Welcome to The Homestretch, that fun two week period when we know the players are down there in Florida, but we can't really see them yet. We'll do our best to keep you going with a series of posts as we all sprint that last 90 feet to baseball season.
When Ryan Howard came back from his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2006, he slammed 58 home runs and was named the MVP of the National League. Jimmy Rollins led the league in triples (10) in 2002, as well as at-bats (637), and was named an All-Star for the follow-up to his debut season.
I'm doing it, aren't I? I'm doing exactly the thing Stolnis begged us not to do. Comparing any already proven players to younger ones is not healthy or productive. I just like looking at those stats.
The good news is, noting a second-year lull means the player in question turned a lot of heads the year before. Whether that impressive rookie display was a dose of reality or a cruel facade can only be determined by a larger sample size.
While many current Phillies sophomores performed encouragingly last year, none of them burst onto an elite level where national analysts would talk them up until there was nothing left to say (but then keep talking). Maikel Franco had stirred some Rookie of the Year talk, but was never a front runner and then broke his wrist. Herrera had impressed people too, but he'd already won Rookie of the Year (in Venezuela) and was probably bored of the notion. The truth is, like most aspects of this broken sport, the "sophomore slump" can happen to anyone. Who is a sophomore.
So let's say we are awoken tonight by the hum of a glowing, shifting cloud hovering at the foot of our beds. Drawn to it, we pass through into a nightmare world where all of the signs of hope provided by rookies in 2015 have started to melt away...
- Odubel Herrera: As Chesty poked at in his 2015 player review of Herrera, that .387 BABIP is no joke. The dual assets of speed and hard, consistent contact could start to translate into ground balls running into infielders and fly balls landing in mitts - eventually, they always do. It could also mean that his K%, 20.7 by the end of last August, rebounds closer to the 25% territory where it started. The instincts Herrera used to adjust from being a minor league second baseman to a starting major league center fielder helped him (though the education was visible), but with the league's pitchers getting a full season's gander at him, maybe that .291 BA slips a notch and those instincts will have to adjust, again.
- Maikel Franco: My guess is the impressive patience he had constructed by the end of the season crumbles a little and we see less walks. Of course, walks aren't the only thing fueling Franco's output, as he climbed up from a slow start last season and into .290-.300 range just before his coming out party in a weekend series with the Yankees (In which he went 6-for-12 with a double, three jacks, and 10 RBI). Wait, now I'm just listing Maikel Franco stats I like. This is nightmare world! Everything is wrong! Franco never hits the summit of his powers! Suddenly, his home run and extra base hit totals suffer! Nightmare world sucks.
- Aaron Altherr: With a burning desire to take bases that don't belong to him and the legs to get away with it, Altherr had a reputation when he came up to the majors as a threat on the base paths. While his contributions were not as blatant as Franco, he did perform well enough for the Phillies' outfield to be considered "set" after the acquisition of Peter Bourjos. One thing that may have been an anomaly was Altherr's uptick in power - the .489 SLG with the Phillies and the .487 in AA and AAA before his promotion were notably higher than the .400-.450 range he'd lived in for the majority of his career. Or, maybe it will stay the same and everything could be fine! God! Why are we doing this, again?
- Aaron Nola: Maybe his better than average control slips, leaving his pitches vulnerable to bats. Maybe his famous slider tanks. Maybe people will start flirting with that "ace" title that unfairly falls on a pitcher slotted into the No. 1 spot in a rotation and the pressure will mount. Ryan Lawrence did his best to throw water on anyone hoping to see fast improvement in the rotation, citing Nola (and Jerad Eickhoff) as candidates to inevitably struggle. I don't know! I don't want to do this anymore!
- Jerad Eickhoff: What if Eickhoff gets nipped in the thumb at bunting rehearsal and loses some of that pinpoint control we were only just getting to know? Ha ha, right; that totally happened. The injury is barely registering as a concern for anyone, but boy, it sure was a fun reminder that any one of these guys is an uncoordinated bunt away from missing precious, precious development.
- Cameron Rupp: With Carlos Ruiz on his way out and Jorge Alfaro hopefully on his way in and Andrew Knapp suddenly demanding that we know he exists, Rupp, who looks like a powerhouse but doesn't quite hit like one yet (except in August), may find himself considered surplus. He inherited a starting catching job out of need and, unlike these other guys, a sophomore slump would probably look about the same as his 2015 performance. One demoralizing misstep for Rupp to take would be, if given more opportunities due to the zig-zagging nature of catchers' development, he just stays consistent with his current output.
- Elvis Araujo: As a lefty, Araujo was dropped into brief, mid-game situations and then quickly smuggled out of them, usually without getting to close out an entire inning. He used these outings to compile 34.2 innings of work, and was able to keep his ERA respectable (3.38) as an effective southpaw. As far as broad issues to accuse him of having, Araujo's history of control issues is as long as his minor league career. He walked a lot of people. In 2015, he walked 19 more and had a 1.79 SO/W. But considered a gem in the pen, should Araujo crumble under the constant threat of control problems, we could consider him a victim of the dreaded narrative.
- Dalier Hinojosa: Performing reliably out of the bullpen after being acquired for beans, Hinojosa was exactly the sort of space-filling success stories you can find if you look really hard for Phillies 2015 narratives. He's not left-handed, so he didn't have Araujo's job security. But he did allow only two earned runs in 23 innings. Hinojosa was flying under the radar as a triple A hurler in Boston's system before the Phillies find him, so his sophomore slump could be defined by a potential failure to further distinguish himself and fall out of the repertoire of guys called in to clean up a mess. To stay in the majors, he'd have to prolong his success, which is more challenging than it sounds.
God, I'm sorry. I don't mean to stir up bad mojo like this. If it helps, plenty of Phillies have busted sophomore slumps, like Richie Ashburn, whose .333 rookie BA melted into a .284 second-year BA, which is a big difference but still not that bad actually.Sophomore slumps are not a rule, as exemplified by multiple players, but especially by Mike Schmidt, whose disastrous rookie year saw him with the league's highest percentage in strikeouts per at-bats, but whose second year in the league saw him lead the NL in home runs and slugging percentage.
So all any of these guys have to do if they feel themselves slipping is become the most iconic Phillies player of all time. Problem solved!