Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ho-o-o-ly Cow! Did you see that throw in the in 9th inning Monday night against the Braves?

IF you haven't yet, check it out.

\We know that all the scouting reports and prognosticators said Alfaro could do stuff like this but, still, watching the young catcher's quick development behind the plate this year has been surprising.  I mean, what with all the crap out there, you can't believe anything you read anymore (unless, of course, you read it here.  Everything written here is 100 percent true.  Most of time.  Sorta.  For the most part. Definitely kinda.).

Anyhow, we thought that it was time for a closer look at Alfaro's progress, how he stacks up against the rest of the league and what to expect for the rest of 2018.

Friday, May 4, 2018

5 at #5: the options for a fifth starter

Contributed by Jaro Bruders

Even though he put up less than stellar numbers last year, Jerad Eickhoff will be the Phillies' fifth rotation member when he returns from the DL and rightfully so.  Armed with a big curve-ball and plus control, his first run through the majors might have been the best of the Phillies young starters.

Check out these splits from the first run through the majors.  (Stats are cumulative).

Aaron Nola


Vince Velasquez


Jerad Eickhoff


Right now I'm nearly a hundred percent convinced he will be a 3rd or 4th starter for years to come.

But until he will return (reports say he might be ready by the end of May) the Phillies have to use someone else in the fifth slot and Ben Lively just went down.  From now until the 31st doesn't sound like a whole lot of games, but in a season where a few games might be the difference between making the playoffs or watching the playoffs, this becomes an important situation.

They say it takes 10 starters to get through the rigors of a major league season, so with Eickhoff out, let's look at five options the Phillies have. 

#5 Ben Lively: 

Starting as the fifth man on the opening day roster showed that he probably is the organization's most trusted option. He failed to flash any signs of dominance though and managed to finish six Innings only once this season. At 27 one can not expect a lot of improvement in his stuff, which this year mostly featured a low 90s fastball and a mediocre curveball. The combination of his approach and stuff simply does not have a very high ceiling if he doesn't miraculously start commanding his pitches like Greg Maddux. 

#4 Zach Eflin: 

I was kind of surprised when I learned that Eflin is only 24 years old. Apparently he reached the Majors at 22, which differs my opinion on him a little. He got called up as Lively went down and had a great first start against a less than great Miami offense in which he allowed only three baserunners and one run over six frames. Over the last two years he has basically been the teams emergency starter, starting eleven games in each of them. Both times he posted an ERA around six and struggled to find any consistency. The 6-6/215 right hander had a good start to the season last year in which he pitched five straight quality games but could not carry those results past mid-may. His mid 90's fastball gives him more upside than Lively and due to his youth he still has a shot to develop into a solid Major League starter but with the arrival of guys like Sixto Sanchez, Franklin Kilome, JoJo Romero and Adonis Medina on the horizon, he better hurry.

#3 Tom Eshelman: 

Before the signing of Jake Arrieta a lot of reporters were pegging him as the opening day fifth starter. The 23 year old instead wound up in Lehigh Valley for his second season in AAA. Equipped with below average stuff he has made himself a name with surgical command (almost all articles I read about him used that exact phrase). Surprisingly he didn't even make the 40-man roster so it will be a long way to the Majors if he wants to pitch there this season. Right now I don't see the front office remove a reliever from the 40-man to make place for another starter. So if no one goes to the 60-day DL and Eflin and Lively completely loose their stuff I can't really see him up in Philadelphia this season. Furthermore he had a rough start to the year. His 6.75 ERA is deemed to be a little unlucky by his FIP, but he has been taken deep a lot this April. That is exactly why his ceiling isn't excitingly high either. With his arsenal simply not playing in the middle of the zone, he has to rely on being close to perfect every time on the mound. If he continues to have this amazing command he might end up as a “crafty” righty if there is such a thing. But bottom of the rotation a or Quad-A type appears to be the limit and if he's not pitching well in the minors, we probably don't want to expose him to major league hitters.

#2 Enyel de los Santos: 

The youngest of the bunch (he is 22) came over in the Freddy Galvis trade with the Padres last December and is probably the most promising of the group. His repertoire consists of a mid 90's fastball and a two off speed pitches. He is said to have slightly more command with his curve-ball than his fastball. He throws a lot of strikes but isn't necessarily a contact pitcher. Furthermore he only averages around five innings pitched in the minors which could be a concern going forward. Reading about him reminds me a whole lot of Vince Velasquez which isn't necessarily a good thing since Velasquez is mostly surviving in the big leagues due to his raw stuff rather than his pitching ability.

Why even consider him you ask? Because he has been off to a great start with a 1.40 ERA over 5 starts and appears to have taken a step forward this year according to scouts. Since he isn't on the 40-man roster either I see him facing similar obstacles as Eshelman. He might be the most promising of the near Major League ready starters but I think he needs to proof that he can be consistent in AAA for a while before gets called up.

#1 Plan B is for Bullpen:

I know this isn't really plan B but rather plan F but who doesn't like catchy headlines. Gabe Kapler has emphasized more than enough that he wants to be bold and defy league customs. One of the most open minded organizations, the Tampa Bay Rays (granted they have to try everything with the size of their market) has been employing a four man rotation this season. Major League Baseball implemented an extra four off days into their schedule for the 2018 season, so Kevin Cash and his staff are using those extra days to give their starters regular rest. In their system every off day basically accounts for a start of the fifth starter and then they fill in with bullpen games if there are too many consecutive games to give the starters their usual four day rest. This not only leads to one less starting pitcher needed, it also means they can use Chris Archer three or four times more per season.

If a player is on the DL for let's say a month, the Phillies could use the fifth slot only four times instead of five or six. While Eflin doesn't have the same splits as Leiter regarding the second time through the lineup, he does have significant splits between the first two times and the third time around. With the eight man bullpen Kapler currently employs I think it would be a great fit to use Eflin through lets say the first four and Leiter for the next three. Leiter may only be able to throw in one or two games between those long appearances but I believe the other relievers could pick that up for a month if Velasquez isn't done after four innings every time.

On the other hand this might go against Kapler's preference to use relievers for very short outings. Probably he would not be able to use the same strategy with one man less in the bullpen so I think this option isn't really probable.

For Tampa Bay it turned out alright so far. It is a small sample size but Chirrinos, Yarbrough and Kittredge put together a 4.73 ERA over 32.1 innings in declared bullpen games so far which is right where a lot of fifth starters in the league sit. In Philly it that would only be an advantage of a quarter of a run per game over Lively or Eflin, but they need to squeeze everything out of that spot.

Conclusion: What will they do?

Most likely they will go with Elfin unless he is horrible.  I know this isn't really a popular opinion, but for this season, right now, when games matter, I think he gives us the best shot to win every time the fifth slot comes up. He has the stuff to at least dominate sometimes and is the best player to give experience in the big leagues right now.

The other option we might see is the bullpen game.  To be clear I don't think the bullpen game is a long term option, it is just a way to fill in some starts here and there during this season in which the Rotation is clearly lacking depth behind the first five guys.

This whole situation might be annoying as all fans (including me) want to see the team finally compete for the playoffs again. But right now there simply isn't anyone in the system to replace the amazing production the rotation has given us. 

Anyway, even if you don't want to hear this anymore, we have to be patient. As I mentioned earlier we have amazing pitching prospects in the organization which will arrive in the Majors, with similar starting pitching in place. I am definitely looking forward to it.