The 2 things holding Jorge Alfaro back from being a difference-maker

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The 2 things holding Jorge Alfaro back from being a difference-maker

Throughout the offseason, we'll take a look at the best and worst aspect of each key Phillie's season and look ahead at what the goal should be for 2019.

Let's start behind the plate with Jorge Alfaro.

The best: Power, pitch-framing

The worst: Whiffs, blocking

Alfaro hits the ball hard. He had the fifth-highest line drive rate of any major-league catcher at 23.2 percent, ahead of guys like J.T. Realmuto and Buster Posey. 

The issue is he doesn't make enough contact. Alfaro swung and missed this season at 23.8 percent of the pitches he saw, a comically high rate for a major-leaguer. The next-highest rate in the NL was Javier Baez's 18.2.

Midway through the season, I asked Gabe Kapler if Alfaro could be a productive offensive player long-term if his plate selection never improves. The gist of the manager's answer was that Alfaro could but it would require a big cutdown of his strikeout rate. That is a major if that will define Alfaro's career.

Too often in 2018, the Phillies' 7-8-9 of Scott Kingery, Alfaro and the pitcher went weak out, weak out, weak out. 

Theoretically, Alfaro's penchant for swinging and missing means wasted opportunities with runners in scoring position. Yet that wasn't really the case in 2018. In 15 at-bats with a runner on third and less than two outs, Alfaro drove in nine runs. With two outs and runners in scoring position, Alfaro hit .344.

Still, his whiffs stuck out even on a Phillies team that struck out 103 more times than any season in franchise history. There are impressive tools there, but the hit tool is the most important in this sport. 

Catchers must be able to catch

The Phillies raved about Alfaro's pitch-framing this season. By some metrics, he was a top-five pitch-framer leaguewide.

That's great. But he was awful at blocking the ball. So many passed balls that even a league-average catcher catches. So many times he wasn't able to help his pitcher by preventing a "wild pitch" many other catchers would have blocked.

There is a case to be made that the Phillies' obsession with pitch-framing has resulted in their catchers focusing more on *snatching the ball the best possible way* than simply catching it.

To which I'd ask: What is more important, buying your pitcher an extra strike here and there, or preventing a runner from advancing?

Mathematically, it's closer than you think. But you have to go beyond merely the numbers. For example, Alfaro caught 31 of Aaron Nola's 35 starts. Nola is an elite pitcher who gets respect from umpires. All the pitches Alfaro was credited with "framing well" for Nola … who is to say the ump's respect for Nola always being around the strike zone wasn't equally or more so the reason for those extra strikes?

2019 goals

Alfaro's main focuses this offseason need to be:

1. Laying off fastballs over his head and breaking balls well off the plate

2. Improving his blocking fundamentals

To the first point, there were so many plate appearances this season when Alfaro got behind in the count and just gave up. So many times a pitcher threw a waste pitch nowhere near the plate and he swung anyway. Think about this: Alfaro was in an 0-2 count 74 times this season and 54 of those at-bats ended in a three-pitch strikeout. That is ridiculous.

But despite these negatives, the Phillies still might have something good and valuable in Alfaro. He has the power, the throwing arm, and — despite the whiffs — a career .270 batting average with an OPS one percent below the league average.

He just needs to make major strides in his age-26 season to be the difference-maker the Phillies believe he can be. Especially if Wilson Ramos doesn't come back.

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Will Phillies be in the mix for Nate Eovaldi?

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Will Phillies be in the mix for Nate Eovaldi?

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in MLB.

Monday was Bryce Harper, Tuesday was Michael Brantley and Wednesday was Manny MachadoThursday is dedicated to right-handed pitcher Nathan Eovaldi.

Nathan Eovaldi has been a bit of a journeyman in his career.

He won’t be for much longer.
Eovaldi built a strong free-agent case in helping the Boston Red Sox win the World Series last month. Over 22⅓ postseason innings as both a starter and reliever, he allowed just 15 hits and four earned runs (1.61 ERA) while striking out 16 and walking just three. His work in the World Series was epic as he answered the call out of the bullpen in an 18-inning Game 3 marathon against the Dodgers and picked up six innings. He took the loss when he allowed a solo homer in his seventh inning of work, but his performance inspired the Red Sox and they won the next two games for their fourth World Series title in 15 years.

Eovaldi, who will pitch at 29 next season, is a hard-throwing right-hander and we mean hard. His fastball regularly sits in the high-90s and it can reach triple-digits. Clearly, he is healthy after having Tommy John surgery twice on his right elbow.

The Red Sox acquired Eovaldi in a July trade from Tampa Bay. The Sox became his fifth team in seven years and he went 3-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 12 games, 11 starts, for that club.

Eovaldi appears to be on the threshold of a big breakthrough. He will have a brisk free-agent market as he seeks to put down some roots after bouncing around for a few seasons.

It is not clear whether the Phillies, who are in the market for starting pitching, will be among Eovaldi’s suitors. Oh, they like him, and certainly wouldn’t push him out of their rotation. But the Phillies are right-handed-heavy in their rotation and they would like to add a lefty either through a trade or free-agent signing. Lefties like Robbie Ray and James Paxton are trade possibilities while J.A. Happ, Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel are free-agent possibilities.

“In a perfect world, we would like to have a more balanced rotation,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said last week. “We’re not going to swap out a good righty for a less-good lefty. We’re not going to do that to have a lefty. But if we can make the rotation better and also add balance to our pitching staff, I think that’s something worth exploring.”

Eovaldi is a good one and surely the Phillies will perform their due diligence and have conversations with his representatives. But we see him landing with someone else as the Phillies focus on adding a lefty.


Why Phillies placed Justin Bour on waivers

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Why Phillies placed Justin Bour on waivers

Looking to trim their 40-man roster ahead of next week’s deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft, the Phillies have placed slugging first baseman Justin Bour on waivers, according to a major-league source.
The move essentially means Bour will soon be moving on. He can be claimed by any other club or elect free agency if he clears waivers.
In need of power off the bench, the Phillies acquired Bour from Miami for minor-league pitcher McKenzie Mills in August. With the Phils, he had 54 plate appearances and hit .224 with a homer and five RBIs. He was hampered during part of his stay with the club by a hamstring injury that landed him on the disabled list.
Bour has averaged 21 homers and 66 RBIs the last four seasons and could be attractive to clubs looking for a left-handed platoon bat at first base. The Phillies are not in need of that type of player as they are committed to using Rhys Hoskins and Carlos Santana at first base. If Santana were to be traded, Hoskins would play at first base full-time.
Bour would have been eligible for salary arbitration with the Phillies and will remain so if a team claims him on waivers. He projects to have an arbitration salary of over $5 million.
The Phillies’ 40-man roster is at 34. Several spots will be filled by young prospects on Tuesday, which is the deadline for shielding eligible players from being selected in December’s Rule 5 draft.


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