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Mailbag #20: The Tommy Joseph Show

For Once in a Long Time, the Phillies May Have a Competent First Baseman

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We are one week closer to Spring Training. Thank you all for continuing to ask great questions.

The prospect profile will return next week. I promise.


There are many downsides to the six-man rotation. The first is the obvious one: If you carry six starters, you either have to carry six relievers or four bench players. I think a six-man bullpen would be less problematic if the Phillies had the roster to bring up relievers when needed. As for the bench, with four bench players, you essentially have three once the backup catcher is glued there. That severely limits your pinch-hitting and defensive substitution options. A six-man rotation limits the innings for each of your starters (about five games per starter over a year, with the typical starter getting 32 starts per year in a five-man rotation). This is positive if you want to limit innings, but if you are looking to win games, your best starters pitch less. This also carries less Big League developmental time for young starters that are worthy.

Now, if we are talking the minors, I don't think there is a ton of downside. Last year, the Phillies had a six-man rotation at Clearwater, Lakewood, and Williamsport. They allow their starters to work deep into games and then get the extra rest. They also have the DH at those levels, which helps the bench.

This is a really difficult question. Joseph has more raw power than Hoskins. Hoskins still has plus power and has a shot to get to 25-30 home runs. However, Joseph has the chance (with a good hit tool) to get to 35, and was near that on a per-600 PA basis in 2016. Their hit tools are fairly close at this point. Both can get pull heavy, have solid bat speed, and are going to strike out at a decent-but-not-alarming rate. When it comes to approach, Hoskins has the longer track record of drawing walks and working pitchers. Joseph showed an advanced approach over the last three months of 2016, but he has never walked at a good rate before. Given all that, I go Joseph because he has already shown his power in the Majors, but it will be interesting to watch.

I don’t think anyone will. The Phillies opted for Michael Saunders over a part-time, LH 1B/LF that could have spelled Joseph vs. tough RHPs. Brock Stassi has been mentioned as an alternative, but he is a 1B with no power that would provide no help outside of pinch-hitting. This hurts the Phillies’ bench flexibility in terms of upside. Andrew Knapp can play 1B and switch hits, but I don’t see the Phillies putting him at 1B and leaving no catcher on the bench. The other question is this: Does Joseph even need someone to help him out at 1B vs. RHP? On the year, Joseph hit .248/.291/.482 vs RHPs, but from July 1 to the end of the year he hit .295/.367/.54 with an 8.2% BB% and 21.1% K%. If Joseph does need a day off, I suspect it will come from Andres Blanco or Howie Kendrick.

This is all in reference to this piece. Exit velocity has become a new buzzword in doing blind leaderboard-based analysis. Essentially, it measures how hard you hit the baseball, only it averages all of your hits (two 80 MPH hits are equivalent to a 100 MPH hit and a 60 MPH hit) but that doesn’t include all balls in play. The piece says that Joseph looked at exit velocity in August and then does not mention a single thing he did with it (because it is, presumably, blatantly obvious that hitting the ball hard means good things). Instead, Joseph brings up OPS, but more importantly he talks about modeling his game after other top right-handed power hitters like Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado. Beyond that, Joseph talks about the importance of OBP and how power isn’t everything.

This has become a key thing in the StatCast era. We have new stats that measure things, but we lack any context or follow-up on them. Many of these measure things that have long been measured by eye, just over larger sample sizes. We force meaning on the stats, and then project that teams value them in some meaningful way (do we all remember the pieces written about the Phillies and curveball spin rate last spring?).

The reality is we don’t know what is important. For example: With exit velocity, is average exit velocity important, or does a distribution matter? In the end, hitting a baseball hard at the right angle makes it go far, that’s just basic physics.

The Phillies’ LH pitching is lacking at every level of the organization. This mirrors Major League baseball as a whole, really. The only lock here is Joely Rodriguez, who has good enough stuff that he would need to fail in spring to lose his spot. Then there will be the retreads in camp with Sean Burnett, Adam Morgan, and Cesar Ramos getting their shots. There is no room for Morgan in a rotation, so the Phillies will likely see if his stuff plays up in the bullpen. Ramos has been serviceable over his career, but had a terrible 2016. Over his career he has held LHBs to a .250/.314/.339 line, but he is a liability vs. RHBs and looked like toast last year. Burnett was once a good reliever, but he missed a year to injury, and though he was good vs. lefties last year, that was Triple-A. He is limited to being a LOOGY.

On the farm, you have a couple of interesting (and not so interesting) names. Wander Perez is older and was out of baseball before being good in winter ball, so don’t expect much. Joey DeNato is a tiny lefty with a ton of pitches and good control, but nothing is overwhelming. Mario Hollands never had his stuff come back after Tommy John surgery. Tom Windle can’t find the strike zone, but he still throws in the mid-90s and if he can find the strike zone then he could have a Joely Rodriguez-like season.

The most interesting case is probably Jeff Singer. Singer started the year in Williamsport and ended in the Arizona Fall League with stops in Lakewood and Clearwater. His fastball reaches 95 and he has a decent slider. He is smaller and has a funky-ish delivery.

The wildcard is Hoby Milner, who was taken by the Indians in the Rule 5 draft. If he is offered back, I don’t think it is impossible to believe he comes up towards the end of the year to audition as a LOOGY.

Outside of a select few, closers tend to appear out of nowhere. With that in mind, the first guy to mind is Hector Neris, who has an elite pitch in his splitter. Maybe he isn’t the most elite closer, but he could be an average one, relative to the rest of the league. Next, you have Victor Arano, who gets his fastball up to 97 - and can command it - and a good breaking ball. His youth (22 years old) and his ability to locate his pitches make him interesting. Alberto Tirado is still starting, but he profiles best in a relief role where a fastball up to 100 and a two-plane slider give him the ability to miss plenty of bats.

With the signing of Michael Saunders, it looks like Roman Quinn will go to Triple-A. Right now, here is the upper minors in terms of outfielders:

Triple-A: Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens, Roman Quinn, Tyler Goeddel, Cameron Perkins, Osmel Aguila

Double-A: Andrew Pullin, Aaron Brown, Christian Marrero, Carlos Tocci, Derek Campbell, Zach Coppola

Aguila could be sent out of organization without a lot of fuss, which would leave five in Triple-A. With the DH, the IronPigs could run out a regular OF of Williams-Quinn-Cozens with Perkins and Goeddel playing DH and spelling the regular OFs. The Double-A playing time works out cleaner with only Pullin and Tocci needing everyday ABs.

It is my mailbag and I make the rules, so I am going to make some assumptions:

  • This is not 9/1, rather it is after the Triple-A playoffs are over
  • The MLB Phillies are out of playoff contention
  • Non-listed veterans (Hellickson/Buchholz) were already traded (or cut, in some disaster scenario)
  • Rosters expanded to 40, so I am putting in platoons

C: Alfaro/Knapp
1B: Joseph
2B: Hernandez
3B: Franco
SS: Crawford
LF: Williams
CF: Herrera
RF: Quinn
Bench: Galvis, Hoskins, Cozens, Altherr, Rupp, Goeddel, Valentin, Blanco

SP: Nola, Velasquez, Eickhoff, Eflin, Thompson
RP: Arano, Gomez, Neris, Pinto, Neshek, Ramos, Rodriguez, Pivetta, Milner, Nunez

Of course, the first time a player gets hurt this dramatically changes. I also think there is a chance Saunders is around because of his option.

But we’ve got seven months to get through before then. First thing’s first.