Phillies

A closer look at David Robertson's staggering success vs. lefties and Phillies' bullpen hierarchy

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A closer look at David Robertson's staggering success vs. lefties and Phillies' bullpen hierarchy

It would have been a surprise a month ago to hear the Phillies didn't get either lefty reliever they were pursuing, but the addition of top-notch right-hander David Robertson made it more palatable.

Robertson isn't just usable against lefties, he's fantastic. Since 2011, Robertson has held left-handed hitters to a batting average between .140 and .176 in six of eight seasons. He allowed just 17 home runs in 1,039 plate appearances vs. lefties over that span.

Lefties really struggle to hit Robertson's cutter and curveball, two pitches that break in toward them. He threw one of those two pitches to a lefty 97 percent of the time last season, with great success.

Not another Hunter

How many times in 2018 did we hear Gabe Kapler say that he liked how "Tommy Hunter's cutter profiled against a lefty?" That was a major reason why the Phillies gave Hunter his two-year, $18 million contract. Hunter was coming off a 2017 season in which he held lefties to a .170/.240/.261 batting line. That was just the clear outlier in his career, as lefties have hit .285 off him in Hunter's other 10 seasons in the majors.

Hunter allowed 16 extra-base hits to lefties in 2018 after allowing 18 total the previous three seasons.

Robertson is just on a completely different level, which makes it hard to believe he's making only $1.5 million more per year than Hunter.

Lefties leaving

Keep in mind also that the NL East has lost or will lose some tough left-handed hitters. Bryce Harper is probably leaving the division unless the Phillies sign him. The Nationals' payroll situation is so bloated now — and moving forward with deferrals — that it's still hard to envision that reunion.

Daniel Murphy is now in Colorado. Nick Markakis is a free agent.

It would leave Freddie Freeman and new Met Robinson Cano as the only left-handed hitters in the division to plan a game around. And the Phillies are hoping they've put together a bullpen that allows them to use only a starting pitcher, lefty specialist or high-quality righty (Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, perhaps Pat Neshek) vs. those two.

The Mets, by the way, are heavy with left-handed hitters. Their top three hitters — Cano, Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo — all hit from the left side, which was another reason why the Wilson Ramos signing was so important for them.

The Phillies' actual lefties

Carrying eight relievers would leave the Phillies a four-man bench. We'll see them shift between a four- and five-man bench throughout the season, especially after extra-inning games or during stretches when the bullpen is taxed.

In terms of the opening day roster, the Phils right now have 11 main candidates for those eight jobs, barring a trade or injury. 

Shoe-ins, if not traded or injured:

• David Robertson
• Seranthony Dominguez
• Pat Neshek
• Tommy Hunter
• Hector Neris
• Victor Arano

Lefties:

• James Pazos
• Jose Alvarez
• Adam Morgan

Others on the bubble:

• Edubray Ramos
• Juan Nicasio
• Jerad Eickhoff

You see why a trade of Neshek or Hunter is probably necessary. In a perfect world, the Phils shed Hunter's $9 million salary and replace him with the more effective Ramos, who makes about one-sixteenth as much money. But what team out there, during an offseason with many available relievers, is jumping at the chance to acquire Hunter, who has underperformed his contract? Neshek would be easier to trade, but he's so much better (when he can actually pitch).

Nicasio was terrible last season with the Mariners, but the Phillies assumed his nonsensical $9 million salary in the Jean Segura trade to make the money work better as they shipped out Carlos Santana. The Phils could still part ways with Nicasio and eat the sunk cost, in which case it would be the same as paying $9 million of Santana's salary in 2019. Getting Nicasio instead of simply eating some of Santana's money gave the Phils one more option in the bullpen. If Nicasio looks great in spring training, maybe he wins a job.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Eickhoff. The two likeliest scenarios seem to be long reliever in the majors or starter at Triple A to begin the year. That second option would make more sense from an overall roster standpoint as it would prepare Eickhoff for spot-start duty when the inevitable rotation injury occurs.

And then there are the three lefty specialists, two of which will probably be on the opening day roster. Spring training will play a role in that. If you're going by how these pitchers performed the last two seasons, Adam Morgan would be the odd man out.

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Gabe Kapler and Giants make historic coaching hire with Alyssa Nakken

Gabe Kapler and Giants make historic coaching hire with Alyssa Nakken

With all of the chaos currently consuming the league, it may have been overlooked that the Giants and Gabe Kapler have made a historic coaching hire.

Alyssa Nakken has been named one of Kapler's assistant coaches. She will be the first woman on a major-league coaching staff.

Can anyone say girl power?

Nakken is also a chairperson for the Giants' Employee Resource Group. This group promotes diversity and equality within the organization.

And as a female, with her intelligence and determination and hunger and drive to excel — I understand some of her responsibility is keeping her fingers on the pulse of the culture — it’s invaluable. She’ll broaden the scope and perspective, and I applaud Gabe for doing this.

-Kathy Strahan, Nakken's former coach in an interview for the San Francisco Chronicle

This is a moment that could change the mold of the league in the new decade.

Women belong in sports and are here to stay. And this single hire has the potential to open numerous doors in the future for both the league and anyone who wants to be a part of it.

You can read more about the hire and get to know Nakken at the San Francisco Chronicle.

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After 29 other teams pass, Phillies send Odubel Herrera to minor leagues

After 29 other teams pass, Phillies send Odubel Herrera to minor leagues

As expected, Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera quickly cleared waivers on Thursday. He has been assigned outright to Triple A.

Herrera was designated for assignment on Tuesday. The move immediately removed him from the Phillies’ 40-man roster and cleared a spot for outfielder Nick Martini, who was claimed off waivers from Cincinnati.

Herrera, 28, was involved in a domestic abuse incident in New Jersey in May. Though legal charges were eventually dropped, he served an 85-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s policy against domestic violence. As a matter of procedure, he was reinstated to the 40-man roster in November, but that hardly assured his future with the club, even though he is signed through 2021 and owed $20 million.

When Major League Baseball and the Players Association forged its joint policy on domestic violence, both sides agreed that a player violating the policy could not be punished by being released or having his contract voided.

On Tuesday, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said there were “sound baseball reasons,” for removing Herrera from the roster. He pointed to Herrera’s inconsistency and struggles last season and the fact that the Phillies had added outfielders Jay Bruce and Adam Haseley to the roster after Herrera’s suspension.

“The construction of our outfield now is very different than it was last spring when Odubel was first suspended,” Klentak said.

The Phillies plan to give Haseley a shot to win the starting centerfield job in spring training. He will be pushed by Roman Quinn.

Herrera could very well be on his way out of the organization, but he’s not there yet. He is expected to report to minor-league spring training camp, where he will continue to collect his full salary while working toward regaining a role with the big-league team or trying to catch the eye of a team that might be interested in trading for him. So far, there has been no trade interest. 

Participating in minor-league camp does not ensure that Herrera will be with a Phillies’ minor-league club during the regular season. He can still be released at any time, as long as the Phillies establish that the move is for baseball reasons, as they did earlier this week when they designated him for assignment.

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