TDG’s Triple Play: Philadelphia Phillies!
The Triple Play is back for a fourth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Paul Monte and a rotating panel of writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Follow Paul (@3cardmonte13), Phil (@barrington_phil), and Ben (@HPBenSanders) on twitter and read their analysis here at the site!
Aaron Nola, Age: 28, Position: SP
Analysis by: Ben Sanders
Don’t worry about a thing
Aaron Nola has had a very disappointing 2021, with just seven wins and a 4.48 ERA through 24 starts. He may not be helping fantasy managers much this season, but his underlying numbers suggest he’s still pitching well. His 5.5% BB-rate is the best of his career, and his 29% K-rate is his second-best. ERA estimators generally have him in the mid-3s – he has a 3.38 SIERA, 3.56 FIP and 3.60 xERA.
His batted ball luck hasn’t been very good, with his .311 BABIP higher than his .294 career mark. He has still been dominant at times – just last week, he tore through a loaded Dodger lineup, facing the minimum 12 batters through four innings and striking out seven, before a lengthy rain delay brought a premature end to his potential gem. It seems like that’s just his luck this season.
Well, worry about one thing
There is one troubling number in Nola’s line, and that’s his 40.7% groundball rate. That number usually sits around 50%, and his previous career-worst was 47.6% as a rookie in 2015. Nola throws four pitches – a four-seam fastball, sinker, curveball, and changeup. In his excellent 2020, he kept hitters guessing by throwing all four at least 20% of the time. His two best pitches for keeping the ball down were his changeup, which had a crazy 77.1% groundball rate, and his sinker, which induced grounders at a 50% clip.
This season he’s thrown both pitches less, and neither has been as effective. The changeup usage is down from 27.4% to 20.6%, and its groundball rate plummeted to 54.8%. He’s thrown the sinker just 10.7% of the time, and it’s getting only 44% groundballs. His pitch mix is now almost 40% four-seamers, and that hasn’t been a good thing, as opponents are slugging over .500 off the pitch.
Everything will be alright
Nola’s history suggests he’ll be able to fix his groundball problem and get back to pitching like an ace. Even if he doesn’t, the current version of him should be capable of much better than a 4.48 ERA. He turned 28 in June and has a profile that should age gracefully. With four pitches and good command, I expect him to remain effective well into his 30s.
Nola was eighth in our offseason SP rankings, and I don’t see him much lower than that now. You can argue that he should jump Luis Castillo, who was seventh and has also had a rough season. Brewers aces Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff have probably passed him, but there can’t be many others. Julio Urias is having a breakout season, but doesn’t have a long track record. Zack Wheeler and Kevin Gausman are in their 30s and were never this good before. Max Scherzer, Yu Darvish, and Clayton Kershaw won’t be able to keep going forever.
I still view Nola as a top-10 dynasty starting pitcher, and based on midseason rankings I’ve seen, I’m not the only one with faith in him. Most of his managers will probably wait out his struggles, but if you see him hit the trade block, it’s worth checking in.
Bryce Harper, Age: 28, Position: OF
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
I am a big fan of Bryce Harper, and I do not understand why more people are not, but that is why I am not a psychologist. He has been a very, very good, near great player during his big-league career, and has met most of the expectations that began being heaped on him as a 16-year-old. In my home keeper league this year, a computer issue led to me missing out on Mike Trout, but I was able to snag Harper. After the draft I was salty about that one for sure, but it sure has helped me, thus far, hold on to first place.
Best of What’s Around
Only a six-time All-Star thus far in his career (he should have been one this season, too), Harper has won one MVP award and only two other seasons has he finished in the top 30 (his ROY season, he finished 30th, and also has a 12th place finish in 2017). I think he will get into the Hall based on his career-ending numbers, and should make at least a couple more All-Star teams, but Harper has been a victim of extremely lofty expectations from the get-go.
Fun stat: Eloy Jimenez returned this past week and had two games in a row with four total homers and 10 RBI. Harper was the youngest player at 22 years old to hit at least four homers and have ten RBI over two games, and actually he hit five homers.
What to Expect When You Have High Expectations
Expectations are a funny thing. Rare is the athlete that can be given those expectations and fully reach their potential. For example, current Yankee farmhand Jasson Dominguez is very highly rated and signed for an exorbitant amount of money. He was the top pick in most first-year player drafts, and a top twenty dynasty prospect from the jump, but no one had seen the Martian face actual competition. He has done well thus far in his first season, but is not expected to make the major leagues for at least three seasons. If he compiles stats better than, say, Albert Pujols, he will meet the hype surrounding him, but that will be nearly impossible for him to pull off.
Don’t Believe the Hype
You could say Vladimir Guerrero Jr. may seem a similar comparison to being hyped at a young age, but while Guerrero played in 289 minor league games over four seasons, Harper played in only 130 minor league games over the 2011 and 2012 seasons before coming up in 2012 to win NL Rookie of the Year at age 19. Guerrero also was barely league average his first two big league seasons, while Harper went gangbusters right out of the gate in his MLB debut, becoming the youngest ever All-Star.
Harper was hyped as a 16-year-old, making the cover of Sports Illustrated (back when that still meant something), graduating high school early and heading to college at age 17. Over the past 20 or so years, of the major American sports, only LeBron James and Serena Williams lived up to the hype they generated as 16-year-olds. But you know who Harper is not? He is not Mike Trout, and that has been his biggest problem (and also lack of a cool nickname).
The Millville Meteor
Mike Trout is clearly the best player of the generation including Harper, and as such Harper has been faded for Trout because he is not Trout; no one is. But now, the injuries are piling up for Trout, and Harper has been able to avoid those since he arrived in Philadelphia. Harper has already stolen 12 bases this year, and while he has had seasons of under 10 steals, when fully healthy, 15ish steals help a fantasy team. As we see Trout run less, those steals become more important, but I still think Trout will provide a better slash line, albeit in fewer games. When I updated my fantasy top 20, I now have Harper (8) one spot ahead of Trout (9), along with Mookie Betts (10), in a group of the best outfielders aged 29 and older.
A final note: Harper is signed for 10 more seasons. While one can expect a decline for the last five or so, right now Harper is in his prime and should be for the next few seasons and as such, he is a target to acquire before the trade deadline, for teams in the hunt and those looking to compete in the next two seasons, especially if Tatis Jr. does not finish strongly and loses out on the MVP to Harper.
Bryson Stott, Age: 23, Position: SS/2B, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Paul Monte
Picking a player for this one was not much fun. Sure, there were a couple of intriguing teenagers on the pitching side of the prospect list, but I’m not sure how much we can glean from Mick Abel’s 44.2 IP in Low-A, and Andrew Painter hasn’t pitched professionally yet. The hitting side of the list is lacking, but it does have a couple of players who were first-round picks and have had decent seasons. These are the kind of guys you need to fill out your roster in deeper leagues.
The top hitter on the list is Bryson Stott. Selected 14th overall out of UNLV, he got a small taste of Rookie ball before finishing in short-season A. 2020 was a lost season for most with minor league play being canceled. It wasn’t until the 2021 season that Stott was able to play full-season baseball. It was a short stay in High-A, just 22 games before the Phillies moved up their 23-year-old shortstop. There has been a bit of an adjustment at Double-A, but nothing that would send warning flags up. He has hit .257/.326/.421 in just over 200 at-bats. He has homered five times and struck out 55.
The WOW Factor
The problem with players like Stott and prospect lists is that players who do not have an elite standout tool tend to slide down the list and get the dreaded “better in real life” label. Stott fits the bill as all five categories rate in the 50-55 range. My minor league slots are generally filled with high-upside prospects, and I need to be better about rostering guys like this who can provide a valuable floor. Brandon Crawford comes to mind, and the first half that he put together at 34 years old is what you can dream on. If you squint hard enough you can see Stott as a .260 hitter with 20 home runs and a couple of stolen bases added in. Current Philadelphia shortstop Did Gregorius signed a two-year deal this offseason that will keep him in a Phillies uniform through the 2022 season. Second base is also manned by a 31-year-old shortstop in Jean Segura. He is signed through 2022 and has a club option for 2023. Stott has played both shortstop and second base in the minors this season.
It’s tough to fill a minors slot with a player who is likely not going to debut until late 2022 with limited upside. It’s much more fun to roster that 17-year-old who is tearing up the Arizona League. In deeper leagues, I would look at rostering someone like Stott, but he would not be on the radar for 14-team leagues and under unless the minor league roster was very deep.
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