|Sportsbook||Win NL East||Win NL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 85.5 (BetOnline)|
The Philadelphia Phillies improved from 2018 to 2019, but not in the way that most people expected. In fact, not at all in the way that most people expected. Philadelphia went from 80 wins all the way up to….81.
It turns out that winning the offseason doesn’t always translate to results. The Phillies actually had a season win total last season of 89.5. I, too, drank the Kool-Aid. The Phillies finished exactly .500 and never came remotely close to threatening that win total line. Of course, the season should have ended differently. The Phillies won on September 3 to improve to 72-65 and it looked like they had a chance of being a contender in the Wild Card hunt. Instead, the team went 9-16 over the final 25 games to end up with a disappointing fourth-place finish in the NL East.
The alternate standings metrics suggest that the Phillies were lucky to finish .500. 3rd Order Win% had the Phillies more like a 74-88 team and BaseRuns had them at 75-87. Factor that into the post-mortem of last season and it looks even worse.
Several young pitchers regressed last year. Rhys Hoskins had a decent season, but failed to take the next step that many people expected. Bryce Harper was quite good after a slow start to the season, but it just wasn’t enough. Gabe Kapler became the scapegoat of the underwhelming season and he has been replaced by former Yankees skipper Joe Girardi.
Kapler was unconventional in his two seasons with the Phillies and landed on his feet with the Giants, but many viewed his aggressive managing as a detriment. Defensive shifs and early hooks for pitchers didn’t always go over well and it did seem like there was a disconnect at times between Kapler and the front office that hired him. From the outside, it looked like there was no chemistry between the players and the manager. So, the Phillies changed tracks and went with Girardi, who I believe to be one of the better managers in baseball.
Girardi was replaced by Aaron Boone in New York and word seemed to circulate that the Yankees players weren’t fully on board with the approachability of the bench boss. This article is a bit dated now, 3.5 years after the fact, but Girardi graded very well back then in terms of bullpen management and I would expect more of the same here. As much as I appreciate Kapler’s sabermetric background, I do think Girardi is an all-around upgrade for the Phillies. He remains in a major market and I think it helps that he has that experience from his days in NYC.
As I have said with the other NL East teams, this is the best division in baseball and those 57 head-to-head meetings with the Phillies, Mets, Nationals, and Braves taking turns beating each other could loom quite large within this division race. The Phillies were just 5-14 against the Nationals, but 10-9 against the Braves and 12-7 against the Mets. Their biggest faux pas of the season was not beating up on the Marlins like everybody else. Miami actually won 10 of the 19 meetings.
In a general sense, a team that falls short of some increased expectations one year meets those levels the next year. That may be tough for the Phillies within this division, but the talent is there, I believe that the manager is there, and now the onus is on the players to perform up to their capabilities.
With more reasonable odds this season, the Phillies are likely to be a popular team for two-way action with their season win total.
|BaseRuns Run Differential||-57 (4.76/5.12)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||74.1-87.9|
|Record in One-Run Games||20-20|
|Additions: Anthony Swarzak, Logan Forsythe, Neil Walker, Francisco Liriano, Bud Norris, Drew Storen, Ronald Torreyes, Mikie Mahtook, TJ Rivera, Matt Szczur, Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler, Josh Harrison, Kyle Garlick, Cristopher Sanchez, Deolis Guerra, Reggie McClain, Nick Martini, Trevor Kelley, Robert Stock|
|Losses: Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, Blake Parker, Edubray Ramos, Jerad Eickhoff, Mike Morin, Jose Pirela, Brad Miller, Corey Dickerson, Drew Smyly, Juan Nicasio, Logan Morrison, Nick Vincent, Sean Rodriguez, Tommy Hunter, Jared Hughes, Jason Vargas, Pat Neshek, Curtis Mead|
The Phillies wasted very little time this winter. After working on things with their own players, they signed Zack Wheeler in early December and followed that up with Didi Gregorius six days later. After that, it was all about trying to acquire MLB-caliber depth for the bullpen and the bench. The Phillies signed a bunch of players to non-guaranteed minor league deals.
The losses aren’t a big deal at all. Cesar Hernandez is a noteworthy loss as a pretty good second baseman at a position of annual weakness around baseball, but the Phillies have Scott Kingery and Jean Segura and wanted Didi Gregorius. They had a lot of infield options and Hernandez became redundant in lieu of guys with more upside.
I am a tad surprised that the Phillies weren’t more aggressive about improving the bullpen, but Seranthony Dominguez is something of a free agent signing after missing the second half of last season. I’m just surprised they didn’t do more to fill the void of David Robertson, who was lost to Tommy John surgery last season. Hard-thrower Robert Stock could be the surprise of the group and could very well work his way up the depth chart quickly.
Is it fair to say that the Phillies were the most disappointing offensive team in baseball last season? I think it is, but maybe the problem was us. Maybe we overvalued the Phillies going into the season. Things would have gone a little bit differently if Andrew McCutchen hadn’t suffered a torn ACL, but that wasn’t the only problem.
Cutch did slash .256/.378/.457 with a .358 wOBA and a 120 wRC+ in his 262 plate appearances before his season stopped after just 59 games. He was on pace for his best OBP since 2015 and was falling right in line with the previous two seasons from a wRC+ standpoint. He’s a really solid player and it would help this lineup in a lot of different ways for him to be back and healthy.
Prized free agent Bryce Harper finished the last two months on a tear with 17 homers in 51 games, but his first half was pretty mediocre by his standards with a .253/.370/.470 slash and a 117 wRC+. His second half was more of what the Phillies expected with a .270/.376/.564 slash, a .383 wOBA, and a 136 wRC+. Harper even lived on high BABIPs throughout April and May and still wasn’t putting together the right types of numbers. His K% was 29.5% and 31.4% in April and May before cutting that down dramatically the rest of the season. It sure seems from the numbers that there was some pressure to live up to the mega contract. Now that Harper is settled back in, I would presume we see a more consistent season and something more in line with his career averages.
Projection systems are looking at a bounce back for Harper up to a 134 wRC+ and his first 40-homer season since 2015, so that would provide a big boost for the Phillies to say the least. A bounce back for Rhys Hoskins would also do wonders. Hoskins had a strange power outage in the best offensive season in MLB history. He went from 34 HR to 29 HR in 45 more plate appearances. His SLG fell 42 points. Even though Hoskins put up a better OBP thanks to more than a 3% increase in BB%, he was a lot less valuable with a 113 wRC+ compared to a 128 in 2018. Hoskins didn’t take that next step that most of us anticipated. His batting average was also down 20 points with a K% increase and a slight decrease in BABIP.
It seemed like Hoskins actually hurt himself with an average launch angle that was just too high at 24 degrees. His pop up rate increased 4%, which is problematic when over half of your batted balls are hit in the air. Like with Harper, the projection systems are looking for a bounce back. Personally, I’m not as bullish on that, seeing as how Hoskins slashed .180/.318/.361 in the second half with just nine home runs and a 78 wRC+ in 313 PA. I’m actually really worried about him.
JT Realmuto is arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball and he provides a ton of defensive value, so we can rely on him for another big year so long as he stays healthy. He posted a 108 wRC+ last season, but 5.7 fWAR because of the positional adjustment and his excellent defense. Scott Kingery hit 19 homers and stole 15 bases, but his profile is a little concerning with a high K rate and a low walk rate. His exit velocity and other offensive metrics don’t paint a pretty picture, but he is a very good defender.
The Phillies should get a boost at shortstop with Didi Gregorius on a one-year deal as he looks to rebuild his value after what was mostly a lost season. He had an 84 wRC+ in 344 plate appearances. In 2017 and 2018, Gregorius accounted for 8.8 fWAR with the Yankees. Citizens Bank Park isn’t quite as friendly for offense as the Little League field in the Bronx, but Gregorius puts a ton of balls in play and has good power with 30-homer upside if he can stay completely healthy.
The more I look at this Phillies roster, the more I think we all oversold the offensive potential of this unit last season. Injuries did play a role last season, but I do think that we were a little bit too optimistic. I even said that they would be an “average offense” in last year’s write-up and they still came short of that relatively tepid projection.
The offense was “better”, as the Phillies were 30th in BA, 19th in OBP, 23rd in SLG, 21st in wOBA, and 21st in wRC+ in 2018, but I was expecting bigger gains than that and it has soured my projection for the upcoming season.
The Phillies improved dramatically on defense from 2018 to 2019, so it would have made sense for the pitching staff to be better. It was not. At all. The Phillies fell victim to the long ball barrage like everybody else, but they were over a run higher in the FIP department. Even with a better defense that took the team from 23rd in LOB% to seventh, the Phillies turned in a worse season on the pitching side.
Eight pitchers had 10 or more starts. They ranged in FIP from 4.03 (Aaron Nola) to 6.51 (Jerad Eickhoff) and Nola’s 3.4 fWAR was only 0.6 away from what the rest of the group did combined with exactly 4.0 fWAR. Nola wasn’t even himself last season. He had major command issues with a 17.4% HR/FB%, the worst of his career, and his walk rate took a big leap to 9.4%. Nola had a 3.87 ERA with a 4.03 FIP and a 3.82 xFIP, which wasn’t bad at all relative to league average last season, but it wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from Nola.
Nola had a 3.54/3.27/3.38 pitcher slash in 2017 and then a 2.37/3.01/3.21 pitcher slash in 2018. He wasn’t going to replicate that 2018 season because he had a .251 BABIP against and an 82.5% LOB%, but I really didn’t expect a FIP north of 4 last season and I wouldn’t have even if you would have told me about the big power surge league-wide.
The silver lining is that Nola was pretty good for long stretches in the middle of the season. He also got crushed by the third time through the order penalty. His wOBA against was .283 the first time through, .289 the second time through, and then .356 the third time through. That was a huge departure from last season, when Nola’s TTO wOBA splits were .276, .226, and then .239.
So, maybe it was just an outlier season for Nola. It was an outlier season in HR/FB% for a lot of guys. That would help because the Phillies rotation looks unimpressive for 2019. Philadelphia’s big investment this offseason was five years and $118M to Zack Wheeler. Wheeler had a 3.96 ERA with a stellar 3.48 FIP and a 4.06 xFIP last season for the Mets. After only throwing 86.1 innings from 2015-17 at the MLB level, Wheeler has thrown 182.1 and 195.1 innings the last two seasons.
Wheeler should, like the rest of the staff, get a nice boost from Realmuto behind the plate. He’s the least of my worries, though the injury questions are always lingering in the back of my mind. The rest of the rotation just doesn’t inspire me. Jake Arrieta picked up his $20M player option, which was the easiest decision ever after posting a 4.64 ERA with a 4.89 FIP and a 4.46 xFIP in 135.2 innings of work. Arrieta’s body is starting to fail him and his numbers are going with it. Generally we see an ERA improvement going from a 68.1% LOB% to a 73.8% LOB%, but we didn’t with Arrieta.
Arrieta would benefit from a change with the baseball after running a career-high 19.4% HR/FB%, but he’s very clearly in decline. Vince Velasquez’s command remains a question mark with his 4.91/5.21/4.75 pitcher slash. If it’s not one thing for him, it’s another, not to mention the Phillies would be fortunate to get 130 innings from him. His strikeout rates are impressive, but his walk rate and his shoddy command are a lot to overlook with his projections.
Zach Eflin was actually second in pitcher fWAR for the Phillies with a 4.13 ERA, a 4.85 FIP, and a 4.76 xFIP. He doesn’t miss enough bats for my liking and throws way too many fastballs. His slider usage went down in 2019, despite a higher first-pitch strike percentage. His SwStr% also fell as a result and so, too, did his K%. Those are all negative developments to me.
The Phillies have very little starting pitching depth. If injuries arise with something of an injury-prone rotation, the options are Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin, or to expedite the development process for guys like Spencer Howard, Adonis Medina, or Mauricio Llovera. None of those seem like good options.
As I mentioned in the transactions blurb, I’m a bit surprised that the Phillies weren’t more aggressive in adding bullpen pieces to the equation. Hector Neris was extremely good with a 2.93/3.83/3.53 pitcher slash to lead all relievers in fWAR, but his 83.6% LOB% and .240 BABIP against suggest regression. I do like Seranthony Dominguez coming off of injury. He was dominant in 2018 in 58 innings with some excellent numbers, but there is some risk attached to him this season.
There just aren’t a lot of guys with tremendous upside in this bullpen. Maybe Nick Pivetta takes a leap as a reliever, but his command woes followed him from the rotation to the pen. Of the four contenders in the NL East, this one is clearly the weakest to me.
Positives & Negatives
That is a big consideration for me here. Somebody has to lose games in this division. Perhaps the Big Four are all .500 or better again this season, but the Phillies look like they will draw the short end of that stick once again. I like the lineups and pitching staffs of the other three teams a lot more. It really isn’t a coincidence that the Phillies were the only NL East team to struggle with the Marlins last season at 9-10. I think it is almost microcosmic of how they were the weakest of the bunch.
One great big positive for the Phillies is the hiring of Joe Girardi. I do like him a lot and think he will help the Phillies to some wins that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. He’ll have to navigate without a high-upside bullpen for the first time in a while, so there’s that, but I think he is a toned-down version of Gabe Kapler and that is likely what the Phillies need. He’s still in tune with the analytics, but he isn’t as hard-lined as Kapler seemed to be.
The depth for this Phillies team is terrifying. The Major League bench is okay, but the rotation depth options are really concerning and the minor league system is lacking impact guys in the upper levels beyond Alec Bohm. Bohm started last season in Single-A and moved up two levels, but he still needs some more seasoning time in all likelihood.
Pick: Under 85.5
This is my favorite season win total under in the National League. I am much higher on the Mets, Braves, and Nationals than I am on the Phillies. Keep in mind, this is a team that won 81 games last season, but did so by spitting in the face of the alternate standings metrics. The .500 record was actually quite a fortunate outcome for the Phillies. By BaseRuns and 3rd Order Win%, the Phillies were not very good at all with a record in the mid-70s.
There is a case to be made for a Hoskins bounce back and more consistency from Harper and more from McCutchen, but that isn’t enough for me. This just might be the worst pitching staff in the NL East and I’m including the Marlins in that discussion. I love Nola as much as the next guy, but my view of Wheeler doesn’t seem to jive with what the Phillies saw by prioritizing him so quickly in free agency.
Arrieta, Velasquez, and Eflin all project to be below average in my estimation. This bullpen will rank in the bottom half of baseball and probably even in the bottom third.
I said it. Somebody in this division has to lose games. That somebody is the Phillies. While Girardi could very well be an upgrade as the manager and the vibe around the team may be better in general, this is a deeply flawed team with little margin for error on the injury front locked into the hardest division in baseball at the top.
This one is a bet. Generally speaking, if I like an under, it is a lot easier to play early in Spring Training because injuries are just going to lower the line or add to the juice. I’m more likely to be patient with overs. I had no reason to wait here.