Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What Will 2016 Hold For The Phillies?


Taking Steps Forward In 2016 – The Phillies will begin 2016 with a clean slate. There will be no speculation about their president, general manager or manager entering Spring Training. They have those people in place. There will be no speculation about the futures of Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Jonathan Papelbon. They were traded last summer. Next year should have little less drama off the field, but it should be more interesting on the field as the rebuilding Phillies look for their young players and prospects to take another step forward. Here are the top five questions entering next season: 1. How can 2016 be judged as a success? That's easy. They need big leaguers like Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera and Jerad Eickhoff to establish themselves and show everybody they should be part of the core going forward. They also need their top prospects to take another step forward. While it is unrealistic to expect J.P. Crawford, Mark Appel, Jake Thompson, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies out of Spring Training, it is realistic to think some of them could be in the big leagues before the end of the season. But the best thing that could happen to Philadelphia next year would be if its young talents in the Major League and Minor League levels look more and more like the real deal entering 2017. 2. Who will be the first prospect promoted? That's a tough one. Crawford is the No. 5 prospect in baseball, according to MLBPipeline. There may be a scenario in which he plays very well in Triple-A Lehigh Valley and almost forces the Phillies to promote him. But that only will happen if the organization believes he is ready to play every day. He will not join the Phillies as a part-time player. It's not a stretch to think he could be in the big leagues by the middle of the summer. What happens to Freddy Galvis at that point? If he is playing well, he could move to second base, depending on how Cesar Hernandez is playing. Or Galvis could move into a utility role. But again, all of this depends on Crawford's performance in Triple-A. 3. Who will be in the Opening Day rotation? There are so many options at this point, but we know Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton are locks. The Phillies traded for them for a reason; they need some veteran stability in the rotation. Nola and Eickhoff have to be considered favorites based on their performances last season. And then one has to think one of the pitchers they acquired in the Ken Giles trade -- Vincent Velasquez or Brett Oberholtzer -- will be a favorite for a job. But the good thing about what the Phillies accomplished this offseason is almost nobody (maybe other than Hellickson, Morton and Nola) will be handed a job. If somebody really struggles this spring and somebody really pitches well, one of those favorites could be bumped out. But Hellickson, Morton, Nola, Eickhoff and Velasquez have to be considered the early frontrunners. 4. Who will be the closer? There will be a Spring Training competition, but the early favorites are David Hernandez and Ernesto Frieri. Luis Garcia could be a candidate because of his stuff, but the smart bet is on the veterans with experience. 5. Will Ryan Howard be the first baseman on Opening Day? It seems like it. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak met with Howard and Howard's agent at Citizens Bank Park before Thanksgiving. Klentak described the discussion as positive. Everybody knows the Phillies have tried hard to trade Howard, but they have found no takers. If nothing happens before Spring Training, the hope is Howard can produce against right-handed hitters and possibly improve against left-handers. If he can, he will play more often. If not, Darin Ruf should see more time against lefties.

The Case For Billy Wagner – Billy Wagner has taken a slight backseat to Trevor Hoffman in this year's Hall of Fame discussion, but given what Wagner did during his 16 years in the big leagues, there is room for debate that the spotlight throughout the voting season has been focused on the wrong guy. Maybe "wrong" is too strong a word. After all, Wagner, Hoffman and the third closer on the ballot -- Lee Smith, who's back for a 14th try -- have all done plenty to merit consideration. But when the topic of relievers comes up, Hoffman is always mentioned first, as the most likely of the three to gain entry in 2016. This really is for one main reason: saves. Hoffman has 601 of them, second most in history and 179 ahead of Wagner's 422, fifth-highest. While there never was a magic number for closers to guarantee entry to the Hall -- to date, only five closers have been elected -- it's been widely assumed in general circles that Hoffman's total in that lone category is enough to push him through. And it may be. But there is an argument to be made that Wagner might just be the best closer on the ballot. It depends on the voters' criteria, which, thanks to modern-day metrics, largely debunk the importance of the more traditional stats -- especially saves. This isn't some outside-the-box thinking. The save, while useful, is also understood to be flawed -- and not just among numbers-minded analysts. It's pretty much a universal theory. "The numbers that stand out to me are not just saves," Wagner said the day the ballot was announced. "It's the big numbers: ERA, strikeouts, batting average against. How do they show dominance? Those are dominant numbers. Saves are just tied along with it." And that's one of the main reasons why Hall of Fame voting in this particular area has become so murky. The main knock on Wagner is his innings pitched -- 903, the lowest among all elite closers in history by a significant margin. In fact, no reliever has ever been elected to the Hall with fewer than 1,000 career innings pitched. But what made Wagner so elite is what he did while pitching those 903 innings. He had more strikeouts than either of his two contemporaries. His 1,196 K's are just a tick better than Mariano Rivera's 1,173 (Rivera also pitched three more years than Wagner). Hoffman, who pitched four years longer than Wagner, had 1,133 strikeouts. Wagner's career ERA is 2.31, second-lowest to only Rivera (2.21) among pitchers with that many innings from 1920 to present. Dating back to 1900, Wagner has the highest strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio (11.92) among pitchers with at least 900 innings. Wagner's WHIP of 1.00 is tied with Eckersley for the lowest among all elite closers, including the other two on the ballot, Hoffman and Smith. Plenty of evidence exists to support the theory that Wagner was a far more dominant closer than Hoffman, but while Wagner acknowledges that saves don't tell the whole story, they're still a big part of it. And when it comes to Hoffman, Wagner has few doubts about where he fits into history. "It's hard to believe he isn't looked at as a shoo-in as a Hall of Famer, with 600 saves," Wagner said. "His numbers alone speak volumes. I think he has an 88, 89 save percentage. He had a different way of how he dominated a team." Wagner has a point. While Wagner blew hitters away with a 100-mph fastball, Hoffman earned his paychecks by confusing them with a changeup that hitters could not decipher. In addition to saves, Hoffman also has longevity as an ally, something Hall voters will have to take into account as they weigh his candidacy. He pitched 18 years and lasted until age 42. That goes a long way in Hall consideration. For Wagner, his philosophy about the importance of closers is simple: take them out of the equation and see how good your team is without them. "There's only a few people that have demonstrated that they can go out there night in and night out and handle the stress of getting the last three outs," Wagner said. "Doing it on a nightly basis and having the longevity to prove it counts for a lot."

The Phillies finally put an end to the season finishing in last place in the NL East with a record of 63-99. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and bipolar performances, this has ended up being one of the worst seasons in franchise history! However, at least Ryan Madson got another ring this year.

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