After 19 games the Phillies are 9-10.
Nineteen games isn’t enough of a sample to determine anything, even the direction of the team itself. But we can predict that with the 9-10 record and the data we had going into the season, the Phillies are probably somewhere in the bottom half of baseball this season, but more likely not the very worst team out there. And we wouldn’t be out of bounds in that prediction.
But what about individuals? Again, 19 games (about 1/9 of the season) is too small a sample to determine anything, but we can look at some early numbers (from players with enough plate appearances and innings) and predict whether we’re seeing a true value, or a future improvement or regression.
Cameron Rupp – .286 AVG/.302 OBP/.476 SLG, .190 ISO – I pegged Rupp as a possible surprise breakthrough candidate in 2016, as his power was starting to develop in 2015 with increased playing time. But his numbers, while solid, come with an unsustainable .407 batting average of balls in play. His strikeout rate is also a fairly high 32.6%. In essence, Rupp is a poor-man’s three-true-outcome player, and he’s not enough of a power hitter (or defender) to earn middle-of-the-lineup preference. That means it’s more likely that Rupp will regress the average and on-base percentage, proving he isn’t long for the starting job.
Ryan Howard – .183 AVG/.250 OBP/.383 SLG, .200 ISO – While Howard has hit four home runs, the full body of work this season is underwhelming. His batting average of balls in play is .179, which signals those base contact numbers should improve. That said, his strikeout rate (27.9%) and walk rate (8.8%) are consistent with late-career norms (it’s not as if he’s collecting more in-play outs). So while some hits should fall in (expect more doubles as the weather heats up), don’t expect a full rebound; it’s likely he’s simply even more of a shift hitter than before. A full season ending with Howard hovering at .215, with a lousy .270 on-base mark, is quite possible.
Cesar Hernandez – .262 AVG/.308 OBP/.344 SLG, .082 ISO – Hernandez was scorching hot at the plate over the first half of these 19 games. Then he went cold. The result? Hernandez is already comfortably at his career norms. His walk rate is down, however (6%) as he’s shown a more aggressive approach at the plate. Also disheartening is his baserunning (4 CS already including some real blunders on the paths). Here’s the point: while Hernandez seems to be his normal subpar offensive self, his approach is showing signs of regression. That’s bad news.
Freddy Galvis – .243 AVG/.280 OBP/.414 SLG, .171 ISO – Last season Galvis seemed to get a little lucky in hitting .263, as his .309 BABIP showed an ability to leg out a few hits and sneak some balls through the infield. This season Galvis has been more of a slugger, swatting two early home runs (10.5% of his fly balls have left the yard) and seven total extra-base hits. But like Hernandez, Galvis has been ultra-aggressive, sporting just a 5.3% walk rate and seeing only 3.96 pitches per plate appearance. This approach limits the chance for strikeouts, sure, but also enhances the opportunity for in-play outs. So expect pitchers to adjust and throw off-speed and breaking pitches earlier, turning Galvis into a power pumpkin and keeping his low average and OBP where it is. In short, Galvis’ aggression is likely to hurt him.
Maikel Franco – .296 AVG/.333 OBP/.535 SLG, .239 ISO – So far, pretty good for Franco, who showed some true power against Milwaukee and has impressed with defense throughout the season. His approach at the plate is uncomfortably aggressive, however (4% walk rate, 21.3% strikeout rate), which could really hurt as pitchers deny him early cookies. Even if Franco adjusts, expect his average to drop a little (and expect the home run opportunities to diminish). So he has to adjust. The last thing the Phillies want is for Franco to become a three-true-outcome player a la Howard. Luckily his defense has been strong, proving he’s a starter regardless of offensive approach.
Odubel Herrera – .286 AVG/.432 OBP/.429 SLG, .143 ISO – It’s hard to remember the last time a Phillie hitter showed such immediate and noticeable improvement as what we’re seeing with Herrera. His 21% walk rate is tremendous, as is the 4.92 pitches he’s seeing per plate appearance. And it’s no fluke – Herrera seems to look for a pitch to hit early in a count, and otherwise fouls off pitches while taking offerings outside of his prefered zone. It’s a fully locked approach to hitting.
What’s exciting about this is while we expect the walk rate to regress (pitchers will throw more early strikes to him), Herrera’s BABIP of .348 is currently under his .387 rate of last season, and hovering around his projected rate. That means he’ll continue to be a solid hitter, potentially even retaining his power, as the .143 ISO is only a slight and projectable increase from last season’s .121 mark.
Finally, Herrera’s patient approach at the plate is the result of a development effort. He bemoaned his 24% strikeout rate of last season and has spoken candidly about his need to improve his plate discipline. When he walks he claps hard and loud, a self-feedback mechanism that demonstrates a man locked into his goal.
When taking these things together, it’s not hard to imagine that Herrera is capable of becoming an all-star player showing long-term, sustained success. It’s seriously exciting.
Aaron Nola – 10.38 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, 4.50 ERA, 2.85 FIP – From a purely outsider’s perspective, Nola is demonstrating the volatility of early numbers. Thanks to some poor defense (Darin Ruf in left field) and tough hits, Nola’s ERA is higher than the pitching has shown. That said, the strikeout rate is slightly too high, and the walk rate is slightly too low. It’s early and hitters will make better contact and get a better picture of Nola’s offerings (though the curveball has been an improved weapon).
We should expect the ERA to reduce into the high 3s, but we should also expect fewer strikeouts and slightly more walks.
Jerad Eickhoff – 10.36 K/9, 1.85 BB/9, 4.07 ERA, 3.12 FIP – Eickhoff’s last outing against Milwaukee showed that when his weapon isn’t working well, it’ll get clubbed. More often than not the curveball should work, but Eickhoff will have bad outings, too. His line this year seems to be close to what we should expect, though a lower strikeout rate and higher walk rate is likely. Meanwhile, his .303 BABIP is slightly higher than normal, so let’s say a few more troubling plate appearances but a few less easy hits. An ERA in the high 3s is also likely.
Vincent Velasquez – 13.5 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 0.93 ERA, 2.04 FIP – A fourth start tonight against Washington will help us understand Velasquez, but the early returns have been overwhelmingly positive. That said, nobody expects video game numbers from anyone, so the ERA should climb to something much more in line with the FIP. Also Velasquez has been known for command issues; at some point we should see that walk rate climb closer to 2.5 BB/9. The strikeout rate? That could potentially hold.
Of all Phillies arms right now, it’s Velasquez who can prove special. Even a 10 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 pitcher with a 2.50-3.15 ERA is terrific and ace-worthy. But we’re not quite at the point where we can make projectable conclusions. It’s exciting to think about it, though.