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Phillies need to stop using Scott Kingery like a Swiss army knife

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Playing Kingery where he best fits on defense should help fully unlock his impactful offensive potential

 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is time for the Philadelphia Phillies to stop using Scott Kingery like their own organizational Swiss army knife.

Over the course of his first two big-league seasons the Phillies have used Kingery at seven different positions. He has seen action everywhere but at first base and behind the plate.

In his rookie campaign of 2018, Kingery became the starting shortstop and was used at all seven of those positions, including a 1.1 inning stint on the mound.

This past season, Kingery became the starting center fielder, and was used at six different positions by manager Gabe Kapler. At least he didn’t make another mound appearance.

The “Inside Edge” defensive statistics at Fangraphs are a wonderful tool. They take what can be the sometimes difficult to measure defensive values of a player and help better evaluate what is actually happening on the field.

To help make my argument that Kingery is not helping the Phillies at any of the three positions at which he has been most utilized by the club – center field, shortstop, and third base – I examined his performance using those Inside Edge tools.

I also examined the defensive performance of the Phillies incumbent second baseman, Cesar Hernandez, and took a look back at Kingery’s minor league performance when he was last used at that position on a full-time basis.

CENTER FIELD

Kingery saw most of his playing time in center field with the Phillies this past season. He appeared there in 479.1 innings over 65 games, 57 of those as starts.

A look at the Inside Edge statistics for the 42 players during the 2019 season who played at least 450 innings in center field, Kingery grades out as below average.

He handled all of the 121 chances which were rated as 90-100%. In other words, chances where it was deemed “certain” or “nearly certain” that he should have handled them successfully.

However, when those chances became 60-90%, which are considered as “likely” to be handled successfully, Kingery handled just 75% of those, ranking 34th of the 42 players with at least 450 innings.

When things got even tougher, Kingery rarely made the sensational grab, coming up with just two of seven (28.5%) chances rated in the 1-40% range for success.

What this says to me is that Kingery is young and athletic enough to catch all of the fly balls that he is absolutely supposed to catch. The easy, lazy fly balls to center, or the balls where he just has to glide under them a bit.

However, he is not naturally skilled enough or experienced enough at the position to make most difficult plays, and even has trouble with chances considered likely – routine to a natural center fielder. While he doesn’t usually kill the Phillies out there, he isn’t helping.

THIRD BASE

The position at which Kingery saw his second highest number of games came at the hot corner. He appeared in 41 games, making 37 starts, for a total of 306.1 innings.

There were 44 players in Major League Baseball who saw at least 300 innings at the position. Again, Kingery grades out as below average.

For those 90-100% plays, the “almost certain” or “certain” group, his 96.2% handled successfully may seem solid at first blush. However, it ranks him just 27th in MLB at the position.

When you get to the 40-90% level, chances deemed as either “about even” or “likely” to be handled, Kingery made just 12 of 20 total plays successfully.

Again, this shows me that he handles most of the balls hit right at him and gets the ball over to first base successfully. But coming up with the more difficult plays at third base, even some deemed likely for a more experienced player or one with a stronger arm, is about a 50/50 proposition for him.

SHORTSTOP

Kingery was the Phillies primary shortstop in the 2018 campaign, playing 199 games there and making 101 starts. This past season, with the trade for Jean Segura, Kingery saw just 18 games and made 12 starts at short.

In total, Kingery has played 1,006.1 innings at the shortstop position over the last two seasons combined. There were 32 players in Major League Baseball who saw at least 1,000 innings at the position during that same period.

Of the plays rated in the 90-100% range at shortstop, or again, “certain” or “near certain” to be handled successfully, Kingery came up with a 96.9% success rate. That ranks 22nd of the 32 players.

Once again when things get just a bit harder, Kingery drops. In the 60-90% range he ranks just 24th at handling these “likely” to be made plays.

Below 60%, Kingery didn’t get many chances at shortstop, which to me speaks to his lack of defensive range at the position. He handled 11 of his 22 chances rated as either “unlikely” or “about even”, exactly 50%.

SECOND BASE

Kingery’s natural position, the Phillies have simply not allowed him to play it in the big-leagues. That is for one simple reason alone – management has been unreasonably married to Hernandez at the position.

Over the combined 2018-19 seasons, Hernandez has played in 331 games at the keystone position, making 308 starts and appearing there for a total of 2,726.1 innings. He has been the definition of an everyday second baseman, usage-wise.

For plays rated in the 60-90% range, or “likely” to be made, Hernandez’ 69% success rate places him at just 22nd among the 27 players with at least 1,000 innings at second base. He is just 19th in the 90-100% range. At the lower 40-60% range as well as in the more “unlikely” 10-40% range, Hernandez ranks 18th in both.

Kingery, meanwhile, was a 2017 Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award winner during a season split between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

That year, Kingery recorded a .989 fielding percentage in 113 games. It was the highest mark registered among all second basemen in Minor League Baseball. He handled 529 combined chances and helped to turn 75 double play over his time with the two levels.

Kingery slashed .304/.359/530 that year across the two levels. He produced 26 home runs, 63 extra-base hits, 65 RBIs, 103 runs scored, and 29 stolen bases in 603 plate appearances.

I have been saying it for two years now – second base is Scott Kingery’s best position. It is his natural position. More than that, he has proven to be outstanding at the position. I believe that allowing him to settle in there would help unlock his full, impactful offensive potential.

The Phillies have been holding second base for an average player when they have a potentially outstanding one in-house, right under their noses.  That needs to change this off-season.

In my opinion, club management has been negligent in their handling of Kingery. The time to trade Hernandez away and hand the Phillies second base position to Kingery is long past. If it doesn’t happen now, the ramifications should contribute to the end of Matt Klentak’s time as general manager.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

Phillies now must buck the odds to make the playoffs

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For a second straight August, it all feels like it’s falling apart for a Philadelphia Phillies season that once appeared destined to end in October.

The Phillies lost to the San Francisco Giants by a 3-1 score on Saturday afternoon. It was the club’s fourth defeat in five games, their sixth in the last nine. They are 2-4 on a western swing through Arizona and NoCal that will end this afternoon by the bay.
This most recent losing stretch is part of a 27-35 performance since late May, one that has dropped the team from the top of the National League East Division standings into fourth place.

It’s not just that the Phillies are losing in San Francisco – they aren’t even showing up to play. Just three hits in yesterday afternoon’s defeat. One hit in Thursday night’s series opening loss to the Giants.

As recently as their postgame statements at the start of this past week, Phillies players were clinging to the hope provided by the standings. Fact was, they still controlled a National League Wildcard playoff berth.
That is no longer the case. The Phillies woke up on Sunday morning at two games behind both the Saint Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals in the loss column. They also trail both the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets in that Wildcard race.
The stats show that the Phillies have earned this position. They have a -30 run differential. They are just 18th of the 30 MLB ball clubs in runs scored per game. The pitching staff is 22nd in batting average against and 23rd in OPS against.
In short, the Phillies are not a good baseball team right now, and they haven’t been one for a few months.
All of this is reflected in the updated Fangraphs MLB playoff odds. Taking a wide variety of factors into consideration, Fangraphs now ranks three teams from the NL East as having better than even odds of reaching the postseason. None of those is the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Atlanta Braves, who hold a five game lead in the loss column in the division race, have a 98.1% chance of reaching the playoffs. The second place Washington Nationals are at 67.8%. And now, the red-hot New York Mets are rated as having a 53% chance at the postseason.
The Phillies? They now have a miniscule 8.8% chance at making the playoffs. Their odds at winning a Wildcard spot are at 8.5%, and actually roaring back to win the division at just 0.3%. The Phillies odds to win the World Series are at a nearly impossible 0.1% level.
So, if the Phillies are going to reach the Major League Baseball postseason for the first time in eight years, they are going to need a major hot streak. At this point, that would be seriously bucking the odds.

Phillies continue to be stymied by failure to deliver in the clutch

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The Philadelphia Phillies just cannot seem to get on a true roll in this 2019 season. The last time that the club was 10 games above the .500 level was following a 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park on June 8.
Since that time, the club has gone 22-27, and they have just two winning streaks of three or more games. Beginning on July 30, the Phillies began a streak, one that is still current, in which they have alternated a win with a loss.
Win. Loss. Win. Loss. Win. Loss. Win. Loss. Four times in a row now following Tuesday night’s 8-4 defeat to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field in Phoenix.
And yet, the Phillies remain in control of a National League Wildcard playoff berth. That position in the standings is thanks to two factors. One has been that all of the other Wildcard contenders have proven to be flawed as well, at least to this point.
Another is that, while not being able to assemble a big winning streak, the Phillies have not gone into a major losing skid either. The club has not lost as many as three in a row since the middle of June. In fact, since the start of July, the Phillies have only dropped back-to-back games on three occasions.
Frankly, this team has become exasperating to many fans. They can’t win consistently, and in fact have outright blown many more than their share of potential victories, continuing to frustrate everyone following the team. But that they also don’t lose consistently has kept them tantalizingly in the race.
Sure, the bullpen has blown a number of games. But if we are honest about that factor, the Phillies pen has been in shambles due to numerous key injuries, far more than could have been expected and planned for.
At present, the following relievers are on the Injured ListDavid RobertsonPat NeshekSeranthony DominguezTommy HunterEdubray RamosVictor Arano and Adam Morgan.
When the 2019 regular season opened, that was nearly the entire Phillies anticipated bullpen. Most of those relievers have missed most of the season. The problems stemming from trying to replace them on the fly, of leaning too much on arms who could not have been expected to pitch so often in the roles in which they have been used, should be expected. It may be a problem without a solution in the short term.
So, yes, while the bullpen has been a problem, and is likely to remain one for the rest of this season, there are other major contributors to the Phillies struggles. The starting rotation has also struggled, not so much with injuries, but with a failure to produce consistent outings.
But this club was put together in the off-season with an emphasis on upgrading the offensive production. Half of the starting lineup was overhauled with trades and free agent acquisitions. That offense has simply not stepped up and delivered in the way that it was assumed it would.
The Phillies inability to consistently drive in runners when they are in scoring position has been maddening, and it has cost them directly in the win column. It has kept the club’s average runs per game at a mediocre 4.78 mark, ranking them 16th of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball.
Last night in Arizona, the Phillies hitters were a sickening 2-17 with runners in scoring position (RISP) and left a dozen men on base. Even in their 7-3 win the previous night, the club went just 5-19 with RISP, and left nine men on base.
The Phillies average of 3.82 runners left in scoring position per game is the worst in all of baseball. Last year, the Phillies offense ranked seventh in that stat. The only player doing the job in 2019 has been Bryce Harper, whose .368 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks 6th in the National League and 9th in all of Major League Baseball.

While Rhys Hoskins leads all Phillies in overall rWC+, he needs to be more consistent. (Ian D’Andrea)
Since the MLB All-Star break in the second week of July, the Phillies are now just 44-207 for a .213 batting average as a team with runners in scoring position over the last 22 games. It is almost miraculous that the club has fashioned a winning 12-11 record since the break.
Here is the breakdown from each of those series: CWS: 5-26, SFG: 5-26, ATL: 7-26, DET: 3-19 (two games), PIT: 5-23, LAD: 8-29, WAS: 4-22, and these last two games in Arizona.
That is simply not going to cut it. There is no way that these Phillies will hold on to an NL Wildcard playoff spot, let alone make any kind of run at the division crown, without significant improvement in this area.
The Phillies are no offensive juggernaut, that much is a fact. However, their overall offense is no worse than middle of the pack. They put runners on base for the most part. They put pressure on the opposition. The Phillies should be scoring more runs. They simply do not kick in the door. Not nearly enough.
What is the answer? Pretty simple. The players who are hitting when there is no one on base need to hit when there are men in scoring position. Top to bottom, the Phillies hitters need to come through in the clutch and produce more runs.
In Fangraphs wRC+ (weighted runs created) rankings, Rhys Hoskins is the #24 ranked hitter in all of baseball. Harper comes in next at #62, with Jean Segura at #93 and J.T. Realmuto in the #98 slot. In order to score more, the Phillies are going to need to get more production from the rest of their lineup. And it wouldn’t hurt if Segura and Realmuto picked it up a bit as well. In fact, it’s hard to make the argument that both Hoskins and Harper don’t have a big run in them.
Would another big bat or two help, especially in the middle of the order? Sure. But almost every team can say that. For this 2019 Phillies team, the answer lies on the bats of the players who are already here to begin coming through when it matters on a far more frequent basis.

How long can Andy MacPhail survive as Phillies organization again ranked poorly?

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After four years, MacPhail’s organization stuck in neutral

The folks at Baseball America collectively produce one of the most respected all-around resources in the game. They are well known for their prospect, draft and minor league coverage. And they also provide some of the best coverage of the deeper issues involving all aspects of the game.

Baseball America is also really good at coming up with lists and rankings. They regularly provide updated rankings lists of the top prospects in each organization. They also do overall organizational rankings as well, which reflect the state of each club’s minor league talent situation.
The Philadelphia Phillies were ranked just 23rd among the 30 big-league organizations prior to the 2019 season. Now the Baseball America organizational ranking has been updated, as they note: “taking the 2019 MLB Draft, our updated Top 100 and new team Top 30s into consideration.”
Those newly considered factors did not help the Phillies. In fact, the organization has now dropped two places, down to just 25th among 30 clubs in Major League Baseball.
Only five organizations are rated lower right now, including the division rival New York Mets just behind in the 26th spot. The Washington Nationals are just ahead of both, sitting in the #24 slot.
The Atlanta Braves embarrassment of prospect riches continues to grow. The defending NL East champions and current division leaders are now ranked in the #3 position. Meanwhile, the rebuilding Miami Marlins have entered the top ten in the #10 spot.
With third baseman Alec Bohm at #37 and pitcher Spencer Howard coming in at #68, the Phillies have just two of the current Baseball America top 100 prospects. It’s not only BA thinking poorly of the Phillies top-level minor league talent. MLB Pipeline currently has just Bohm (36) and pitcher Adonis Medina (75) among their top 100 prospects. Bohm (54), Howard (56) and Medina (71) show up among the current Fangraphs top 100 prospects.
By contrast, the Braves have a half-dozen in the Baseball America top 100, including three youngsters rated higher than Bohm. Both MLB and Fangraphs have the Braves with five on their lists, with four of those ranking higher than any Phillies prospect.
While on a par with the Nationals and Mets and possessing more talent at the big-league level than the Marlins, the situation involving the Braves does not bode well for the Phillies. They watched as Atlanta stormed past them to capture a division crown a year ago, and now despite a major financial outlay in this past off-season, the Braves have once again roared past the Phillies in the standings.
Prospect and minor league rankings are not the be-all and end-all for an MLB organization. But having a deep and talented pool of youngsters not only allows you to bring waves of talent up to help your big club, it also provides you with enticing chips to deal who are attractive to other organizations at times such as the upcoming trade deadline.

This situation is most definitely an indictment of the Andy MacPhailMatt Klentak regime. MacPhail has been the President of Baseball Operations for nearly four full years now. This is his organization, from a baseball talent standpoint. Klentak was his first big hiring as the GM in the fall of 2015. Together, they have presided over the last four Phillies drafts and four July 2nd international signing periods. The Phillies have yet to finish a season with a winning record in their tenure.

 

I am quite sure that the Phillies baseball operations people would respectfully disagree with this ranking. But for principal owner John Middleton to continue ignoring the inability of MacPhail to put together a respected organization, talent-wise anyway, would be courting disaster.
The vast majority of MacPhail’s tenures with the Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, and now the Phillies stretching back nearly two and a half decades reveal very little in the way of winning. In fact, even in this current season, perhaps especially in the current season when so much was anticipated and expected of his club, MacPhail continues to do nothing more than tread water.
It’s hard for us to make the judgment now that we’re one trade away from the World Series. We don’t believe that. I don’t believe that. So, as a result, you’re going to have to be more judicious with your playing talent…given our current circumstances, I think I’m going to be a little judicious and careful about what talent’s walking out the door.”
That was MacPhail’s commentary per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia when asked recently about the Phillies approach to the upcoming MLB trade deadline, which is now less than a week away. Other than Bohm and perhaps Howard or Medina, what “talent” is he concerned about “walking out the door?
The Phillies absolutely should not even consider dealing away Bohm at his point. And Howard is becoming nearly as untouchable, elevating himself past Medina to become clearly the Phillies top pitching prospect. Anyone else should be fair game in trade talks – but would any team in possession of genuine talent that could help the Phillies reach the 2019 postseason be attracted by that talent, even in a package?
MacPhail received a three-year contract extension at the end of the 2017 season, taking him through 2021. Klentak was extended for three years back in March in a deal that runs through the 2022 season. The track record of both leaves me scratching my head as to the reasoning, at least in the timing, behind those extensions.
Not much high-level minor league talent. Very little winning at the big-league level in decades while running an organization. How long can that be allowed to continue without serious repercussion at the management level?

Phillies should not shut Aaron Nola down with just two starts remaining

Nola has become an ace for Phillies
(Photo: By Arturo Pardavila III via Wiki Commons)
This 2018 season has been a true breakout campaign for Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola. In his fourth year at the MLB level, Nola has shown that he can be that rarest of commodities – a true ace.
The 25-year-old right-hander was chosen by the Phillies out of Louisiana State University with their first round selection at seventh overall in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft. As he developed professionally over parts of two minor league seasons, consensus expert opinions had him with the upside of a mid-rotation starter.
That is a fairly common tag hung on pitchers when scouts and other talent evaluators are not absolutely certain the pitcher has a top-of-the-rotation arm. However, that pitcher also has amateur and minor league performances and pitching repertoires which demonstrate a likelihood of reaching and sticking in a big-league rotation.
As a perfect example, Nathaniel Stoltz of Fangraphs summed up his own scouting report on Nola in August 2014 as follows:
…it’s hard to see him having more than a #3 starter’s ceiling. If he settles in at a #3/#4 level quickly, that won’t be the flashiest of payoffs, but it’ll also be hard to really take issue with his selection…There’s a solid chance he could get to that level of performance, but the line between it and interchangeable back-of-the-rotation, Kyle Kendrick sort of output is fairly thin, and he’s not guaranteed to end up on the right side of it.
Over Nola’s first two partial seasons with the Phillies, his results were indeed those of a solid #3 starter in the rotation. He went 12-11 over 33 starts during the 2015-16 campaigns, allowing 190 hits across 188.2 innings with a 189/48 K:BB ratio.
Last year, Nola reinforced that level of performance over a full season. In 27 starts during the 2017 campaign, Nola went 12-11 with 3.54 ERA and 1.208 WHIP. He allowed 154 hits over 168 innings with a 184/49 K:BB ratio.
Due to the fact that he was able to compete so effectively at just age 24, many began to adjust their evaluations up on Nola, feeling that he could develop into a solid #2 starter for a contending team.
One key for him to reach his potential was going to be for Nola to demonstrate longevity, that he could remain healthy over a full season.
His 2016 campaign was ended in mid-August when he was shut down for the year with a low-grade UCL sprain and flexor pronator tendon strain. In 2017 it was a strained lower back that kept him out of the Phillies rotation for a month from late-April through late-May.
In this 2018 campaign, Nola has ticked off all of the boxes and elevated himself to that “ace” or #1 starter level.
Following last night’s outing against the New York Mets, Nola has surrendered just 143 hits in 199.1 innings over 31 starts. He has a 16-5 record, and a dominating 210/53 K:BB ratio with a 2.44 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, 2.97 FIP, and a 173 ERA+ mark.
In his own piece on last night’s game, Corey Seidman of NBC Sports Philadelphia pointed out that no Phillies pitcher in over a century has pitched at least 200 innings in a season while holding opposition batters below a .200 average. Nola has held hitters to a .201 average over his 199.1 innings this year.

Seidman quoted Phillies manager Gabe Kapler on those numbers and Nola’s performance in this 2018 season:

“It speaks to durability. Look, if you’re the best option for your team, more times than not, the manager is going to give you the opportunity to take down an additional inning. Almost always, Nola feels like the best option to get the next three hitters out. Piling up 200 innings is a huge accomplishment.”

Nola was also named to his first National League All-Star Team back in July, and pitched the 5th inning of that mid-summer classic. Nola punched out the first two AL batters that he faced in Salvador Perez and Mookie Betts, gave up a base hit to Jose Altuve, then got Mike Trout to pop out for a shutout frame.
Here in the season’s final month, it appears as if Nola may have slowed down a bit. In three of his four September starts including last night, Nola failed to reach the 7th inning.
While that isn’t a big deal for most starting pitchers – after all, he did go five or more in each – it was different for Nola. He reached at least into the 7th in 15 of his first 27 starts prior to this month.
There have been some calls lately for the Phillies to shut Nola down for the season. The club has all but mathematically slumped their way out of both the divisional and wildcard races, trailing in each by five games in the loss column with just a dozen left to play.
Even if the Phillies were mathematically eliminated from postseason play, the club should not stop Nola’s season short. At this point he is only scheduled to make two more starts, both against the division-rival Atlanta Braves. Those should come this weekend in the Sunday series finale in Atlanta, and then on Friday night September 28 at Citizens Bank Park.
Two more starts and 10-12 more innings are not likely to do any harm. What they will do is give Nola the physical, mental, and emotional satisfaction of getting through an entire season in Major League Baseball.
At some point, perhaps as soon as next year, the Phillies will expect Nola to lead their rotation into and through an October playoff run. With just two starts left in this 2018 season, especially with both coming against their likely biggest rivals in battling for those playoff positions in the coming years, now is not the time to start babying the young ace.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as “No reason for Phillies to baby Aaron Nola at this point