By Jamie Werther
2019 Record: 81 – 81 (4th NL East)
2019 Payroll: $189,374,782 (6th in MLB) per CBS Sports
2020 Projected Lineup (Rotochamp):
- OF Andrew McCutchen .262 AVG/.367 OBP/.447 SLG
- C J.T. Realmuto .281 AVG/.335 OBP/.482 SLG
- RF Bryce Harper .264 AVG/.383 OBP/.513 SLG
- 1B Rhys Hoskins .236 AVG/.363 OBP/.481 SLG
- SS Didi Gregorious .261 AVG/.306 OBP/.462 SLG
- 2B Jean Segura .295 AVG/.337 OBP/.429 SLG
- 3B Scott Kingery .243 AVG/.293 OBP/.419 SLG
- OF Adam Hasely .259 AVG/.326 OBP/.417 SLG
After a colossally disappointing 2019 campaign, the Phillies had to pick out a scapegoat for their failures, and that man happened to be manager Gabe Kapler. After spending 2017-2019 with the team, the consensus reached was that while Kapler had no shortage of raw talent to deal with (Aaron Nola, Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, etc.), he consistently led the Phillies to mediocracy. After their already infamous “Stupid Money” offseason, the team went from an 80-win team to an 81-win team. While there were certainly injuries to account for and a glaring lack of talent in the bullpen, it does not seem completely unfair to blame Kapler for tacking a single win onto the team’s 2019 record after multiple big name acquisitions. As the front office shared similar sentiments, Philadelphia opted to hire veteran manager Joe Girardi, who also happened to take down the Phils in their last World Series appearance just over a decade ago.
With the addition of Girardi, the Phillies were fortunate enough to have the longtime Bronx manager help draw in a familiar face, shortstop Didi Gregorius. A much needed addition to a middle infield that largely struggled during Philadelphia’s 2019 campaign, with Caesar Hernandez failing to impress, and Jean Segura simply underperforming for parts of the season, Gregorius will be welcomed with open arms to the locker room in Philadelphia. After bouncing around the league for a few years as a speedy contact hitter, Gregorius discovered his power in 2016 with the Yankees, belting 72 home runs over the course of the next three seasons. A renowned clubhouse guy, his veteran status and level of familiarity with Girardi should bring some stability as the team makes some major changes this year.
It’s no secret that the Phillies starting rotation last year was a train wreck. Unlike their bullpen, which was riddled by injuries to standouts Seranthony Dominguez, David Robertson, and others, the starting rotation had little excuse for their poor performance last year. Aaron Nola looked like a shell of his 2018 Cy Young-contending self, Jake Arrieta posted a weak 4.64 ERA, (no thanks to a bone spur in his right elbow) while Eflin, Velasquez, and Pivetta were the pinnacle of inconsistency. With starters like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg available as free agents this summer, Phillies fans were ecstatic; however, that “stupid money” had already been spent, so they settled for Mets’ starter Zack Wheeler (not that 118 million is necessarily smart money). Although Wheeler was not the hottest name on the market this offseason, he’s a much needed addition to the rotation. Perhaps a bit under the radar, Wheeler has been the 10th-best pitcher in the MLB by fWAR, posting a solid 8.9 over the last two seasons.
To close off a successful offseason it seems that the most obvious move for Philadelphia is to give J.T. Realmuto the contract he deserves. He is debatably the best catcher in the game, recording incredibly consistent stats on both sides of the ball; however, he has not received an extension to the one-year deal he signed last season. The Phillies took a big gamble in shipping their most promising pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez to Miami for Realmuto, and it seems that they got exactly the production they were looking for in return. So what are they waiting for? Pay the man.
2020 Season Preview:
Now assuming the Phillies can actually get to 60 games played, ZiPs had the Phillies going 30-30 with a mere 15.6% chance to win the NL East, finishing 4th; this seems unfairly low. If Joe Girardi is able to harness the talent of this roster half as well as Gabe Kapler did, this should be a much different team to watch in 2020. For example, Rhys Hoskins’ meteoric decline last year was due to some very coachable fixes, especially for a self-proclaimed statistician like Kapler. During the first half of the season, with an OPS of .931, Hoskins was swinging the bat with an average launch angle of 24.8 degrees, which later fell to 22.4 degrees during his slump. During that time period, his hard hit percentage dipped below 31%, well below the league average. He was also pulling the ball considerably more often during the first half of the season. It boggles my mind that a hitting coach couldn’t point this out, and that his struggles were merely blamed on inconsistency. It seems like the data to fix Hoskins’ issues was both understandable and readily available. What Kapler instead chose to reinforce for Hoskins was patience at the plate, as Rhys racked up 116 walks. As nice as that sounds, an OBP of .364 with a batting average of only .226 is hardly anything to be excited about, especially from your cleanup hitter. Looking back to the 2017 season, where Hoskins’ August performance alone earned him fourth place in NL ROTY voting, it really hurts to see how much talent is being wasted by poor management.
Another largely overlooked boost to the roster is the return of Andrew McCutchen, who tore his ACL last May as the Phillies sat comfortably on top of the NL East for the first time in years. It goes without saying that Andrew McCutchen was nowhere near the sole reason for the team’s success, but the struggling rotation of painfully average outfielders attempting to fill the void he left behind were no help to the Phillies. Guys like Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr just were not suitable replacements. McCutchen recorded only two errors and contributed 4 defensive runs saved above average in his short stretch of 59 games. McCutchen has had ample time to recover, and while he most likely will not be back for Opening Day, he is poised to make a big impact in the Phillies’ exciting outfield consisting of Bryce Harper and a promising young Adam Haseley.
Predicted Record: 34-26 (.566 winning percentage)
Player to Watch: Zack Wheeler
118 Million at the ripe age of 30, nice. That being said, Wheeler hasn’t exactly been declining in performance with age. He bounced back from years of UCL injury with an fWAR of 4.2 in 2018 and 4.7 in 2019. Last year, Wheeler was durable, simply put. He pitched over 195 innings and recorded 11 wins, and if there’s anything the Phillies starting rotation needs this season, it’s durability. Another piece of information about Wheeler that people tend to forget is that his fastball tips 100. How this gets so easily overlooked is beyond me, as his zone contact percentage hovers just around 85%, a testament to his velocity. As long as we see more stuff like this, Wheeler is poised to make a big impact in the rotation this year.
Player to Watch: Bryce Harper
This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but the guy has been red hot since before everyone had to quarantine, and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down. Settling down into the second year of his megacontract, Bryce Harper is coming off of a decent debut season in Philadelphia with a solid 118 RBI and 35 HR. His .882 OPS and 99 walks weren’t anything to complain about either. This spring, Harper already has 11 RBI, 3 HR, and only 2 SO in only 13 plate appearances. It’s a small sample size, but it’s hard not to get excited over those numbers.
Player to Watch: Roman Quinn
Quinn and Adam Haseley were set to battle it out for the third outfield spot in Spring Training, with Haseley being the early favorite. Two factors, however, are turning the tides in Quinn’s direction. For one, he posted objectively better stats than Haseley during the shortened Spring Training session this year, putting up a .261/.393/.609 with 3 stolen bases, while Haseley struggled his way to a .143/.217/.190. Although the sample size was small, Quinn emerged as a frontrunner. Additionally, the new MLB rule change for extra innings, allowing a runner on second base to start each half-inning, gives a massive opportunity for the Phillies’ best baserunner to make a mark on the team in his ninth professional season.