The Phillies made waves last offseason when they won the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, signing him in free agency and stealing the former MVP away from the division-rival Washington Nationals. Harper’s deal was worth a massive $330 million over 13(!) seasons, and set the Phillies up with a superstar that they could build their team around for the next decade and beyond.
Harper’s first season in Philadelphia drew some criticism; however, it was rather unwarranted, as he crushed 35 homers, slashed .260/.372/.510, and was worth 4.6 fWAR. Harper has homered at least 24 times in every campaign since 2015, and has never posted a wRC+ of less than 111; it would be unreasonable to expect a change in these trends anytime soon, as Harper remains a premier player. Yet, the Phillies were not able to translate the addition of Harper into wins, as they tallied a mediocre 81-81 record.
The Phillies’ failure to achieve their first playoff berth since 2011 was a product of many related factors, none of which included the performance of Harper. The rest of the lineup was inconsistent throughout the season, as the Phillies finished 14th in runs scored out of 30 MLB clubs. With limited contributions from anyone other than Harper and catcher JT Realmuto, and after Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending injury in June, the Phillies simply did not have enough firepower to stay in the pennant race last season.
Philadelphia will hope to reverse their fortunes in 2020, as new and experienced manager Joe Girardi will look to bring a championship mentality to a ballclub in need of a jolt. The aforementioned Realmuto will certainly play a prominent role for the Phillies, as he did last year, if the Phillies are to reach the postseason in ‘20. Realmuto is viewed by many as the best catcher in the sport, and is unquestionably the most complete player at the position in all of baseball. The former Marlin compliments his excellent defense and top-notch pitch-framing with his elite offensive skill set; he is also a fantastic baserunner – a rare quality for a catcher. The all-star backstop established career highs in homers (25), slugging percentage (.493), and fWAR (5.7) in 2019, which was also his first season as a Phillie. Realmuto’s presence at the top of the Philadelphia lineup – and potentially even in the leadoff spot – will give the club an edge that not many others in baseball can claim.
Girardi was not the only former Yankee to join the Phillies this offseason, as the team signed free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year “prove it” deal in December. Gregorius stepped into the difficult position of being New York’s everyday shortstop immediately following the retirement of the legendary Derek Jeter, and was extremely productive during his five-year stint in the Bronx. He was worth a combined 8.8 fWAR from 2017-18, and although his fWAR total plummeted to 0.9 last season, his numbers in ‘19 were in all likelihood due to the injuries he suffered throughout the year. The Phillies will hope that last season was, in fact, an aberration, although there was little risk in Philadelphia committing to him for just a single season. If he finds his health and former level of production, Gregorius’ bat from the left side will add needed depth to the Phillies’ lineup.
Jean Segura could have a similarly positive impact on Philadelphia’s offense in the coming year, should he recapture his early-season form from 2019. In March/April, Segura recorded an OPS of .872 and a wRC+ of 128; his next-best month came in July (115 wRC+), but he did not reach a wRC+ of higher than 98 (two-percent below league-average) in any other month of ‘19. There are a number of interesting statistical splits from Segura’s ‘19 campaign, including the fact that he was decidedly better versus left-handed pitching (.905 OPS) than he was against righties (.693 OPS). He was also vastly superior at home (.818 OPS) than he was on the road (.667 OPS). The Phillies obviously will not bench Segura away from home, but they could deploy him in more of a platoon role so that he primarily faces lefties, which could optimize his offense.
However, the true X-Factor for the Phillies’ lineup in 2020 could very well be Rhys Hoskins. The slugger debuted with a bang in 2017, as he homered 18 times and accumulated 2.2 fWAR in just 50 games played. While Hoskins has been useful in the two years since, his overall performance has been fairly lackluster; he has been worth an average of just 3.0 fWAR per season in that time. The jury is still out on whether Hoskins is capable of replicating his rookie splash, but a tandem of he and Harper has the potential to be one of the most powerful in baseball.
Scott Kingery also seems to have a set role on this Phillies club, as his breakout 2019 effort was a bright spot for Philadelphia in an otherwise disappointing season. Kingery blasted 19 homers and slugged .474 in ‘19, and is set to contribute further to the team’s offense going forward.
Another of the Phillies’ fatal flaws in 2019 was the fact that Aaron Nola was essentially their only reliable starter. To make matters even worse, Nola was not able to pitch as well as he did in the year prior, a season in which he finished third in the NL Cy Young voting by means of his 2.37 ERA (3.01 FIP), along with 212.1 inning pitched, and 224 strikeouts. Nola’s FIP was more than a full run higher (4.03) in ‘19.
Philadelphia signed starter Zack Wheeler in an attempt to directly address their rotation in 2020. Wheeler’s stuff has always been excellent, but he has at times failed to control his fiery fastball. However, he justified receiving a five-year, $118 million deal from the Phillies this offseason on the grounds of his combined 8.9 fWAR over his last two seasons with the New York Mets. The rest of Philadelphia’s starting staff will likely be filled by Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.
Arrieta has yet to live up to the lucrative free agent deal he signed with the Phillies in 2018, as his 4.26 ERA (4.53 FIP) in Philadelphia has been rather underwhelming. Eflin and Velasquez have each shown flashes of potential, but neither have, as of yet, pitched effectively over the course of a full season. In an unrelated note, Velasquez playing the outfield during a wild extra-inning affair in 2019 was absolutely spectacular.
The Phillies’ bullpen is an area of concern going into 2020. It is unclear when the proven arm of David Robertson will return, and either the erratic Héctor Neris or the shaky Seranthony Domínguez will close games for Philadelphia, at least to start the season.
The avid fans of the Phillies are looking at 2020 with a playoffs-or-bust mentality; yet, their expectations are far less likely to be met than many of them seem to believe.
Projected Divisional Finish (NL East):
Projected Opening Day Lineup and Rotation (Fangraphs 2020 fWAR Projections for each player in parentheses):
Scott Kingery CF (1.2)
J.T. Realmuto C (4.4)
Bryce Harper RF (3.8)
Rhys Hoskins 1B (2.6)
Didi Gregorious SS (2.5)
Jean Segura 3B (2.1)
Jay Bruce LF (1.2)
Josh Harrison 2B (0.0)
Aaron Nola (4.1)
Zack Wheeler (3.5)
Jake Arrieta (1.3)
Zach Eflin (1.8)
Vince Velasquez (1.7)