Rhys Hoskins Is Particularly Exciting in the Context of the Current Phillies

Rhys Hoskins is getting a lot of digi-ink recently. You may have read about him being only the third player ever to have 8 dingers in his first 15 games. Or maybe the first player to have 19 RBI in those same games. Or how he’s walking nearly as much as he’s striking out. Or how he’s doing it with a BABIP flirting with the Mendoza line. Or how he’s done it all despite having only 64 plate appearances and after starting out 0-for-12. All these things are worth talking about.

None of those reasons acknowledge Hoskins in the context of the current Phillies lineup, though. Maybe it’s because the team is the clear-cut worst in the Majors this year. Or how they’ve been so terrible the last few years that it mirrors their futility in the 90s. Or how they stand in such stark contrast to the organization’s great run from just a few short years ago. All of these things are worth not talking about. (more…)

Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton, and World Series Aspirations

Last night brought another Astros game and another win for the club. On the hill and pitching pretty darn well was Charlie Morton, whose career has been as compelling for his talent as his injuries. He went 6.1 innings and gave up a single run on three hits with four walks and nine strikeouts.

If you do a quick search, you’ll see a lot of comparisons of Morton to Roy Halladay, and, depending on the year, a lot of bad jokes about how such a comparison is crazy. But it’s really just about their size and motion to the plate. Curiously, there might be a more relevant comparison to make between Morton and a current Phillie based on mechanics and arsenal: Aaron Nola.

Morton and Nola are two righthanded pitchers who use a three-quarters arm slot. They also both rely on two-seamers and curveballs, which make for a fun pitch mix. The two-seamer zips away from the throwing arm while the curve snaps late glove side, potentially allowing for full plate control.

mortonnola

And now, with PitchInfo from FanGraphs, we can see just how similarly these pitches move for Morton and Nola. When I watch these guys and the way their offerings break, I think of them keenly casting a fishing line or maneuvering a whip. It’s snappy but fluid and reaches the target deliberately.

That’s what makes the combo so useful. Even if a hitter knows one or the other is coming, the movement on each can keep them unpredictable.

This informs how they try to mess with hitters, too: the curve from Morton moves in on lefties and gets them to hack and whiff, while the two-seamer from Nola to the same hitters is designed to get them to take a strike. To righties, Morton’s two-seamer backs them up while Nola’s curve can coax more swings. Take a look at these gifs: 

Image result for charlie morton gif            Image result for aaron nola gif

In general, Morton also gets more movement on his pitches and comes with more velocity. But he also has about four inches and 40 pounds on Nola, which could certainly influence the 6 milliseconds when spin is put on the baseball and force with which it gets to the plate.

Saying Nola is more valuable than Morton is a no-brainer, though. He’s nearly 10 years younger and one of his best skills — control — can be one of Morton’s weaker ones. He’s already accounted for a full win more than Morton this season despite throwing only 12 more innings. The comparison isn’t so much about the players at their peak as it is how their perhaps unsuspected similarities gives a glimpse into the way each can contribute to a team with legitimate World Series aspirations.

Morton is a sound complementary piece on an Astros team that’s on pace for 100 wins. Nola could be a main reason a Phillies team charges at the World Series in a few years. The ride watching each will be fun.

Featured image from AP/Chris O’Meara. Morton gif from GramUnion. Nola gif from Phuture Phillies.

wOBA Flippers and the Playoff Charge

Early on in a season, we get to talk about eye-popping numbers that players put up. We warn of sample sizes, though, and almost crave stability. We wait impatiently for the season to steady itself and almost breathe a sigh of relief when it happens — when we can start to buy into what an individual is doing.

But as the season wades on and we move toward the postseason, the biggest stories often come from singular moments. And while we can’t predict who, exactly, will define his team’s season with a single play, we might be able to take a pretty good guess.

With weighted on-base average, we get to see just how much a player is contributing each time they step to the plate. With expected weighted on-base average, we get to see how well their results line up with their approach.

woba flippers

The differences in expected and actual wOBA for these players in the early going is no small thing. The 20-to-45 point gap would have put them in a completely different class of players had things gone as expected. Manny Machado figured to rank ahead of Kris Bryant; in reality, he lingered above Freddy Galvis. There’s an example like that for each of the other three, too. While the early performances of these guys might have lasted long enough to make us feel like they were a certain kind of reliable this season, their recent play highlights how fast things can change.

The rankings associated with each player give a sense of what their teams would have enjoyed had circumstances fell more in their favor. Rankings aren’t included since the start of July because the sample size may emphasize a gap that could be misleading — Kyle Seager, for instance, has the smallest difference of the four in wOBA-based production but drops 76 spots because of it.

That’s also to intentionally emphasize something else: all of these players’ teams are in the playoff hunt. Seager’s Mariners are tied for the Wild Card lead and Machado’s Orioles, despite abysmal pitching, are only 1.5 games out. Moreland’s Red Sox and Santana’s Indians each lead their division by four games. And for better or worse, their turnarounds could be playing a big role in who’s playing in October.

So consider the implications. Do the Mariners possibly lead the Wild Card at this point if Seager’s production more closely matched what was expected? Are the Orioles smashing expectations again if the same were true for Machado?

Could Santana have delivered a more comfortable divisional lead for Cleveland earlier? Is he doing that now by exceeding expectations with a white hot bat? Moreland broke his toe in June — what impact has that had on the Red Sox building similar divisional comfort, and how big of a role could him simply being able to put pressure on his back foot play?

The answers to these questions may or may not be rhetorical, but all of these players are having a string of moments that could help define their team’s season. While we’ve longed for stable samples to dig into, their turns in production are showing us the ebb and flow of a game that remembers snapshots more than anything. As we come down to the wire, the big picture is telling us how it’s constructed of little ones.

wOBA numbers from Statcast. Featured image from Zimbio.