Week 15 Recap: The Baseball God Giveth And Taketh Away

It hasn’t been pretty for the Phillies this season. They entered the year short on talent, and injury time has robbed the team of what little talent it had. Finally, it seemed as though the roughest was over – the underrated Cesar Hernandez was recalled from the DL. The good news was followed closely by the bad – as Hernandez returned, Aaron Altherr was placed on the 10-day DL with a strained right hamstring. The Phillies have five position players that have played at an average or better pace by WAR – Howie Kendrick, Andrew Knapp, Altherr, Odubel Herrera, and Cesar Hernandez (and only four if you exclude Kendrick, who’s tenure with the team is likely to end in July or August). To have two of those players alternate time on the DL hurts any chance that the Phillies will climb out of the cellar.

Game Recaps
  • Game 88: Loss, 6-9. Let’s play a quick game. First, forget what the result of this game was. It might be hard if you have an attention span longer than two sentences, but you can do it. I believe in you. After all, I used the word “game” two sentences in a row. If I can forget I did that, you can forget the first thing I wrote in this paragraph. Got it? Good work. Now take a look at this. Look at all the runs the Phillies scored! Amazing. And look at how few of the numbers are blacked out on the bottom. Surely, the Phillies had this game wrapped up.
    Oops. The Phillies surprised me again. One killer inning ended the entire thing – The Phillies have allowed more than 8 runs in only 8 games this season, but Pivetta managed to allow that many in a single inning. At least they had the decency to do so in the 2nd inning – the last time this happened was September 15, 2016 against the Pirates. The Pirates were already up 7-2 in the top of the 9th when they batted around and scored 8 runs off the team. Absolutely brutal. (Sidenote: With this loss, the Phillies now have the worst winning percentage with >6 RS. Take that, San Fran.)
  • Game 89: Loss, 2-3. Yet another 1-run loss make the Phillies the fastest team in the majors to 60 losses. It took the Phillies only 89 games to reach 60 losses, their fewest since 1997 (when they reached 60 losses in 83 games). Aaron Nola was unable to carry the Phillies – his 7+ innings pitched streak ended, but he still went 6 innings and only allowed 2 ER. Nola now has a 1.78 ERA in his last 5 starts. If he can establish a longer track record of good health, he will stick around on this team for a long time.

  • Game 90: Win, 5-2. A single swing is what separated the Phillies from another 1-run loss and a 3-run victory. Nick Williams is the first Phillies rookie to hit a grand slam since Aaron Altherr’s inside-the-park grand slam in 2015. Here’s a list of all Phillies rookies to hit grand slams:

Over his first 50 PA, Nick Williams has lived up to his reputation – a free-swinger with a low walk rate but good contact skills. Out of 199 players with regular playing time since Williams’s debut on June 30, Nick’s 56.7% swing rate ranks 12th, his walk rate (3.8%) ranks 12th lowest, and his K-rate (25.0%) ranks 57th highest. Despite this poor approach, his average exit velocity of 90.5 MPH ranks as the 35th best over that span, helping him to an above average 112 wRC+.

I’m skeptical that he can sustain this approach at the highest level of baseball – even though he’s made it work as he progressed through the minors, very few players can record an above average offensive season with a High K/Low BB approach. Since 2002, there have been 178 player seasons with a walk rate under 5% and a strike out rate above 20%. Only 38 of these have managed to be average or better offensively. These players managed to do so by hitting for more power (0.199 ISO vs. 0.153 ISO league average) and benefiting from some luck on balls in play (0.337 BABIP vs. 0.298 BABIP league average). Currently, Williams fits this mold – he’s running a 0.208 ISO and a 0.353 BABIP. BABIP is a notoriously finicky stat, so relying on that to generate positive results is a precarious thing. If he’s going to last, he’ll need to learn how to work a count.

Aaron Altherr’s Inside-the-Park Grand Slam was the first one since October 3, 1999. In the interim, there have been 5 unassisted triple plays, 5 4-HR games, 7 perfect games, 37 immaculate innings, 44 no-hitters, and 72 cycles.

Around the League Round-Up
  • Jose Quintana, sought after starting pitcher, has been dealt from the White Sox to the Cubs. Initially it seemed like the deal came out of nowhere, unusual in an age of smart phones and twitter for something to slip through unnoticed. That is, until wetbutt23 and katyperrysbootyhole came forward. Life is so rad sometimes.
  • As expected, Palardelphia favorite Aaron Judge won the home run derby, and it wasn’t particularly close. By statcast (you owe it to yourself to click that link), all 21 of the hardest hit balls were either by upset-in-the-first-round Giancarlo Stanton or Judge. The writing was on the wall in batting practice – or maybe more accurately, the writing was on the ceiling. For the first time in Marlins history, a ball struck the ceiling of Marlins Park. When they were building the park, the Marlins reached out to NASA to help design a dome that would be unreachable. Aaron Judge is so strong he defies the laws of physics.
  • The All-Star game was on Tuesday, and for the 5th straight year, the American League won. The talent on display was a sight to behold, but some stars shined brighter than others, as evidenced by Yadier Molina and his gladiator get-up.

  • I’m part of a Facebook group for Effectively Wild, a daily baseball podcast from the folks at popular sabermetrics site FanGraphs. Every once in a while, people will share something that is transcendent in how on point it is. To not take any credit, here is one of those times in its entirety.

The Phillies, at 30-60, are on pace for 54 wins. That is their fewest wins since 1994. I could leave it at that, but I think it’s more fun to remind you that 1994 was strike-shortened, and the Phillies only played 115 games that season. Will they do worse than the 1961 Phillies (47-107)? Probably not. As long as they are on this pace, I will keep mentioning it, hoping that it won’t last.

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