at bats at AAA Lehigh Valley.

His final numbers with the big club are somewhat in line with what many expected at the major league level from Asche, who was a nice prospect but not one widely expected to be an impact major leaguer.  However, they also don’t tell the entire story.  As of September 15, Asche was the owner of .271/.338/.457 slash line.  He had displayed a good glove at third and his short, quick swing from the left side of the plate had optimists making Chase Utley comparisons.

Asche then proceeded to close out the season on a 3 for 33 slide, dramatically dropping his numbers across the board.  So what was the reason behind his slump?  The answer to that question is critical in determining how big a role Asche will play in the future of this team.  Did major league pitching just catch up to him, causing a regression to the level many thought was his destiny?  Or was it simply fatigue that set in for a player who was playing college ball only two years ago?

Ryne Sandberg subscribed to the latter theory in September, anointing Asche as the favorite to start the 2014 season at third base for the Phillies.  Courtesy of Matt Gelb at the Inquirer, the Phillies’ skipper said:

“He’s proven defensively he can play third base.  And I think his bat has played.  He’s shown a good steady bat.  I think down the stretch it’s turned into a little bit of a long season for him possibly.  I understand that.  But the work ethic and the quality swing for a young guy like that is pretty good.”

Asche earned the nod from Sandberg with his 2013 performance, albeit only two months.  While the Utley comparisons are ridiculous – Chase is a once in a generation type of talent – Asche definitely has a good-looking swing and showed enough pop to suggest his bat might play at third in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park.  If you’re the type that trusts defensive metrics, you may have some concerns over Asche’s fielding ability (they’re not good).  But as Sandberg indicated, he looked competent over there and, at least for me, passed the eye test defensively.

Assuming the Phillies don’t add an impact third baseman in free agency or via trade, Asche will probably be the guy in 2014.  Maikel Franco is deservedly a heralded prospect now after a huge season in the minors, but he is only 21 and is the type of raw talent that could use more seasoning.  The free agent landscape at third looks pretty bleak, as usual, and the Phils can’t really afford to be trading away what little young talent they have for a significant upgrade – making a full season from Asche the most likely scenario.  As Gelb indicated, Asche would be the first homegrown player to start at third base for the Phillies on opening day since Scott Rolen in 2002.  If that happens, we should find out exactly what we have in the former Nebraska Cornhusker.

Grade: B+.  Asche was well on his way to an A before his dreadful end to the season.  While his statistics aren’t all that impressive in their final form, I still give him a B+ simply because I thought his future was either as a second division player or a bench guy on a good team.  But to me, he showed the potential for more in his two months.  Maybe his final 33 at bats are a red flag, maybe not… we will see.  Either way, he earned a longer look for me and it sounds like he is going to get it in 2014.

The bigger problem here is that, while Asche is a nice piece, he probably doesn’t have the talent to become the type of impact bat that the Phillies desperately need to contend again.  Such is life when you have star-level money tied up in players that are no longer stars.  Additionally, Asche’s presence in the lineup means six of the seven projected regulars will either be left-handed or only useful from the left side of the plate (I’m looking at you Jimmy).  That number assumes Darin Ruf is a starter and would drop to six of eight if the Phillies re-sign Carlos Ruiz or add a different right-handed hitting catcher.  Obviously, none of this is Asche’s fault… so for now let’s just hope that he emerges in 2014 as the guy that will permanently fill a position that has been a black hole for the Phillies for over a decade now.

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Phillies Nation Player Review: Cliff Lee

Posted by Alex Lee, Wed, October 16, 2013 02:30 PM Comments: 13

Cliff Lee was in elite form throughout 2013. (AP Photo)

Cliff Lee was in elite form throughout 2013. (AP Photo)

While it’s hard to justify paying any player on a 73-win team $25 million in retrospect, Cliff Lee made about as good of a case for it as possible this season for the Phillies.  The lefty, who turned 35 in August, was the anchor of the Phils rotation from start to finish, posting an ERA over 3.23 in only one month; an injury-plagued July in which he was skipped twice in the rotation and had an ERA of 6.05 in three starts in the midst of daily trade rumors.

Lee’s performance in 2013 put to bed any notion that his six-win “down year” in 2012 was the start of an age-based decline, instead validating the claim that he was the victim of poor run support and bad luck.  Still owed at least $62.5 million over the next two years — $77.5 million over three if his 2016 option kicks in – some (me included) advocated moving Lee, the Phillies best asset, at the deadline in exchange for pieces that might help build the foundation of the next Phillies contender.  The Phillies set the price high on Lee, as they should have, and chose to hang onto the left-hander in an attempt to contend this past season and beyond.

In 2013, Lee finished the season 14-8 with a sparkling ERA of 2.87 (sixth in NL) and WHIP of 1.01 (fourth in the NL), both of which are well below his career averages and figure to garner at least some love for him in the vote for the NL Cy Young award.  It was the third best full-season ERA of his career (2008 & 2011) and the second best WHIP (2010).  Lee struck out 222 hitters and walked only 32, all while continuing to field his position at a high level and provide above-average contributions with his bat.  His strikeout percentage of 25.3 percent and his ridiculous walk percentage of 3.7 percent remain elite – he ranked first among starters in baseball in BB/9 and first in K/BB (by a lot). Continue reading Phillies Nation Player Review: Cliff Lee

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Phillies Nation Player Review: John Lannan

Posted by Alex Lee, Fri, October 11, 2013 12:30 PM Comments: 17

John Lannan is likely to be non-tendered by the Phillies after an injury plagued season (Photo: AP).

John Lannan is likely to be non-tendered by the Phillies after an injury plagued season (Photo: AP).

After five-plus seasons of watching John Lannan pitch against their team a handful of times each year, Phillies fans were right to be wary when Ruben Amaro inked the soft-tossing lefty last December to a one-year deal worth at least $2.5 million.  At his best, Lannan is a mediocre pitcher and the Phillies faithful had essentially seen it firsthand; Lannan had made 19 career starts against the Phils, still his most against any team.

The 29-year-old was signed to provide stability as the fifth starter in a rotation that looked pretty good at the top.  After all, the southpaw had racked up at least 180 innings in five straight seasons — majors and minors — to the tune of a 4.01 ERA for the Nationals.  Not too bad on the surface, right?  But like so many things these past two seasons, the Lannan addition went south quick for the Phillies.

Despite the durability he showed throughout his career, Lannan was only able to make 14 starts in 2013 due to injury, which amounted to 74.1 innings.  To put that in perspective, Lannan’s deal included another $2.5 million dollars in incentives that were dependent on his inning total… and his first bonuses would have come at 150 innings and/or 31 starts.

Lannan looked good his first two starts of the season (13 innings, 4 ER), but after he was rocked in his third outing he complained of pain in his left knee and ended up on the disabled list for two months with a quad issue.   He returned in June and was effective for about nine starts (53.1 innings, 21 ER) before his leg issue flared up again and he was shut down in August.  He has since had surgery on his left knee. Continue reading Phillies Nation Player Review: John Lannan

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Phillies Player Review: Justin De Fratus

Posted by Alex Lee, Wed, October 02, 2013 02:30 PM Comments: 4

Did Justin DeFratus convince you he deserves a spot in the Phillies bullpen next year? (AP Photo/David Kohl)

Did Justin DeFratus convince you he deserves a spot in the Phillies bullpen next year?  (AP Photo/David Kohl)

The best thing you can say about the performance of 25-year-old Justin De Fratus in 2013 was that he didn’t give Phillies fans any reason to write him off.  That is hardly high praise, but in a season where the bullpen was an absolute disaster it makes De Fratus one of the few (semi) bright spots.

We detailed the failure of the Phillies bullpen in our player review for Jake Diekman.  While it was also a problematic unit in 2012, fans entered last season with some hope after the Phils inked Mike Adams and added Chad Durbin to go with a young stable of what they thought were high-upside bullpen arms.

So much for that.

Durbin was released by May, Adams was surgery-bound by July and the majority of the up-and-coming arms, outside of the emerging Diekman, flamed out and forced the team to use 21 relievers in 2013.  As of right now, De Fratus is certainly behind Diekman but also well ahead of the group that fell apart.  After being called up from the minors in mid-May, the hard-throwing righty tossed 46.2 big league innings and emerged with a respectable 3.86 ERA and an excellent shot at a job in the team’s bullpen next season.

Granted, De Fratus’ statistical performance leaves much to be desired, which we’ll get to.  But he also exhibited some of the things that had the Phillies excited about him headed into the season.  Predominantly a fastball-slider guy, De Fratus’ average velocity was over 93 miles per hour on his fastball and over 83 miles per hour on his slider.  He clearly has a big arm, at times touching 95, and showed a decent ability to miss bats with a K/9 ratio of 8.10, a number that has room for improvement if you buy into his gaudy minor league strikeout numbers.  He is, after all, only 25 years old and was coming off a 2012 that was filled with elbow problems. Continue reading Phillies Player Review: Justin De Fratus

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Young, Frandsen Key Comeback Win For Phils

Posted by Alex Lee, Fri, August 30, 2013 05:34 PM Comments: 6

Michael Young provided the game-winning hit on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Michael Young provided the game-winning hit on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

The Phillies stormed back from a five-run deficit to beat the Cubs 6-5 at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon in Ryne Sandberg‘s managerial debut in his old stomping grounds.  Michael Young had the decisive hit, a two-out flare into right field in the ninth inning that scored Roger Bernadina and put the Phillies up for good.  The go-ahead single was the exclamation point on a great day for Young.  Starting at third, Young tallied four hits, two RBIs and scored a run.  It was the second time this season the Phillies have come from five behind to win, the first time being on June 14 in Colorado.

The Cubs jumped on a wild and ineffective Roy Halladay early to take a 5-0 lead.  The Phillies offense, behind two big Kevin Frandsen hits, came to life in the sixth and seventh innings while the bullpen shut down the Cubs over the game’s final four innings to seal the win.  Jonathan Papelbon nailed down his 23rd save of the season in the ninth.

DOC ALL OVER THE PLACE AT WRIGLEY

- In short, Halladay looked awful on Friday afternoon in an outing that was very reminiscent of the worrisome starts we saw from him in March and April.  For the day, Doc lasted only five innings, giving up five runs on seven hits and two walks.  He lacked command with all of his pitches, and his fastball sat between 85-87 miles-per-hour throughout the start.  He threw 77 pitches, only 48 of which went for strikes.  Not good.

- While he only gave up one run in the first three innings – an Anthony Rizzo wind-aided home run in the first – Doc was more effectively wild than he was effective in the early going.  Eventually it would catch up with him, as Nate Schierholtz hit a screaming liner over the right field fence to lead off the fourth to make it 2-0.  The Cubs added five more hits and a walk in the next two innings – the biggest of which was a two-run Starlin Castro double – to make it 5-0 through five. Continue reading Young, Frandsen Key Comeback Win For Phils

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Gameday: Phillies (50-61) vs. Cubs (49-62)

Posted by Alex Lee, Fri, August 30, 2013 02:22 PM Comments: 21

39212-cubsPhiladelphia Phillies (61-73) vs. Chicago Cubs (56-77)

RHP Roy Halladay (3-4, 7.81 ERA) vs RHP Jeff Samardzija (8-11, 4.03 ERA)

TIME: 2:20 ET, Wrigley Field
TV: 
Comcast SportsNet
Weather: 89, clear
Media: Twitter and Facebook

Ryne Sandberg returns to Wrigley Field today for the first time ever as a big league manager.  The Hall of Fame second baseman turned Phillies manager spent 15 years on the North Side of Chicago, earning 10 All-Star berths and nine consecutive gold gloves for the Cubs after coming over from the Phillies in a lopsided trade that netted the Phils only Ivan DeJesus.  Wrigley is always a festive atmosphere for day games and today should be no different.  Expect a warm welcome for Ryno, whose No. 23 was retired by the Cubs in 2005.

On the field, today marks the second major league start for Roy Halladay since returning from surgery.  Doc was solid in his first start back last Sunday, surrendering only four hits and two earned runs over six innings and earning the win against the Diamondbacks, which was only his third of the season.  Halladay will become a free agent after the season and has expressed interest in sticking around in Philly.  Each of his remaining starts is critical in determining what the 36-year-old has left in the tank.

The Phils had shown signs of life lately, winning seven of nine before ultimately splitting a four-game series with the Mets.  They’ll look to get back on track this afternoon at Wrigley Field, which tends to be an unpredictable environment for baseball weather-wise.  The forecast calls for sun and temperatures around 90, so if the wind is blowing out this could be an exciting one.  Halladay is opposed by Cubs fireballer Jeff Samardzija, who has tailed off significantly after a promising start to the season.  Samardzija has an ERA over five in July and August.

Lineup: Young 3B, Rollins SS, Utley 2B, Brown LF, Ruiz C, Ruf 1B, Mayberry RF, Bernadina CF, Halladay P

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Gameday Beer: Smithwicks Irish Red Ale

Smithwicks has been around forever yet it never gets old. This red ale is one of the most common Irish brews and is perfect if you are in that Irish mood and want something lighter than a Guinness and a bit more than a Harp lager. It might not jump out at you, but you know that you are going to get a consistently solid beer, and a lot of times, that is enough.

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Lee and Asche Lead Phils Over Mets

Posted by Alex Lee, Mon, August 26, 2013 10:07 PM Comments: 16

Cliff Lee got his 11th win of 2013 on Monday night in New York. (AP Photo)

Cliff Lee got his 11th win of 2013 on Monday night in New York. (AP Photo)

The Phillies beat the Mets, 2-1, at Citifield on Monday night behind a stellar outing from Cliff Lee and a two-run triple by Cody Asche.  Lee was brilliant against a depleted New York lineup that was without third baseman David Wright, earning his 11th win of the season.  He was economical with his pitches (at least until the eighth) and fielded his position well, recording five outs himself on ground balls back to the pitcher.

The Phils’ bats struggled against rookie phenom Zack Wheeler, but Asche’s first career triple provided all the offense Lee would need.  After a Michael Young single and a Darin Ruf walk, Asche launched a 1-0 high fastball into the gap in right field.  It rolled all the way to the fence and Asche ended up on third base.

Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to notch his 22nd save on the year.  It was only the third save opportunity for Papelbon since the All-Star break.  The Phils have now won seven of nine.

VINTAGE CLIFF LEE

- Lee had his best start since May on Monday night, tossing eight innings and allowing only one earned run on five hits.  He faced three batters in six of his first seven innings and retired 10 consecutive hitters heading into the eighth inning.  Lee threw 121 pitches on the night, 84 of which went for strikes.  He struck out seven Mets.  It was Lee’s first win in his last nine starts. Continue reading Lee and Asche Lead Phils Over Mets

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Amaro’s Failures Were Easy to Predict

Posted by Alex Lee, Tue, August 13, 2013 11:00 AM Comments: 85

Avoidable mistakes by Ruben Amaro and the Phillies front office have the future looking bleak (AP Photo).

Avoidable mistakes by Ruben Amaro and the Phillies’ front office have the team’s future looking bleak (AP Photo).

The Phillies finally designated Delmon Young for assignment on Friday, months (if not years) after most of the Delaware Valley realized that he was not only useless in the short term, but was also hurting the club’s long-term prospects by delaying the audition of players that may actually matter to the future of this team, like Darin Ruf.

Three days before that, it was Laynce Nix that was jettisoned from the roster, only 20 months after the Phillies curiously gave the journeyman outfielder a two-year contract.  Nix was a reasonable addition at the time – he was coming off three straight seasons of .700+ OPS as a lefty bat off the bench – but inking a career bench player to a two-year deal in December, regardless of the player, screamed impatience and, to a certain extent, irresponsibility.

The implication here is something David Murphy of the Daily News effectively tackled yesterday: that many of these moves have failed in an unsurprising fashion.  That is, that Young performed like Young was projected to perform and that Nix’s premature exit from Philly simply exemplified why middling bench players don’t typically get two-year deals.  It is this notion that is perhaps the most damning evidence that Ruben Amaro Jr.’s tenure as general manager of the Phillies has taken a turn towards disaster.  And it is painfully clear that Young and Nix represent only the most recent examples.

A month before Amaro inked Nix, he gave Jonathan Papelbon a four-year deal worth more than $50 million, more than anyone had ever given a closer.  With a gaping hole in left field and a struggling offense that was to be without Ryan Howard, Amaro tied up a ridiculous amount of payroll at one of baseball’s most overvalued and unpredictable positions, forfeiting a first round pick in the process.  The reactions to the signing were mixed, albeit with a negative tilt – while most agreed the money was overwhelming, advocates pointed to Papelbon’s track record as evidence that if any closer was worth it, it was Papelbon. Continue reading Amaro’s Failures Were Easy to Predict

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Ruf, Utley and Phils Offense Outslug Cubs

Posted by Alex Lee, Tue, August 06, 2013 10:43 PM Comments: 42

Darin Ruf continued his assault on major league pitching on Tuesday night.

Darin Ruf continued his assault on major league pitching on Tuesday night (AP Photo).

The Phillies playoff hopes are long gone, but fans desperately searching for a reason to keep watching need to look no further than Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf and Cody Asche.  The contracts and lack of production from the Phillies aging offensive core make their development critical for the team’s future, and all three delivered in some way on Tuesday night in a 9-8 comeback win over the Cubs.

The trio of 20-somethings combined for five hits, three runs and four RBIs on the night, bailing out Kyle Kendrick who was mediocre in his six innings of work.  The Phils trailed 4-1 and 5-2, before they stormed back.  Kendrick gave up five runs (four earned) on six hits, and was hurt by two long balls before he settled down.  Chase Utley also had a big night, collecting three hits, two runs and two RBIs.

Jonathan Papelbon was very shaky in the ninth and Brown dropped a routine fly ball in the process, but the Phils were able to escape with their second win in their last 15 games.

PHILS BATS COME ALIVE

- The Phils offense hasn’t showed up like it did tonight since the first game back from the All-Star break, a 13-8 win over the Mets.  They pounded out 13 hits, seven of which went for extra bases, and added a pair of walks.  If young lefty Alex Wood (Sunday night’s opposing starter) was the exact type of pitcher these Phils typically struggle against, hard-throwing righty Edwin Jackson was just the opposite on Tuesday. Continue reading Ruf, Utley and Phils Offense Outslug Cubs

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