photo: hj_west (Flickr)
by Max Sander
2017 Record: 66 – 96 (Last in NL East/ 3rd Worst in MLB)
2017 Payroll: $116,874,208 (22nd)
Projected 2018 Starting Lineup
All Player Projections from Steamers/ Player Lineup Projected by Rotochamp
- 2B – Cesar Hernandez .271 AVG, .352 OBP, .378 SLG, 1.8 WAR
- CF – Odubel Herrera .274 AVG, .332 OBP, .423 SLG, 2.4 WAR
- 1B – Carlos Santana .257 AVG, .371 OBP, .487 SLG, 2.8 WAR
- LF – Rhys Hoskins .263 AVG, .355 OBP, .522 SLG, 3.6 WAR
- 3B – Maikel Franco .265 AVG, .318 OBP, .470 SLG, 1.7 WAR
- RF – Nick Williams .252 AVG, .296 OBP, .443 SLG, 0.3 WAR
- SS – J.P. Crawford .238 AVG, .331 OBP, .369 SLG, 1.6 WAR
- C – Jorge Alfaro .226 AVG, .270 OBP, .374 SLG, 0.0 WAR
Projected 2018 Starting Pitching Rotation
- Aaron Nola, 180 IP, 3.77 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 3.9 WAR
- Jerad Eickhoff, 159 IP, 4.95 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 1.2 WAR
- Vincent Velasquez, 115 IP, 4.65 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 1.2 WAR
- Nick Pivetta, 157 IP, 4.56 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 1.8 WAR
- Ben Lively, 93 IP, 5.32 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 0.3 WAR
With all the large signings throughout the Major league offseason, it’s easy to forget about the teams that haven’t necessarily made the biggest splashes this offseason. For the most part, the Phillies made minor moves like avoiding arbitration with Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez, both projected starters for the club. Of course, the biggest move for the Phillies this winter, and throughout their rebuilding process, was the signing of free agent Carlos Santana. Not only does Santana provide a solid approach to the plate, boasting a .365 OBP, but he also brings veteran leadership that the young club desires. In fact, excluding Santana, the average age of Philly’s starting lineup is 25 years old. As the only player in the projected starting lineup in his 30s, Santana is expected to bring veteran leadership in the heart of the lineup and within the clubhouse, all for a very reasonable price. Although this isn’t the offseason move MLB analysts will be clamoring over, this is the first real move the Phillies have done since the start of the rebuild process in an effort to become competitive in the NL East.
Although I just said, Santana will help the Phillies be competitive, I never said they’d be all that good. After all, the man doesn’t pitch nor does he change the fact that the team is incredibly young. When people talk about the Phillies, they talk about how there’s a possibility of the youth beginning to gel together and creating a productive offense. What isn’t talked about is the team’s pitching. The old saying goes, defense wins championships. If this saying holds true, Philly won’t be expecting a miracle that the beloved Eagles brought to town.
Last season, the Phillies posted a Team ERA of 4.55. For some perspective, this was the 18th best in the league. Unfortunately, the projections for this year’s rotation are looking rather bleak. Only Aaron Nola (3.77 projected ERA) is projected to have an ERA below this mark set last season. In fact, if the projections hold true, then the Phillies will rank in the bottom 10 in the league for worst ERAs.
All that aside, the Phillies are in a fair position moving forward. Due to the aforementioned reasons above, thinking about any serious contender hopes this year is probably a little too optimistic. That said, improvement is what this Philly team is looking for, and improvement is on the horizon. Coming off of the third worst record in the majors last season, 66 – 96, it’s obvious expectations will not be high. That said, their lineup will look to make strides and mold into a formidable lineup in years to come. Leadoff hitter Cesar Hernandez comes into the season with a lot of talent, as evidenced by his career .284 batting average and .357 OBP. Though he’s been known to have less-than-stellar defensive capabilities and a history of an oblique injury, Hernandez is a valuable second baseman in the league particularly, when the value for having middle infielders with a solid bat is high. It’s very easy to see Hernandez developing into one of the key aspects of the rebuild moving forward. Coming in at the two-hole, Odubel Herrera is actually projected to lead the team in batting average with .274 (.14 percentage points lower than his career average of .288, in fact). Now while this isn’t necessarily crushing the ball, especially for an outfielder, it goes to show he is more than capable with a bat in his hands. His wRC+ of 100 shows he was a league average hitter last year. Add in his above-average defense, and Herrera can be a very valuable player.
Carlos Santana’s numbers speak for themselves. The one word to best describe Philadelphia’s new first baseman is ‘steady.’ His WAR has been between 2.1 and 3.7 for seven consecutive seasons. He consistently posts an on-base percentage of over .350, and his plate discipline is remarkable. Santana doesn’t look like he’s slowing down at any point and expect him to do what he does best, get on base. The cleanup role will likely be manned by the 24-year-old Rhys Hoskins, the stereotypical power hitter. Hoskins took the league by storm down the stretch last year, hitting 18 HRs and driving in 48 runs in only 170 at bats. If he maintains that form coming into this season, the potential for Hoskins at the plate is limitless. On the flip side however, Hoskins, much like other power hitters, has the tendency to swing and miss. Nothing out of the ordinary, but still something to keep in mind. That being said, it’s hard to figure Hoskins will have a poor year at the dish when he will be given the green light to showcase his abilities.
To round out the heart of the lineup, third basemen Maikel Franco could provide another powerful bat into the mix. Though 2017 was by all measures the worst season of his career, the Phillies are hopeful Franco is heading back in the right direction offensively. He put up a 110 wRC+ in the final month of the season. Even with the poor batting showcase, he still managed to hit 24 HRs and have 76 RBIs. It goes to show that Franco certainly has the raw power to be a successful hitter for years to come, but it really boils down to his consistency and ability to reach base to maintain a strong footing in his future.
Rounding out the lineup, the Phillies have Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford, and Jorge Alfaro. For this season, the aren’t expected to post any crazy numbers or anything. After all they are 24, 23, and 24 years old respectively. The future is bright for these guys, especially J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro who have both been in the conversation as the Phillies’ top prospects for the past couple of years. This is the time for them to gain major league experience and develop into the players that the Phillies not only want, but need in the future.
To say that the rotation outside of Aaron Nola is lackluster would be an understatement. Only Nola and rookie Ben Lively had an ERA- below 100, and Lively’s dreadful 5.58 xFIP shows he is due to regress. Major improvements need to be made in the rotation in order to have a competitive edge this season and in future seasons.
One pitcher hoping to have a bounceback season in 2018 is Jerad Eickhoff. After an impressive 2016, Eickhoff’s ERA rose to 4.77 last year. This can partially be attributed to bad luck, as his FIP was pretty much the same from year to year. At first glance, it would appear his command decreased alarmingly in 2017, as his walk rate nearly doubled from the year prior. Interestingly enough, Eickhoff actually threw more pitches in the strike zone in 2017 than 2016. Hitters simply swung at fewer of his bad pitches than they did previously; opponents swung at 27.8% of his pitches outside of the strike zone in 2017, compared to 31.8% in 2016. This appears to be an issue of stuff, rather than control. Eickhoff missed the entire month of September with an injury, and it’s entirely possible that the same injury had been bothering him the entire season. If Eickhoff is healthy, the Phillies believe he can replicate his 2016 season. He will need to if they want to have a shot this year.
Predicted Record: 72 – 90
Player to Watch: Carlos Santana
What hasn’t been said about Santana yet? Simply put, he will get on base and add a veteran leadership that the young Phillies will really desire. Among active players, his career BB/K rate is second only to Joey Votto. Santana will undoubtedly post another season in which he has a .350 OBP and will continue to be a top player in the league at managing to get on base. Signing for three years with the Phillies, it seems like Santana is willing to grind out the kinks with the youthful club and hopefully come out on the other side as a member of a winning ballclub.
Player to Watch: SS J.P. Crawford
Ever since 2014, Crawford has been one of the top prospects within the Philadelphia organization. The 23 year-old is a gifted shortstop with tremendous defensive skills. Many scouts are under the impression that in the future, he can become an All-Star caliber shortstop with his excellent range and consistent fielding ability. On the other hand, many have been critical of Crawford’s bat, even going as far as to say that, “Crawford often looked like he was swinging a wet newspaper” (Fangraphs). His batting average has been low throughout his career, but a .356 OBP in 87 major league PA is promising. Crawford has shown an ability to draw walks throughout his minor league career, and he will have a full season as a starter to prove he can become the the Phillies’ next great shortstop.
Player to Watch: LF Rhys Hoskins
If we were to extrapolate Rhys Hoskins’ stats from 2017 to a 162 game season, he would have hit 58 HRs and driven in 156 runs. Obviously, this is a massive leap, but the fact of the matter is that Hoskins can make a huge impact on the young club with his bat. His power at the plate has left strong impressions throughout his career and has carried over into his 50 game stint in the majors. This will be Hoskins’ first full year in Philadelphia, so it’s yet to be seen how he deals with slumps, injuries, and pitchers adjusting to him. Hoskins has the talent to make an immediate impact on the young Philly roster. Only time will tell if he can continue the success that he had for his limited time at the major league level.