The Philadelphia sports scene is already overcrowded. But here's one more thing.
The Philadelphia sports scene is already overcrowded. But here's one more thing.
Published May 24, 2021
I’m not going to argue that Aaron Nola is a very good pitcher. Heck, sometimes he’s great, like when he threw his first career nine-inning complete game shutout earlier this season. And even when he’s a lesser version of himself, he’s still better than probably 75% of the starters in Major League Baseball.
But this isn’t about whether a pitcher is objectively good, because Nola clearly is. Instead, it’s about an individual player’s established baseline and his ability to elevate his game past that. And right now, I’m not seeing it from Aaron Nola.
There’s nothing really wrong with his numbers, even his current 3.94 ERA. That mark is way too high for a pitcher of Nola’s caliber, especially when you consider that every Joe Schmo on the street is throwing a no hitter during this 2021 season that’s seen MLB hitters plunge to a new level of ineptitude. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that Nola’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is 2.98, which is a career low in this department. Essentially, this tells you that he’s been fairly unlucky so far this year, plus he has to deal with the Phillies’ lackluster defense behind him failing to make any kind of plays to help him out.
While Nola will likely finish with good numbers, a high strikeout total, and all of the trappings that make him a nice pitcher for your fantasy baseball team (which I assume you’ve called “Joe Buck Yourself”), he just seems to pick the absolute worst spots to come up small for this ballclub.
Let’s look at two recent starts.
On May 9 in Atlanta (Sunday Night Baseball, to boot) the Phillies were trying to take the rubber match of a series with the Braves. You’ll recall that this was the night after their horrendous 12-inning loss where they blew leads three separate times. The club needed Nola to author an effective start in the following game, especially since they had used eight pitchers that night. But after the Phillies jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first, Nola promptly came out in the bottom half of the inning and gave up four runs. Game over. He’d last four innings in the 6-1 loss. No run support there, but it was basically over before it started.
Most recently, Nola took the hill this past Friday in the opener of the Phils’ series with Boston. The Phillies had just dropped two games to the Marlins (of course) and needed to get back on track with their ace toeing the rubber. Instead, Nola immediately gave up two runs in the top of the first to the BoSox. The Phils would later tie the game, but Nola would surrender three more in the fifth, and his night was done. The Phillies would slog their way to an 11-3 loss thanks to porous defense and more ineffective bullpen work, but a score like this should never be the result of a game started by Aaron Nola.
Look, I’m not blaming him for other elements of this team that he has no control over. But the team is 5-5 when Nola starts this year. They don’t have a prayer to do anything of consequence this season if that doesn’t drastically improve. Also, keep in mind that the Phillies were one win away from qualifying for the expanded playoffs in 2020. Their record in Nola’s starts last year? 5-7.
Aaron Nola is in no way the biggest problem with this team. But he shouldn’t be exempted from the list of players that the club needs more from. And frankly, I wonder about his long-term relationship with the Phillies. Nola is under contract through 2022, and he has a team option which the Phils will almost certainly exercise for 2023. But what about after that?
Would Nola want to tie himself down in perpetuity to an organization so mired in mediocrity? The guy turns 28 in a few weeks, and he’s never thrown a pitch in the playoffs. If this continues for another year or two, would he really want to come back to the Phillies when he hits free agency at the age of 30? I wouldn’t even be surprised if we’re talking about Nola as a hot trade commodity around this time next year if the Phils continue on their current track. Contending clubs would no doubt be lining up to get a hold of him for the last year and a half of his contract so that he could help them for two potential playoff runs. And the Phillies would be wise to at least listen, if this scenario plays out.
I won’t deny elements of Nola’s career, like his fantastic 2018 season or reliability in taking the mound every fifth day for several years after there were some lingering injury concerns earlier in his career. But are all of us happy with these kinds of results, or do we want something more? Is Nola even capable of giving something more?
I have no answers, only questions. And I hope that Nola starts achieving better results for a Phillies club that sorely needs him to. Even that may not be enough to drag this team to the playoffs, but at least he’d be fully cashing in on the potential that all of us believe he has.
On one hand, I feel bad that Nola hasn’t gotten a chance to show his stuff on the biggest stage. Then again, maybe he needs to start performing better in the opportunities presented to him (such as stopping a losing streak or helping his team win a series against a division rival) so that he can fully earn his shot.
All of this may be construed as overly harsh words about a very good pitcher. But “very good” might not be good enough for Aaron Nola. Or maybe it is. It's up to him.
Yeah, that's how I'd look if Rhys Hoskins was playing defense behind me, too. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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A journey through the last quarter-century of Philadelphia sports, as seen through the lens of a true fan. The book includes an exclusive list of the 50 Most Disliked Philadelphia Athletes. A must-read for all of Philly's long-suffering fans, especially those who "grew up" during the 1990's and early 2000's.
Published May 1, 2021
I’m sure this feels like kicking a guy while he’s down, but the issues didn’t start for Roman Quinn this year. They extend the entirety of his MLB career, one that’s given us just over a full season’s worth of games, even though it’s taken Roman several years to reach this mark. And that’s probably why he rates as such a large disappointment for the team. Quinn was a second round pick ten years ago. TEN! While nobody expected him to start making a major league impact for a few years after that, certainly we all thought we would be getting more than this.
But is Quinn the worst we’ve seen at the plate for the Phillies over the last 25 years? Let’s try to find out, but first a few ground rules.
Notice I said “hitter”, not “player”. I’m only talking about performance at the plate here, and I’ll take the opportunity for yet another shot at Phillippe Aumont and all of the terrible pitchers the Phillies have had another time.
Track record counts here. As mentioned, Quinn has played the equivalent of over a full season. That seems like enough of a sample size. Russell Branyan and his nine at bats with the Phillies don’t count, sorry.
As for expectation, that should be factored in as well. Quinn, a second round pick, has a higher bar to clear than someone the Phillies signed as an undrafted free agent. So, does this mean that Mickey Moniak is on the hot seat here? Very possibly, but he’s played less than 20 games in the majors so far, and he’s a full five years younger than Quinn. Give him time.
I think that the easiest way to do this is to start working backward through time and see who we bump into that could challenge Roman Quinn, in the sense that rarely met the challenge at the plate.
The first name that jumps off the page to me is Quinn’s current teammate, Andrew Knapp. I do admit that I’ve had my share of harsh things to say about Knapp in recent years, but I commend him for working hard to improve from total liability to the range of “somewhat acceptable backup catcher”. So good for him, although a team has problems if they give him more than about 175 plate appearances in a given season.
Aaron Altherr is another guy we’ve seen come through town in recent seasons, and his batting average with the Phillies was actually lower than what Quinn’s is at the moment. Altherr showed some rare bursts, but he hit below .200 in 57 games in 2016 and was then under the Mendoza Line again in 2018, batting a putrid .181 in over 100 games. The last straw was a 1-for-29 start to 2019, at which point he was waived. I don’t know that he was worse than Quinn, but we’ll keep him in mind for the moment.
Jesmuel Valentin was pretty bad, but he only got 89 plate appearances in 2018. Luminaries such as Cameron Perkins and Ty Kelly also didn’t play enough. And then we come to Tyler Goeddel, who is intriguing. He got 234 plate appearances in 92 games in 2016, producing a slash line of .192/.258/.291. He appears to be a strong candidate, though I would have liked to have seen a few more trips to the plate for this exercise, as opposed to real life, where I would have liked to have seen 234 fewer trips to the plate.
Laynce Nix makes a strong play, having hit .211 over parts of two seasons (263 PA) with the Phillies. We can also consider Pete Orr, whose on base plus slugging (OPS) of .599 with the Phillies is much lower than Quinn’s mark of .644.
Next up is a big-time contender: Michael Martinez. The Phils kept this guy on the roster for three years, and he batted .187 over 396 trips to the plate. His on base percentage was .234, and he slugged .261. Those are terrible, in case you weren’t sure. I think we have a new leader in the clubhouse. Roman, you might be off the hook. Really, the only thing possibly holding us back is the fact that Quinn was a high draft pick, while Martinez was never projected to be anything. So we’ll see.
As I continue to work my way backwards in time, I’m reminded of a period when the Phillies were good, and as such didn’t give hundreds of at bats to players like Michael Martinez. That time feels like a distant memory now.
One guy I unearthed was Nick Punto. He was a bad hitter, for sure, but a .223 batting average over just 111 plate appearances for the Phillies doesn’t give us a ton to work with. I’ll have to rule him out, plus he carved out a decade-long career as a reserve guy after he left town. I guess he wasn’t terrible.
Back a little further, we come across David Doster (bad, but not THAT bad) and an interesting case, Bobby Estalella. He’s probably best remembered for his three-homer game, but Estalella only batted .218 with an on base percentage under .300 for the Phillies. He’s not going to be our winner, but I thought it was worth pointing out that he wasn’t very good at all.
I think we’ve got to take a long look at Mark Parent, he of the .186/.239/.230 slash line over 247 plate appearances for the Phillies. Man, that’s bad. But I have to admit it seems like piling on to go with a broken down catcher at the end of the line. Then again, his CAREER batting average was .214. He was never good, especially for a former fourth round pick. Intriguing.
We’ll wind this list up with the granddaddy of them all, Desi Relaford. Working in Desi’s favor is the fact that had SO MANY plate appearances for the Phils, almost 1200 of them. They just kept trotting him out there until Jimmy Rollins showed up to save the day. Honestly, though, Desi was just doing the best he could, which was essentially Roman Quinn-level production. And those were some bad Phillies teams that he played on. I’m not sure that I have it in my heart to declare him our victor. This is going to be close.
THE FINAL VERDICT
As (un)impressive as Roman Quinn has been, he’s not our winner as “worst Phillies hitter of the last 25 years”. Maybe he’ll get there eventually, but I just can’t go with him. Nor can I declare contenders like Desi Relaford or Mark Parent the winner. In the end, I decree that MICHAEL MARTINEZ is the worst Philadelphia Phillies hitter of the last quarter-century. He wasn’t a high draft pick like Quinn, and he only played the equivalent of one full season in town, but wow. He’ll be hard to top going forward.
Roman failing to keep his eye on the ball again. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Kevin Lagowski lives in Lincoln University, PA with his wife, son and dog. He used to work in the TV control room world, but now he's a technical writer.