Every week, the writers of That Ball’s Outta Here debate the key issues facing the Philadelphia Phillies. Joining me this week are Spencer Bingol, Alex Cheremeteff, Emily Gruver, Brian Iovine, and Michael Lecke. We will discuss the biggest surprises and disappointments from the first half of the season
What’s been the biggest positive surprise for the 2014 Phillies?
The single largest surprises have been the rookies in the bullpen. Mario Hollands and Ken Giles have performed well-above expectations to this point. We’re only halfway through the season; regression is likely. However, no one could say they haven’t impressed to this point.
Hollands has been one of the most heavily-used relievers in the Phillies’ bullpen despite being an afterthought in Spring Training. He earned a long look in March, but was still a surprise call-up when added to the active roster. He skipped triple-A, and was relatively uncelebrated in terms of prospect status.
He’s gotten results in his 31.1 IP, keeping runs down to the tune of a 3.16 ERA. However, his peripherals are unspectacular, and his average ground ball/pop-fly rates imply a bit of un-sustainability.
Ken “100 Miles” Giles was the big name relief prospect entering the season, and his utter dominance to date has been extremely encouraging. A 0.64 ERA, with a 36% K rate, 6% BB rate, and a .445 OPSag.
However, all these rates are only the result of 10.2 IP of work. While his transition to the majors has gone infinitely more smoothly than anyone would have guessed, I’d wager that we won’t only see some regression, but possibly some struggles as hitters adjust.
The biggest positive surprise of 2014 has been the performance of the bullpen. Especially, the young relievers who seem to be on the verge of reaching their full potential.
After getting off to a rocky start in April, Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, and Mario Hollands have been a huge part of the bullpen’s resurgence this season. Jonathan Papelbon has probably been the biggest surprise of all. If anything, the enigmatic closer has boosted his trade value with his stellar first-half performance.
Ken Giles has done nothing but impress since his arrival at Citizens Bank Park. The future closer seems to have harnessed his 100-mph heater and wipeout slider. Barring injury, Giles should be a fixture in the back end of the Phillies bullpen for years to come.
I think the two biggest positives have to be Chase Utley and the bullpen towards the end of the first half of the season.
Rarely anyone expected Utley to have an All-Star caliber season and have a batting average of .293. I was prepared for just a decent season considering his age and health problems.
The bullpen was one of few bright spots as well, especially Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon. Giles has a 0.64 ERA on the year and a .71 WHIP, and he’s just 23 years old. Papelbon has 22 saves and a 1.21 ERA.
I initially considered Jonathan Papelbon’s reemergence, but for me, the biggest first half surprise for the Phillies has been the play of Marlon Byrd.
When I first heard that the Phillies would be signing the veteran outfielder, who was coming off a career year with the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates, I certainly was not expecting Byrd to play as well as he did last year. And at age 36, he obviously was not helping this already old team get any younger.
That being said, he has shown that age is just a number so far, as he is playing as well as he did last year, if not better. To put things in perspective, he already has 18 home runs on the year, leaving him well on pace to surpass the career-high 24 homers he had last season.
The best part about his effective play thus far has got to be the interest he is generating from other teams. It would be a shame to see him go, but unlike some of the other veterans on this team (who shall remain nameless), Byrd’s contract is not an obstacle and he could easily provide some playoff hopefuls with some much-needed pop.
This season has been devoid of many positive surprises for the Phillies. Perhaps the biggest upside surprise is the performance of Jonathan Papelbon. He’s been one of the most effective closers in baseball and by all accounts he’s been a good influence on the younger guys in the pen.
After years of watching one reliever after another flounder upon reaching the big leagues, it’s been pleasant to finally see some of these guys develop into solid pitchers. The Phillies may have a lot of problems, but at least we don’t have to hold our breaths every time a reliever is brought into the game.
What’s been the biggest disappointment?
The young players have been the biggest disappointment. Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, Ben Revere, et al. have failed to produce at their ceilings this season, and has led to the odd circumstance of the “old” veterans being the productive force on the offense.
It’s convenient for a sell-off, actually. The team loses, but the players you want to move (aging, expensive contracts) are performing well enough to have value to other teams.
So while many of the moveable pieces (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels) have been strong, the team’s been held down by poor lineup construction and consistent sub-par play by younger players.
The biggest disappointment of the first-half has been Domonic Brown. The All-Star caliber first-half of 2013 seems like a lifetime ago. Brown’s offensive production is one of the worst in the majors. And, his defensive play has been nothing to write home about either. The regression of his overall play since last July has been alarming.
Brown may be a classic candidate for a ‘change of scenery’ trade.
The obvious answer has to be Domonic Brown. Many thought this was his year to take a huge step forward, and now he’s the worst player in the league. Brown is hitting just .227 with six home runs, and has an OBP of just .279. And don’t even let me get started on his dreadful defense.
The biggest disappointment has got to be the lackluster play provided by every starting outfielder on this team not named Marlon Byrd.
Sure, Ryan Howard’s batting average isn’t pretty and he’s still striking out more often than not, but wasn’t that to be expected? As players get older, they naturally just aren’t able to play as well as they used to (I suppose Byrd didn’t get that memo), which puts the team’s younger players in a position to show what they can do. So far, it hasn’t looked good for guys like Domonic Brown and Ben Revere.
Revere may not have an atrocious batting average, but he does not get on base nearly enough as a leadoff man should, which has caused Ryne Sandberg to take him out of the leadoff spot on more than one occasion. And while he can make a highlight reel diving catch every now and then, he has also made his share of mistakes, and his throwing arm (or lack thereof) is a defensive liability.
Speaking of which, Brown has continued to provide the Phillies with poor defensive play, and at the plate, his numbers are down across the board from the All-Star numbers that he put up last season. With a core group of guys that may only have a few seasons left, it would be nice to see some younger players provide the Phillies with any kind of glimmer of hope for the future. Instead, the future looks bleak.
Disappointments are a dime a dozen this season for the Phillies. Chief among them has to be the overall poor fundamentals they display as a team. On both sides of the ball they have had far too many lapses. They just don’t have any mojo and no one has stepped up to carry the team.
Before the season, I thought that if everyone remained healthy, the lineup would be productive. While there have been a few injuries (Cody Asche, Carlos Ruiz), unlike previous seasons, they can’t make the excuse that their best hitters have been hurt.
Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard are as healthy as they’re ever going to be, and the lineup still isn’t scoring many runs.
What do you think? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!
Tags: Philadelphia Phillies