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11 Observations through 13 games of Phillies baseball
by Scott Butler 4/15/18

Phillies

After a rough 1-4 start, the Phillies have won 7 of their last 8 games and 5 straight to push their record to 8-5. I know, I know, the Marlins, Reds, and Rays could very well be the three worst teams in the league, but the Phils are winning the games they need to win and that's about all they can do at this point. Let's not make any assumptions based on victories over inferior opponents, but 13 games should provide enough of a basis to start forming a picture of what the 2018 Phillies are all about.

With that, here are 11 observations from the first couple weeks of the season.

Maikel Franco's approach might be for real this time

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Maikel Franco has a new approach at the plate. It seems like that is the headline entering each of the last three seasons, and each of the last two seasons he has left us disappointed.

Perhaps the third time is the charm.

With a new, more closed batting stance, Franco is able to recognize strikes and balls much better than he has in the past. Franco in previous seasons would hack at bad balls not necessarily because he was a free swinger, but because he felt those pitches were good balls to hit.

Now, he is able to take those pitches and wait for one that he can drive. It seems to be paying off in the early going, where he has a nice ratio of 4 walks to 6 strikeouts. His at-bats have been under control, and after a rough start he exploded for five hits, two homers, and 10 RBI in two games.

He mustered just 2 hits in his next 14 at-bats, dropping his average to .242, but he still looks like a much more poised and comfortable hitter. Let's hope that's just a mini-slump in a breakout season.

Jorge Alfaro has a lot to work on...and a lot of tools

It hasn't been a particularly productive start offensively for Jorge Alfaro. He is hitting .219 on the season with 3 walks and 16 strikeouts, continuing a troubling trend from the minors. Before hitting the game winner on Friday in St. Petersburg, Ben Harris of The Athletic mentioned that Alfaro "featured one of the worst contact rates (63.1 percent) so far in baseball." Alfaro has plenty of power, but so did Cameron Rupp...

Alfaro is also still a work in progress behind the plate, but Harris also pointed out just how ridiculously athletic "El Oso" (The Bear) is. If he can put all of his raw tools together, we could soon be witnessing something special.

Cesar should is a really good baseball player

Cesar Hernandez is a hitter, and it's been that way since Day One. He hit .289 in 131 plate appearances in his first season in 2013, he is a career .284 hitter, and he batted .294 in each of the last two seasons. He doesn't hit for much power (9 homers last year and 19 in his career), but he is just so darn reliable.

Not only that, but his walk rate has consistently gone up (from 6.9% to 7.2% to 8.9% to 10.6% in 2017 and 2018) and his strikeout rate has gone down (from 19.9% to 26.4% to 19.0% to 18.7% to to 25.9%). The same is true for his pitches per plate appearances, which went from an average of 3.78 in his first four seasons to 4.02 last season. So far in 2018, he averages 4.59 pitches per time at the plate.

Cesar Hernandez is a hitting machine, and it's a shame how eager fans are to ship him away to make room for Scott Kingery. Matt Klentak has been wise not to balk at weak trade offers. With plenty of uncertainty at third base and shortstop, there's a good chance Hernandez outlasts just about everyone.

Crawford might struggle to hit big league pitching

I'll be honest, I'm not so sure J.P. Crawford will hit well enough to be the Phillies shortstop of the future. It pains me to say that since he has been one of the Phillies top prospects since the moment they drafted him as an 18-year-old in 2013, but he has consistently struggled to hit for a high average at every level beyond single-A. He batted .265 at double-A and .243 at triple-A for a combined average of .251.

His bat control and strike zone awareness remained consistently off the charts at both Reading and Lehigh Valley, where he captured nearly as many walks (200) as strikeouts (222). Still, for a player with limited power (an average of 8 home runs per season throughout the minors), Crawford needs to hit much more than he has.

His numbers at the big league level - .198 average, .317 on-base percentage, 19 walks to 31 strikeouts, and 9 extra-base hits - have not been impressive, either.

His swing has been long, but hopefully a new hitting drill will help shorten his swing and, in Crawford's words, stop him from "coming around" the baseball. It seems to be working lately, as Crawford went 4-for-10 and crushed 2 homers in his last three games. Crawford is a great athlete and a smart hitter at the plate, so hopefully he will continue reminding us why he is still considered one of the top prospects in baseball.

Kingery is an athlete

Scott Kingery has started 10 of the Phillies 13 games this season, and not one of those starts (4 at third, 3 at short, and 3 in the outfield) has come at his primary position of second base. With very little experience at all in the outfield, the Phillies felt confident enough to start him at two different outfield positions already. He looks comfortable, and he delivered a strike to throw out a runner at the plate from left field.

It's a huge luxury for Gabe Kapler to have such a versatile player on his roster, and it allows Kingery to get consistent playing time. Given his offensive success in the past in the minors, it's hard to envision a scenario where the Phillies don't make out like bandits on his $24 million contract.

Odubel is Odubel

El Torito is hitting .348 with 5 doubles and 7 runs scored in 2018. He is a career .289 hitter, he has never hit worse than .281, and he is two doubles shy of 100 in his career. He is also a tremendous defensive center fielder. Herrera is a major piece of this Phillies puzzle and it's important to remember that.

Hoskins is legit

Even if we ignore the statistics of his ferocious start to the season (Corey Seidman provided 5 impressive Hoskins stats), Hoskins passes the eye test. John Kruk marvels at how controlled Hoskins' swing is in nearly every situation, and he clearly knows how to control the strike zone. Will he reach his now extraordinarily high expectations? Who knows. But I don't seem many Domonic Brown comparisons in his future.

Aaron Nola is an ace?

I said it before and I'll say it again. Aaron Nola is in store for a big year. Despite uninspiring ratios of 6.38 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.93 walks/9, he still sports a dazzling 1.96 ERA. I suspect by the end of the season those rate stats will catch up to his ERA.

Bet on Pivetta over Velasquez

Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta are both young pitchers with seriously nasty stuff. Both pitchers do not have the ERA's to prove it. At best, odds are only one of them is still an effective starter five years from now, and my bet is that Pivetta is that guy.

Nick Pivetta has every bit the fastball of Vinny V, with a much better command of his secondary pitches. Pivetta has a 2.70 ERA through 3 starts, and check out these gaudy rates: 10.26 K/9 and 1.08 walks/9. Not bad.

The Phillies have a bullpen. That is all.

The Phillies do, in fact, have relief pitchers on their roster. They haven't been great. They haven't been awful. With two of their best relievers still on the DL, that is quite alright.

Gabe Kapler might be OK, after all

I am just so impressed with Gabe Kapler. His first week in his new job was about as awful and embarrassing a first week as any first week in any new job. He seemed like a guy who wanted to be noticed, wanted to be different, and had no idea how to manage a group of human beings.

Since that second series in New York, Kapler has been background noise at best, which is just what a manager should be. Kapler clearly did some soul searching after that second series in New York. He is no longer emptying his entire bullpen each game and has allowed his starters to go much deeper in ball games. He even came out to chat with Nick Pivetta late in a game before leaving him in.

My theory is that Kapler had some grandiose concepts of how he was going to revolutionize the game of baseball. It sounded great in theory...and then Major League Baseball smacked him square in that chiseled jaw. He reminded us that he was a rookie skipper who had managed just one season in single-A and had never even coached at the big league level.

Adam Morgan can take if from there:

“Everybody was panicking after three games,” left-handed reliever Adam Morgan said. “He's a first-time manager, right? So it's like a guy getting called up to the big leagues. He's going to have a learning curve. But he's awesome. His door is always open. It's a great relationship to have. Way different. You can talk to him if you want to talk to him.”

Gabe Kapler is not committed to making a name for himself, he is not trying to revolutionizing everything, and his not trying to become the center of attention. All he wants to do is win ball games. He might have thought a calculator was the best way to do that, but perhaps he realized it's the person holding the calculator that really matters.

The only number of any significance to him now is this: His team has won 8 games and lost 5.

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