Looking Forward to the 2016 Season

In what is now an annual tradition for baseball stat nerds, FanGraphs has projected the standings for the upcoming season. It should come as no surprise that the Phillies are expected to once again put up the worst record in baseball, though they are at least projected to improve by three wins over last year at 66-96. Silver linings, right?

The Phillies haven’t made any real improvements on the major league roster, but full seasons from Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr plus the continued progression of Aaron Nola and Odubel Herrera should help make up for the loss of Ken Giles and the makeup of an uninspiring starting rotation. Though the on-field product doesn’t portend to be great, the 2016 season may be the most entertaining and exciting season for Phillies fans since 2011. Here’s why:

Crawford’s Debut

Shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford won’t make the major league roster out of spring training, but the 21-year-old phenom should be taking hacks at Citizens Bank Park by July. Crawford is the Phillies’ #1 prospect by far and is an easy top-five prospect globally. Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts went over Crawford’s profile in his top-ten prospect list here and his superlatives for Crawford were bountiful. It’s easy to get your hopes up about Crawford and you should. Shortstops like Jimmy Rollins don’t come along everyday and it’s tough to replace what he meant to the Phillies organization both on and off the field, but Crawford — if things pan out as expected — could do a damn fine job of it.

Crawford has a great eye at the plate and would make a great fit at the top of the lineup with Odubel Herrera. He doesn’t have power (at least not yet) but should be able to hit at least 20 or 30 points above the league average with 20-25 doubles. While, as Winkelman notes, Crawford can mess up routine plays, he should still play above average defensively and can add value on the base paths. He’ll likely make incremental improvements in that area with more experience.

Herrera’s Encore

Center fielder Odubel Herrera was quite the pleasant surprise for the Phillies last season after they took him from the Rangers in the Rule 5 draft. He had yet to play above Double-A and was a second baseman by trade with scant playing time in the outfield. The Phillies threw him in center field, hoping for the best, and they got it. Herrera hit .297/.344/.418 with 30 doubles and 16 stolen bases in 537 plate appearances while playing some of the best defense in center in baseball. He even displayed legitimate power, as seen here:

Herrera was shut out in National League Rookie of the Year balloting. While he certainly wasn’t more deserving of a first-place vote than winner Kris Bryant, runner-up Matt Duffy, or third-place finisher Jung-Ho Kang, he was deserving of some down-ballot appreciation — more so than Justin Bour, Joc Pederson, and Stephen Piscotty. At any rate, the onus is on Herrera to prove his breakout last year wasn’t a fluke. Herrera can etch a permanent role for himself in the Phillies’ outfield with another productive season.

Nola in Full

Phillies fans got a small taste of what Aaron Nola can offer in his 13 starts last season. The #7 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Nola compiled a 3.59 ERA with 68 strikeouts and 19 walks across 77 2/3 innings. The scouting reports were quite accurate in describing him, as we saw a calm and composed pitcher with terrific command, an ability to work the strike zone, and maturity beyond his years. Nola lacks the ceiling of a Cole Hamels, but can be rock solid and dependable in the Phillies’ starting rotation for years.

Nola did run into trouble with home runs at times, yielding 11 of them in his 13 starts, but seven of those homers came in just three games. Because he is around the strike zone so often, when his stuff is off, he can get hit pretty hard. That was evident in his September 14 start against the Nationals, when Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, and Jayson Werth each went yard against him. That Nola will continue to be around the strike zone often isn’t exactly a death knell for his home run rate, however. Shelby Miller, for example, had the eighth-highest percentage of pitches in the strike zone (49.1) among qualified pitchers and only gave up 13 dingers. Nola was in the strike zone 47.8 percent of the time.

Nola should be plenty good over a full season for the Phillies, even if he’s a little homer-prone. But it will be interesting to watch him evolve as a pitcher going forward.

In Goeddel We Trust

Hoping to strike gold in a second consecutive Rule 5 draft, the Phillies selected outfielder Tyler Goeddel from the Rays in early December. Goeddel doesn’t have a starting role in the Phillies’ outfield right now, but then again, neither did Herrera. It wasn’t until Herrera broke out in spring training that the Phillies gave him an opportunity. Goeddel will be given plenty of opportunities this spring, but even if he doesn’t wow the Phillies, he can still provide value as a fourth outfielder. The club will have to keep him on the 25-man roster over the duration of the season, otherwise Goeddel must be offered back to the Rays.

The Phillies aren’t exactly in want of outfielders. Along with the current starting three of Altherr, Herrera, and Peter Bourjos, prospects Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, and Cornelius Randolph wait in the minors. Goeddel, if he performs well, could allow the Phillies to progress Randolph at a comfortable rate rather than rush him up to contribute to a team that could be competitive in a couple of seasons. Or he could be used as trade bait in order to bolster a position of need.

With Double-A Montgomery last season, Goeddel had 39 extra-base hits (an almost even distribution of doubles, triples, and homers) with 28 stolen bases and a .783 OPS. We should expect those numbers to deflate a bit against major league competition, but he can prove us wrong just as Herrera did.

Howard Closure

At some point this year, the Ryan Howard era in Philadelphia will finally end. The Phillies could trade or release him before or during the season. At the very latest, Howard will cease donning Phillies red pinstripes when the regular season ends and the club pays him $10 million to buy out the final year of his contract signed way back in 2012. It will be a sad end to a sad five-year period in which Howard went from folk hero to crushing albatross.

Howard signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension in April 2010 on the heels of four consecutive 45-plus homer seasons. Even if he declined with age, many thought, how bad could he possibly get? Over the last four seasons, Howard has dealt with a torn Achilles tendon and a torn meniscus, zeroing out what little mobility he had and handicapping his base strength. Since the start of the 2012 season, Howard has a .232/.300/.421 triple-slash line with 71 home runs over 1,760 plate appearances. Compare that to his .278/.379/.589 line with 198 home runs in 2,755 plate appearances from 2006-09.

The Phillies don’t have an obvious candidate to take over at first base. It’s Darin Ruf for now and maybe Cameron Rupp on days when Carlos Ruiz is catching. It could be Jorge Alfaro if his catching skills can’t pass muster at the major league level. Regardless, the Phillies will be making a change and it will happen by October.

 

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16 comments

  1. Romus

    January 20, 2016 08:51 AM

    IMO, Rhys Hoskins, if he can continue his bat production at Reading this summer and perhaps LHV later in the year, will be given the first opportunity to replace Howard at first base as early as 2017. He has more game experience starting at first base than anyone currently in the system starting back to his soph. and then his junior year at Sac State (108 games at first), and over 200 (counting AUBL) since he has been in the Phillies org. So defensively he is certainly not a novice when it comes to patrolling around the first base bag.

  2. Keystone

    January 20, 2016 11:13 AM

    This is a bit off subject, but glancing thought MLB TradeRumors updated FA list for right fielders is kind of funny:

    Right Fielders

    Domonic Brown (28)
    Marlon Byrd (38)
    David DeJesus (36)
    Chris Denorfia (35)
    Jeff Francoeur (32)
    Matt Joyce (31)
    David Lough (30)
    David Murphy (34)
    Ryan Raburn (35)
    Alex Rios (35)
    Travis Snider (28)
    Grady Sizemore (33)
    Will Venable (33)
    Shane Victorino (35)
    Delmon Young (30)

    Six of the players listed are ex-Phillies. I feel like if this was the old regime they’d be signing David DeJesus or Chris Denorfia right now to a 2yr $20m deal with a third year option.

    It feels good to get behind the direction of the Phillies again.

  3. Major Malfunction

    January 20, 2016 03:17 PM

    What’s in the pipeline or a viable FA for 2017 at 1B? Any speculation short term or long term? I know they have that 16 year old wonderkid they signed last year, but he’s 16 or 17 and barring a miracle, he’s 5+ years from even being a MLB twinkle.

    There was a time not that long ago where it seemed like most teams had an above average to elite slugger at 1B. I guess the drought begins much like what we are seeing at C these days?

    • Romus

      January 20, 2016 03:48 PM

      In the Phillies pipeline, besides Brock Stassi/Art Charles, and Hoskins at AAA/AA, there is Kyle Martin, scheduled for CLW, also could be Zach Green on a rebound this year.
      Then further down the road there are .Enmanuel Garcia and Luis Encarnacion
      Another possibility could be .Tommy Joseph.

      • DonnieB

        January 25, 2016 03:00 AM

        Would LOVE to see Tommy Joseph (age 24) be healthy and play this year at 1B in AAA as planned. Allow Howard/Ruf true LH/RH platoon this year, and then have Joseph be our 1B in 2017. Brock Stassi (age 26) could be our back-up Left Hitting 1B next year too as Joseph bats RH.

        Ruf turns 30 this year, so after this year its time to continue the rebuild… I would like to see a Tommy Joseph / Brock Stassi 1B tandem until Hoskins is ready.

    • Eddie

      January 21, 2016 06:35 PM

      In other words … not much special in the pipeline.

      Pedro Alvarez will be a FA in 2016-2017.

      Just as likely the team deals a few prospects from the suddenly-flush system and gets a contract someone wants to dump (Joey Votto?) Depending on Franco’s defense this year, maybe he moves sooner rather than later and you look for a new 3B.

      • Steve

        January 22, 2016 07:50 AM

        I dont see them trading prospects for an over 30 1B in 2017. Its not like that will make them a divison favorite. Absorbing Vottos contract is realistic, but if you are talking a top 10 prospect or multiple prospects….. No thanks. Please Klentak, remember what caused the Phillies rapid decline and barren farm system.

      • PhilliesIn08

        January 24, 2016 10:46 AM

        Alvarez is also a free agent right now, and nobody wants to touch him, especially NL teams. As a Phillies fan who’s lived in Pittsburgh the last 3 years, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a worse defensive 1B than Alvarez. Granted it’s not his natural position, but to be honest, he’s nothing more than a part-time DH at this point.

        I could see the Phillies making a play for Dan Vogelbach, a 23 year old slugging 1B who’s stuck behind Rizzo in the Cubs’ system. With the glut of OF and pitchers in our system, a deal could make sense for both sides.

  4. Gil

    January 20, 2016 04:01 PM

    Thanks for the article – am sure looking forward to seeing the 2016 Phillies!

    Does anyone know whether the 66-96 projection includes Franco’s and the potential contribution from other players with short track records? His presence in the lineup (barring injury) makes them a better team. Just like Lenny Dykstra’s effect on the 1990-94 Phillies, Franco was the straw who stirred the Phillies when in the lineup in 2015, and they are more likely to resemble the team that played so well last July/August than the dud that opened the 2015 season or the team that limped along without Franco after his injury.

    It’s nice to dream on what effect a full season of stellar outfield defense, Nola and Eickoff in the rotation will have on their record, and possibility that Vincent V. and other young pitchers succeed – but my biggest question is the impact a full season of Franco at the plate will have. I figure the Franco effect strong enough to push them to 70-92.

    • Steve

      January 21, 2016 06:54 AM

      Typically those projections include contributions from guys like Franco, Nola, Altherr etc who didnt play a full year last year, but are expected to be Opening Day starters this year.
      Im not sure hone much of a difference Franco makes in 2015. Dont get me wrong, hes better than Asche, and i think .270 with 20 HR and 80 RBI is more than possible, but does that make the Phillies that much better? He will recieve little, if any, line-up protection, and chances are we see a little regression from the 1 and 2 spots in the line-up (although im a Herrera believer, that BABIP is unsustainable) meaning fewer RBI opportunities. It will be easy for pitchers to pitch around Franco if he really starts mashing the ball.

  5. Chuck Pizagno

    January 24, 2016 10:32 AM

    Thank Heaven I will only have to watch ‘ useless ‘ number 6 much longer! Phillies Mgmt. : You guys owe me for having to watch him over the last 4 years.

  6. Luke Ustaszewski

    January 24, 2016 01:39 PM

    Yes they do have an obvious candidate to take over for Howard in Darin Ruf. How more obvious
    could it be? If they would ever give him a real chance, they might find the power hitter thsy keep overlooking.

  7. DonnieB

    January 24, 2016 04:45 PM

    I don’t have any faith in Fangraphs prediction of the Phillies only being 3 games better than last year. The Phillies went 34-37 in the second half of the season, just 3 games under .500 – and while they did that, Pitchers that won’t be on our team went 5-20 with a collective ERA well over 6.00

    In 2015 – Phillies starters that are no longer on the team or will not be on the MLB club went 19-60 in 106 starts with a combined ERA of 6.19 – and relievers went 4-4 with a combined ERA of 5.85

    23-64 came from Pitchers NOT with the 2016 Phillies.
    So I ask FanGraphs, did they even consider that???

    Harang (6-15), Williams (4-12), O’Sullivan (1-6), Buchanan (2-9), Asher (0-6), Correa (0-3), Gonzalez(3-3), McGowen (1-2), Aumont (0-1) and Billingsley (2-3)?? Yes, they are the Pitchers that went 19-60 with a combined ERA of 6.12 – So is FanGraphs saying that Nola, Eickhoff, Hellickson, Morton, Oberholtzen, Morgan, and Velasquez will only be 3 games better than that bunch???

    Are they saying that Hernandez, Bailey, Mujica, Frieri, Neris, Hinojosa, Araujo and Stumpf won’t be better than DeFratus (0-2), Loewen (0-1), Diekman (2-1), Murray (0-1), Rosin (0-0), Ogando (0-0), and Roberts (1-0) – a combined 4-4 w/ an ERA of 6.08 ???

    • Rob

      January 24, 2016 09:45 PM

      Yes. That is what they’re saying. I hope they’re wrong.

    • Ken45

      January 29, 2016 09:23 AM

      Fangraphs is expecting regressions for Blanco and Altherr to balance that.

  8. Ken45

    January 29, 2016 09:29 AM

    I’d like to see Asche at 1B in spring training. I’d also like to see Ruff get a chance to play every day for 3 consecutive months. We found out last season that he cannot pinch hit and that he cannot hit righies not playing every day.

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