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2017 Phillies player review: Ben Lively

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The 25-year old right-hander was acquired just less three years ago from the Reds in exchange for Marlon Byrd. Now he’s finally with the big club.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Lively’s professional baseball career has been slightly odd.

In early December 2014, the Cincinnati Reds, who drafted him in the 4th round of the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, praised Lively for his magnificent 2014 season with their high-A and double-A affiliates Bakersfield and Pensacola. Lively went a combined 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA in 151 innings pitched to go with a career high 171 strikeouts. The Reds celebrated Lively by awarding him their Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award, given to the organization’s minor league player of the year.

It was then less than one month later when they traded him to the Phillies in exchange for veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd and cash.

Lively came to the Phillies and despite many people, including myself, thinking he could not experience relative success in a major league rotation, he did just that in 2017.

Lively was first promoted on June 3 to take Zach Eflin’s spot in the rotation after Eflin had suffered his third straight start of giving up seven or more earned runs on May 28 against the Reds. He debuted against the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Bank Park and threw seven innings of four-hit ball, allowing just one run on three walks and no strikeouts. He threw 98 pitches.

In his first seven starts for the Phillies, Lively allowed more than four earned runs just once and pitched fewer than six innings just twice.

Lively made his last start in his first stint with the Phils on July 5 against the Pirates and was optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley when Jerad Eickhoff returned from injury on July 9.

After returning to the IronPigs, Lively wasn’t his previous AAA-self for the seven starts he made there. Regardless, the Phils recalled him on August 20 to once again start against the Giants, this time in San Francisco. His final eight starts of the year were made with the Phils and went slightly better than his first seven. Lively was able to get a lot more strikeouts in his second stint in the majors, racking up 35 as compared to just 17 in his first stint. He was also able to reduce his walks from 13 to 11 despite making an extra start upon being recalled. Here’s how Lively performed overall in 2017.

Lively’s 2017 pitching stats (15 starts):

Standard: 88.2 IP, 4.26 ERA, 90 H, 45 R (42 ER), 13 HR, 24 BB, 52 K, 1 WP, 1 CG
Advanced: 5.28 K/9, 2.44 BB/9, 14% K%, 1.32 HR/9, 17.7% LD%, 38.2% GB%, 44.2% FB%

Lively, as he has progressed up into the high minors and the MLB, has not been known to be much of a strikeout pitcher and that is quite evident in his numbers. As I mentioned above, he did pick up more Ks after being called up by the Phillies for the second time. Still, it’s a slight worry when a starter cannot strike hitters out at a relatively high rate.

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw how low Lively’s line drive rate was: only 17.7% of batted balls against him were line drives. If he were qualified, this would have been the fourth-lowest line drive rate for starters in all of baseball behind Ervin Santana, Max Scherzer, and Luis Perdomo.

Also of note was Lively’s hard hit percentage, which I did not list above. 30.2% of batted balls were deemed as ‘hard hit,’ good for 34th out of nearly 60 qualified starters. You’d think that a guy like Lively who doesn’t strike out many hitters would allow a good amount of line drives and hard hit balls, but in fact he would have been among the best in the league in both categories if he was qualified.

In all likelihood, Lively will battle in Spring Training for a back-end spot in the major league rotation. There are factors, of course, that could change this. Trades are possible as are free agent signees, and we already know that Matt Klentak wants to improve the rotation this offseason. Look for Lively to try to build on his pretty solid 2017 season.