By Peter Gleason
Ronald Reagan, the quintessential optimist, liked to tell the story about the little boy who was enthusiastically digging into the barrel of horse dung, and when he was asked why he said:
“Because I just know there is a pony at the bottom!”
That’s how Phillies fans need to consider the just-completed, 99-loss season.
When non-contending teams trade away veterans for future help at the deadline, short-term results normally get even worse. Not so for the Phillies, who went a miserable 29-62 in the first half, only to rally for a respectable 34-37 mark in the second half.
For that they can thank a range of factors, including some natural regression toward the mean and some addition-by-subtraction from the jettisoning of struggling vets like Chase Utley. However, the biggest surprise came after they traded staff ace Cole Hamels. The Phillies got six players in return for Hamels and reliever Jake Diekman — and one of those six players has topped Hamels’s post-trade contributions by himself.
As Grantland.com points out, by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, rookie Jerad Eickhoff has delivered more value in eight starts for the Phillies than Hamels has in 12 with the Rangers. With the Phils, the 6-4 right-hander worked 51 innings, striking out 49 batters while allowing just 40 hits, 13 walks, and five home runs to go with a 2.65 ERA. Plus, his numbers in his final four starts were amazing: 28 innings and 33 strikeouts, with just 17 hits and seven walks allowed, and an 0.96 ERA.
It’s tough to know if those results might carry over to next season, or if they’re just the result of a random hot streak.
A 15th-round pick by the Rangers four years ago, Eickhoff has never been regarded as an elite prospect, and he failed to make Baseball America’s top-10 list for Texas in 2015. Still, this year’s finishing kick has been tantalizing: Although Eickhoff’s fastball only checks in around 92 mph, his secondary stuff has dazzled, with opponents batting just .102 against his curveball and .174 against his slider. For a team in the midst of a total teardown and rebuild, Eickhoff and fellow youngster Aaron Nola have started to raise some hope for an eventual pitching-led revival in Philly.