A few years ago, I was wandering through the square of my adopted hometown during lunch when I was approached by a pamphleteer who was handing out religious tracts and CDs. I patiently accepted them, as he was not particularly pushy, and besides, I like music, especially older hymns.
I tossed the CD in my car and let it sit for a couple of years before curiosity got the better of me and I put in the CD player on a whim. It was a 2006 recording by the Antrim Mennonite Choir. Mennonite singing is, I now know, traditionally a capella and in parts. It is very plain, straightforward and soothing. If you like that sort of thing, here's an example.
Considering the play of the Phillies over the last month, one of the songs on the CD leapt out at me this morning: Be Not Dismayed Whate'er Betide. The gist of it is that though things may be really bad, you should have faith that it will turn out ok in the end. I tend to be a believer in a *plan*, but the idea that the storm will pass is still useful.
First, let's look at how bad it has been:
Be not dismayed whate'er betide
Without hitting the exact overlay of the dates I have above, I've got the last 30 days of hitting by team for all of MLB in this nifty Fangraphs link, which puts the Phillies at the very bottom. The wRC+ (I will save you the trouble) is 68, "led" by Ryan Howard's -14 in 55 plate appearances and Carlos Ruiz' -7 in 33 plate appearances. A wRC+ of 68 is worse than a team of 2015 Freddy Galvises (76 for 2015). That is remarkably awful. The worst team wRC+ during 2015 was 85 by the Braves. While Odubel Herrera has bat flipped his way into my heart, Maikel Franco has been more ordinary than I hoped for. Tommy Joseph seems to be making it so far, though he needs to work the OBP a little -- give him time. He's been better than Howard, for sure (wRC+ of 106 vs. 43 for the season respectively, not just the last month). After Herrera and Joseph, there just isn't much for the year or right now.
Through days of toil when heart doth fail
Not to worry though, the pitching has been better? The Phillies as a team are 29th out of 30 in fWAR over the last month. They are 17th for the season, but now we have an injury to Vincent Velasquez who, while not good over the last 30 days, was doing better than Zach Eflin did in one of the worst starts in Major League history. The bullpen has been much better than feared, but it has had a tougher go of it lately, too.
When dangers fierce your path assail
In the minor leagues, Alec Asher was suspended for 80 games for PED use. Roman Quinn was doing well in 225 plate appearances in the Eastern League until he again demonstrated his 6th tool, that of getting injured. As mentioned above, Velasquez went down. Mark Appel went down. Hector Neris is looking mortal after an absolutely outstanding stretch of dominance.
Lonely and sad and from friends apart
It is all falling apart. The team is hitting poorly. It is pitching poorly. My "by-hand" calculations of run differential for the period (80-138) suggest an expected winning percentage of .269 which is a 43 win pace for the year.
Overall, this is a really, really bad team. But remember: we expected it. The shoots of green we got to see were a great bonus this year and offer encouragement that the team is moving in the right direction, but we all knew they were premature. We did.
And you know it will be ok. It will. Klentak will take care of you. MacPhail will take care of you.
From the beginning of this year, the primary goal has been "develop players" and draft/stockpile more. That is still the goal. Back off that ledge. Look at the roster and ask yourself: "How many of these players will be here a year from now? Two years?"
I am personally taking comfort in the fact that Nick Williams is not being rushed. Nor was Roman Quinn. J.P. Crawford is not being rushed. Jorge Alfaro is being allowed to hit rather than rushing him. Quinn's injury is less concerning to me than it would otherwise be, given the fact that there are multiple outfielders who look to have promise that are in the organization already: Aaron Altherr (coming off his own injury), Dylan Cozens (who is cranking balls out of the yard with abandon this year), and Williams.
Alfaro and Rhys Hoskins continue to hit well and could provide more pop at catcher and first. Nobody is rushing them. Trying to "save" the 2016 season by hurrying players over this last month could have been a panicked and adverse approach to the "long game" that I continue to be encouraged at seeing the Phillies play.
Asher kind of surprisingly flashed some goods during a stretch earlier this year, but is out. Appel is hurt. Velasquez is hurt. But Eflin's stuff still looks good, despite being beaten around by a beefy Blue Jays lineup. Nobody is pushing Jake Thompson up out of panic. Ricardo Pinto lurks. So does Franklyn Kilome.
Aaron Nola looks like everything we expected when he was drafted and on the high side of the range. He's for real. Jerad Eickoff struggled but seems to be adjusting. Velasquez has been fun to watch, and maybe there's some concern about how deep he goes into games, but that's a Major League pitcher. Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez have been really unexpected (to me) bonuses. While Neris has struggled, he's shown he can get people out.
Looking at those regrettable Fangraphs charts of players and terrible numbers -- how many of them getting lots of innings will be replaced in the next year by inexpensive players already in this organization who have much more talent and much more upside? It's probably already happened with Ryan Howard, and if Joseph falters, there's Hoskins to push him pretty soon. It's getting to be like that all over the organization -- there are decent players with more decent players behind them to push them, especially in the outfield and the starting rotation.
Importantly, to this mix of pretty good raw material, the Phillies have the flexibility to begin to think about adding pieces from outside the organization either by trading parts like Galvis, Jeremy Hellickson, Andres Blanco and eating bad money in return or by jumping into the free agent market over the offseason to get an elite player or to fill spots where there may be less likelihood of finding a solid option internally. Given MacPhail's general preferences, I would think they'd look for a bat rather than a pitcher, which he tends to want to grow rather than buy.
Yes, this is a bad team. It's playing terribly right now. We expected it. The best part about it is that the Phillies have not panicked and tried to stop the bleeding by hurrying the young 'uns. The Reading affiliate is dominating the Eastern League. Hopefully in a year or so we'll start to see that paying off in Philadelphia.