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Philadelphia Phillies December 2019 mailbag

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No one in baseball is more under the spotlight this off-season than Phillies general manager Matt Klentak.

 

Back on Christmas Eve Eve, I asked my social media followers to shoot me out any questions that they might have on the Phillies.

As you might expect, the majority of those ended up in reference to moves the club has made and might still make during this current off-season.

Following are a representative sampling, along with my responses, presented in a question (Q) and answer (A) format.

 

Q: Sean Fitzpatrick (@SeanFit91141350 on Twitter) asks “I’m questioning the configuration of the infield as it stands now. I dont see either Segura or Kingery as a legit third base option, and which one plays second? Do we bring in an outside option?

A: As we sit here in the week between Christmas and New Year’s the Phillies 2020 infield configuration appears that it will feature Rhys Hoskins at first base, Jean Segura at second, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Scott Kingery at third base. Kingery is likely keeping the spot warm until top prospect Alec Bohm is ready, at which point Kingery would return to a super-utility role. That assumes he is not needed at another position due to injury.

Q: Robin Heller (@flower_auntie on Twitter) says “I am wondering about who will play third base and how they will address the holes in the rotation!

A: As for third base, see the above answer – though there remain rumors that the Phillies could consider a trade for Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. The starting rotation is currently projected to be made up of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.

It doesn’t appear as though GM Matt Klentak feels that there are “holes in the rotation” – though you and I would disagree with him. Arrieta needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce past May. Eflin and Velasquez have been consistently inconsistent.

Wheeler was a great signing. But we went into this off-season believing that the Phillies needed two new starting pitchers of the type who had proven to be winners at the big-league level. There is still plenty of time to bring in another arm via free agency or trade.

Among free agents remaining, perhaps Klentak would consider taking a shot on Alex Wood, if the 28-year-old southpaw keeps hanging out on the market and his price is reasonable. The Phillies have also been linked to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray.

Q: Dan McElhaugh on Facebook asks “You (Phillies) need to address the bullpen and get another starter. What are you doing about it?

A: I addressed the starting pitchers above. However, you also have to consider that top pitching prospect Spencer Howard is close to big-league ready and will likely impact the rotation at some point in 2020. He is probably going to start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and assuming health and success there we should see him by the second half of the season, at the latest.

The bullpen is a tough question. There actually are the makings of a decent group here. But much of that depends on them being healthier than last year’s group. Right-handers include Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edgar Garcia, Trevor Kelley, Robert Stock and possibly even Nick Pivetta or prospect Adonis Medina.

Among lefties the club currently has Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Austin Davis, and Cristopher Sanchez. You could even see minor league starters Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez, and JoJo Romero slide into a pen role.

There are a number of veteran relievers remaining on the free agent market including Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Francisco Liriano, and Fernando Rodney. Any of them would help upgrade the bullpen. Klentak may be waiting to see if any can eventually come dirt cheap.

Q: JBFazz1213 (@JBFazz1213 on Twitter) stated “Very Disappointing if the Phillies don’t sign Dellin Betances because of the Luxury Tax.

A: As we now know, the Phillies indeed did not sign Betances, who received a one-year deal at $10.5 million guaranteed from the division-rival New York Mets which can rise to $13 million based on incentives. He also received two player option years, though if he proves himself healthy it is likely that Betances re-sets his value and returns to the free agent market next fall.

Having previously pitched his entire career in the Big Apple with the Yankees, he has a number of ties to New York. Likely of most importance were that the doctors who treated his shoulder injury and his Achilles injuries are located there. Those injuries, especially the September Achilles, are likely most of the reason that the Phillies and any number of other ball clubs in need of bullpen help were not involved.

Q: Wally Potter on Facebook asks “Why does the Phillies farm system have a bad history of producing quality starting pitching ? More specific within the last 40 years.”

A: Back in July of 2019, Dan Roche of NBC Sports Philadelphia did a nice piece on this very subject. In that piece, Roche listed the top 10 homegrown Phillies pitchers over the last four decades as ranked by Baseball-Reference WAR value.

Those ten arms belong to, in order, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Kevin Gross, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Don Carman, Kyle Kendrick, Hector Neris, and Ricky Bottalico.

It’s not a bad list, but there is a major and obvious flaw. Nola and Neris are “now” arms on the current roster. Hamels, Myers, Madson, and Kendrick were all pitchers with the 2008 World Series champions and were with the club for a number of years around that magical season.

What you are left with are Gross, Carman, and Ricky Bo as the only pitchers developed out of the Phillies farm system from the late-1970’s through the mid-2000’s who had any real impact on the ball club.

Roche estimates that the Phillies have drafted upwards of 1,000 pitchers over the last 40 years and stated “Even by blind luck, a team should be able to do better than the Phillies have.

The answer to the “why” is difficult to explain. That poor history comes under various regimes led by eight different general managers and a number of higher executives.

Perhaps that poor homegrown pitching record is beginning to change. If you make the history just of the last dozen years or so, you get seven of the above 10 names. You also get arms such as current top pitching prospect Spencer Howard and former top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto deal.

Q: d dask (@DocD19 on Twitter) wanted me to “Ask Matt Klentak if he is allergic to southpaws?

A: I am not sure regarding the topic of Klentak’s allergies. But I get it. Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu were all available as free agents this time around. Any would have been a perfect fit for the Phillies rotation – especially our old hero Hamels on a one-year deal. The exact reasons why the GM didn’t get any of those arms to Philly is perplexing, to say the least.

Q: DDNAGS (@DDNAGS1 on Twitter) opined “They will not win with the current roster. Ask Matt Klentak when he is going to get off his big ass and make a couple trades? We don’t need all these scrubs he always signs.

A: Well, that’s simply wrong. Klentak signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen last off-season. He signed Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius this off-season. They had a .500 roster prior to the recent moves and on paper appear to be improved. So, it would seem that, given health, they are already good enough to “win with the current roster.
Now, if you are talking about winning enough to reach the playoffs, maybe even contend for a division crown, and beyond that, a world championship, I get it.
It is my contention that the Phillies need a more proven center fielder, a left-handed veteran starting pitcher, another veteran bullpen arm with a successful track record, and another bench bat with pop from the right side similar to what Jay Bruce brings from the left. Let’s see what the GM does between now and the start of the season.

Q: PhilliesCurveballMachine (@phillies_the on Twitter) asks “Will a “culture change” in the clubhouse under the new coaching staff really make a difference in the team’s intensity/ focus/ “hustle” this season? And will this translate into wins? Why/how?

A: When you talk about a “culture change” inside the Phillies clubhouse, you specifically mention the change of managers from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi. Honestly, we’re not going to know how the club responds. But I expect that a proven winner with a championship pedigree will be more influential and regarded more positively than a rookie with a cheerleader personality.

There is another major change inside the clubhouse, with a pair of starting players gone in Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. This year should find Realmuto, McCutchen, and Harper stepping into even more vocal leadership roles. I don’t know about you, but that prospect elicits more confidence from me.

I am expecting that Girardi will simply not tolerate any lack of hustle. He is not only going to be willing to make an example out of any player, but also have the confidence and support from management to bench anyone for any reason.

This comes from the popularity of his hiring, the unpopularity of the general manager, the fact that Girardi is just beginning what should be at least a three-year run in the dugout, and his own confidence based on his experiences as a championship-winning player and manager.

Now, will this change in style and substance result in more victories? I think it will have some effect. However, the team has to stay mostly healthy, especially where its biggest stars are concerned, and needs to receive actual improved performance from a few players. Any more positive attitude needs to be backed by positive performances.

Q: Andrew (@Andrew201711 on Twitter) asks “With the roster as it stands , I don’t see the Phils doing any better than third place …. your thoughts ?

A: For me the big thing right now is that factor of health. If the roster as currently assembled remains healthy, they can contend for a postseason berth. If they stay healthy, get improved performances from a few players such as Adam Haseley, Hoskins, and Arrieta, and if Klentak can make a couple of big in-season moves, they can win the division.

All of that said, the Braves are two-time defending NL East champions with a talented young core. The Nationals are defending World Series champions. Both teams have solid overall rosters. The Mets have improved their already tough pitching staff in both talent and depth this off-season. All three of those teams finished above the Phillies in the 2019 standings.

It is way too early for me to make any predictions. A lot can still change on not only the Phillies roster, but that of their division rivals. But right now you can make a legitimate argument for the club finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the National League East Division in the 2020 season.

That’s it for the mailbag this time around. I’ll open it up once again as spring training gets underway in February. Between now and then, you can always hit me up on social media: @philliesbell on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

Phillies search for a closer is over as Hector Neris seizes the role

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Hector Neris has seized the Phillies bullpen closer role

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler began the 2019 season without a named closer at the back-end of his pitching staff. There were a number of options who appeared to be reasonably attractive. The skipper chose to simply use whichever option appeared best at an important moment over the late innings based on specific match-ups.

What began as a group of a half-dozen arms who Kapler hoped would fill those end-game roles has gradually shrunk to dangerously low levels.
David Robertson started slowly, producing a 5.40 ERA and 2.100 WHIP over seven games. The veteran free agent signee allowed eight hits over his first 6.2 innings with a 6/6 K:BB ratio before going down with a flexor strain in mid-April. It had been assumed by many that he would ultimately see the bulk of any “closer” opportunities.
Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano have also wound up on the Injured List. Youngsters Seranthony Dominguez and Edgar Garcia, the former who many believe has the pure stuff to one day serve as a closer, have been inconsistent at best. Pat Neshek has mostly succeeded despite not having dominant stuff and getting hit hard at times.
But one arm has emerged to save the day. That would be the big right arm of 29-year-old Hector Neris.
Neris had been the Phillies closer entering the 2018 season. But he began the year blowing a series of games, and by the end of June his ERA had skyrocketed to the 6.90 mark. Mercifully, he was demoted to Triple-A in order to rediscover his mojo.
Over 19 games with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Neris regained his confidence. He dominated minor league hitters, allowing just nine hits over 18.2 innings, striking out 31 batters while walking just seven in that time.
In mid-August, the righty was called back to Philadelphia. He immediately carried over that minor league success to the big-leagues, becoming the National League’s Reliever of the Month even though he didn’t appear in a single game with the Phillies until the 15th of the month.
From his August 15 return until the end of the season, Neris allowed just 11 hits over 17.2 innings with a dominating 35/5 K:BB ratio. He recorded a 2.04 ERA and .172 batting average against over that time while registering one Save and four Holds.
Neris has continued that dominance into the 2019 season. He has allowed just a dozen hits over 20.1 innings with a 27/6 K:BB ratio and has seized that closer role, earning seven Saves. Most importantly, Neris has suffered just one loss. Otherwise, he has blown no opportunities to close out a ball game over 20 appearances, 11 of those as chances to finish things off.
After Neris closed out a win this past Saturday night over the Colorado Rockies, Kapler was quoted by Matt Breen at Philly.com:

“When we see the splitter biting from the dugout – and when I say ‘biting,’ it doesn’t tumble and roll, but it takes a sharp downward action and guys are fouling the ball straight into the dirt or they’re swinging and missing – we know we have it…When we see that from the dugout, we know we have a dominant force.”

Last night at Wrigley Field, Neris came on for the bottom of the 9th inning after the Phillies had tied things up in the top of the frame. He shut the host Chicago Cubs down, striking out Victor Caratini to end the frame and send the game into extra innings.
The Phillies would take the lead on a J.T. Realmuto homer in the top of the 10th, Adam Morgan and Juan Nicasio would combine to shut the Cubs down in the bottom of the inning to end it, and Neris would be credited with the win.
Put it all together and Neris has allowed only 23 hits, just two home runs, over 38 innings across 40 games since his recall last August. It’s not just plain-old success, he has dominated opposing hitters with a 62/11 K:BB ratio. Neris has shown himself to be born again hard. He is as automatic as any closer in the game today. It’s time that we begin to expect it.

Phillies add Jean Segura and Scott Kingery to growing Injured List

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Shortstop Jean Segura joined the Phillies growing Injury List

A gut-wrenching walkoff defeat on the scoreboard at the hands of the host Colorado Rockies was not the only loss suffered by the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.

The club also lost three players to the Injured List: shortstop Jean Segura, his backup in red-hot utility player Scott Kingery, and reliever Victor Arano.
Segura actually strained his left hamstring during Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets. His stint on the IL was made retroactive to Wednesday, and so he will be eligible to come off next weekend.
Kingery injured his right hamstring while running to first on a ground out in the fourth inning during Friday night’s defeat. He was starting for the third straight game at short in place of Segura.
Arano was called up from Triple-A just over a week ago. Per Matt Gelb, the right-hander was warming up to enter Friday night’s game in the 12th inning when he began to have trouble in his right pitching elbow.
Phil Gosselin will be the Phillies’ shortstop for the next week. He’s the only shortstop on the roster. Segura didn’t suffer a setback, but with Kingery down, they decided to be ultra cautious.

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Gelb further reported that manager Gabe Kapler has stated that, in the event of an emergency involving Gosselin, any from among Cesar HernandezRoman Quinn or Maikel Franco could play shortstop.
This will have to be the arrangement for at least the final two games of this current series against the Colorado Rockies, next week’s big early-season three-game match-up with the division rival New York Mets at Citi Field, and for the first couple games of next weekend’s four-game set with the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park.
Phil Gosselin is in his seventh big-league season, but his first with the Phillies organization. He is local product, born and raised in Bryn Mawr. He attended Malvern Prep High School before moving on to play college ball at the University of Virginia.
The 30-year-old Gosselin has a .265/.316/.362 slash line in Major League Baseball and has appeared with the Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds and now the Phillies. He went 2-4 and scored the run in the top of the 12th last night that temporarily put the Phillies on top.
Gosselin has appeared in a dozen games at shortstop during his career in Major League Baseball. His last action there prior to last night was over three games with Texas in the 2017 season. He also played 17 games with Triple-A Indianapolis at the position that same season. He has mostly played second base over the last two years.
To take the place of the three injured players in Denver the club promoted right-handed pitcher Drew Anderson, lefty reliever Austin Davis, and infielder Mitch Walding from the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Anderson was impressive back in spring training with the Phillies and already has made one appearance with the big club this season. He went two innings, striking out two and walking two while allowing no runs or hits, during this past Monday’s 7-6 loss to the Mets.
Davis had pitched poorly over five Grapefruit League games, clinching his start of the season in the minors. The southpaw has pitched well for the IronPigs, allowing seven hits and no runs over 10 innings across six games with a 12/2 K:BB ratio.
The 26-year-old Walding appeared in 13 games with the Phillies last season, including playing seven games at third base. He has appeared on both infield corners during an eight-season minor league career.
Anderson and Davis will bring fresh arms with some big-league experience to the bullpen. Walding will be an extra bat off the bench.

The Phillies have really been slammed by the injury hammer this week. They put reliever David Robertson on the IL with a barking right elbow early in the week. 
Then they lost center fielder Odubel Herrera to a hamstring during Wednesday’s game. He is eligible to return next Sunday, and is expected back at that time.

Phillies lose reliever Tommy Hunter as first pitching injury of 2019

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Hunter becomes the first arm to go down in spring training

When objectively evaluating the Philadelphia Phillies 2019 roster for potential strengths and weaknesses, the bullpen would have to be listed on the “strengths” side of the ledger.

The addition of a few talented veterans this off-season to a solid returning group and some growing young arms has the pen looking stronger and deeper than it has in years.
Now less than two weeks into 2019 spring training that bullpen depth will begin to be tested. It’s first member has gone down due to injury. Tommy Hunter will be shut down for in indeterminate amount of time with a Grade 1 strain of the flexor muscle in his right pitching arm.
The flexor mass is a collection of muscles and tendons which come together in the forearm near the elbow. They function by allowing you to turn and flex your wrist. The injury as it affects a pitcher such as Hunter is described as follows by Robert G. Najarian, MD with Inova:
With flexor mass strains, pitchers usually don’t feel pain until the follow-through phase of the pitch. That’s when you need the flexor mass to snap the wrist to get the ball in the strike zone. When the flexor mass is injured, the ball often ends high and pitchers can have problems locating their pitch.
In general, Najarian states, the injury is treated with rest, anti-inflammatories, and a strength/rehabilitation program. Some players are out for just two weeks. For others the recovery can take as long as six to eight weeks. It all depends upon the severity of the injury and the individual player’s ability to recuperate.
The hope is that the Phillies and Hunter caught the injury early enough that this method of recovery will do the job. If such an injury is allowed to go untreated for too long, it could result in ligament damage and possibly the dreaded Tommy John surgery.
Hunter was signed by the Phillies as a free agent in December 2017 to a two-year, $18 million contract. The 32-year-old, 11-year veteran will not throw for two weeks and then will be re-evaluated.

The Phillies bullpen ranked around the middle of baseball last season. The club’s relievers as a group ranked 18th in ERA and BAA, 10th in K/9, and 11th in saves and K/BB among the 30 teams of Major League Baseball.
Hunter was likely going to be called upon by manager Gabe Kapler in the 5th-7th innings. He is one of a strong group of right-handed relievers that also includes David RobertsonPat NeshekHector NerisSeranthony DominguezJuan NicasioEdubray Ramos, and Victor Arano.
Teams usually lose players at some point during the spring training process. But this marks the second injury to a player who was expected to make-up part of the Opening Day roster. Outfielder Odubel Herrera was lost for an undetermined length of time with a hamstring injurylast week.
There is enough roster depth to cover for the loss of Herrera and Hunter at this point. The hope is that these are the most significant injuries that the Phillies have to deal with as they prepare for what is hoped to be a playoff-contending campaign.

Phillies 2019 bullpen just one piece short of elite status

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Juan Nicasio brings a veteran presence to deeper Phillies bullpen

Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak had four major boxes that needed to be checked off when this off-season began if he wanted to truly build a contending team for the 2019 season.

Those four were a proven impact run-producer for the middle of the batting order, a better defensive lineup, another veteran starting pitcher (preferably left-handed), and improvements to the bullpen.
With the additions of Andrew McCutchen in left field and Jean Segura at shortstop, the defense should be improved. The club continues to search for the middle-order bat and the southpaw rotation arm.
It cannot be argued that Klentak has not improved the bullpen. Given health, the Phillies relief corps is both talented and deep, and should prove to be a strength for manager Gabe Kapler.
The Phillies have added three new arms to their bullpen. Right-hander Juan Nicasio and left-hander James Pazos arrived as part of the Segura trade from Seattle. Then just days ago the club signed one of baseball’s top relievers over the past decade, David Robertson, as a free agent.

Those three join a returning group that could include any from among righties Hector NerisSeranthony DominguezPat NeshekTommy HunterVictor Arano, and Edubray Ramos. There are two returning lefties in Adam Morgan and Austin Davis as well.
The Phillies could still use a better situational left-handed arm. But a closer look at the statistics shows that the arms needed to win match-ups with big lefty bats may already be here.
Robertson had a 53/10 K:BB ratio against left-handed hitters a year ago. Those opposing lefty batters hit the right-handed Robertson for just a .176 BAA as well as a .378 slugging percentage.
The one negative for Robertson against those lefties was that they got to him for a half-dozen home runs over 132 plate appearances against him. In comparison, he surrendered just one long ball to a right-handed batter over 151 plate appearances against.
During his breakthrough rookie campaign a year ago, lefty batters hit for just a .188 average against Dominguez. His biggest problem with them were walks, as Dominguez handed out 14 free passes to lefties in 116 plate appearances. Compare that to just eight right-handers that he walked over 115 plate appearances.

Ramos also had decent success against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .208 batting average against. Over 58 plate appearances those lefties got to Ramos for just two homers over 58 plate appearances, and he walked just five opposing hitters.
The three primary left-handed relief options at the present time are newcomer Pazos and returnees Morgan and Davis. All three of those southpaw pitchers actually achieved far greater success against right-handed hitters.
Against lefty bats, the Pazos/Morgan/Davis trio allowed 66 hits and walked 26 batters over 273 plate appearances when facing opposition left-handed hitters. Pazos got hit too regularly (.288 BAA) by lefties. Davis was hit hard (.603 slugging percentage) by them. Morgan had severe control issues against them, walking 14 over 121 plate appearances.
I am going to assume that Kapler, Klentak and the Phillies coaching regime are aware of their left-handers’ numbers. My hope is that they won’t simply bring in a lefty arm to face a lefty bat every time. They’ll break down the numbers even further would be my guess, seeing how a particular lefty batter fares against left-handed pitching, for instance.

Klentak is likely not done dealing. There is already a glut of outfielders with McCutchen joining Nick WilliamsRoman QuinnOdubel Herrera, and Aaron Altherr. If the Phillies were to sign Bryce Harper, that glut gets even worse.
If the Phillies were successful in signing Manny Machado, that would create a similar glut on the infield. He and Segura would join Cesar HernandezMaikel Franco, and Scott Kingery.
If Machado signs, plays shortstop, and Segura plays second, then Hernandez is likely trade bait. If it’s Machado at third and Segura at short, then Franco likely becomes the trade bait.
Bottom line is that Klentak is likely to shop every outfielder not named McCutchen, along with either Hernandez or Franco or both, depending on the outcome of the Harper/Machado situations.
Klentak also could be shopping any of the starting pitchers except Aaron Nola or Jake Arrieta. In a trade return the Phillies GM is likely to be looking for an impact left-handed pitcher for either the rotation or the bullpen.
The Phillies bullpen is now noticeably improved. The overall mix could still use that one more piece of a dominant late-innings left-hander. But as of today, the Phillies relief corps is deeper, more talented, and more experienced.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as Relief pitching additions give Phillies a stronger, deeper bullpen