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Why Burnett Works in CBP

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Thu, February 13, 2014 07:48 AM Comments: 29

When Phillies Nation posted the news of the Phillies signing of A.J. Burnett to our Facebook page yesterday, it was met with two responses: the wildly original and hilarious “another player to play in Senior Citizen’s Bank park!” response and the “why did the Phillies sign a pitcher when they have a horrible offense?” counter question. I have got no response for the first one other than that Burnett has had two of the best seasons of his career in 2012 and 2013 and that age probably won’t be a factor for him in 2014. The second question has some legitimate depth to it and it is worth exploring.

While everyone assumes the quickest route to fixing the Phillies is through its offense, the tricky part is what spot do you improve? Four-fifths of the Phillies infield is currently locked under some sort of long-ish contract (think Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz) or protected by no trade clauses (think Jimmy Rollins) and the fifth spot, third base, is the one spot in the infield where the Phillies have a young player worth giving a shot. In the outfield, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere are two young players worth giving a shot to develop and the other corner, right field, is occupied by Marlon Byrd for two years. So even though the Phillies had the 26th best offense in baseball last year, 14th in the National League,  there just isn’t a whole lot of spaces to add offensive production.

So the Phillies, presumably sensing an opportunity, or reacting to the news that Cole Hamels is behind schedule, added a pretty good pitcher to a suddenly barren rotation. Despite having Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels healthy for the entire season in 2013, the Phillies ranked 25th in ERA, 10th in FIP, and 13th in xFIP, while ranking 15th in K/9 IP and 13th in GB%. Burnett is an instant upgrade to all of those metrics.

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Amaro’s Comments to ESPN Turn Some Heads

Posted by Kenny Ayres, Thu, January 30, 2014 02:00 PM Comments: 50

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Amaro has high expectations for 2014 and thinks the fans may as well. Photo: Philly.com

Ruben Amaro Jr. has raised some eyebrows with some of the things he has said during the Phillies’ dismal past two seasons, but his comments on Monday take the cake.

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com posted a story about the Phillies in which he extensively quoted Amaro, and a few of his comments are real head-scratchers.

Per Crasnick’s article:

“I can’t worry about whether I’m going to be the GM after this year or 15 years down the road,” he said. “What’s important is for me to do what I can do for the betterment and success of the organization both short- and long-term. I believe in my instinctive ability to put together a winning and a championship club. I will always believe that. And I believe in our players.

“It’s funny, because what I read and what I get when I speak to people in public are different. Maybe people are uncomfortable telling me what they really think, but I feel really great support from our fans. I’m hopeful most of the stuff you get on blogs and the Internet is kind of a loud minority, but who knows? Maybe because I’m the GM, but I’m more bullish about our club than what you read about on the Internet or hear sometimes on the radio.” Continue reading Amaro’s Comments to ESPN Turn Some Heads

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Tender Frustration and Finding Upside

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, December 04, 2013 08:56 AM Comments: 33

The deadline for tendering contracts has passed and the Phillies have elected to bring back John Mayberry, Kevin Frandsen and Kyle Kendrick. Both Mayberry and Frandsen were solid bets to get non-tendered. Their salaries were likely to outweigh their contributions and there were better uses for Frandsen’s $900K and Mayberry’s $1-$1.5 million.

The Phillies should have non-tendered Mayberry.

That adds up to $2-$2.5 million for two 30+ year old reserves who hit something like .230/.285/.370 last season. Amaro defended his decision by citing their versatility and said there was never any thought to non-tendering either player. There should have been plenty of thought to that effect as Frandsen defined the replacement level while Mayberry fell below.

Mayberry was serviceable when he made the league minimum and showed flashes of being able to hold down a semi-regular role. Those days are gone. He has no upside. He is not going to break out a la Jayson Werth.

Frandsen had a terrific 2012 season driven by a .366 BABIP and he was worth bringing back last year to see if he really had improved. He ended up posting very similar walk, strikeout and isolated power rates but his BABIP fell closer to his career average. His offensive production predictably plummeted. He has no upside. His 2012 campaign was a fluke.

While both players may be versatile, there was absolutely no reason for the Phillies to bring them back. For a team with so much money concentrated in select spots, finding value players with upside is integral to short- and long-term success.

For this Phillies team, two of the spots to use on value players with upside are the ones that Mayberry and Frandsen will once again occupy.

Some have questioned the Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz deals but this is the headscratching decision of the Phillies’ offseason so far.

By bringing back Mayberry and Frandsen the Phillies are exhibiting zero creativity and further illustrating their faulty means of evaluating talent. Whether to retain Kendrick is more complicated but committing to Mayberry and Frandsen is problematic.

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Should the Phillies Consider Selling High On Brown?

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, September 18, 2013 08:00 AM Comments: 31

Domonic Brown entered the season with the promise of regular playing time and promptly delivered all-star caliber production. He hit a robust .290/.326/.613, with 18 homers, during May and June and had a .274/.321/.545 batting line at the end of that stretch. He was finally delivering on his potential and showing why he was untouchable in past deals.

He took major strides forward offensively this season and could have approached 35 home runs if not for a couple nagging injuries. He sacrificed some patience for power, walking just 6.4% of the time, compared to 11.9% in 2011 and 9.9% last season. However, that trade-off was very much necessary, as injuries depleted the Phillies lineup and left him the only serious power threat for much of the year.

Despite his offensive improvement, Brown has only produced 1.7 WAR this year. He has never rated positively in the field and his -7 fielding mark eats away at his bat’s value. Switching positions and lacking consistent playing time in the majors from 2010-12 plays a role, but it’s hard to attribute all of his fielding woes to those circumstances.

He figures to play 140 games this season at 2 WAR. That equates to league average performance over almost a full season, which has value, especially considering his meager salary. He’ll be 27 years old next year, which is the point that players typically begin their peak, so he’s no longer a young prospect finding his way. Aside from that torrid stretch in May and June, he has hit similarly to his batting lines in 2011-12. That isn’t bad, in and of itself, but it invites the question of Brown’s true talent level.

As the Phillies look to retool their roster, it’s interesting to wonder whether Brown might benefit them more as a trade chip than as a building block. He is young and cheap enough to attract suitors and is major league ready. Retooling teams don’t often trade talented and cost-controlled assets, but in Brown’s case it’s worth asking whether the team would be selling high by pursuing a trade this offseason. If the answer is yes, should the Phillies consider unloading Brown while the iron is hot?

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Revisiting Our Offseason Plans

Posted by Eric Seidman, Fri, September 13, 2013 09:00 AM Comments: 9

Last November, Pat Gallen, Corey Seidman, Ian Riccaboni and I separately presented our roster plans for the 2013 Phillies. None of us truly believed the Phillies were a contender, but with our suggested acquisitions and some positive breaks, they might have a shot. With only a few weeks left in the season it seems as good a time as any to review our plans.

It’s interesting to note that the four of us agreed on an awful lot – we collectively selected 17 of the 25 roster spots. This was indicative of the few areas the Phillies could toy with. On one hand, agreement on 68% of the roster could suggest that the Phillies didn’t need to alter chunks of the roster or dole out even more lucrative deals. On the other hand, several of those 17 players were already signed to lucrative deals that could have prevented the team from properly filling the remaining spots.

Our starting rotations were identical across the board: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley. These plans were published prior to Worley’s trade to Minnesota, but, at that time, we all felt the Phillies rotation was set. They didn’t need to go out and sign a Dan Haren or Ryan Dempster. If the big three were healthy, and Kendrick continued improving, the rotation was solid.

We also agreed on Carlos Ruiz as the primary catcher with Erik Kratz backing him up. Chooch was coming off of his best season and it was a no-brainer to exercise his meager club option. Kratz, while not that solid of a defender, had hit for enough power to merit the backup role. It didn’t make sense to have one of the prospects back Ruiz up since consistent playing time is integral to their development.

Though there were question marks surrounding the infield triumvirate’s ability to remain both healthy and effective, we all agreed on Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins at their respective positions. Freddy Galvis, Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf and John Mayberry all made our teams as well, with Brown as a clear starter and Ruf getting more playing time than Galvis and Mayberry. It was also abundantly clear that Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t going anywhere, and our bullpens all included Antonio Bastardo and Jeremy Horst.

Third base, however, was the first area in which we really presented different plans.

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Chooch and the Qualifying Offer

Posted by Eric Seidman, Fri, September 06, 2013 11:14 AM Comments: 20

The Phillies have a multitude of roster-related problems to solve this offseason, as Ian Riccaboni pointed out, but the catching situation is perhaps the most interesting. Carlos Ruiz is set to become a free agent, and while his early struggles rendered his return less likely, his .330/.375/.536 line since August 1 makes him an attractive option. While prospects Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle have disappointed, Cameron Rupp earned a September call-up, Gabriel Lino posted decent context-neutral numbers in Low-A as a 20-year old, and the Phils are very high on second-round pick Andrew Knapp.

It’s possible that Rupp or Knapp seizes the catching reins as soon as 2015 but that still leaves next year as a question mark. While the Phillies have been major players in free agency in recent years, the upcoming catching crop is fairly thin, and is loaded with career backups. Trades for starting catchers are also fairly rare.

Everything considered, the ideal situation is to retain Carlos Ruiz on a short-term basis.

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Them Cheatin’ Phillies

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Mon, August 05, 2013 05:46 PM Comments: 8

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As you all know, Phillies left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo accepted a 50-game suspension today for his involvement with Biogenesis, a sports nutrition firm now known for producing and selling banned substances to Major League Baseball players. The series of suspensions are unprecedented: players were confronted with overwhelming evidence and accepted suspensions instead of being suspended for failing tests.

And as you all may also know, I went on record in the winter that the Phillies should have explored signing Alex Rodriguez in the event he would have had his contract with the New York Yankees voided and that I was very disappointed that no players from the supposed Steroid Era of baseball were elected to the Hall of Fame this year. I am not a steroid apologist or a defender of those who used steroids. I will never use the phrase “everyone was doing it” but I do believe the epidemic was and likely is too expansive to include or exclude players in the Hall of Fame.

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Howard’s Contract Isn’t Going Anywhere

Posted by Eric Seidman, Fri, July 19, 2013 11:00 AM Comments: 26

A sunk cost generally refers to money that has already been committed that should not factor into the decision-making process moving forward. The monetary commitment can’t be undone and therefore should not represent any type of deterrent to other decisions that could positively impact the organization. In certain terms, however, a sunk cost can refer to an unmovable commitment, even if future cash outflows are required, if there is virtually no way of recovering the costs.

Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract is a sunk cost.

Regardless of his health or performance issues, the Phillies simply won’t be able to remove the contract from the books in a manner that actually benefits them. It’s unlikely that the severity of his injury could result in an insurance settlement down the road and it’s hard to fathom any team taking him in a trade unless the Phillies covered 95%-100% of the cost. Even at that point, Howard’s relative struggles and injury risk will prevent the Phillies from acquiring a worthwhile player or prospect in a trade. The contract is signed, the money is guaranteed, and the player isn’t going anywhere.

One idea that has been floated around recently is a restructuring of the deal that defers a chunk of the contract beyond its current expiration date. Some fans have suggested this as a mutually beneficial outcome that helps the Phillies in the short-term while honoring their commitment to a franchise face. But I’m struggling to grasp why Howard would agree to such a buyout and why the Phillies would want to commit to a relatively astronomical interest rate on deferral to make it worth Howard’s while.

The Mets famously did something similar with Bobby Bonilla over a decade ago. Bonilla had one year and $5.9 million left on his contract in 2001 and, in knowing the Mets financial difficulties, agreed to a restructuring that that resulted in a 25-yr, $29.8 million deferral. There was supposedly another part of the deal that brings the total deferred amount Bonilla will receive to $42 million long after the days that even current Mets players have retired. These cases are rare, and assuming the Phillies would have to use a high interest rate to entice Howard into this type of buyout, it would mean committing even more money on a bad contract when the team isn’t really in a bind.

Ryan Howard isn’t going anywhere. The time has come to accept this as fact and discuss ways to make the best of the situation instead of conjuring up hypothetical means of jettisoning an albatross.

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Pulling the Plug On Delmon Young

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, June 19, 2013 01:30 PM Comments: 0

The Phillies’ signing of Delmon Young was met with mostly negative reviews. It wasn’t the money as much as the notion that the front office and manager considered Young a legitimate everyday starter. Young wasn’t signed to play in a platoon. He was brought here to provide right-handed power behind Ryan Howard. The problem is that he has never really been all that powerful, and whatever power he does possess is canceled out by abysmal fielding and below average baserunning. From an overall value standpoint, Young has little to none, as is evidenced by his career -1.1 WAR.

He wasn’t even an upgrade over players already rostered, either — his numbers have been bested by John Mayberry over the last few seasons. Mayberry isn’t just an upgrade in the field and on the bases either. He has better numbers at the plate too.

Save for the 2010 season, when Young hit a career-high 21 homers and tallied 1.6 WAR — still below what’s considered the league-average threshold — he has been either replacement level or below every year. Here are his WAR totals since 2007: 0.0, -0.8, -1.1, 1.6, 0.0, -0.9, and he is currently at -0.8.

Approaching the midpoint of the season it is time for the Phillies to cut ties with Young as an everyday player. If the team wants to use him against lefties in a platoon role, or as a designated hitter in a road interleague series, fine, but he should not be viewed any more favorably than Mayberry, Laynce Nix or Kevin Frandsen. And while I know some are tired of hearing Nate Schierholtz‘s name around these parts, Young is also vastly worse than the player the Phillies simply non-tendered; the player who makes slightly more than Young this season and currently leads the Cubs in WAR.

It’s time to either get rid of Young or permanently relegate him to part-time duty. The Phillies have too many holes in this lineup to consistently allocate playing time to a player whose perception far outweighs his contributions.

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Mayberry, Revere and the Starting CF Post

Posted by Eric Seidman, Thu, June 06, 2013 08:27 AM Comments: 57

The Phillies trade of Shane Victorino last season left a gaping hole in centerfield heading into the 2013 campaign. With a bevy of free agent centerfielders available, and even more available via trade, the Phillies stood to shore up the position for years to come. While I argued for the likes of Peter Bourjos, Angel Pagan or Denard Span, the Phillies opted to acquire Ben Revere, a young, speedy, team-controlled outfielder still approaching his prime. The move was met with mixed reviews. Some were scared off by his utter lack of power while others were fans of his defense, baserunning and potential.

By the end of April, most fans were ready to throw in the towel on the Revere experiment, as his weaknesses were magnified and his strengths didn’t look that strong. He was hitting .200 with a .234 on-base percentage in an everyday role. He hit into more double plays than are typically associated with a speedster and failed to beat out dribblers and infield grounders. While his range proved solid up the middle, it wasn’t exemplary, and was at least partly canceled out by his arm. Revere simply wasn’t playing good baseball and was a big reason for the Phillies slow start.

John Mayberry, Jr got off to a much better start, hitting .242/.324/.470 in April, while playing adequate defense at the most important outfield post. As fans grew tired of Revere’s struggles, and the general approach that led to his lack of productivity, many gravitated towards Mayberry as the everyday starter.

But then something funny happened – Revere gradually started hitting well while Mayberry’s power was sapped. From May 1-June 3 — prior to Tuesday night’s dramatic walkoff win — Revere hit .300/.344/.344 while Mayberry hit .280/.308/.300. Yes, Revere actually outslugged Mayberry for over a month. Two extra inning home runs for Mayberry, coupled with Revere’s 0-5 on Tuesday, shifted the paradigm but this comparison offers yet another reminder of why decisions shouldn’t be based on small sample sizes when much more tangible evidence about true talent levels exist.

Who the Phillies should start in centerfield isn’t a cut and dried decision, as listeners of 94.1 WIP felt Wednesday morning, when 69% voted for Mayberry. Rather, it depends upon the organization’s goals and a realistic team projection, which may prove difficult for a front office that may undergo significant changes moving forward.

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