Phillies

Vince Velasquez: 'I'm clueless right now, running around like a chicken without a head'

Vince Velasquez: 'I'm clueless right now, running around like a chicken without a head'

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As tough as Philly fans are when an athlete is underperforming, Vince Velasquez is harder on himself than pretty much anyone else could be.

Some pitchers would be at a loss for words after suffering yet another poor outing but Velasquez (2-4, 5.98) on Saturday was the opposite, baring his soul while admitting he doesn't have all the answers.

Velasquez came out firing at PNC Park, getting ahead of every hitter in the first inning and striking out three of the first four batters he faced. 

But as is often the case with Velasquez, a couple dominant innings at the beginning of a game did not settle him in or set the tone for the afternoon.

"I guess no matter what or how I feel, there's no adjustments being made at all," Velasquez said after the Phillies lost, 6-3, to the Pirates and falling to 15-25 (see Instant Replay).

"In the game, it's just a lack of commitment, a lack of concentration, just a lack of everything. I mean, jeez, even my golf game is a lack of everything. I don't know. I'm just clueless right now. I'm just running around like a chicken without a head. I don't know what I've got to do but I just know there's something — I've got to break it down little by little. 

"Literally if I have to start over, whatever the situation might be. I need to break it down and not put so much pressure on myself. I think that's one of the hardest things is that I do apply a lot of pressure (on myself). Just tough situations. I've just got to get out of them. Take a deep breath, step off the mound. … It's just tough."

The main adjustment Pete Mackanin and the Phillies need to see from Velasquez is better command of his secondary pitches — his curveball, slider and changeup. He threw 32 of them Saturday and only 16 were strikes.

He has a dominant fastball, no doubt about it, but that is far from enough for a starting pitcher to succeed.

"He just has trouble commanding his secondary pitches," Mackanin said. "He needs to command his secondary pitches. Once he does that, hitters can't sit on his fastball. He's got a real high swing-and-miss percentage on his fastball. I think he's second to (Max) Scherzer. 

"Players don't square up his fastball but when you can't command or show the command of your secondary stuff, then they just keep looking for the heater. And if you make mistakes with it, it gets hit. So his challenge is to start gaining better command of his breaking balls.

"If he throws a slider to a hitter and he swings and misses at it and it's out of the strike zone, he's got to have the ability to throw another one in the same location instead of just throwing a fastball."

It's almost as if the early strikeouts for Velasquez are a bad thing. His starts often seem to go like this:

• He blows his fastball by guys early and falls deeper in love with the pitch.

• His command starts to wane the second time through the order.

• Hitters know to expect the fastball, especially in favorable counts because they know Velasquez does not command or trust his offspeed pitches.

• And then come the runs.

"I like going deep into games. Unfortunately, it's just not happening," Velasquez said. "I like the fact that I threw over 100 pitches (Saturday). I'm capable of throwing over 100 pitches. … Unfortunately, I just didn't do my part. 

"Nothing is going my way. I'm making pitches, guys are just hitting it. Executing pitches down in the zone, guys are hitting it. I'm elevating balls, guys are hitting it. I don't know what I've got to do to get these guys out because these guys just have my number the whole time. Everyone pretty much does. Even the pitcher probably has my number down. I don't know. I've just got to talk with [pitching coach Bob McClure] and just pretty much start all over."

The Phillies, on a 61-101 pace a quarter of the way through the season, have the luxury — if you want to call it that — of giving their young players chance after chance to improve. So, no, Velasquez is not in danger of losing his rotation spot yet despite the widely-held belief that he'd be more effective as a closer.

But he can't improve by relying on one pitch all the time. Look at Velasquez's opponent Saturday, Ivan Nova, as an example. Nova, who already has two complete games this season, threw just 91 pitches in 7⅓ innings. Velasquez threw 103 in 5⅓ innings.

Nova, whose fastball was two full miles per hour slower than Velasquez's on Saturday, threw 18 first-pitch strikes to work ahead of hitters and was able to go deep into the game by getting quick out after quick out.

Velasquez is not going to transform overnight into a sinkerballer like Nova, but he's got to find the balance between power and finesse. If he doesn't, his future will be as a reliever, whether he likes it or not.

"I think he's capable of becoming a starting pitcher," Mackanin said. "He needs to get to the point where he can handle that. There's a lot involved — finesse, your repertoire to go late into the game has to be pretty varied. And right now it's not varied enough. It's pretty much as simple as that."

If only it seemed so simple to Velasquez.

Phillies will unveil a new-look Phanatic on Sunday

Phillies will unveil a new-look Phanatic on Sunday

CLEARWATER, Fla. — You might have heard that slugger Rhys Hoskins made some changes to his batting stance and swing over the winter.

Hoskins isn't the only prominent Phillie who made some adjustments in the off-season.

Word around Phillies spring training camp is that the Phanatic has made a few alterations himself. Fans will get a peek at the Big Green Guy's new look Sunday when the Phillies host the Pittsburgh Pirates at Spectrum Field. Aaron Nola will be the Phillies' starting pitcher, Hoskins will be in the lineup, and, yes, the game will be televised on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Don't fret, Phanatic fans. 

The lovable ol' whatever-he-is is still green, still furry and still funny as all get-out, thanks to the comic "personality" that has been developed over 41 years by Tom Burgoyne and before him, David Raymond. That Phanatic will still race around the ballpark on his four-wheeler, shoot hot dogs toward the sky, shine the head of bald guys and torment players in the visiting dugout.

But his shoes might be different. 

Socks, too.

Some of his measurements may be different. (The result of some off-season work in the weight room, perhaps?)

There are apparently other creative changes, as well, but we'll all just have to see for ourselves when the Phanatic joins one of his biggest fans, Bryce Harper, on the field Sunday.

Changes are nothing new for the Phanatic. His shape, markings and attire have evolved over the years and "evolve" is probably the right word because, according to the Phillies media guide, he was born in the Galapagos Islands, the place that helped Charles Darwin form his theory of evolution.

The changes to the Phanatic's look come as the team is embroiled in a lawsuit with Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison, who were hired to design the original Phanatic costume back in the late-1970s.

READ MORE: Details of the lawsuit involving the Phillie Phanatic

The Phillies purchased rights to the Phanatic in 1984, but federal law allows artists to renegotiate rights to their work after 35 years.

In 2018, Erickson and Harrison informed the Phillies that they would seek to wrest the rights to the Phanatic away from the team unless it paid them millions. Last year, the Phillies filed a lawsuit against Erickson and Harrison in New York federal court to keep their beloved mascot. The Phillies contend that the Phanatic's four-decade rise from a costume to a Philadelphia sports and cultural icon is the result of their own creative forces and investment and therefore makes the creature property of the team.

The Phillies' rights to the Phanatic will expire on June 15, but the club is hoping the latest round of creative changes will be enough to legally continue its use of the Phanatic.

Legal feuds involving the rights to characters like the Phanatic are not new. There have been notable disputes over the rights to Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear.

Citing litigation, Phillies officials have declined comment on the matter for months and did so again this week.

But enough with all this legalese.

Rev up the four-wheeler. Can't wait for Sunday and the big reveal. 

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How many of MLB's $100 million men actually lived up to the contract?

How many of MLB's $100 million men actually lived up to the contract?

What percentage of baseball players who signed a contract of at least $100 million actually lived up to it?

Take a guess and remember the number you picked.

With J.T. Realmuto's arbitration hearing in the rearview mirror, the conversation shifts to his next contract. Barring some cataclysmic development, Realmuto's next deal will exceed $100 million.

Back in September, I predicted five years, $112.5 million.

Realmuto is expected to seek in the neighborhood of $23 million per season, matching Joe Mauer’s record salary for a catcher, over a five- or six-year deal. (Five years at $23 million a pop would be $115 million.)

In general, contracts this large miss more often than they hit. We went back through all the contracts of at least $100 million that were signed through 2017 to put an actual number on it. What is the success rate?

Excluded here are players who signed their contracts in 2018, '19 or '20. Too early to judge. You won't see Bryce Harper or Zack Wheeler below for that reason. The list runs through 2017 and includes 67 players.

A lot of these deals were memorably bad. That's the reality of a gargantuan contract that, for so long in baseball's history, went to a player for past performance more than future projection.

Recall the percentage you picked.

The number is 30%. Yep, 7 out of 10 deals of at least $100 million went south. Some of you might think that sounds high, some low. Here is the full list. A few are arguable.

Yes (20)

Mike Trout (2015-20)
Albert Pujols (2004-10)
Freddie Freeman
Miguel Cabrera (2008-15)
Derek Jeter
Max Scherzer
Clayton Kershaw
Justin Verlander
Felix Hernandez
Todd Helton
Kevin Brown
Buster Posey (?)
CC Sabathia
Carlos Beltran
Matt Holliday
Cole Hamels
Zack Greinke
Jon Lester (?)
Masahiro Tanaka
Manny Ramirez

Posey and Lester underperformed during long portions of their deals but they were also pivotal players on championship teams. Hamels and Holliday are right on the fringe.

No (47)

Kyle Seager
Evan Longoria
Ryan Zimmerman
Ryan Braun
Homer Bailey
Justin Upton
Jose Reyes
Yoenis Cespedes
Dustin Pedroia
Jordan Zimmermann
Ken Griffey Jr.
Cliff Lee
Elvis Andrus
Mike Hampton
CC Sabathia
Josh Hamilton
Ryan Howard
Yu Darvish
Jayson Werth
Vernon Wells
Barry Zito
Matt Cain
Johnny Cueto
Shin-Soo Choo
Alfonso Soriano
Johan Santana
David Wright
Carl Crawford
Eric Hosmer
Jacoby Ellsbury
Adrian Gonzalez
Troy Tulowitzki
Matt Kemp
Chris Davis
Mark Teixeira
Jason Heyward
Joe Mauer
Prince Fielder
David Price
Joey Votto
Jason Giambi
Robinson Cano
Albert Pujols (current deal)
Miguel Cabrera (current deal)
Alex Rodriguez
Giancarlo Stanton
Carlos Lee

Most of these deals were justifiable at the time. Some, like Chris Davis, Homer Bailey, Elvis Andrus and Vernon Wells were viewed immediately with skepticism.

A few — Votto, Teixeira — could go either way. Votto has been productive throughout his Reds career but the power has almost completely disappeared. Would the Reds have paid him $225 million if they knew that he'd miss as many All-Star games as he'd make throughout the deal and that by Year 6 he'd be a .280 singles hitter with a high OBP? He's been really good but this underscores how hard it is to live up to such a deal.

The two catchers above are Posey and Mauer. Posey, by 31, was a shell of himself offensively. This is the risk you run with elite catchers. The wear-and-tear catches up. Mauer didn't deliver either. He played well during his eight-year, $184 million contract but by Year 5, his catching days were over, and a lot of his value was tied to his position.

And as Phillies fans experienced with Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard, unpredictable injuries can ruin the party as well.

The Phillies still have to re-sign Realmuto. They traded their top prospect for him a year ago and he'd be impossible to replace during a win-now period. The Phillies did not trade for Realmuto to have him for two years. They did it to have him for closer to eight years.

Beyond that, Realmuto looks like a solid bet to deliver on his next contract because of his elite defense and an offensive skill set that is among the two or three best at his position. His well-roundedness should make the Phils feel better about the money they have to pay. It's not as if Realmuto's game is all about power, or all about defense, or all about speed, and slippage in one area would sap him of his effectiveness. He is valuable in every phase and that value is only enhanced by his intangibles.

Just don't ignore the precedent above. Three out of 10 is good enough to get you in the Hall of Fame, but it's definitely not a high hit rate when it comes to nine-figure deals.

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