We all knew that coming into this season, the Phillies projected to be a pretty bad baseball team. Their offense was going to be centered around a 36-year old second baseman whose knees we hoped would hold up for one more year, and a first baseman who has struggled to hit with any kind of authority for the last 3 years.
While the bullpen looked solid, the starting rotation behind ace Cole Hamels would probably make the overall pitching staff below average, especially with Cliff Lee suffering a potentially career ending injury.
Ruben Amaro then decided on a strategy when building the rotation that can best be described as ‘boom or bust’ – he signed several veteran pitchers to one year contracts, hoping they would pitch successfully enough to effectively soak up innings and build trade value. In that way, he could potentially move them at the trade deadline, then bring in the kids to finish up the season. It’s a commendable route to take, especially when one knows how bad the overall product could be.
Though it is still early, it appears that the Phillies have struck gold with Aaron Harang. He currently is ranked sixth among all MLB pitchers in rWAR (2.3). His counting stats (2.03 ERA, 37 strikeouts in 53.1 IP) are all exceptional, while the advanced metrics seem to back up that his performance is for real. His 2.85 FIP ranks 15th among all MLB pitchers, and his DRA (3.38) ranks 8th. All in all, Harang has been great this season, and he could fetch a nice return for the team at or before the trade deadline.
Then there is Jerome Williams. He came to the Phillies last year as a waiver claim from the Texas Rangers. Brought in as “an arm”, he ended up going a surprising 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA over 57.1 innings, while allowing only 7.5 hits per nine innings. His strikeout and walks rates stayed pretty much the same as they have throughout his career.
However, a career low H/9, coupled with a stupid-low .257 BABIP should have sounded enough alarms that Amaro would have given him a “Thank you for your hard work” card and sent him on his merry way. Instead, Williams was guaranteed $2.5 million in real money this season in the hopes of a repeat.
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Oops, it turns out that those hopes have truly been misguided. Williams has been pretty disastrous thus far in 2015. In 38 innings, the righthander has allowed 50 hits (an 11.9 H/9), given up 24 runs (22 earned), surrendered 1.4 HR/9, and generally been awful each time he has toed the rubber.
His game scores reflect this: 63, 29, 51, 46, 41, 26, 41. In order to do my best at cherry-picking his stats, here are some of the more awful buried numbers this year (SSS warnings ahead, but still…..):
- He’s only pitched in the 6th inning 3 times, and in the 7th just once. For an “innings soaker”, he’s leaving a lot of innings for the bullpen
- From pitches 51-75, Williams is allowing a slash line of .383/.400/.596 to opposing hitters. Prior to this (only 50 pitches!), batters are nearly 100 points lower in each category.
- In 35 PA in high leverage situations (when a pitcher needs to be at his best), hitters are .303/.314/.485 against Williams. In low leverage situations, hitters are .375/.400/.646.
Now, I am not here to claim that Williams was ever going to be any good. I do know that he’s here to provide the old baseball adage of “soaking up innings”, and he’s not even doing this very well.
However, is it actually hurting the team, continuing to run out a starting pitcher who really doesn’t seem to be getting the job done? Granted, the Phillies aren’t in desperate need of wins in order to hang in a playoff race. They are instead playing for a top draft pick in 2016, and having Williams throw every fifth day helps them inch ever closer to that coveted #1 draft spot.
The problem management does face is that, while that draft spot is something to be desired, so is having customers want to come to the stadium with money in hand, ready to spend on a ticket and concessions. As a fan, there is no desire to “take me out to the ball game” when Jerome Williams is scheduled to take the mound at Citizens Bank Park, as I have just shown that the Phillies’ chances of winning that day are about the same as the Kardashians willingly giving up the Hollywood spotlight.
So, again I ask, why keep running Williams out there? There aren’t many attractive options with the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs. David Buchanan, who I wrote about earlier, was even worse than Williams, and needed to regain some confidence against minor league hitters. Adam Morgan is still finding his stuff after a major shoulder operation.
Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Phillippe Aumont, has just recently gone back to the starting rotation, and though recent outings are cause for happiness (confusion?), he’ll need more time before he is to be trusted on a major league mound. Joely Rodriguez? Paul Clemens? As I said before, the alternatives aren’t great.
Maybe we’re all just waiting for someone among the talented AA Reading Fightin’ Phils rotation to show that keeping them at that level is bad for their development. In the meantime, we’ll just have to keep watching the Phillies send out Williams, allowing him to keep inflating that innings total.
He’ll likely have a few nights along the way where he’s good, and everyone can smile. It’s probably hurting the team, as they can’t expect a win very often when Williams pitches. Yet, as most fans have already asked at some point in 2015 already, does it even matter?