As Delmon Young Experiment Begins, So Too Does Darin Ruf Watch

As Delmon Young Experiment Begins, So Too Does Darin Ruf Watch


Guest post by Matt Hammond

The Delmon Young experiment is off to a good enough start.

He
went yard in his first at-bat as a Phillie, a solo shot in the second
inning of his first start off the DL, the same day he’d been activated,
hours before his new club’s disastrous 14-2 loss to the Cleveland
Indians last night. Young went 2 for 3 with no walks or strikeouts, was
hit by a pitch and was the only one on the team to get multiple hits off
right-handed Indians starter Zach McAllister.

[mlbvideo id="26724051" width="640" height="330" /]

But now, the clock
is ticking on him. How long does GM Ruben Amaro give his prized $750,000
"low-risk, high-reward" flyer-type move? One month? Two? Six? A handful
of weeks?

Until Darin Ruf is ready?

The interconnectedness
between Young and Ruf now is fascinating. Amaro admitted when he
introduced Young that it was likely he'd start the year on the DL, and
whether it was by design or accident created an intriguing timeline for
his corner outfield hitting options to shake out.

Young debuting
yesterday gave that timeline life. Now, Young will be evaluated --
likely against scouting reports of Ruf's progress at the plate and in
left field at Triple-A.

Of course, if Young excels, the point's
moot. Even if he's only the 21 or 18 home run-a-year guy he was in two
of three seasons prior, Jimmy Rollins is the only other current Phillie
not named Ryan Howard to rake for 20 or more in a year since 2009.
That's Young’s stay-alive pace, for sure.

What becomes interesting
is the middle ground. What's Young's deal-breaking production level?
(He's hit no higher than .270/.305/.415 his last two years, though he
also said he was "playing on one leg” thanks to an issue microfracture
ankle surgery should have corrected – assuming it doesn’t knock him
three steps backward before he can even begin thinking about inching
forward.) And if he dips below it, what does Ruf have to do at Triple-A
to justify a switch?

Whatever it is, the .256/.311/.476 line Ruf’s currently working at Lehigh Valley probably isn’t it. (And that, by the way, is with a
.321 BABIP.) Through 22 games, Ruf's had the same power slump as
Howard, with only three HRs and 12 RBIs. Then again, he only had two in
23 games in April in Double-A last year, and did well for himself as the
weather warmed.

But the same goes for Ruf: what’s his
deal-breaking defensive ability? In spring training, Ruf booted two
balls on 22 chances, and that doesn’t begin to account for the balls he
misplayed or couldn’t get to. In Lehigh Valley, he’s erred only once in
32 chances, and has displayed decent range (2.07 RF).

It’s worth
knowing, the Phillies have deployed some atrocious left fielders in
recent years. Of 211 player seasons over the last three years, only
three LFs cost their NL teams more defensive runs than did Raul Ibanez
in 2011 (minus-23). Over the span, Ibanez’s minus-18.9 UZR ranked
second-last. And if you think that’s bad: Pat Burrell’s minus-20.9 URZ
in 2007 was the worst of any Phillies LF in the Charlie Manuel era. His
minus-17 DRS was second-worst. As for balls he actually got to, his .948
fielding percentage ranked the fourth-worst of any qualifying NL left
fielder since 1970.

The difference? Burrell made $13.25 million that year, Ibanez $12.7 million.

Ruf, if he gets another callup, will be slated to earn $480,000 – less than even Young.

Ruf's
chances of making the 25-man roster out of spring camp were probably
steep anyway. But it's hard to believe that he struggled so poorly as a
left fielder without warning. Maybe scouts in attendance at his
Venezuelan Winter League games were overly optimistic with their reports
back to the general manager. If not, it's hard to believe 30 or so
exhibition games in February/March could've ever impressed enough to
make him a regular option. Decision-makers had to know that in advance.

It
makes you wonder: if two home runs in 19 Grapefruit League games with
.246/.328/.456 line clearly wasn't enough for him to hit his way on the
roster, what was? What about if he could've projected landing spots
enough to turn and run or, you know, caught balls when he got there?

It’s an interesting mix, and with Young’s debut yesterday, that timeline begins to move.

The next blip, of course, being the trade deadline.

Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson disagree on mechanical issues

Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson disagree on mechanical issues

CINCINNATI – Normally upbeat and positive, Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz gave a terse answer, at least by his standards.

After the Eagles’ 32-14 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium (see Instant Replay), a game that was probably the worst of his young career, Wentz was asked about his proclivity for overthrowing his targets.

“Bad throw,” Wentz said blankly. “Just like last week.”

Those bad throws have been coming more and more frequently in recent weeks for the second-overall pick. After throwing one interception in his first five games, he’s thrown 10 in his last seven, including his first three-interception day on Sunday. A common thread has been overthrows.

When head coach and former QBs coach Doug Pederson was asked about those high throws from his prized quarterback, he said, “It’s strictly mechanics.” Pederson elaborated, saying they need to get Wentz off his back foot and stepping into throws. And then there were batted passes too.

“There were opportunities, obviously,” Pederson said. “Again, he's a young quarterback who missed a lot of time in the preseason, but now we just need to keep cleaning those things up.”

There might be a problem, though.

Wentz doesn’t seem to think there’s anything to clean up.

After Sunday’s embarrassing loss, the rookie said his mechanics feel the same now as they did when the Eagles started the season with three consecutive wins, before he had ever thrown a pick in the NFL.

“I don't think it's the mechanics,” Wentz said. “You make mistakes. Things happen, and that's just the bottom line.”

Is there anything that could be affecting his mechanics?

“I don't think so,” Wentz said. “You throw the ball 60 times, you're going to miss some. That kind of happens.”

Wentz seemed hesitant to take blame for his shaky play on Sunday (see breakdown of Wentz's performance), but he is right. Sixty passing attempts is an awful lot. In fact, it’s a record for an Eagles rookie and it’s the second most passing attempts a rookie quarterback has ever thrown in a game (Chris Weinke threw 63 in 2001).  

The reason for that, at least partially, on Sunday was the Eagles’ never got going offensively and their defense was porous at best, which led to the Bengals’ taking a 19-0 lead into halftime (see 10 observations from the loss). They had to try to throw their way back into the game.

“You never want your quarterback to throw 60 times, coming from behind,” Pederson said. “We put ourselves in a bind early in the football game. It’s going to be a learning lesson for him, obviously. We have to take a hard look at it. But by no means, the fact that he stood in there and still led the football team. He took some shots, but still stood in there and just shows you the kind of character and the toughness we have.”

For Wentz, who was once though to be the clear frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, the last couple months have been understandably difficult.

In the first four games of the season, he had a passer rating over 100 three times. He hasn't broken 100 since then and his 58.2 rating on Sunday was the second-worst of the season, behind his 52.4 in a winning effort against the Vikings.

“You just can't get down,” Wentz said. “You've got to stay optimistic. Obviously, the results are tough as of late. We're kind of on a skid. Like I've been saying, this is a good group of guys, a good locker room. Guys are in it until the end.”

It’s important to remember that, initially, Wentz wasn’t drafted to play this season. The original plan was to have him sit this season, but he was thrust into action after the Eagles traded away Sam Bradford.

Ultimately, Wentz will be judged for his play in years to come. For now, though, he and the Eagles have to try to find a way to fix this.

How do they do it?

“Obviously, we're on a skid,” Wentz said. “There's nothing really to change. We've just got to lock in and we've got to be more disciplined. At the same time, you don't get down. That's what I've been saying. This locker room, guys aren't going to get down. We've just got to be better with our discipline and just keep attacking. Obviously, we're in a tough spot, but we've just got to take it one game at a time.”

Eagles' defense's 'frustrating' lack of impact plays behind team's slide

Eagles' defense's 'frustrating' lack of impact plays behind team's slide

CINCINNATI -- It wasn’t all that long ago that the Eagles were proud owners of one of the NFL’s finest defenses.

Just a few weeks ago.

Coming out of that Atlanta win that elevated the Eagles to 5-4 and left them in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt, the defense ranked sixth in the NFL in yards allowed, fourth in points allowed, fifth in sacks, fourth in takeaways and fifth on third down.

Pick a category, they were exceptional.

Pick a category, they’re not anymore.

The once-dominating defense continued an alarming downward spiral Sunday, allowing an undermanned Bengals team to score on its first six possessions on the way to a demoralizing 32-14 win over the Eagles at Paul Brown Stadium (see Instant Replay).

“Our goal is to get into the playoffs and give ourselves a shot to get to our ultimate goal of the Super Bowl,” cornerback Leodis McKelvin said. “As you can see right now, it’s not happening.”

Any hope the Eagles had of reaching the playoffs has evaporated. After their third straight loss and seventh in their last nine games, they’re officially playing out the string.

And not doing it very well (see 10 observations).

Six of their last seven opponents have scored 26 or more points. The last three quarterbacks they’ve faced have combined for five touchdown passes, no interceptions, 932 passing yards, zero sack yards and a 71 percent completion percentage.

Worst of all, they’ve allowed points on 17 of 27 meaningful drives over the last three weeks in losses to the Seahawks, Packers and Bengals.

“It’s very disappointing,” Fletcher Cox said after his eighth straight game without a sack.  “As an organization and as a team, it’s very disappointing.

“Today was not one of our days. We’ve got to get off the field on third down, we’ve got to minimize the penalties, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get our offense the ball back.”

We knew the offense would be a work in progress. Young and banged up. But the defense — especially the defensive line — was supposed to be the strength of this team. An elite unit.

Instead, they’ve been terrible. And getting worse.

“We had a bunch of goals this year,” Brandon Graham said. “We’re prideful men, and we don’t like to go out like this.”

How does a defense go from one of the best of the league the first half of the season to one of the worst the second half?

By allowing a historic number of third-down conversions (22-for-43 the last three weeks), by not forcing turnovers (three straight games without an interception), by not getting pressure (one sack for zero yards the last three games, no sacks the last two games), and by committing penalties at a near-record pace.

“It’s frustrating, man,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “Past couple weeks have been frustrating. To not get off on third down when that’s something we do well? And the past couple weeks to not get it done? It sucks. 

“We’re mad at ourselves. We got them into these 3rd-and-long situations but it’s one thing or another, and they convert it. Frustrating.”

During their current three-game losing streak, the Eagles have no interceptions and one sack. 

Their top playmakers – Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Jordan Hicks, Cox – have been largely ineffective.

They Eagles did force a couple fumbles Sunday long after the game had been decided, but nobody on this defense has made a meaningful impact play since Leodis McKelvin picked off Matthew Ryan in the Falcons game.

A month ago.

“If you don’t make those plays, it keeps the drive moving, you can’t get off the field on third down, you can’t get turnovers, you can’t get sacks … all the things that made us us good all season,” Carroll said.

“That’s what we hung our hat on and the past couple weeks we haven’t been able to get them and you see when we don’t get them what an offense can do. 

“We have to get back to what we do, and that’s getting turnovers, getting after the quarterback and getting off the field on third down.”

On the heels of brilliance from Wilson and Rodgers, Dalton completed 23 of 31 passes for 332 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, a 130.0 passer rating.

The Bengals even ran for 80 yards as the Eagles allowed 400 or more yards for the third time in a row, something that’s only happened twice previously in franchise history.

“You all see it out there,” McKelvin said. “We can’t expect to win when we have those type of mistakes and not executing plays. We can’t go backwards. On both sides, we can’t go backwards. We can’t go backwards as a defense, we can’t go backwards as an offense. We’ve got to make those plays.”

This is the first time in 33 years the Eagles have had a three-game stretch in which the defense totalled just one combined sack and interception. 

It’s really hard to be that ineffective.

“It is uncharacteristic of us,” McLeod said. “Have to credit teams sometimes, but a lot of times we’ve shot ourselves in the foot in a lot of ways, not doing the things we need to do defensively to win games. 

“Most of the time early in the year we got turnovers, we got stops, and helped the team win. We’ve just got to find ways — myself included — to help us out any way we can.”

The Eagles have lost three straight games by double digits after opening the season with three straight wins by double digits.

They’re clearly not headed in the right direction, and the defense is leading that charge.

First six weeks? They allowed 12.5 points per game, and the Eagles were 4-2.

Last six weeks? They’ve allowed 26.2 points per game, and the Eagles are 1-5.

“It felt like we were playing pretty well on first down and getting killed on third down,” Hicks said. “In third-and-long situations, those are situations where usually we win. We didn’t win them today. 

“Credit the offenses we’ve played, they’ve taken care of the ball, but we’ve got to do a better job getting turnovers, setting our offense up and getting them field position. 

“That’s what defense is all about. Being aggressive and getting the ball back for your offense, and we haven’t been able to do that.

“We made some plays (at the end), but it’s too little too late. We’ve got to come out from the start and play with that type of intensity.”

It doesn’t look like the Eagles have quit. They’ve just stopped making plays.

At every position.

“It’s not lack of effort, we just have to self-evaluate ourselves and get back to the way we were playing before and figure it out,” McLeod said.

“I believe we’re going to stay together. It’s just disappointing because we work so hard and to fall short of what we ultimately want to do, it’s hard as a player.”