This offseason, as I looked at the lineup, there were several players more deserving of optimism than others. Among the recipients of my heightened expectations was Tommy Joseph, catching prospect turned major league first baseman. I wrote that he could “easily crest 30 home runs”, based on his 21 homers in only 347 PA (which extrapolates to about 36 in 600 PA). The question mark surrounding Joseph – how were pitchers going to adjust to him now that they had an offseason of scouting reports to pore over and pick apart? How would Tommy adjust back?
The early going proved to be rough for Joseph. After averaging a home run every 16.5 PA in 2016, he hit only one in his first 48 PA to start 2017. He was swinging more than ever in his career, his exit velocity was down, he had four times more infield flies than home runs – for the first few weeks of the season, he resembled one of the worst players in baseball.
Luckily for Joseph, the Phillies aren’t looking to compete this season. One of the luxuries of being non-competitive is a lack of urgency. Joseph was given the opportunity to turn things around, and the team’s patience was rewarded. Before 4/20, his OPS was .458 (29th out of 31 first baseman). Since April 20th, he’s rocked an excellent .994 OPS (9th out of 30 at a deep offensive position). The key difference? Improved plate discipline. He’s cut his swing rate from 56.2% down to 44.8%. Out of 179 players in baseball with regular playing time before and after 4/20, Joseph’s swing rate decline ranks 4th (behind only Wil Myers, Dee Gordon, and Yangervis Solarte). This more patient approach has resulted in an increased walk rate, forcing pitchers to give him pitches that he can attack. Attack he has – after just 1 home run in his first 48 PA, he’s hit 5 more over the last 88 PA (a much more respectable home run rate of 17.6 PA/HR). Even with the slow start, it’s possible Joseph might still reach 30 home runs. Let’s hope he can prove me right.
(Side note: Odubel Herrera has gone the entirely opposite direction – he has the second largest swing rate increase before and after 4/20, from 47.3% to 58.2%. His offensive output has tanked from an 0.820 OPS to a 0.560 OPS. Maybe Joseph can teach him the virtues of not swinging.)
- Game 36: Loss, 1-5. The first game in what would prove to be a forgettable series in Texas. Jerad Eickhoff continues his solid pitching (8 Ks, 2 BB, 2 ER in 6 IP), but the bats were once again nowhere to be found. In Eickhoff’s 8 starts, the Phillies have only scored 13 runs – the lowest run support for ANY starter in the majors.
- Game 37: Loss, 3-9. Before Cole Hamels got injured, I was excited for the possibility of seeing him pitch against the Phillies. With the way these games went, I hope he wasn’t watching too closely. Zach Eflin was absolutely clobbered, allowing 11 hits and 7 runs in 4 innings. Brutal.
- Game 38: Loss, 4-8. In his last start before getting demoted, Nick Pivetta failed to get out of the 5th inning. He has some promise, but with Nola returning, he will be given the time he needs at AAA to work out the kinks. Bright side – Tommy Joseph hit another home run in the 9th, and Maikel Franco continued to suggest he’s turned it around with another home run of his own.
- Game 39: Win, 7-2. The one win of the week (which is becoming a pattern) was a full team effort. After falling behind early 0-2, the Phillies rattled off 7 unanswered runs, culminating in a 3 run homer by Cameron Rupp in the 9th to put the game out of reach. Jeremy Hellickson went 6 innings, and the back end of Neshek, Neris, and Benoit shut the game down. As my dad says, “even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes”. At the risk of poor phrasing I say – let’s enjoy the nut.
- Game 40: Loss, 3-6. In what is approaching “Charlie Brown attempting to kick the football” levels of repeatedly dashed hopes, electrifying Vince Velasquez once again gave up runs by the boatload and failed to complete the 6th inning. Velasquez’s fastball has been one of the sharper of its kind in baseball – opponent’s are only hitting 0.180 off it. Sadly for Vince, baseball is not a fastball only league. His offspeed offerings are among the worst in baseball – he’s given up a batting average of .358 on his changeup, slider, and curveball. That is the third worst batting average out of 134 pitchers. His secondary pitches fared better last year, so there’s still hope that he isn’t a one trick pony destined for the bullpen.
- Game 41: Loss, 0-1. Aaron Nola’s return from the DL was a sharp one, going 7 innings, striking out 5, and only allowing 1 run. Sadly, that was all the Pirates needed to secure victory – the Pirates scattered 3 hits throughout the game and blanked the Phillies where it mattered the most. It was nice to see Nola pitch as well as he did, but an offense that inspires more pity than fear will be hard to win with.
Around the League Round-Up
- May 18 marked Allan Travers Day. Allan Travers holds the record for most earned runs in a single game, which was the only game he ever pitched. Read up on it if you’re into weird baseball history.
- On May 17, Joey Votto hit a popup. “OK”, you might be thinking. What you might not know – it was Votto’s first popup since 2015. Usually, batters that hit for power tend to hit more popups. As you can see, not so in Votto’s case.
- “Can’t Touch This – MC Hammer” – Josh Harrison
- Fun facts come in many different flavors, but I’ve never quite seen this shade of fun fact –
- This isn’t new, but something that was shown to me recently and I think deserves your attention. After spending years watching baseball, it’s easy to forget how hard pitchers throw the ball. Yes, you can say “that was thrown at 93 MPH” pretty easily, but seeing it from that same center field camera, it becomes a part of what you’re used to seeing. To remind you both how hard pitcher’s throw and how terrifying standing in the batter’s box would be, here’s Cliff Lee throwing in a bullpen, with an angle that gives you a better look at how hard pitchers throw.
Another week, another single win covered in a recap. The Phillies are now 4-17 since their 11-9 start. I feel like a broken record at this point, but it really can’t get any worse…can it?