Minor League Decision Costs Phillies a Major League game – Thoughts after Braves 5, Phillies 3

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

One of the several reasons the Phillies decided to fire manager Joe Girardi last month was his lack of trust or confidence in many of the team’s young players.

In today’s game, you seem to need younger players to be successful – especially as teams try to navigate their finances and stay under the MLB luxury tax.

But that’s a thing of the past for the Phillies. They blew past that threshold this offseason with the signings of Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, among others. So, technically, the Phillies aren’t a team that would truly need their younger players to develop into quality and reliable big leaguers, because they can outspend their team’s developmental shortcomings.

Still, you want your farm system to provide some semblance of support to the big league club’s success – and the Phillies firmly belief their success this season will include playing in the postseason – this even after losing NL MVP Bryce Harper for at least six weeks with a fractured thumb, on which he will have surgery Wednesday.

The Phillies have had some glimmers of that. Matt Vierling hit a game-winning homer off the nearly untouchable Josh Hader a couple weeks ago. Bryson Stott had a run of clutch hits, including a walk off homer in a dramatic, come-from-behind win over the Angels, and Alec Bohm has quietly had a nice season with quality at bats at the plate, with eight multi-hit games in his last 21 outings.

But really, these have been just glimmers.

Vierling, for example, is slashing .237/.294/.660 with an OPS+ of just 87 in 102 plate appearances. He’s actually climbed out an ugly early-season hole (0-for-18) to get here but he still really struggles against right handed pitching, (.188/.245/.558), making him a limited use guy for offensive value – bat as often as possible against lefties.

(Take note of that, since that’s what the crux of this post is building toward).

Meanwhile Stott has fallen back on hard times at the plate, although he did have two singles against the Braves Tuesday. Those knocks bolstered his numbers to .174/.231/.513 with an OPS+ of 45. That means that he’s roughly 55% worse than the league average player in the MLB right now. And, if you take away his 10-game spurt between May 31 and June 11 in which he slashed .333/.385/1.107, Stott’s numbers are miniscule (.124/.142/.331) in 129 plate appearances with just 12 singles, two doubles, no homers and nine RBI.

Bohm has been O.K., especially after a shaky start to his season, too. And yet, he’s still below league average (.263/.298/.657) primarily because he’s become purely a singles hitter as only 17 of his 71 hits thus far this season have been for extras bases.

For example, I mentioned those eight multi hit games in the last 21 for Bohm. That’s solid, and it’s led to a .287 batting average through 90 plate appearances, but it’s also only led to one home run and just seven RBI, which is why it’s been mostly under the radar.

That brings us to Mickey Moniak, and I wasted the first 500 words of this post to outline the other young players on the Phillies just to get to this one.

We all know his story by now. Former No. 1 overall draft pick (2016) by the previous baseball operations regime, who has not panned out, but one who made some adjustments in the offseason, and who was so good in Spring Training that he won the starting centerfield job, only to have it disappear in his final exhibition game when he suffered a hairline fracture in his hand and had to be on the IL to start the season.

He’s been back with the big club a couple times since, and sent down a couple times since. He still continues to struggle with major league pitching. There’s a formula to pitching him too… Throw him a bunch of junk. He’s impatient at the plate and will chase it and miss it, or if he does hit it, not make good, hard contact.

This has resulted in a slash line of .143/.226/.369 and an OPS+ of 8. There’s no typo there. There’s not supposed to be even a second digit. It’s eight. Meaning his 92% worse than the average major leaguer.

Now, you could say it’s a small sample size – and it is, just 32 plate appearances – but there’s been absolutely no evidence of him being able to figure it out. He has just four singles and no extra base hits. He has one RBI and has struck out 12 times. Against lefties he’s be 0-fer in five plate appearances this season and frankly 0-for-his big league career (16 plate appearances).

This brings us to the crux of the matter.

Here are the Phillies, recalling Moniak from the minors after learning that Bryce Harper will be out approximately six weeks with his thumb fracture, trying to keep pace in the playoff race with 10 of the next 13 games against two of the teams they are chasing – Atlanta and St. Louis.

Prior to the first game of that stretch, against Atlanta Tuesday, interim manager Rob Thomson told us that Moniak was going to get an opportunity to play, especially with the Phillies slated to face so many right handers in this stretch.

Notice, he didn’t mention Moniak playing against lefties.

So, the Phillies find themselves down a run in the bottom of the sixth against the Braves with two outs when other youngsters, Bohm and Stott get back-to-back singles off of Braves starter Charlie Morton, to put runner on the corners.

The Braves lift Morton and turn to lefty Dylan Lee with Moniak coming up.

Every one of 27,725 fans in attendance, the couple dozen of us in the press box, the broadcasters for both teams, and everyone watching at home assumed with the Braves bringing in a lefty, Thomson would turn to a righty – he had four at his disposal on the bench – to pinch hit for Moniak in this clutch situation.

Obviously, he didn’t.

Moniak flew out weakly to centerfield, ending the inning. The Phillies did tie the game on Kyle Schwarber’s 180th home run in June. (OK, it was only his 11th. It just seems like that many more. Either way, it’s the most in baseball this month), but the Braves put an end to the Phillies’ bullpen scoreless streak when Matt Olson hit his second solo homer of the game off Andrew Bellatti and Brad Hand gave up a run on an RBI double by Adam Duvall and the Phillies lost 5-3.

This at-bat could have swung the game differently.

Thomson tried defending it after the game, saying Lee was bit of a backwards pitcher in that he has reverse splits, meaning he is tougher on righties than lefties.

But a quick glance at his limited data (just 16 innings this season) says Thomson was wrong (via Baseball Reference) –

  • Lefties vs. Lee: .185/.185/.482
  • Righties vs. Lee: .212/.257/.590

But then we got this gem from Thomson – Moniak was 4-for-8 lifetime off of Lee… in the minor leagues.

Wait… so the Lee data from the minors must be where the reverse splits are too.

Let’s check:

  • 2022 Lefties vs. Lee: .224/.237/.565
  • 2022 Righties vs. Lee: .213/.250/.643

Still not reverse splits.

Now, in 2021 and 2019 he had reverse splits in the minors. In 2018 and 2016 he did not and in 2017 he was about even between the two.

So, truthfully, while Lee isn’t particularly dominant against lefties as opposed to righties, he is pretty balanced across the board.

So, with the Phillies being a team chasing a playoff spot, down a run in the latter half of the game, with a runner in scoring position and two outs, relied on Moniak’s career 4-for-8 in the minors against a pitcher to choose to leave him in the game.

Vierling, by the way, is .314/.359/.777 in 92 career plate appearances vs. lefties.

The Phillies need to decide what they want to do right now. Are you trying to develop young players into something more at the major league level, or are you trying to win games and make the playoffs this season?

Because, it can’t be both. Not now. Not after the giant hole you originally dug for yourself and are trying to get out of still.

Win first. Worry about Moniak’s confidence later.

A few of us did speak with Moniak afterwards and the kid remains confident. He knows he’s getting a opportunity and that he wants a chance to produce and he knows that it’s not easy in the sport.

“At the end of the baseball is a tough game and you aren’t going to get the results you want every day,” Moniak said. “Going down to the minor leagues the last two weeks, really locked me in. It was good to just be playing every day and being able to get consistent at bats, do what I can do and be comfortable. At times when I’ve been up here in the past I’ve maybe tried to speed things up a bit and not be myself, slowing the game down, which I’ve done my whole life. The more time I spend up here, the easier that’s going to be.”

Getting that chance against Lee, may have boosted his confidence. But it put the Phillies a game further back in the standings.

Other news and notes from Tuesday:

  • In order to make room for OF Oscar Mercado, who the Phillies claimed off waivers from Cleveland, they placed Zach Eflin on the 15-day IL with knee soreness. They are hoping to get him off his feet for a couple starts and see if his knee responds to rest. Bailey Falter will slot into Eflin’s spot in the rotation for the next couple outings, but boy, do the Phillies need this to be a really short-term thing.
  • Speaking of Mercado, Thomson said before the game that Mercado would be a depth outfielder for the time being – serving mostly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. But, because he has hit at the major league level previously with Cleveland, the Phillies are going to put him through a Kevin Long boot camp of sorts to try and get his swing right and may get him some at-bats once he’s feeling more comfortable.
  • When Schwarber walked in the first inning, it extended his on-base streak to 31 games. That’s the longest for the Phillies since Chase Utley went 35 straight games in 2006. Of course, a walk wasn’t enough for Schwarber Tuesday. He had to do this:

Just to update Schwarber’s ridiculous numbers in June: .284/.404/1.098, 11 homers, 24 RBI. His season OPS is now .855, which ranks 11th in the National League. Might he be worth being named as Harper’s replacement as DH for the All-Star game, assuming Harper gets the most votes, as he currently is getting?

Oh, and this nugget from the great Jayson Stark:

  • The Phillies almost were caught in a triple play in the third inning. Both Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins walked to start the inning when Nick Castellanos hit a sinking liner to right field. Braves outfielder Adam Duvall made a sensational diving catch, however the umpiring crew was VERY late on calling it a catch. Hoskins was completely confused and didn’t know where to go, and was eventually tagged out, but after the Braves already stepped on second to force Schwarber who had tagged up to go to third base. The umps were all confused, and had to go to video replay. Turned out it was just a double play (the catch and tagging out Hoskins) and that Schwarber advanced to third legally. Shame the umps coughed this one up though because if Hoskins knows it’s a catch and stays put at first, J.T. Realmuto’s fly ball to right on the next at bat likely would have scored Schwarber and given the Phils another run.
  • The Phillies were 1-10 with runners in scoring position for the game. That’s not gonna win you many games.
  • Odubel Herrera is is a complete offensive freefall at the moment. After a scorching start to the month (.333/.400/.956 through June 15) Herrera is just 2-for-35 since. (He was 0-for-4 Tuesday).
  • The Phillies bullpen went 14 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing a run before Olson’s homer. In that span they only allowed one hit and one walk. Still, if you count the runs allowed to the Braves, in the last 16 2/3 the Phillies bullpen has an 1.08 ERA and a 0.30 WHIP.