Why, there's mail in this bag! Answering some key Phillies questions ahead of the start of the second half:
Q: How big of a mistake was not improving the starting rotation during the offseason? I get that they were outbid for Patrick Corbin, but even beyond that, there was Charlie Morton who signed a relatively modest deal.
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I'm glad that you mentioned Morton because, wow, what a season he is having. Forget that, what a dominant two-year stretch he's had.
Since opening day 2018, Morton is 25-5 with a 2.80 ERA. He's struck out 11.0 batters per nine and maintained a low home run rate. He's legitimately been a top-10 pitcher league-wide.
Morton could have been had by many teams this past offseason. The Rays, typically shrewd when they do spend, pounced and got him on a two-year deal.
I can tell you from my previous dealings with Morton when he was briefly a Phillie that he's not the type who would have held out for the biggest possible payday. That's just not his personality. He's a baseball geek obsessed with advanced analytics and he likely saw the Tampa Bay fit as a no-brainer.
How frustrating it must be for the Phillies to have received only four starts from Morton before a season-ending hamstring tear and his subsequent success.
Beyond Morton, there wasn't a ton out there this offseason. The Nationals paid big for Corbin, who so far has been worth it but may not be two or three years from now. Still, awesome lefty.
The other name connected to the Phillies heading into the offseason was J.A. Happ, who has not been good this season.
The lack of starting pitching moves worked out horrendously for the Phillies, no doubt. But how much better would they even be with Happ? One win better?
It would have been nice if at some point over the past three or four years, the Phillies acquired an under-the-radar starting pitcher they saw something in. That is how deep rosters are built.
Q: If they're as unwilling to pay the price to acquire starting pitching as they've shown themselves to be but they also have no real help coming in their organization, how do they fix this quickly?
I'm not convinced they're unwilling to pay the price. I think they will ... for the right guy.
Some of these available starting pitchers are not major long-term upgrades. Madison Bumgarner is a rental. Marcus Stroman is better than what they have but is a contact pitcher who is a No. 3 on a good team. Tanner Roark, Mike Leake ... blah. They raise the 2019 Phillies' floor but don't impact the future in a meaningful way.
Robbie Ray is worth trading two good pieces for. Zack Greinke is worth taking on a huge salary if the D-backs choose to go that route. I think Texas keeps Mike Minor.
Q: Is the high home run rate just a result of juiced balls, or is the pitching REALLY that bad?
The pitching is really that bad, but it's mostly the baseballs. There are more throwers than pitchers in the majors now than ever before. Guys make it to The Show based on huge strikeout rates even if their command is below average. Can you miss a bat? Can you execute a high fastball a little more than half the time? Way to go, you're on your way.
The story of 2019 is a confluence of events that led to the most ridiculous power spree we've ever seen. I'd say it's 65 percent the ball, 20 percent the lack of command and 15 percent the launch angle revolution.
Q: Where do the Phillies stand in regards to opponents' production in pitchers' counts? And if it's as bad as it feels like it is, what's the explanation?
The Phillies have allowed 18 home runs on 0-2 counts since the start of 2018, third most in the majors. When your rotation pitches to contact more than it finishes two-strike counts with a whiff, this can happen. There's also just been poor location from every Phillies starting pitcher when they're ahead in the count. Aaron Nola has been a different story lately but even he was guilty of it in April and May.
Q: It doesn't appear there's a spot for Nick Williams in the Phillies' outfield. Is it a good time to trade him, given his hot bat in AAA?
Of course it is. It has been all season. Williams needs a change of scenery because the starting opportunity will not come here. Andrew McCutchen will be back in 2020. Jay Bruce is under contract for 2020 and probably isn't going anywhere. I don't need to lay out the right field plans.
The Phillies did not play the Williams situation the right way. It's hard when this happens to decipher whether the team failed the prospect or the prospect just wasn't that good. Williams sure hasn't been productive this season at the major-league level when he did get chances.
His trade value is insignificant. He's not bringing you back a young mid-rotation piece at this point. Every team knows the Phillies would like to trade him and Williams isn't an impactful enough hitter to drive another team to make an illogical offer.
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