Ron Costello

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Charlie Manuel knows hitting.
If you're not into launch angle, you're not with it in major league baseball. Launch angle is the verticle angle on which the ball leaves the bat.

Or, as the former manager and hitting guru Charlie Manual describes it: "It's choppin' wood. You wouldn't chop wood by swinging the ax upward, no, you swing downward to chop the wood." Charlie made those comments to Mike Schmidt and John Kruk during his recent appearance in the television booth. He was explaining to the two former hitters about launch angle, in Charlieism fashion.

You also need to understand exit velocity, which is the speed of the baseball when it comes off the bat. You need a radar gun to measure it, and newer baseballs have a higher exit velocity than old balls, which is part of the reason a batter will request another ball.

So what does all of this mean?

What I got from Charlie in the booth is that baseball today — including hitters, managers, coaches, hitting instructors and the 30- something nerds that sit in the dugout measuring 'the analytics' — is too focused on trying to swing up. Back in the day we called it uppercutting. The belief was you swing through the ball, you don't uppercut.

Some think baseball has become obsessed with launch angle and exit velocity, and because of it, a number of Phillies are struggling at the plate.

The launch angle and exit velocity go hand in hand, and result in more home runs — and doubles and triples off the walls — but fewer balls in the holes and gaps. I think the upward-swing philosophy is a direct result in countering defensive shifts.

It's changed pitching, too. More pitchers are throwing up in the strike zone, trying to force batters to hit popups and fly balls. As a result, strikeouts have increased dramatically, forcing more hitters to "work the count," which is a contradiction. 

Working the count means the hitter tries to get the ball-strike count in his favor — 3-0, 3-1, even 3-2, to get a better quality pitch location.  If more hitters are working the count, why are strikeouts increasing? It doesn't make sense. 

But it does. The more pitches a hitter sees the more likely he'll walk but also the more likely he'll strike out.
Scott Kingery appears to be uppercutting.

Philadelphia is fast becoming the strikeout capital of the world.

It makes sense. If the batter gets ahead, he might be more prone to swing upward and at the same time more inclined to strikeout. If the pitcher gets ahead he might pitch up in the zone, thus making an uppercut swing more difficult.

All this brings up the question of what's wrong with Scott Kingery? Using launch angle and exit velocity, have they fooled with Mr. Kingerly's swing? Having him uppercut rather than swing down and through the ball as in Charlie's chopping wood example. 

I've cut, split, and stacked a ton of wood in my lifetime, and I can relate to Charlie's lesson. If you want more power, you've got to swing down.

Kingery's numbers suggest he is swinging up — he has nearly a hundred strikeouts and 21 walks. He seems to get behind in the count often, and if he goes 0-2 or 1-2 he's in trouble and either strikes out or flies out. An indication his launch angle is upward.

Another example is Rhys Hoskins. His percentage in hitting the ball on the ground is the lowest in the majors, and his strikeouts are high, yet he has 22 home runs. Where do you think Mr. Hoskins' swing was in the All-Star game home run derby, up or down?

Carlos Santana is hitting .215 and has 17 home runs and 88 walks. An uppercut sign?

What does this mean to those of us watching the game?

The next time you see Odubel Herrera or Maikel Franko swinging for the fences — or, another old term we used, trying to kill the ball — watch their swing.

I bet they're not chopping wood.

Monday, August 6, 2018

J-Dub, Jayson Werth was a solid contributor in Philly.
The numbers say Jayson Werth was a solid major league hitter. Fifteen seasons, .267 average, 229 home runs, .360 on-base percentage, 799 RBI's. One All-Star appearance: 2009.

Not bad.

The money says something else. The money says Jayson Werth is Cooperstown.

How so?

In 2011 the Washington Nationals had the 22nd lowest payroll out of 30 major league teams. The club — in the league for six seasons — had finished dead-last five times. Its attendance dismal; arguably the worst franchise in baseball in a hot market nestled along the Potomac. 

But ownership had deep pockets and was looking to make a splash; something big that would notify baseball —particularly its fanbase — that it was making progress.

Seeking a name, the Nationals went fishing in Philadelphia, a team with three straight postseason appearances, two World Series appearances, and one World Series Championship. They hooked the Phillies hard-hitting five-hole hitter with the caveman locks who hit in the clutch and played reckless defense, Jayson Werth.

They threw enough money at Mr. Werth that if he had said no, he would've been the dumbest player in any professional sport in history: $126 million over seven years, including a $4 million signing bonus. 

The Faithful even booed JD's little brother,
  Stephen Drew.

The Phillies, after signing Cliff Lee ($120 million) and in the process of signing Ryan Howard ($125  million), Roy Halladay ($60 million), Chase Utley ($27 million), and Cole Hamels ($15 million), had no money in the kitty for Jayson Werth.

So he took the $126 million — something I or any of you reading this or any functioning adult would have done. Money that better than average, solid major league players rarely, if ever, make.

Nonetheless, the cranky Philadelphia Faithful — watching its team slowly erode with major injuries — sent Mr. Werth to the woodshed, joining the likes of lifetime members Del Ennis, JD Drew, Scott Rolen, and Rod Bajajas, to name a few.

Werth was labeled unfaithful, ungrateful, and a  money-grubber. Every time back to Philadelphia — which was often playing in the same division — the Faithful opened up on Werth. Sometimes the boos continued through his at-bat, followed by cheering if he made an out; thunderous cheering if he stuck out. 

But J-Dub took advantage of the unwelcome welcome he received, and many times answered back with a key hit or home run or great running catch. For the seven years, he was a National, the boos greeted him at CBP.
$126 million-man,  Jayson Werth.

Until Sunday.

At 39, he's out of baseball now, nevertheless, on Sunday Mr. Werth returned to Philadelphia to participate in the 2008 championship celebration and was announced onto the field by Dan Baker. As he jogged toward the first base line to join his former teammates, he received a standing ovation.

The Faithful had forgiven him. 

He held up his hands — with a wide-eyed grin, scanning the seats — and sucked in the ovation. He deserved it. Every decibel of it.

Sunday: Arbitration and the next Jayson Werth.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Before Scott Kingery played a single game in the major leagues the Phillies signed him to a 6 year, $24 million contract at the close of spring training in April. 
Should Scott Kingery have stayed at Reading or Lehigh Valley?

How rare is that? It's only happened one other time in major league history. Even more extraordinary is the reason why.

It's not like he had a stellar minor league career, although he showed some homerun power at Reading. He split 2017 between Reading and Lehigh Valley getting most of his home runs with the Double-A, Reading Fightens.

At face value, one concludes that the Phillies saw so much potential in Mr. Kingery — plus the fact that he can play most positions — the club decided he was a can't miss major leaguer.

They also may have thought that his aggressiveness and hustle would rub off on the team. I think the decision was pushed by manager Gabe Kapler, who saw another Chase Utley on the rise and convinced the suits upstairs to do it.

So how's that going?

True, Mr. Kingery is reminiscent of Chase Utley. But without a doubt, he is struggling. I've never seen a player get into 1-2 or 0-2 holes as fast as Scott Kingery. It's as if he wants to prove he can play and is more aggressive on the first three pitches and jumps on them. Sometimes he appears to have no idea — remindful of Pat Burrell after he swung wildly at a slider — and, let's face it, he's made some costly errors.
Manager Gabe Kapler introduces Scott Kingery at CBP in April.

Makes you wonder if it was anyone else — Nick William, Aaron Atherr, J.P. Crawford, Dylan Cousins — they'd have been sent up the Northeast Extension to the IronPigs by now.

I'm not saying the Phillies were wrong for what they did. They certainly know more about player development than me. Nonetheless, could Mr. Kingery have used another full year at Triple-A? Probably. Could playing him prematurely in the big leagues hurt his career? Maybe,  but doubtful.

Have they raised the Faithful's expectations unfairly for the young player? Maybe, but so far no boos. Is Mr. Kingery playing under his own inner pressure from the weight of the contract, feeling like he has to produce every time up? Maybe, and that might explain why he get's behind so fast, instead of working the count.

Moreover, is there resentment from any of the other younger players that he got a special deal, but no one else did? Could be.

Lookit, I'm a big Scott Kingery fan. But you must agree the organization has a history of conservatism in moving young players up to the Show.  

But this move is a head scratcher.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Phillies used their heads in the trading free-for-all going up to the July 31 deadline. After 4 p.m., Tuesday, a trade player must first clear waivers. That means any team can claim him.

The break up of major league teams in divisions and the two wild-card spots in each league have created a much larger pool of playoff achievable teams. In the AL there are likely four teams that could win one of the three divisions, and three or four teams that are in the hunt for the two wild cards.

In the NL, where the division races and wild card competition is tighter, there are about ten teams still in the division fight and at least seven still competing for the wild cards. Which means more teams — by picking up players before the deadline,  soon-to-be free agents or unwanted players — believe their chances for a division championship or wild card are greater. Real or imagined.

But the Phillies played it smart.

With a slight lead over Atlanta and a five-game lead over Washington, plus wild card possibilities, the Phillies conceivably could have made a stronger attempt to improve. Nonetheless, they backed off on Manny Machado, smart move.

They didn't empty their farm system for J.A. Happ or Cole Hamels. They passed on Austin Meadows, who went to the Pirates. They passed on former Phillie Jake Diekman, who went from Texas to the D-backs.

They passed on other available players. Why? The Phillies wanted to improve their chances — like all teams do with a shot in the last week of July — but weren't about to dip into their core.

Smart. Smart. Smart.

The core I speak of is a group of young Phillies' players — both at the major and minor league levels — that will ensure the team's success in the present and the future. The Phillies didn't mortgage tomorrow.


But at the same time, they didn't stand pat, either. Showing the players and the Faithful their serious intentions of playing October baseball, the Phillies acquired three good players — DL catcher Wilson Ramos, 30, infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, 32, and lefty reliever Aaron Loup, 30, without taking playing time from the core players and without trading the core's top players.

They could resign all three or let them pass into free agency in November.

I've got their numbers on the charts to the right so you can check them out. Without a doubt all good additions to the team.

So this much it tells us: The Phillies chances for the postseason are that much greater and, the organization believes in this team and simply added a nip and tuck without disturbing it.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Cesar Hernández has been a solid second-baseman.
The Zen Master, Gabe Kapler.
Going into Tuesday's trade deadline, are the Phillies willing to part with Cesar Hernández at second-base and move Scott Kingery there?

The numbers on the chart at right show considerable offensive differences between Mr. Hernández, 28, a six-year professional who's been a solid player for the Phillies, and Mr. Kingery, 24, a rookie who's been shuffled around like a non-labor-union baggage handler.

So here's the question. Do the Phillies hold on to Hernández because he gives them more offense for the playoff run, or do they deal him for a shut-down bullpen arm or a number 4-5 rotation pitcher and continue to develop Mr, Kingery? You only get value when you trade value.

To keep them both while continuing to develop Kingery could be difficult.

That's where the Zen Master comes in.

The Zen Master, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler — they call him Kap on television — is a master at moving players around, keeping them relatively happy, and winning. Now with newbie Asdrúbal Cabrera from the Mets, the Zen Master has an even more crowded infield to wiggle, especially when J.P. Crawford comes off the DL. It seems like when the Zen Master wiggers them — sits them or moves them to an alien position — they preform better.

Now he has to watch out for Mr. Cabrera, who back in June bellyached when he was moved from shortstop to second and he asked the Mets to trade him. Bellyaching doesn't work with the Zen Master. Here's how that might look shortly after the bellyaching.

First, the Zen Master sings Cabrera's praises. "We are so fortunate to have Asdrúbal, who can hit in the middle of our lineup and play stellar defense. In fact, he helps make our infield as tight as a well-weaved headwrap. He'll make us all play better." Following that Mr. Cabrera would sit for about a week.

That's the Zen Master at work. And the reason the youngest team in baseball has a slim lead over Atlanta, the second youngest team in baseball, in the weakest division in baseball.

So by 4 p.m. Tuesday, we'll see if the Phillies use Mr. Hernández as a trade chip, or hang on to him and go with an infield more crowded than a Broad Street platform on Eagles game day.

Either way, the Zen Master will spin his yarn.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Phillies add Mets' Asdrubal (As-DROO-bull) Cabrera to their infield.
Interesting following the Phillies prior to the trade deadline and, rather than see who they got, but who they didn't get. First, there was Manny Machado. Like some clubs, the Phillies didn't jump on the bandwagon and try to get Mr. Machado by throwing a slew of prospects Baltimore's way.

They didn't get J.A Happ or Favorite Son Cole Hamels, a bold statement that they are happy with their rotation. Two things the Phillies need to get: 1) a shutdown arm coming out of the bullpen; and, 2) Another middle of the lineup bat for the regular season and the playoffs. By sniffing around the trade current trade winds, who knows? They could come up with either one or both by 4 p.m. on July 31, when the sniffing ends. My best guestimate is their strategy will be the same: If we can get the two or more players to strengthen the ball team, good. If not, we're not giving up our best prospects.

Suddenly finding themselves in a division race, the Phillies are walking the line between improving the club now, without giving up the future. It seems as if the club is dipping its toe into the trade water to see how warm it is, at the same time showing the Faithful — abruptly awakening like a hibernating polar bear — that what they're witnessing isn't a mirage.

The Phillies already left the Orioles at the altar after the birds dangled two-month-rental Manny Machado for the best pitcher in the Phillies system, Ranger Suarez. Mr. Suarez made his major league debut Thursday night in Cincinnati.

Speaking of warm, perhaps first-baseman Carlos Santana — who declared he'd start hitting with the weather got hot — is the club's MVP and could replace Kate Bilow as the local weather forecaster.

You might wonder how hitting .215 could bring an MVP award. I'm glad you asked.

Consider the intangibles with Mr. Santana. Is he part of the reason for the improvement in Maikel Franco and Odúbel? Is he part of the reason Rhys Hoskins has 55 walks? And is he part of the reason the Phillies are much better at working counts?

Yes to all three. Like Chase Utley, Mr. Santana is the guy you want on the team. He's taught the young Phillies how to feed off each other, to work the counts, and resiliency — they recover quickly from a whopping.

True, Mr. Santana is hitting two-fifteen, but he has 16 home runs, 62 RBI's, a .353 OBP, and is on course for 100 walks. Plus, the leadership intangibles he brings to the field every day — in my mind that spells MVP.

The Phillies could use a shut-down pitcher out of the bullpen and another bat to dangle in the middle of the order.
The big bat they need will come in the form of Manny Machado after the World Series. Mr. Machado just got a taste of the Faithful and the treatment they give to a guy who played his heart out here day after day after day. If the reception the Faithful gave Mr. Utley didn't impress Manny, blood isn't running through his veins. Coupled with about $500 million, little less or a little more, Philadelphia is the fit for Manny Machado.

Finally a quick story about Carlos Santana.

My wife, brother, and I were sitting in first row seats just off first base at CBP, just out of reach of that annoying netting. Next to my right sat a young family: Mother, father, and two blond daughters, I'd guess ages five and eight, cute as two daffodil buds. After the third inning, Mr. Santana comes off the field and bounces the ball toward us but it took an odd hop and went elsewhere.

During the Phillies at-bat, an official came out of the dugout — wasn't a coach or a guy in a suit, my guess one of the young analytical geniuses that sit in the dugout during the games. He comes over and says to the people along the first row, "When Mr. Santana comes off the field next inning, he would like to toss a ball to this little girl," and he points to the older daughter. "So please let it go."

Sure enough, after the top of the fourth as the Phillies headed to the dugout, Mr. Santana pointed to the family, then one-hopped the ball their way. Without interference, the father caught it and gave it to his daughter. Mr. Santana made sure she got it, smiled and waved.

That's MVP right there in my book.

Friday, July 20, 2018

In '64 the Phillies missed a near-certain NL title by losing ten in a row. Thinking the following season '65 would be the year, the team finished a disappointing sixth.

Mauch preferred experience over youth and the organization, wanting to appease the Faithful — still brooding over the '64 collapse — made a trade that made perfect sense. At the start of the '66 season, the club sent three young players to the Cubs for two veteran right-handers Larry Jackson, 35, and Bob Buhl, 37.

It was the deal that would get the team over the hump.

Unfortunately, one young player the Phillies sent to Chicago was Ferguson Jenkins, who won 284 games over 19 seasons and became the first Canadian inducted into Cooperstown. And "over the hump?" In '66 the team finished fourth and did not get close again until ten years later.

In '81 the Phillies got hoodwinked again and taken to the cleaners by the Cubs. Saddled with an aging team, the club traded veteran Larry Bowa to the Cubbies for shortstop Ivan DeJesus. But to close the deal at the last minute, they threw in a 22-year-old infielder named Ryne Sandberg. The two trades, Jenkins and Sandberg rank at the top — if not 1 and 2 — of the worst trades in Phillies history.

The Manny Machado deal made perfect sense, too. In first place at the All-Star break, the Phillies, giddy over the team's sudden and unexpected rise to the top, appeared to make a strong effort to get Mr. Machado. How strong no one knows but the front office.

But one thing is sure: It didn't trade a Fergie Jenkins or Ryne Sandberg.

Look, the Phillies are to be congratulated for the way they built this team, and for the manager they hired, Gabe Kapler. Last season they came within a whisker of losing a hundred games. To their credit, they didn't tank. The young general manager Matt Klentak asked the Faithful for patience, the club was building for the future.

Then suddenly the future showed up.

But here's the thing. What got the Phillies to the top was an unconventional manager who moved the young players around like Don Juan at Chickie & Petes. He'd play them and sit them; play them and sit them, and at the same time tell the press they were clones of Lou Gehrig. Eventually, these kids started believing in themselves.

Mr. Kapler's patience and tenacious leadership drove the team ahead of Washington and Atlanta; there's no doubt in my mind about that. Slowly, the young players began thinking that maybe the Skipper is right.

Picking up a veteran for the bullpen or bench prior to the deadline is fine. Trying to sign Manny Machado next November is fine too.

But for now, just let them play.