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Notes on Heath Phillips and Jason Bartlett

Per Baseball America, the Rays have signed Heath Phillips, age 27,  to a minor league deal. The big left-hander made a brief stop in Durham in 2008, before signing with the Royals AAA-affiliate this past year. Phillips has generated over 50% ground balls each of the past two seasons, while improving i his K% from 13.6% to 17.3%. Working exclusively as a starter (25 starts) with the Royals, Phillips posted a FIP of 3.80. His whiff rate also climbed to a career best 10.6%.

Harry Pavlidis did some pitch f/x analysis of Phillips after the 2008 season which can be found at Beyond the Boxscore. He features 4 pitches (fastball, curve, change, and slider) which he throws to hitters of both handedness a la J.P. Howell. His fastball tops out in the high 80's.

The 6'3" Phillips has seen his weight balloon  from 205 to 280 in recent years, He has been pitching in the Dominican Winter League for Leones Del Escogido. Phillips will probably be a candidate to round out the Durham rotation alongside Jeremy Hellickson, Andy Sonnanstine, Carlos Hernandez, and Jason Cromer with an outside possibility of some bullpen work in Tampa Bay at some point.  

Per John Sickels:

   Listed at 6-3, 280, and he looks it.. . .scouts would likely hate his conditioning level. 5.47 with a 90/39 K/BB in 125 innings this year, 154 hits allowed. He pitched well in this contest, throwing eight shutout innings with seven hits and five strikeouts. Fastball was 85-88 MPH, but he mixed in a slider, a softer curveball, and a decent changeup, keeping the hitters off-balance. His stuff sinks well and he collects grounders. His data shows a very sharp home/road split, 3.11 ERA with 46/15 K/BB in 67 innings in Omaha, 8.18 ERA with 44/24 K/BB in 58 innings on the road, 85 hits allowed. He is likely just a Triple-A inning-eater for the next ten years, but teams will always have room for guys like that.


As for Jason Bartlett:

I get it. DRB has probably not celebrated the 2009 campaign put together by Jason Bartlett to the extent it deserved. Such is life when you need to sell assets at the high point. Nonetheless, by all appearances Bartlett will be back with the Rays in 2010 at a very attractive price tag of $4 million. Was his 2009 fluky to some degree? Sure, but there were several encouraging signs beyond the inflated LD% and BABIP. So here's to you Jason Bartlett:

Power Increase: Per, Jason Bartlett hit the 5 longest home runs of his career in 2009, topping out at 428. Sure home runs can be lucky, and rates can be inflated, but to hit the 5 longest balls in your career isn't lucking out on short porches.

BB%: - 9.8%, the highest of his career. For comparison the 2008 MVB campaign featured a 4.5% BB%. This number climbed steadily all season, some credit due to pitcher respect.

Improved Plate Discipline: His O-Swing% dropped from 26.3% to 20.9% year-over-year. He also was more selective in the zone. Interestingly enough, his contact rate was a career low 82.4%, down both in and out of the zone. Who else had his lowest career contact % in 2009 despite good discipline? Ben Zobrist. This leads me to believe that indeed Jason Bartlett changed his approach at the plate in 2009 with good results.

It would be unfair to argue that Bartlett will repeat 2009. His BABIP and line drive % are way to high. However, if he can maintain his discipline, and less slappy ways, another very good season could certainly be in the cards for MVB.