Now At Triple-A, Is The Phillies’ Ben Lively Primed To Make A ’16 Impact?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

After making a splash in 2014, including a 10.2 K/9 between High-A & Double-A, Ben Lively struggled in his first year as a member of the Phillies.  After being dealt for Marlon Byrd, Lively managed a 4.13 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 7.0 K/9 over 143.2 IP at Double-A.  Repeating the level to open ’16, the results have been significantly different.

Over 9 starts (53.0 IP) he posted a 1.87 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 8.3 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, prompting a recent promotion to Triple-A (he allowed 2 ER over 7.0 IP in his debut at the level).  MLB.com said that he had previously been compared to Tony Cingrani and prior to the season they described his arsenal by saying:

“None of Lively’s pitches jump off the page, but he does have four of them that he can throw for strikes. His fastball can touch 93-94 mph, and his slider has the potential to be an above-average pitch, as well. Lively mixes in his curve and changeup well to keep hitters guessing. All of his stuff plays up because of the deception his unusual delivery creates, making it tough for hitters to pick up the ball.”

One of the key differences this season has been his ability to get lefties out:

  • 2015 – .318 BAA
  • 2016 – .168 BAA (at Double-A)

His ability to maintain that will be one of the keys to his continued performance.  He also has to continue keeping the ball in the ballpark, something that could prove to be an issue (0.77 GO/AO).  Thus far this season he’s allowed 1 HR, though he had a 0.9 HR/9 in ’15 (and a 0.9 at Double-A in ’14).  It’s something to watch and definitely could prove to be an issue in Philadelphia.

That said he has made an adjustment, as noted in this article from Tom Housenick of The Morning Call (click here for the article):

“I trust the guys behind me,” he said. “I know strikeouts look good in the stat sheet, but I’m looking to go deep into games all the time and put as many zeros as I can for the team.”

That simple adjustment has led to predictable results. Hitters are going after Lively’s fastball early in counts and he’s getting weak grounders or lazy fly-ball outs because he’s locating down in the zone.

A change to the grip of his fastball, including a tighter positioning with his two fingers, also has allowed for extra control — even when he’s reaching back for a little extra.

Time will tell if he’s capable of maintaining these results, as he’s going to have to moving forward (including eventually getting his first taste at Triple-A).  It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if he arrived in Philadelphia later in ’16, likely out of the bullpen, though 2017 may be when he first make an impact.

Is he a can’t miss?  Absolutely not, given his struggles from a year ago and the potential for a regression in general (.241 BABIP, 80.3% strand rate at Double-A).  There’s something to like, but not enough at this point.

Current Grade – C
Upside Grade – C+

Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, The Morning Call, Baseball Reference, Fangraphs

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