Phillies

MacPhail on Mackanin, new manager, pitch-framing, analytics, CBP renovations

MacPhail on Mackanin, new manager, pitch-framing, analytics, CBP renovations

Andy MacPhail sat in the Phillies' media room Tuesday and answered an assortment of questions pertaining to the dismissal of Pete Mackanin, the state of the rebuild, offseason plans and more.

Here are some of the more interesting tidbits from the 45-minute session:

2016 vs. 2017
"I think we did a reversal of what we did last year. We started out good (in 2016), we were playing .500 or better really up until June, got everybody excited early, and then we faltered at the end. This year we stunk in the beginning, we were decent in April and then we were bad for a long time, and then in the last 70 games, we were 35-35, playing .500. 

"Last year in the last 70 games we were 28-42, 14 games under .500. So there's an entirely different feel to the team. Our run differential last year was the worst in baseball at 186 runs. We've cut that in half to 92 and over the second half our run differential was zero, we were essentially a .500 club.

"We were the second youngest team in baseball. Effective [Aug. 31] when the rosters were still at 25, our average age of the roster was 27.03. Only the Padres were younger."

Phillies want to focus even more on analytics
"Our major-league analytics group is going to continue to grow. We've gone from one (person) to 14. I've been a career baseball guy, it's all I've known all my life. It is amazing to me what information can be generated now with the push of a button that I used to slave over for hours. It's incredible. They do the coding in that room and come up with stuff — some of which is proprietary and some of it is not — that to me is pretty remarkable. As we go along, we start to figure out things that say 'Gee, wouldn't it be nice to have that?' 

"All of it emanates from one thing, it emanates from ownership. They have come to us with one thing: seek competitive advantages. If you are not dedicating resources towards payroll, then put it towards finding every competitive advantage you can find and exercising your strength in a different way."

Front office unhappy with Phils catchers' pitch-framing
Specifically, MacPhail mentioned that the Phillies want to use analytics more to help correct an organization-wide problem with catcher framing.

"We don't think as an organization that our catchers' framing is very good. We think we are well-below-average. There are certain technologies that will help you instruct, teach, measure how well someone does that. We need to acquire those technologies to ensure that's an area that gets improved. We think that's an area that needs improvement, significantly. It's a hard thing. You want to take as much subjectivity out of it as you can. The player will likely learn better if he can see tangible results of things he does. Maybe this pitch you took out of the strike zone, maybe you stole one here. It's an ever-evolving thing. 

"There were stories written about (Jonathan) Lucroy, who went from being one of the very best framers one year to one of the very worst the next year. Well, that makes me suspicious. How does a guy go from one of the best to one of the worst overnight? It's something that we continually have to evaluate, keep our eyes on. But it's definitely an area of interest for the organization."

MacPhail told Klentak the Mackanin dismissal would confuse people
"Obviously, I talked to Matt when he came to me and talked about where he was. I probably spent more time with Matt talking to him about sort of the ramifications of his decision as anything. I told him that this is going to confuse people. You just extended the guy when we stunk four months ago and now we're getting better and you make a change. You're going to have to explain that. I also told him the media is going to be surprised by some of this. And my experience would tell me that media does not like to be surprised. They get pretty angry when they get surprised. Just make sure you're ready for that. 

"We also talked about — and you guys have already written it — that the GM only gets so many managers. If you make this move, you're going to increase the scrutiny on yourself. Are you prepared for that? He understood. He's unafraid. He feels like it was the appropriate time. 

"That was not an easy thing for Matt to do. He knew it was the young guy reassigning the old guy ... he understood that had he felt that way and not taken action, he essentially would not have been doing what his job requires him to do."

Remember when Chase Utley yelled at Bob McClure in Baltimore?
"Speaking for myself personally, just my own view, I always expected when we extended Pete that we were eventually going to pass the baton to another manager. Pete took over when the manager before (Ryne Sandberg) quit. The team hadn't really fully committed to a rebuild. They were half-committed. They hadn't gone all the way yet. Pete was in a tough spot. You think about it, and you'd just come off that awful game in Baltimore. You had Utley yelling at McClure and (Jeff) Francoeur pitching. It was pretty bad. Pete has taken us from that point to this point. He's taken us from A to B. If Matt thinks that, OK, I'm at this point, now to get to here, I need a different voice, that's up to Matt and I support his decision. He understands the consequences.

The timetable for naming a new manager
"I think ideally before you get to the GM meetings (early November) you'd like to have your manager in place. To help you kick off the sort of the official acquisition season. You want his input and you want him to be part of that."

Renovations coming to Citizens Bank Park
"We are the oldest park in the National League East, which is a bit of a surprise. So we plan on redoing the field next year. We're going to put in a new PA system. We're going to add new lighting. And then we're going to explore and add different security enhancements, which unfortunately at this day in age are required of us. ...
 
"Upgrades to the fan experience at Citizens Bank Park are essential. We think we have some very exciting things on the horizon. I can't be as detailed as I'd like to be because we haven't secured the necessary government approvals in some cases to do all the things we want. But while our payroll is not at an accustomed level that we've had in the past, then this is the time to make investments in the ballpark and in the fan experience and we hope to be, we're certainly going to do some of that for '18 and some of it in '19."

Another gem for Vince Velasquez, who's finally conquering his league-worst pace

Another gem for Vince Velasquez, who's finally conquering his league-worst pace

BOX SCORE

Vince Velasquez has been locked in since mid-June, which has been crucial for the Phillies with Nick Pivetta headed in the other direction.

The Padres couldn't touch Velasquez Sunday night, managing just two hits and a walk in his seven shutout innings (see first take). That's been a common theme for Velasquez over his last six starts, a span in which he has a 2.38 ERA and .134 opponents' batting average.

These last two starts in particular, Velasquez had pitched with a faster pace and more efficiency. Against the Mets and Padres — granted, the two worst offenses in the NL — he's thrown an average of just 13.2 pitches per inning.

He's picked up his pace on the mound, too, which was necessary. Velasquez entered Sunday night's game with the slowest pace in between pitches in all of baseball at 27.5 seconds.

"I think that's what has pretty much been the big turnaround for me," Velasquez said after his gem. "Finding that tempo and pretty much driving it through the game."

"That was as good as he's been all year," manager Gabe Kapler said. "The tempo, the pace and the energy levels were right on.

"It's the combination of keeping his rhythm and his pace but not losing control of his body. It's somewhere right in the middle. ... When he gets runners on base, he's done a really good job of holding runners on. The pickoff (of Freddy Galvis) was notable but just as important, he does a great job holding the baseball. As a runner at first base, you have difficulty timing your jumps and before you know it, your body shuts down naturally.

"Across the board, I think he's been an exceptional athlete for us on the mound."

The Phillies are finally seeing signs of growth from Velasquez. He's looked like more of a pitcher and less of a thrower lately. He hasn't been running the insanely deep, foul-ball fueled counts while in search of a strikeout.

Velasquez's next start will be a more accurate gauge of whether he's truly turned a corner because it comes at Great American Smallpark in Cincinnati against a potent Reds lineup.

Despite the weakness of the Padres' offense, Velasquez did win a high-pressure battle in the sixth inning Sunday against former All-Star Eric Hosmer, by far the most dangerous hitter in San Diego's lineup. With two men on, two outs and the Phillies up 1-0, Velasquez battled back from a 2-0 hole to induce a shallow flyout to left field.

The Phillies went on to win 5-0 but that was the biggest spot in the game, the kind of moment when a well-placed knock from Hosmer could have changed the complexion of the rest of the night.

"He really has seemed to flourish when we've asked him to pitch a little bit deeper into games and he's earned the right to do that," Kapler said after Velasquez's longest start of 2018. "Two strong outings in a row, very encouraging for Vinny."

Two years and three months ago, Velasquez made his best start as a major-leaguer against the Padres, striking out 16 in a three-hit shutout. He did it with a big, upper-90s fastball that missed bat after bat.

On Sunday, Velasquez attacked in a different way. He started exactly one-third of the batters he faced with a first-pitch breaking ball or changeup. He could have been as fastball-happy as ever against a Padres team on pace to strike out more than any club in the history of baseball, but mixing it up Sunday made sense. The Padres have been one of the majors' worst teams vs. non-fastballs, hitting .202.

Pitching, not throwing.

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Phillies option Aaron Altherr and Mark Leiter Jr. to Triple A Lehigh Valley

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Phillies option Aaron Altherr and Mark Leiter Jr. to Triple A Lehigh Valley

Aaron Altherr is headed to Triple A, where he’ll get a chance to play every day and rebuild some confidence after struggling for nearly four months.

Altherr, who batted fifth in the Phillies’ opening day lineup and was a big part of their outfield arrangement to start the year, was optioned to Lehigh Valley following Sunday’s doubleheader. Last season, Altherr hit .272 with 19 homers and 65 RBI in 412 plate appearances.

Reliever Mark Leiter Jr. was also optioned to Triple A, with corresponding roster moves coming Monday.

In his lone plate appearance Sunday against the Padres, Altherr came in as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning. After working a 3-1 count, he swung through two fastballs to strike out.

Altherr is hitting .171 in 248 plate appearances, with 12 double plays. He has the highest double-play rate of any player in the majors this season. 

Against lefties, Altherr is hitting just .164.

Leiter had a difficult outing in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader, allowing six hits and three runs in two innings of work. For the season, Leiter has a 5.74 ERA in 11 appearances. 

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