Report card day was always a tense one. Even if you were a good performer, always raised your hand, brought your teacher apples and didn’t play with Pogs or Crazy Bones during class, the nervous energy of seeing your progress and potential distilled to single letters always felt immutable.
During those marking periods or semesters or trimesters (or whatever blocks of time your school employed) that didn’t go so well, the dread could be immense. Maybe you were lucky enough to have that fold over into resignation, convinced of a low mark and instead opting to hope for a pleasant surprise. And even if one didn’t come, hey, you were already prepared!
Which brings us to the first quarter of this Phillies season. Through 40 games, the Phillies haven’t made major progress toward shaping themselves up to be something resembling a contender by next year. We hoped they would turn it around on their own, but maybe mom and dad need to spring for that tutor after all.
There’s a good, a bad and an ugly to both the hitting and pitching sides of this team. Let’s briefly highlight those opposite ends of the spectrum before delivering judgment. You better believe someone’s going to have to get their parents to sign their report card and return it.
All stats through 40 team games (5/20)
The Good: Aaron Altherr
Right now, Aaron Altherr is hitting like one of the best players in the entire league. He’s now an everyday outfielder, Howie Kendrick’s eventual return be damned. His 1.034 OPS is the best of any regular by more than 200 points, and he leads the club in homers (8) despite only having the seventh-most plate appearances. He’s also 3-for-4 in steals, just to put a cherry on top. Even better: He’s an exceptional athlete with a feel for all three outfield positions, so there’s defensive value to back up the scorching start at the plate.
The Bad: Maikel Franco
Franco has somewhat rebounded from a dreadful start, but still sports a rather cringey .224/.287/.381 line. He’s done well to cut his strikeout rate and walk a teensy bit more, but he’s also grounded into eight double plays already, and sometimes you can almost see him wear his frustration on his sleeve during a PA where he ends up hacking at bad balls. He’s by no means a lost cause, but there’s still work to be done here.
The Ugly: Odubel Herrera
A tremendous slump lately has bottomed Herrera out, pushing his OPS below every position player on the team but Andres Blanco, and Andy’s only had 35 PA in a part-time role. This is not what you want to see from your first major core investment. His month of May reads like this: .205/.227/.288, 20 strikeouts, one walk (and it was intentional).
He’s also vacated the disciplined, patient approach that transformed him into a better hitter in 2016.
The above PA came with two on and one out in the top of the ninth of a tie game. It was Odubel’s third strikeout of the night, and Bryce Harper eventually won it in the bottom half of the inning. A microcosm, to be sure. This is a guy the Phillies have to get straightened out, and fast.
Hitter Report Card
|Hyun Soo Kim||-||-||C-|
The Good: Jeremy Hellickson and Pat Neshek
It’s worth calling out two bright spots here, mainly because the rest of the staff has been...not quite as bright. Hellickson, through his strikeouts have all but vanished, has been able to keep runs from crossing the plate, and that’s the end goal of pitching. He, like the rest of the starters, needs to get deeper into games, but if he stays healthy, it’s easy to imagine more regular six-plus-inning starts are on their way.
Neshek has been the best relief arm on the club so far, tragically allowing his only runs of the year on a two-run homer by the Nats’ Michael Taylor that put Washington ahead in the eighth inning. Apart from that, he’s been spotless. Naturally, he’s also pitched the least of the bullpen mainstays (Neris, Ramos, Benoit, Joely). But that’s not his fault.
The Bad: Vince Velasquez
A guy the Phillies desperately hoped would take a leap this season is instead backsliding, trying to figure out how to Capital-P Pitch instead of blowing guys away all the time, and instead getting in his own way. All of that frustration finally boiled over into comments of feeling “clueless.”
"In the game, it's just a lack of commitment, a lack of concentration, just a lack of everything," Velasquez said. "I mean, jeez, even my golf game is lacking everything. I don't know what I've got to do, but I've got to figure something out. Stuff is just not working out. Nothing is going my way."
Vinny has a big-time arm, and should be afforded a longer leash to figure out how to best harness it in a starter’s role. It’s probably not a great idea to further mess with his head by shifting his role now, but that is almost certainly something the club will consider if Velasquez remains lost at sea.
The Ugly: Joely Rodriguez
It can’t be easy being the only left-handed option in a bullpen for extended stretches - especially when you’re bounced between long- and short-relief roles on a whim - but there’s currently no more volatile pitcher on the staff than Joely.
Joely is the 4th RP in the last 9 seasons to get fewer than 3 outs while allowing 7+ runs, 6+ hits and walking more than he struck out— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) May 18, 2017
That disaster on May 18 set Joely’s May stats ablaze: 8.1 IP, 4 K, 7 BB, 11 R (9 ER, 9.72 ERA), .378/.489/.568 opponent slash. I mean that’s just rancid. Even better, on the season, left-handed hitters are teeing off on the lone lefty: .342/.457/.474. If you’re going to let righties slug over .600 against you, you at least have to be competent against lefties. Right now, despite good stuff, Joely just can’t miss enough bat barrels.
Pitcher Report Card
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