Phillies Stay or Go: John Mayberry Jr.

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Phillies Stay or Go: John Mayberry Jr.

The Phillies' first losing season since 2002 is sure to bring wholesale changes in the offseason. But who should stay and who should go? Over the next two weeks, we're asking that very question and putting players under the microscope.

Today we take a look at a long-time bench piece with a high ceiling that's never quite been reached:

John Mayberry, Jr.
Position: Outfielder
Status: First-year arbitration eligible; made $517K in 2013

Signature games of 2013
Mayberry had exactly one signature game in 2013, and it was a big one.

June 4 vs. Miami. Originally entering the game as a pinch-hitter for Laynce Nix, he struck out in the seventh but stayed in the game to play right field. In his second at-bat, with the Phillies down 3-2 in the 10th, Mayberry smacked a solo homer to left-center to tie the game. Up again with the bases loaded and two outs in the 11th, he launched a walk-off grand slam — his first career salami.

Not only was it the Phillies' first walk-off grand slam since 1991 (Dale Murphy), it was the first time in major-league history a player hit the tying and game-winning homers in extra innings.

Season as a whole
Unfortunately for Mayberry and the Phillies, his incredible extra-innings heroics were merely a drop in the bucket of a pretty lousy season. His third full year as a pro was also his worst, with career lows in batting average (.227), homers (11), RBIs (39), on-base percentage (.286) and slugging (.391).

Mayberry couldn't solve his futility against right-handed pitchers, batting .221 and slugging .364 against them. His platoon splits against left-handers weren't much better (.240/.296/.460). He struck out 90 times in 384 at-bats (or once every 4.3). We could bash you over the head with endless numbers showcasing Mayberry's ineffectiveness at the plate, but we'll spare you.

Stay or go?
Mayberry has been asked to do more for the Phillies than he's capable of. He's not an everyday player and probably shouldn't even be their first outfield bench option. His defense is adequate but nothing special. He has some speed but has stolen only 14 bases in his career.

But still, what does Mayberry bring to a club? His numbers have consistently declined as he's failed to adjust to major-league pitching, and he's proven that he can't even hit opposite-handed pitching on a consistent basis.

This is an easy one. Mayberry's time in Philly is up. It's pretty safe to say the former first-round pick, who will turn 30 in December, never lived up to his potential.

What they're saying ...
"That was definitely one to remember. It feels good. I'm not going to lie to you."
--John Mayberry, Jr. on his walk-off grand slam, June 4

"Sometimes with John, if you can get him with certain pitchers, that's when he becomes much better. Sometimes, when he comes off the bench — I wouldn't call him a great pinch-hitter — but when he goes into the game, and he gets some time in the game, the next at-bat he becomes much better. He kind of runs in spurts, and tonight, well, tonight he put some good swings on the ball."
--Then-manager Charlie Manuel on Mayberry's heroics, June 4

Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

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Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

CHICAGO -- Paul DeJong hit a tiebreaking two-run double in St. Louis' nine-run eighth inning, and the Cardinals cooled off the Chicago Cubs with an 11-4 victory on Friday.

Chicago carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth, looking for its seventh consecutive win. But St. Louis sent 14 batters to the plate in its highest-scoring inning of the season, taking advantage of a combined six walks by three relievers while improving to 4-4 since the All-Star break.

Carl Edwards Jr. (3-2) was pulled after the first three batters reached. Hector Rondon then walked Jedd Gyorko, tying it at 3, and DeJong followed with a drive into the ivy in right-center for a ground-rule double. The Cardinals were off and running from there.

Matt Bowman (2-3) got the final out of the seventh for the win.

The Cubs played without third baseman Kris Bryant, who sprained his left little finger on a headfirst slide on Wednesday. X-rays were negative, but Bryant is experiencing soreness and there is some concern about gripping a bat (see full recap).

Andrus' hustle gives Rangers win in 10th inning
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Elvis Andrus homered early, and then snapped a 10th-inning tie with a two-out infield single that gave the struggling Texas Rangers a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

Andrus, who homered in the first inning, hit a sharp grounder off Brad Boxberger (2-1) that forced Evan Longoria to make a diving stop. Pinch runner Delino Shields scored when the third baseman to was unable to complete the throw to first base.

Alex Claudio (2-0) pitched two innings in relief of Yu Darvish to get the win. The left-hander gave up a leadoff single to Steven Souza Jr. in the 10th, but avoided further damage by getting Adeiny Hechavarria to bunt into a double play and Mallex Smith to fly out.

Texas ended a five-game losing streak.

Rays starter Alex Cobb took a three-hitter and a 3-1 lead into the ninth, but couldn't finish off the Rangers, who erased their deficit with Joey Gallo's double and Shin-Soo Choo's 14th homer within a three-pitch span (see full recap).

Encarnacion powers Indians past former team
CLEVELAND -- Edwin Encarnacion homered and drove in four runs against his former team, and the Cleveland Indians broke open a close game with an eight-run seventh inning to rout the Toronto Blue Jays 13-3 on Friday night.

Encarnacion, who played the last six seasons with Toronto before signing a three-year, $60 million contract with Cleveland in January, hit a leadoff home run in the second, broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a two-run double and added an RBI single in the seventh.

Encarnacion was 3 for 4 with a walk and nearly added to his total later in the seventh, but center fielder Kevin Pillar tracked down his fly ball on the warning track with two runners on.

Abraham Almonte hit a three-run homer and rookie Bradley Zimmer added a two-run single in the seventh as the Indians won for just the second time in eight games (see full recap).

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

BOX SCORE

Once upon a time, Cole Hamels was a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and changeup. The changeup was so good so consistently that it didn't matter that Hamels' curveball command was often shaky. Two very good pitches were enough.

It wasn't until Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay arrived that Hamels began incorporating a fourth pitch, the cutter, and along the way, his curveball command improved substantially. Suddenly, a two-pitch lefty had a legitimate four-pitch mix and it took him to another level.

Watching Aaron Nola dominate the Brewers in Friday night's 6-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay), Hamels' evolution came to mind. Nola allowed one run and struck out nine over seven innings, at one point whiffing eight of nine Brewers. And he did with a four-pitch mix that included 31 sinkers, 27 fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs.

It's no longer sinker-curveball only with Nola. He's now giving his opponents more to worry about in the form of additional velocity on the fastball and a changeup that is becoming a money pitch.

"Nola was outstanding. He's been working on that changeup all year and it's really one of his better pitches right now," manager Pete Mackanin said. 

With a four-seam fastball that has been maxing out at 95 mph lately, a curveball that buckles hitters from both sides of the plate, a sinker with wicked two-seam movement and a changeup that he's beginning to feel comfortable throwing to righties and lefties alike, Nola may be making his jump to the next level before our very eyes.

"No question about it," Mackanin said. "That changeup, he threw a ton of them tonight to righties and lefties. I talked to him when we took him out of the game and he was real excited about throwing the changeup not just to lefties but to right-handers as well. If he can do that with the rest of the arsenal that he has, I expect a real good performance from him every time out."

The win made Nola 7-6 with a 3.38 ERA, which essentially means he's given up three runs every eight innings. Any team will take that from a starting pitcher. 

Over his last six starts, Nola has been lights-out — 1.70 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, 50 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. Perhaps most impressively, he's held his opponents to a .118 batting average with runners in scoring position, second in the National League over that span to only Clayton Kershaw.

"My changeup ... I'm feeling consistent with it right now," Nola said. "It's evolved. I really didn't have much of a feel for my changeup [when I first came up]. It's a thing I worked on in spring training a lot this year, threw it in counts when I usually wouldn't. That's what spring training is for and I think it helped."

The changeup is a feel pitch and its success is usually dictated by the pitcher's arm angle and speed. If he throws it the same way he throws a fastball, that's where the deception of the slower speed comes into play. Nola has worked hard on those aspects of the pitch and it's clearly paying off.

Nola induced 15 swinging strikes on the night, six of them on changeups and five on curveballs. His strikeout numbers stand out because he was not billed as this kind of pitcher when he was drafted or was coming up through the Phillies' system. In the minor leagues, Nola struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings. In the majors, he's struck out 277 in 275 innings (9.1 per nine).

"I'm real happy about the way he's come along, especially after the elbow issues," Mackanin said. "He has increased velocity. His pitches are crisper. He's better now than before. It's really a nice jump for him to make."

Indeed it is. Perhaps Nola's ceiling is higher than No. 2 starter.