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 27, 2018
Remember when Rhys Hoskins was good?
Ok, that’s a little overdramatic, but we’re lying to ourselves if we’re not at least somewhat concerned with his so-so production nearly 1/3 of the way into this 2018 season.
If I told you a few months ago that the Phillies would be 29-20 come Memorial Day weekend and actually leading the division by half a game, you’d probably assume that Hoskins was having a monster season and leading the charge for the offense. But it hasn’t been the case.
He is now one or two games away from matching his total plate appearances from his fabulous yet abbreviated rookie season, and so we have enough of a sample size to compare this year with last in an attempt to figure out what the difference has been so far in 2018.
First, the numbers…
2017: .259 BA, 18 HR, 48 RBI in 212 plate appearances (50 games)
2018: .240 BA, 6 HR, 28 RBI in 206 plate appearances (49 games)
A steep dropoff indeed.
And it gets even worse when you dig deeper and recall that he didn’t homer in his last 16 games to end 2017. So the guy hits 18 bombs in 34 games to start his MLB career, an insane and unsustainable pace to be sure, but then hits just six in the 65 games immediately following it. How do you go from an 80+ homer pace to one that’s sub-20?
First, and most obviously, pitchers didn’t know what they were doing when facing Hoskins during his first trip through the league. Minor league scouting reports only go so far, and the guy was taking advantage of seemingly every mistake and depositing them into the seats. This year (and even late last year), there’s a book on him. And he hasn’t developed a counterpunch yet.
In addition, the fact that the Phillies had nothing to play for by the time he came up last year lent itself to a low pressure environment conducive to success. Teams took the Phils lightly, and Hoskins also did some of his damage against below-average pitchers just playing out the string for other also-ran teams.
Fast forward to 2018. Every team is as healthy as they’re going to be and is sending out their top arms in April and May because, theoretically at least, they all have a shot at the postseason at this early juncture. Clubs will not be digging into their deep minors to see what they have for a few more months at least. At that point, perhaps Rhys can feast against subpar pitching.
You also have to look at what time of the calendar year Hoskins had so much success. We all know how the ball flies out of Citizens Bank Park in the summer, what Charlie Manuel used to call “hittin’ season”. Hoskins shouldn’t be penalized for taking advantage of the August and early-September weather last year, but it definitely was a factor. And, if anything, it gives us something to look forward to later this season. If he can post a double-digit homer month like he did last year, maybe his numbers end up looking comparable to what we expected, making this all a moot point.
In terms of his approach at the plate, Hoskins is seeing about 0.25 fewer pitches per plate appearance than he did last year. It’s not a huge disparity, but it at least suggests that pitchers have a better handle on how to work the zone against him. More pitches seen equals more potential mistakes to clobber. Ergo, he’s had fewer meatballs to swing at so far this year.
His walk rate is down just a hair from last year, so no worries there, but the biggest concern is a strikeout rate that has risen from 21.7% in 2017 to about 28% so far this year. If he were slamming homers with the same propensity he did last season, this would still be acceptable, but a 6-7% spike in K rate is 30 to 40 more plate appearances per year where you’re not even leaving the batter’s box. That’ll definitely trim some points off your average and runs off the scoreboard for your team.
His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this season is comparable to last year’s. In his particular case, Hoskins is not falling victim to some bad batted ball luck. The numbers suggest that lowering his strikeout total is the best way to get his average back into a more respectable range. Just don’t ask me how he’s supposed to accomplish it, that's what the coaches are for. Hopefully, when the hits start coming, more of them will leave the yard.
A slight uptick in flyball/groundball ratio shows that he has hit more flyballs of the “high and lazy” variety this year than in 2017. Is he forcing the issue and going for home runs more? Last year it all came so naturally, so maybe he is. We’ve all seen guys press too hard and dig themselves even deeper into a slump. So let's cross our fingers that doesn’t come to pass here.
A full time move to the outfield this season may also be affecting Hoskins. He has looked fine out there, but this wouldn’t be the first time that a player who was forced to adjust his mindset on defense found himself struggling in the batter’s box. Personally I still think they should have just left him alone at first base and don’t know why they felt the need to break the bank on Carlos Santana. Less responsibility and wear-and-tear on defense can only help to give a player more time to focus on hitting. I think.
In the end, let’s keep in mind that Hoskins was never considered an elite prospect and only worked his way into such a position because he started absolutely destroying the minor leagues for the better part of two seasons. He earned his opportunity for sure, but he set the bar way too high initially.
Best guess here is that he turns things around at least somewhat this year and puts up a season ultimately in the .250/30 HR/85 RBI range. And I know that deeper analytics should be considered as well, but I’m not even going to pretend that I know how to assess and project those categories.
Overall, I believe that Hoskins will be fine. I think it’s pretty obvious he’s never going to hit for a high average. But he can develop into a perennial masher, a guy you can count on for at least 35 home runs and 100 RBI, for the next 5-7 years until he hits the wrong side of 30. All bets are off then, and we’ll worry about it when we get there.
He showed last year that he can get scorching hot, and a couple streaks like that every year will do wonders for his overall stat line. We’re just still waiting for one this year. I hope he shuts me up by absolutely going off soon.
The Phillies’ starting pitching deserves most of the credit for the team’s success so far this year. But at some point, it’s going to struggle and need the offense to bail it out.
Looking at you, Rhys.
Published May 25, 2018
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Stanley Cup will not be coming to Philadelphia this spring. We knew that already, but sports’ greatest trophy now has just two possible destinations after Washington’s Game 7 victory over Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. And so, the Cup will be making its inaugural voyage somewhere, but will it be going to our nation’s capital or to Sin City?
With the stunning success of the Golden Knights in their first year of existence, all logic is out the window. And so I can’t even begin to tell you what is going to happen in the upcoming series. Instead, I’m just going to approach it with cold logic in answer of the question “What would be a better outcome for a Flyers fan to see?”
The easy answer to this question is that the NHL just cease operations and not award the Stanley Cup to anyone. If it’s not going to be my team, then I’d prefer that nobody is happy when all is said and done. But all Flyers fans are painfully used to a decades-long drought by now, and so we must choose the form of our destructor, like it or not.
The last two years, we have rooted in vain against the hated Penguins as they won back-to-back championships. It felt like death by a thousand tiny stab wounds. At least this year will be far less painful regardless of who wins, but there are still a few angles that we must consider.
So who has the edge and deserves our rooting interest?
The Capitals have been around since 1974 and are making just their second trip to the Final. This already has to be considered the greatest season in team history, one that is fraught with awful seasons and stunning playoff collapses. If ever there was a franchise that deserves the pity of the rest of the league, it’s this one. This is also the greatest season in Golden Knights history…since it’s the first one. Sure, the players have worked hard to get here, but are we prepared to see a team go all the way in year 1?
Vegas is a group of castoffs that has banded together to stick it to the teams that gave up on them. They play a fast and exciting game that is atypical of what we are used to seeing from expansion teams who play a boring brand of hockey in an attempt to stay competitive. Meanwhile, Washington has a fair share of star players, led of course by Alex Ovechkin. He has ruffled a few feathers over the years, but is nowhere near the likes of Sidney Crosby on Flyers fans’ hate-o-meter. On paper, this sure looks like David vs. Goliath. Who doesn’t enjoy an underdog? I know Philly does.
EDGE: Golden Knights
IMPACT ON FLYERS' PHILOSOPHY
The Capitals have failed year after year in the playoffs, often in heartbreaking Game 7 losses at home. But through all the cries to blow everything up and start over, they have largely stayed the course, looking for that one shot. This is finally it. Would a Caps Cup win validate what Ron Hextall is trying to do with the Flyers? It may just prove that building a core group and sticking with it is the way to go. Plus, seeing another division rival skate off with the Cup might be the tipping point to get Hextall to make a big move. On the flip side, Vegas winning would prove that it basically makes no difference what a GM does and that the NHL is just a league of randomness. This may give Hextall (or any other GM) carte blanche to claim “Our team is clearly good enough to win it all, just look at Vegas”. My head hurts over the prospect of a top line featuring Michael Raffl and Dale Weise next season. At any rate, Hextall wouldn’t just scrap his master plan, but a Knights Cup win would make all this “building” look like window dressing.
FAN BASE GLOATING
As mentioned, perhaps no one has suffered more than Capitals fans. If they finally get a taste of success, would they immediately turn into jerks and rub it in Flyers’ fans faces? Penguins’ fans would be their primary target, but I don’t know if I want to find out what it feels like to have another division rival lording a championship over my head. I know a few Capitals fans and you probably do too. I don’t think it would be too bad, but it would be one more thorn in the side of Flyers supporters. As for Vegas, they’re in the other conference and their “fan base” is in its infancy, so Flyers fans would hear nary a peep from them.
EDGE: Golden Knights
PERSONAL FEELINGS ABOUT PLAYERS
Marc-Andre Fleury is annoying and I really don’t want to see him win his fourth Stanley Cup. He would also be a lock for the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. James Neal’s presence on Vegas is also bothersome; he is a tool. But the Knights do have likeable former Flyer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who was sorely missed this season. Luca Sbisa played for the Flyers what seems like eons ago, so there are no strong feelings there. On the Caps, there are no former Flyers to speak of. I’m just glad that they beat the Lightning and denied Braydon Coburn a shot at the Cup. That guy is beyond redemption. Tom Wilson is a piece of trash, but none of Washington’s top players are inherently unlikeable. And for a guy that’s scored a ton of big goals against the Flyers, Ovechkin is curiously respected in Philadelphia. He’s not immune from whining, but I think his talent just so far outweighs everything else that people are pulling for him to some degree.
I surprised myself here. At first blush, I was thinking Vegas all the way, and I would be sticking by that had Tampa advanced to the Final. But damn if the Caps don’t come out on top when I look at things from the perspective of the dyed-in-the-wool Flyers fan that I am. Yes, it would be yet another team having a parade while the orange and black remain Cupless in most of our lifetimes. But as long as my Capitals fan friends don’t assault me with it, I think I’m fine with it. I go down to DC for a game every few years, and I don’t think they’d be as unbearable down there about it as other East rivals would be. So, from Flyers nation, and I can’t believe I’m saying this…Go Caps Go!
Published May 24, 2018
On Thursday morning, the WIP Morning Show held a poll asking fans if they would be in support of the station holding “one final Wing Bowl”. The majority said yes, although it remains to be seen if this support will result in the event actually being held this coming February.
Either way, it seems the end is nigh for this overblown display of debauchery/pseudo-sporting event that has been a staple in Philadelphia for over a quarter of a century. Heck, I’ve even attended two of them. But maybe we’ll be better off without it going forward. And so, here now are some other parts of the Philadelphia sports culture that can hit the bricks along with it.
THROWING OPPONENTS’ HOME RUN BALLS BACK AT CITIZENS BANK PARK
This caught on crazy early when the Phillies moved to CBP in 2004, and I have no idea why. It’s a ripoff of what Cubs fans do at Wrigley Field. And it’s stupid. I’ve never caught any ball during a game, let alone a home run ball, and so I’d hold onto that thing like grim death. So what if a visiting player hit it? Throwing it back on the field does nothing. Let’s cut it out, Phillies fans.
76ERS LETTING CONVICTED FELONS RING THE BELL BEFORE A GAME
Ok, can we at least wait until they’ve been out of jail for like 48 hours until we do this?
PEOPLE PETITIONING THE EAGLES TO BRING BACK KELLY GREEN UNIFORMS
Jerome Brown and Reggie White wore kelly green when they played for the Eagles. Cool. Why should I care now? Are the Birds going to magically play better if they wear old-looking uniforms all the time? They just won the Super Bowl, so I’d say not. If they want to sprinkle in a throwback whenever the league allows them to, great. But the best and most consistent football the Eagles have played in the lifetime of anyone reading this has come with the team wearing midnight green. This isn’t akin to the Sixers inexplicably having so much black in their uniforms for a few years, it fits. Leave it be.
FLYERS TROTTING OUT “GOD BLESS AMERICA” FOR EVERY BIG/PLAYOFF GAME
It still gives me chills, but the clock has struck midnight on this tradition. Years ago, the Flyers had been so dominant when God Bless America was played before the game that they actually showed the team’s record on the scoreboard in such cases. Now, thanks to some embarrassing playoff performances in the last couple years, it’s obvious that the song does nothing for the team. Yes, the fans still like it, but overuse and poor results mean that it’s not really special any more. At the very least, can we just let poor Lauren Hart sing the thing on her own and not struggle her way through a duet with a dead lady? And while we’re at it with the Flyers…
GIVING AWAY ANYTHING AT FLYERS PLAYOFF GAMES
You just know it’s going to end up on the ice. The worst case scenario occurred in 2016 when Flyers fans chucked their light-up bracelets during the team’s wretched performance in their first home game since the passing of Ed Snyder. Maybe if the Flyers didn’t crap the bed and suffer painful humiliations at home every spring, it would be different. But it’s not different, and so the misbehavior of a handful of fans inevitably spoils it for everyone else, leading to all the media dopes breaking out the “snowballs at Santa Claus” garbage. Ugh. Stop the giveaways or, preferably, play better.
EVERYBODY STARTING THEIR OWN SPORTS BLOG/WEBSITE
Enough already. Who reads this stuff anyway?
Have any other Philly traditions that should get the axe? Let me know @BigLagowski on Twitter.
Published May 23, 2018
10. Doug Glanville – Believe it or not. Glanville’s best season actually came in 1999 when he topped 200 hits, but that doesn’t factor into the decision here. From 2000-2002, he was a steady albeit unspectacular presence in center field for the team. He finished 7th in the NL in stolen bases a couple times and was 3rd in the NL in Defensive WAR in 2001. Hey, it was slim pickings down here.
9. Marlon Byrd – Another pick that probably seems like a joke, but Byrd actually played more games for the Phillies than any of the other nine (NINE!) teams he suited up for in his career. Over parts of five seasons in Philadelphia, Byrd amassed a .268 average with 38 home runs and 164 RBI. He also finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2003, so there’s that. It’s been a lean century, what can I say?
8. Ben Revere – You’re laughing again, but “Big Ben” (nobody ever called him that) hit .303 in two and a half years with the Phillies and stole 95 bases during that time. He led the National League in hits in 2014, which seems wrong but I swear is true. He also stole 49 bases that year, a mark that only Juan Samuel has surpassed in the last 100 years of Phillies baseball. Go figure.
7. Aaron Rowand – His time in town was all too brief, but even then he was able to notch an all-star appearance, a Gold Glove Award and a broken face. Rowand is about as celebrated as an athlete can be in a town where he only played two seasons and didn’t win a championship; it’s a shame he didn’t stick around longer.
6. Raul Ibanez – He looked like a world-beater early on in his first season with the Phillies in 2009, taking over for the departed Pat Burrell. But we all knew it wouldn’t last, as Ibanez was already well into his 30’s and was always viewed as a stopgap measure. His play tailed off badly over the course of his 3-year stint in town, but he was still able to put up some good production, hitting 70 HR and knocking in 260 runs over that time. He did get an all-star nod in that 2009 season, so good for him.
5. Jayson Werth – Perhaps the shrewdest move Pat Gillick ever made as Phillies GM was bringing the bearded one to town. In four years with the Phillies, Werth made an all-star appearance, led the league in doubles in 2010 and of course was a key contributor to the 2008 World Series victory. All in all, he batted .282 with 95 home runs and 300 RBI on the nose for the club.
4. Odubel Herrera – Maybe I’m doing a bit of projecting here since his on-base streak is fresh in my mind. But Herrera has already done so much more than what can be expected from a Rule 5 pick, turning into one of the most consistent hitters in the National League and providing great entertainment to boot. Hopefully his brain ultimately catches up to his talent level, because he can end up being very special. He also ranks highly in all kinds of weird defensive stats like “Range Factor” and “Total Zone Runs”. So the experts agree, he’s pretty good.
3. Pat Burrell – What hasn’t already been said about “Pat the Bat”? In nine seasons, he nailed 251 home runs and just as many local ladies. He also reached the 100 RBI mark twice. And while he curiously never made an all-star team, he still goes down as one of the top sluggers in Phillies history. We’ll always have 2008, Pat.
2. Bobby Abreu – Bobby already had two seasons as a Phil under his belt when Y2K hit and was clearly a rising star. After that point, he played six and a half more seasons in town, which featured a pair of 30-homer seasons, four 100-RBI seasons, a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove and two all-star appearances, including a Home Run Derby win that basically wrecked his swing for the rest of that season. He was still very good when the Phillies traded him to the Yankees in 2006 for a heaping pile of garbage. And yet, he never had so much as a whiff of the playoffs as a Phillie and is not fondly remembered in town despite being a favorite of stat-heads and fantasy players for years.
1. Shane Victorino – The Flyin’ Hawaiian came up big for the Phillies over a 7-year span. He won 3 Gold Gloves, was a 2-time all-star and even led the NL in triples twice. He finished in the NL’s top 10 in stolen bases five times. His shining moment was a big one, a grand slam off CC Sabathia in the 2008 NLDS that propelled the Phillies to victory that game and served as the ignition point for the World Series parade that would follow a few weeks later. Did you know he had more postseason RBI as a Phillie than Chase Utley? And so, for now, Victorino stands as the best Phillies outfielder this century. Maybe he gets passed by Herrera or someone like Rhys Hoskins over the next few years, but he is the standard-bearer for now.