July 01, 2016
Tonight at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies will play the 81st game on their schedule, meaning they will have reached the exact midway point of their season when the game comes to a conclusion.
Major League Baseball’s unofficial first half of the 2016 season draws to a close a week from Monday, for the start of the All-Star break. This year’s All-Star Game will be held at Petco Park in San Diego, where there’s at least a chance that a former Phillie could start the game in his hometown.
Cole Hamels no longer wears a Phillies uniform, of course. Neither do Jonathan Papelbon or Chase Utley, the team’s last two representatives in baseball’s annual Midsummer Classic.
So who will represent the Phillies? The All-Star Game rosters will be announced this Tuesday night on MLB Network, a week before the game.
You can make a pretty strong assumption that the Phillies will have just one representative this year, which would mark the third straight season the team would send only one player to the All-Star Game. It would be the first time since 1996-98 that the Phils sent one player for three consecutive years. (Trivia: name those Phillies All-Stars from ’96-98).
But back to 2016.
Here are one man’s odds for who will be taking the trip to San Diego in 10 days.
Yes, the exuberant center fielder and former Rule 5 pick would seem to be a very easy choice here (something that you might not have been able to say a month ago, which doesn’t have anything to do with Herrera’s performance).
Herrera’s remarkable ability to remake himself as a hitter, with strong plate discipline gives hope that fellow second-year player Maikel Franco can correct his own current flaws. Herrera has 14 more walks this year than he finished with last year, and in 201 fewer plate appearances.
Herrera’s .393 OBP ranks 16th best in baseball, ahead of AL MVP front-runner Manny Machado (.392) and on-base machine Joey Votto (.378), among others. Among major league outfielders, only Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Christian Yelich and Dexter Fowler have a higher OBP.
Among NL outfielders (which is Herrera’s chief competition for an All-Star spot, obviously), Herrera’s .820 OPS ranks only 14th. But only three NL outfielders have more hits and only one (Harper) has more walks. Herrera’s .307 batting average also ranks 7th among NL outfielders.
Let’s get this out of the way first: saves are a bit of an overrated stat in terms of translating the value a player has to their respective team.
Like the RBI, they’re one more of opportunity. This isn’t to say a save is useless and doesn’t require a skill set from the many collecting them; but it is to say that sometimes the guys pitching in the 7th and 8th innings or more dominant and deserving. Andrew Miller, for example, has never made an All-Star team despite being one of if not the game’s most dominant reliever for the last three years.
But closers are the relievers that often populate All-Star rosters (there are zero non-closing relievers on these projected rosters). And if for whatever reason someone could find to exclude Odubel Herrera from the roster, Gomez would currently stand as the likely next obvious choice.
The 28-year-old Gomez may not be outfitted with the typical closer stuff (no Ken Giles fastball or Brad Lidge slider) but it’s difficult to argue with the results. Gomez, probably the fifth or sixth option to close when spring training started, has converted 21-of-23 save opportunities in the season’s first three months.
Only four N.L. relievers have more saves. And among those four, only Kenley Jansen (0.67) and Mark Melancon (1.05) have a lower WHIP than Gomez’s 1.15.
We’ll group these two together because they’re probably equally deserving, and by “deserving” we’re not saying they deserve to go to San Diego but that they stand about the same chance as showing up on ballots filled out by N.L. players and coaches. With consistency, either one could easily show up in Miami for the 2017 All-Star Game.
Less than four weeks ago, Aaron Nola was probably the Phillies most deserving All-Star candidate — that’s just how good he was in the season’s first two months. Nola entered his 13th start of the season on June 11 with a sparkling 2.65 ERA, an opponents' OBP of .252, and a 5.67 K-to-BB rate and 0.987 WHIP; the latter two ranked among the best in baseball, not just the National League.
But Nola’s last four starts have been downright ugly. He’s almost allowed more earned runs in those four games (22 in 13 innings) than he allowed in the 12 that preceded them (23 in 78 innings). Nola still might show up on ballots, however, if they were filled out before mid-June.
For the first three months of the season Eickhoff may not have had the same extended flashes of dominance that Nola had early, but he was more consistent from April through June. Eickhoff has allowed more than three earned runs in just two of his 16 starts, and those two games were separated by more than a month.
Eickhoff entered the weekend before All-Star selection with a 3.38 ERA, which ranked 22nd in the N.L. (in between a pair of aces, Max Scherzer, 3.30 ERA, and Zack Greinke, 3.62). Eickhoff’s 3.46 K/BB rate ranked 18th, his 2.25 walk rate 13th, his 7.78 strikeout rate 23rd. He’s been good, but obviously not good enough to take a spot from a loaded NL stable of arms that includes Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jon Lester, Jose Fernandez, Julio Teheran, and other potential All-Star locks.
And in a lot of those peripheral stats, Eickhoff still trails Nola. Nola will not be going to San Diego, but his 4.50 K/BB rate still ranks sixth in the N.L. (and 13th in MLB), his 9.79 strikeout rate ranks 9th in the N.L., his 2.18 walk rate ranks 12th, and his 3.16 FIP (fielding independent pitching) ranks 9th (and 12th in MLB).
If Ken Giles, a strikeout-collecting eighth-inning man, wasn’t a candidate last year, it’s difficult to make any argument that Neris would be one this year. He also had a tough 2 1/2 week stretch after Memorial Day, and if you’re a non-closer, you really have to be dominant for the entirety of the season’s first three months to find your way onto the usual closer-dominant All-Star rosters.
Unless your name is Clayton Kershaw, you’re not finding your way onto an All-Star roster if you spent significant time on the disabled list no matter how dominant you were when you were healthy. Velasquez quite obviously showed off signs of dominance in the season’s first two months, but also looked like a young pitcher learning his ways more often than not, too: he’s pitched more than six innings in just one of his 12 starts.
Velasquez has the arsenal however that could easily land him Miami next July if he can prove to be both durable and consistent. Fun fact: Velasquez and Eickhoff share an identical 3.38 ERA.
Oh, and as for that earlier trivia answer: Ricky Bottalico ('96) and Curt Schilling ('97, '98).