30 in 30: Philadelphia Phillies

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John Middleton promised “stupid money,” and boy did he deliver. The new-look Phillies are nothing like the Phillies of the past few years. Quite frankly, this team has talent. And a lot of it.

It’s almost unfair that the Phillies got Bryce Harper for so cheap. Sticking along with his mantra of screwing players out of money the past two offseasons, Scott Boras negotiated a 13-year/$330 million deal for Bryce Harper. A lot of money, but not even in the top-10 all-time contracts in terms of AAV. Harper is a superstar, hitting free agency at age 26, who doesn’t have any baggage with off-the-field conduct or PEDs. This is a guy that should have been commanding way more than what he got, and it seems only the Phillies truly cared about adding cheap talent.

Harper’s “down year” last year had an OPS near .900 and a wRC+ of 135. He hit the ball harder last year, his “down year,” than any previous year in his career, despite seeing more offspeed pitches than any year since 2013. It says something about the quality of player here that Bryce’s “down year” was a top-8 offensive season in the National League, having not yet even hit his prime.

We are going to look back at the Bryce Harper race as a colossal failure by 29 teams in the MLB. The Phillies capitalized on every team’s incompetence to put the finishing touches on an all-time great offseason, and I think every baseball fan should be commending them for doing so.

The Phillies went 80-82 last season, so it was going to take a massive offseason for them to be competitive. The Braves added a former MVP, the Mets added a couple of all-star caliber players, and the Nationals added a third ace to their staff. The Phillies were up to the challenge, however, and blew every other team out of the water.

Jean Segura. David Robertson. J.T. Realmuto. Andrew McCutchen. A laundry list of talent headed to the city of brotherly love this offseason, giving the Phillies a legitimate shot to compete in the division.

Whenever you can add the best catcher in baseball, you’ve had a good offseason. J.T. Realmuto is pretty clearly that, acquired from the Marlins for prospects Sixto Sanchez, Jorge Alfaro, and Will Stewart. Realmuto didn’t quite have the production of Harper last season, but he did lead catchers in pretty much every category, including speed. Citizens Bank Park is fantastic for right-handed power, so his projection should increase, coming from pitcher-friendly Marlins Park.

Jorge Alfaro is going to be really good, but it is clear to everyone that Realmuto is an upgrade in 2019, and probably well beyond. It’s no surprise he was the most valuable former Marlin to be traded, and the Phillies are once again the benefactor of a lot of teams overthinking it.

The other trade was Segura, coming over from Seattle for J.P. Crawford and Carlos Santana. Segura isn’t really spectacular at any aspect of his game, but he doesn’t have any flaws either. Should he learn to draw a walk, he is going to be a really good mainstay at the top of Philly’s lineup. For now, however, he’s going to be their 5th or 6th most productive player.

Andrew McCutchen isn’t the MVP caliber player he once was, but he’s still a great outfielder who should help the Phillies win plenty of ballgames. While his production did take a bit of a dive last season, he still had a 120 wRC+ to go along with 20 home runs. It was his ISO which caused the decline, but should he hit for a bit more power this year, he is going to be a really good leadoff hitter.

Rhys Hoskins is perhaps the only returning guy to jump off the page, but boy does he. Hoskins is one year removed from the best start to a career in MLB history, and while he couldn’t keep up a historic pace last year, he is in line for a big improvement. He is going to seemingly be hitting behind Harper (though he probably shouldn’t be), Hoskins will more than likely have one of Realmuto or Segura protecting him in the lineup, meaning he should see more hittable pitches.

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Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco return to the fray, along with one of Cesar Hernandez or Scott Kingery playing second base. We don’t know exactly what Gabe Kapler’s lineup is going to look like, but it has just as much potential as any in the National League. Herrera and Franco aren’t the best hitters in the world, but they are fantastic for bottom third guys. However, there is a vast chasm between everyone reaching potential or sticking to their floor.

If the ladder happens, .500 is but a pipe dream in the NL East. However, while I have my doubts they’ll live to lineups like Milwaukee, Chicago, and Atlanta, I have confidence they won’t be that bad.

Luckily, they do have pitching. They don’t touch Washington’s pitching, but this unit could possibly be one of the NL’s best, and it starts with Aaron Nola. Nola wasn’t near the level of the NL Cy Young last year, but given Jacob deGrom’s season, that isn’t a knock. Nola’s season last year should have been Cy Young caliber.

Nola put up an 8.0 RA9-WAR last season, and his 2.37 ERA was 4th in the MLB among starting pitchers, behind only deGrom, Blake Snell, and Trevor Bauer. He got a little lucky to get there, but his xFIP was still 12th. Should Nola regress or get hurt, the Phillies don’t really stand a chance, but I’m not going to predict either of those things to happen.

Jake Arrieta, last year’s big money signing, disappointed for Philadelphia. Interestingly, Arrieta threw his cutter, the pitch which won him a Cy Young, more often than his previous two years in Chicago. Maybe that is partially why Rick Kranitz isn’t back as pitching coach, but replacement Chris Young has an interesting predicament to solve.

We know what Jake Arrieta can be as a pitcher, but it’s also possible regression has hit him as a 32-year old starter. However, should be duplicate his production from last year, he cannot be counted on as a #2, or even #3 starter.

Luckily for Arrieta, some of the pressure is off of him. He’s going to be Philadelphia’s number three this year after Nick Pivetta. Pivetta had a really strong showing in his second major league season in 2018, striking out a ton without really walking anyone. There are some red flags in his game, given he doesn’t really have a putaway pitch, but he has made it work so far.

Maybe he doesn’t have the same elite numbers as last year, but, much like Jack Flaherty last year, 2019 is going to be the year Pivetta comes into his own as an all-star level pitcher.

The back end of Philly’s rotation isn’t good, which is an issue. It’s tough to predict who is going to be available at the deadline for Philly to add, but they are going to need to add at least a fourth starter for a hypothetical playoff run. They are also going to need more bullpen arms, because a two-man bullpen doesn’t win in October.

David Robertson is really good. After almost abandoning his fastball last year in favor of a curveball, Robertson established himself as a force in the Yankee bullpen. He probably doesn’t close primarily for Philadelphia, but he is going to be one of the best high leverage set-up guys in the league.

Closing for Philadelphia will, more than likely, be Seranthony Dominguez. Dominguez has absolutely electric stuff, bordering on any pitcher in baseball. While he doesn’t his change-up all that much, having a closer with a three-pitch mix is deadly, even if that third pitch isn’t a plus pitch. Robertson-Dominguez isn’t quite a Yankee-level bullpen, but it’s a top-3 back end for sure.

Philly’s bullpen is deep, it just isn’t very good. I don’t trust Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, James Pazos, or Jared Eickhoff in a high-leverage spot. I like Juan Nicasio, but he isn’t fit to be a high-leverage reliever. Philly needs another one of those, or they need someone to step up.

As it stands right now, I’m not sure if the Phillies are a playoff team. It’s going to be really tough to have big holes in the National League and still make the playoffs. Beating up on the Marlins should inflate a win total, but three other teams in their division are going to be doing the same. Philly is almost there, and they be there by the end of the season, but that won’t be without a trade or someone unexpectedly stepping up.

Record Prediction: 86-76

Team MVP: Bryce Harper

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