Boring = Improvement for Phillies
by Scott Butler 4/5/17

Howie Kendrick Michael Saunders

It was a boring offseason for the Phillies.  They brought back a boring pitcher in Jeremy Hellickson, added a boring player in Howie Kendrick, and also signed another boring player (at least as power hitters are concerned) in Michael Saunders.  And who made all of these moves?  A boring GM.

Boring may not jam the park or spike TV ratings, but boring is a heck of a lot better than putrid, which is a good way to describe what players like Peter Bourjos, Cody Asche, Tyler Goeddel, Cedric Hunter, and David Lough offered at the corner outfield spots last year. 

The Phillies' corner outfielders last year batted .213 with 21 homers and a .622 OPS

The Phillies current corner outfielders (Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders) combined to hit to hit .254 with 32 homers and a .754 OPS last season.

That's a difference of 41 points in batting average, 11 more home runs, and 132 points in OPS. If you are only as good as your weakest link, the Phils improved significantly.

And those who paid money specifically to see 36-year-old Ryan Howard at the ballpark  last year might consider Tommy Joseph to also be a bit of a bore, but removing Howard from the four-spot is also a huge upgrade. Howard hit .196 with 25 homers and a .710 OPS versus a .257 average, 21 homers, and an .813 OPS for Joseph. Who knows what we will get out of old man Tommy this year, but it looks to still be a major upgrade.

Or you can just give it the eye test.

Here’s a side by side of the last two Opening Day lineups, and I highlighted the major changes (Rupp vs. Ruiz doesn’t count because Rupp had already been named the primary backstop):

2016 2017
1. Cesar Hernandez 1. Cesar Hernandez
2. Odubel Herrera 2. Howie Kendrick
3. Maikel Franco 3. Odubel Herrera
4. Ryan Howard 4. Maikel Franco
5. Carlos Ruiz 5. Michael Saunders
6. Cedric Hunter 6. Tommy Joseph
7. Peter Bourjos 7. Cameron Rupp
8. Freddy Galvis 8. Freddy Galvis
9. Jeremy Hellickson 9. Jeremy Hellickson

Kendrick, Saunders, and Joseph won't bring hoards of humans through the turnstiles, but at least it won't scare infants like Hunter, Bourjos, and Howard did.

Now for a few other random thoughts.

Pitchers aren’t athletes

Don’t believe me?  Then how do you explain what happened in the sixth inning on Monday afternoon?

Jeremy Hellickson was pulled after just 67 pitches in the opener in the sixth inning.  What seemed at first like an early hook from Mackanin was something mostly different: Hellickson was still a little winded after his RBI triple in the top of the inning. "I was catching my breath for about 30 minutes after I got back in here," Hellickson joked. "Last time I'll be doing that."

Hellickson generated a few chuckles from reporters, but it's hard to find much humor from where I sit. If a player is unable to run 270 feet, he doesn’t belong in the major leagues.  Particularly when that player accepted a qualifying offer from his club that netted him $17 million for one season.  If Spring Training is all about getting prepared for the season ahead, what exactly was Hellickson doing in Clearwater?  He pitched 6 games and a whopping 24 1/3 innings over seven weeks, and he didn’t find the time to prepare his body for what equates to slightly more than two 40-yard dashes?  Embarrassing.

Pete Mackanin is not blameless, either.  He showed an itchy trigger finger many times last year and did the same thing here.  Hellickson did not ask to be taken out, his manager chose to handle it that way.  Pitching changes are definitely something to keep an eye on this year.  Mackanin relied on Gomez and Neris too often last year and trusted his starters too little.  Hellickson could have easily gone another inning or two without stretching himself at all and it would have saved using four arms.  Sure, everyone was rested.  Sure, there was an off-day on Tuesday.  And sure, it was nice to get everyone involved.  But baseball is a long season and every unnecessary outing can cause issues down the road.

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