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Bi-Weekly Report Card: Soto, Strahm, Castellanos

The Phillies have figured out how to maximize multiple options out of the bullpen.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Philadelphia Phillies Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

11-12 and sitting 3.5 games back from the division, the Phillies are still climbing out of a slow start to April.

Here are some of the notes I’ve taken over since my last report card, I’ll be back in two weeks.

Gregory Soto is Fixed

The Phillies acquired the lefty reliever from Detroit with an interesting combination of pedigree, being a two-time all-star, and work that needed to be done in order to be a late-inning arm on a contending team.

Soto has lights-out stuff but still struggled to put guys away with a strikeout rate of just 22.8% in 2022. Now the Phillies have figured out a way to unlock more whiffs.

Soto is now primarily a sinker-slider pitcher, using his sinker to over-power hitters in the strike zone and his slider whenever he needs a whiff.

In 2022, he threw his slider just 21.6% of the time, despite a strikeout rate of nearly 30%. In my piece about Soto, I highlighted that he was also throwing it too much in the strike zone. Soto is now executing the slider to perfection, down and in against righties, and down and away to lefties.

His slider whiff rate is now over 60% and in turn, has increased his K/9 from 9.0 in 2022 to 12.2. His overall whiff rate is the best in baseball.

Soto is now the second most trusted arm out of Rob Thomson’s bullpen and hasn’t allowed an earned run since Jose Trevino took him deep in New York.

Matt Strahm back to the pen?

When Ranger Suárez comes off the IL and returns to the rotation, Bailey Falter or Matt Strahm have to be taken out of the rotation.

Going with a six-man rotation would only hurt the bullpen workload and we saw what happened to Andrew Bellatti, so they can’t do that.

While Strahm has been an impressive starter, keeping him in the rotation would be a massive gamble.

Strahm’s career high in innings is just 114.2 innings, back in 2019 when he was mostly a spot starter and long reliever.

Since he’s pitched a combined 90 innings and he prepared to be a reliever this off-season so it’s hard to imagine him being able to handle the workload required to be a starting pitcher.

So with that out of the way, how will Strahm pitch out of his original role?

Caleb Cotham has once again figured out some magic with a left-handed pitcher. Strahm’s curveball has taken a massive leap and give’s him a great way to work north and south with his fastball.

His curveball last year generated a whiff rate of 20.3% and a strikeout rate of 31.7%. It was a fine pitch but he even trusted his cutter more in key spots.

Now he’s producing a 50% whiff rate and a 55% strikeout rate with a slight uptick in usage. His four-seam fastball primarily works up in the zone so having a deadly curveball to pair off it will only help.

What’s going to help Thomson a lot is that Strahm can take the ball in any spot. In Boston last year, he took down late innings and even came into jams. Now he has been built up as a manageable starter so he could go multiple innings.

They can ask him to pitch in any spot and go however long they need him, a super versatile weapon for topper.

Nick Castellanos is back?

The first 16 games for Nick Castellanos seemed both promising and concerning. He started walking a lot more, lead the league in doubles, and had decent production with a .798 OPS.

There were also problems, he didn’t show any signs of regaining power, posted a .460 BABIP, very unsustainable for him, and struck out 24 times.

Compared to last season, any production whether it was sustainable or not didn’t matter to most fans. It’s easy to just be content with that but remember he’s still a 20 million per year bat and the cleanup hitter on a contender.

The Phillies then rolled into Chicago and Castellanos began showing a glimpse into the type of player he was when they signed him. In Chicago and back at home against the Rockies, Castellanos began driving the ball with real authority again.

Remember it was really cold in Chicago so the ball just wasn’t going to travel a whole lot but these two flyballs hit well over 100 mph are gone in the summer.

(both videos from BaseballSavant)

He carried this back to Philadelphia and capitalized with two home runs off Kyle Freeland, his first since August of last season.

While it’s just seven games and both pitching staffs aren’t any good, Castellanos hit 15 of 24 balls in play over 90 mph and struck out just three times.

It’s a lot to take from just seven games, it could just be a small hot streak but good signs nonetheless.

AAA Guys

I don’t know if I will include this a lot but there are at least a couple of interesting names in AAA that deserve a little attention. This section could age like milk in a couple of weeks or there are some promising signs, only time will tell.

Given how Kody Clemens has struggled so far in the Majors, it’s easy to think the Phillies are looking around to see who performs.

Dalton Guthrie already has a 40 spot and the ability to play almost anywhere on the diamond so it may not take much for him to be back.

In 75 plate appearances, Guthrie is hitting .286 with a .400 OBP and a .892 OPS. He is a right-handed bat which doesn’t work well with the rest of the bench but he might be too good to keep down.

Weston Wilson stood out in camp with a couple of homers and a .926 OPS. While he’s only hitting .225, he’s smacked five home runs already and walked ten times. Wilson can play anywhere around the infield, including first base, a position they lack major league depth in.

On the pitching side, Francisco Morales might be figuring out the walk problem with just 1.9 BB/9 in 9.2 innings. He’s allowing too many hits right now to warrant a ton of attention but something to monitor.

The Phillies are set for a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners starting tonight at 6:40. Let’s see what happens over the next two weeks.