Heading into 2019, the Phillies were hoping that a boosted payroll and beefed up lineup would get them back into the postseason. Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto lived up to their billing. They also settled in at keystone positions for (hopefully) almost the entirety of the coming decade. The offense provided plenty to be happy with throughout the season. But the bullpen was always there to ruin things, effectively sinking an immensely talented team to a middling 81-81 record.
To be fair, we can’t blame everything on the bullpen. Trust me, I’ll try. Injuries and regression were another huge thorn in the side of this team. Rhys Hoskins followed up back to back impressive campaigns with a somewhat disappointing season, Andrew McCutchen spent most of the season hurt, Jake Arrieta continued to disappoint, and Jean Segura didn’t quite live up to his reputation at the plate or in the field.
With some big additions in the offseason, the Phils are hoping this is the year they put everything together and stay competitive in a stacked NL East. Phillies fans are probably wondering, though, “is it enough?”
Hey Big Spender
This offseason management decided the right move was to throw more money at the problem. They went out and signed SP Zack Wheeler (5 years, $118 million) and SS Didi Gregorius (1 year, $14 million), the managerial equivalent of putting a band-aid on a severed limb. Before any of that though, they made arguably their biggest moves, firing Gabe Kapler and subsequently hiring ex-Yankees manager Joe Girardi. There is significant reason to believe that Joe is the right guy to turn things around, especially considering his Yankees tenure may have been cut short by teams cheating, not his own shortcomings as a manager.
Gregorius is a great signing for the team as he has history with the new skipper from their time together in New York and should provide above average defense. If he can rediscover his power swing he could become one of the best signings of the offseason.
Obviously the move management is most excited about from a personnel standpoint is Wheeler. While not the prize of this offseason, Wheeler was definitely one of the most sought after available pitchers. The story with Wheeler has always been his potential, which must be the way to justify this move from a Phillies standpoint.
Wheeler flashed a lot of that potential last season, lowering his walk rate while raising his strikeout rate and his WAR for a Mets team that struggled to score runs at times during the season. One possible area of concern for Phillies fans is Wheeler’s HR/9, which spiked to 1.01 in 2019 after being 0.69 in 2018, the second lowest of his career. Wheeler has to keep that number low if he’s going to succeed in Citizen’s Bank Park.
A Rhys-on for Concern?
Rhys Hoskins is a gigantic man who had a gigantic amount of pressure on him entering the 2019 season. After clubbing 34 HR and 96 RBI in 2018, we expected an even higher output in 2019.
What we got though, was a bizarre season in which Rhys walked more but struck out less. And he raised his OBP, but dropped his BA and hit only 29 HR. Now, it should be said that 29 HR is not necessarily bad. The problem is, we were expecting him to reach the 40s, not go back down to the 20s. While his season may be more baffling than disappointing statistically, the issues with Rhys in 2019 came from his plate discipline.
In 2019 Rhys tied for his highest percent of swings at pitches outside of the zone. He had the highest swing-and-miss rate, highest first-pitch-strike percentage, lowest percentage of contact overall and lowest percentage of contact on pitches inside of the zone of his career. In summary, Rhys was swinging at “bad” pitches more often while missing on “good” pitches. Rhys got behind in the count frequently and pitchers were able to throw him more out of the zone pitches, leading to tougher at-bats.
For Rhys to bounce-back in 2020, he needs to sure up his plate discipline and limit the the amount of swings-and-misses in his game. The addition of Didi and a full year of Andrew McCutchen should take some pressure off of everyone in the lineup. Hopefully Rhys can benefit from that relief and regain some of the promise he showed in 2018.
(Don’t) Call to the Bullpen
We have to talk about it. Fellow Phillies fans, you might wanna skip this section because I’m going to talk about the 2019 Philadelphia Phillies bullpen.
Before I get too detailed I want to get this out of the way. Yes, the bullpen was extremely banged up in 2019. However, the starting pitching was also problematic, once again due to frequent injuries. Aaron Nola had an uninspiring season. At times he flashed his 3rd place in the 2018 NL Cy Young voting brilliance, but struggled to maintain it. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez pitched themselves out of the rotation at various times, and got no help from the continued downfall of Jake Arrieta. How bad did things get? At one point in the season Jason Vargas and Drew Smyly were brought in and intended to act as reinforcements to plug rotation holes.
So what happened? Why were they so bad in 2019? Well, statistically speaking, it may come down to FIP, also known as fielding independent pitching. FIP is basically a fancy advanced stat that only takes into account outcomes of at-bats that don’t involve fielders. This includes strikeouts, unintentional walks, and home runs.
The Phillies bullpen had the 8th highest FIP among bullpens at 4.84, while the rotation had the 7th hightest FIP, 4.91, both of which were increases over 2018. In fact, the bullpen actually lowered its ERA from 2018. This means that the bullpen mostly just seemed worse because a higher percentage of their runs were given up because of fielding-independent plays, home runs and walks. The Phillies bullpen had a -0.05 WPA while the starters had a -5.74 WPA for the season in 2019. These stats mean both staffs did more to hurt their team’s chances of winning a ballgame during the season than they did to improve their chances of winning.
If people get and stay healthy, and Zach Wheeler unlocks his much talked about potential, there is reason to hope for a better showing from the Phillies pitching staff. If those things don’t happen though, it could be another long season on the south side of Philly.
Ring the Bell?
Playing in the NL East this season should be interesting.
The division as a whole looks remarkably the same. Atlanta beefed up their pitching, but lost their all-star 3B Josh Donaldson to Minnesota. The Nationals won the World Series, but lost Anthony Rendon to the Angels. The Mets stayed fairly quiet, but still managed to get sucked into the sign-stealing scandal. So they’re now without a manager, a mere three-ish weeks before pitchers and catchers report.
With all of that uncertainty, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility to think that the Phillies have a legit shot at contention in 2020. However, even if this lineup hits to expectation, there are still some significant question marks all around the diamond. Is Scott Kingery a viable 3B or is he just keeping Alec Bohm’s seat warm? Who is going to play CF? Right now Adam Haseley is penciled in, but can he be counted on for the whole season? With no significant additions to the bullpen, is hoping for bounce-backs from injuries a good enough plan?
The Phillies season is going to be decided by one factor, in my opinion. Can this team go on a run? Last season the team was so frustrating because it seemed like they were never able to string together any significant number of quality games from all units. If this Phillies team is going to have any luck in the division this season, they’ve gotta get hot for a little bit and bank some wins for the dog days of summer.
(They also need to do better than the 5-7 record they managed against the lowly Marlins in 2019.)
Record: 92-70, 2nd in the NL East, 2nd NL Wild Card team
Best Hitter: RF Bryce Harper
Best Pitcher: SP Aaron Nola
Team MVP: RF Bryce Harper
Surprise player: SP/RP Nick Pivetta
Statistics provided by FanGraphs.com
- / 11 months ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.