Encouraging Signs From the Phillies

As the 2017 season winds down, the Phillies still find themselves with the worst record in baseball, on pace for over 100 losses for the first time since 1961. However, the rookies are positively contributing, and the bullpen has righted the ship somewhat, and the team has posted a .465 winning percentage in the second half. I’m not sure how much I believe in season-to-season momentum, but at any rate, this has been an encouraging effort for the young Phillies. I’d like to run down a few important developments on the Phillies’ long march back to respectability.

The Youngins

Rhys Hoskins has been absolutely smashing the ball through his first three weeks in the Majors, and while he won’t continue to hit at this blistering pace, he looks like a middle-of-the-order stud for the next playoff-bound Phillies team. Prior to his call-up, the Phillies looked like a team with a lot of average to slightly-above-average players but no anchor in the lineup, and the early returns are that Hoskins will provide that. I won’t waste the finger strength typing up his list of accomplishments, but I will say he’s already produced the 4th-highest fWAR among Phillies position players this season in just 19 games.

Nick Williams, meanwhile, has also been impressive, if somewhat under the radar. He doesn’t have the flashy home run totals, but he’s been holding his own in his 51 games, providing good average and power with a surprisingly OK 7.1% walk rate. His reputation as an aggressive free-swinger is well-earned, but when he makes contact, the ball flies off his bat, as his 37.1% hard hit rate shows. His .371 BABIP should regress a bit, but he’s posted above-average BABIPs throughout his minor league career, and I’d expect that to continue in the Majors. He needs to improve his chase rate and his whiff rate to truly be a difference-maker at the plate, but he’s earned a starting outfield job next season.

The Logjam

I’ve been trying for a couple weeks to put my thoughts on Cesar Hernandez to paper, but essentially I continue to be impressed with his work at second base, and he’s debatably been better than even Odubel Herrera over the past two seasons. But I also realize that the ceiling of Scott Kingery is higher. By all accounts, Kingery is an excellent defender at the keystone, which should provide a stable floor as he figures things out at the plate. I’ve been burned enough before that I don’t believe a player will hit until he does, and I think there’s a chance that Kingery will never be as good a hitter as Cesar has been over the past two years. Then again, I never thought Cesar would be an above-average hitter either, so what do I know?

There’s a similar logjam at shortstop with Freddy Galvis keeping J.P. Crawford’s seat warm. As such (and due to Maikel Franco’s continued struggles), the IronPigs have been trying Crawford at third base. I don’t know what type of positive effect Galvis’ leadership has had on the young players, and while it’s clear that the Phillies love him, I don’t think you can justify moving Crawford when Galvis is a significantly below average hitter, even for a shortstop and even in the best year of his career. This is doubly true considering that, after his extremely slow start, Crawford has produced a 129 wRC+ since June 1 with 11 home runs and roughly 2 walks for every 3 strikeouts. Those numbers are great for anyone, especially a shortstop with above-average defensive potential.

In all likelihood by the All-Star Break next season, we’ll see Kingery and Crawford as double play partners due simply to their upside. Hernandez could be used to trade for a pitcher (see below), but Galvis could hang around as a utility guy/veteran mentor to the young infield, as the Phillies clearly value his leadership.

The Pitching Staff

In the second half, Aaron Nola has been a revelation, and everyone else has been mediocre-to-OK. That’s a huge improvement over the first half, but that still doesn’t get you a good pitching staff. The Phillies have the 20th-ranked FIP in the second half at 4.56 that is buoyed almost entirely by Nola’s 3.01 mark and the bullpen’s collective 3.99. Heading into 2018, the pitching staff is going to be a major concern.

The Phillies intend to keep Vince Velasquez in the rotation despite his injury and performance issues. That leaves our rotation as Nola, Eickhoff, Velasquez, and two question marks. Perhaps Mark Leiter or Nick Pivetta has shown you enough to give them a chance at the number 5 spot, but the Phillies need at least one mid-rotation starter this upcoming offseason. As mentioned before, this could be achieved via trade if the Phillies move on from Cesar Hernandez. An above-average second baseman hitting his prime with three years of team control should fetch a good pitcher in a trade. But whether it’s a trade or free agency, having someone to slot behind Nola in the rotation would go a long way towards making this staff respectable.

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  1. Andy

    August 29, 2017 11:53 AM

    Hellicksons been gone for a month. .

    • Michael Schickling

      August 29, 2017 12:01 PM

      Fair point! That was meant to be a joke that I messed up in editing. Instead it just made me look silly. I removed it.

  2. Jim

    August 29, 2017 01:20 PM

    Hoskins and Nola and likely Williams are exactly the anchors around which contenders can be built. NOW we will find out how good our scouts and general manager are.

    • Romus

      August 29, 2017 02:00 PM

      Agree….Williams can be a corner that could be very productive. Looking at his history since he was drafted by the Rangers, he always showed a power bat with strong quick wrists….ISO always around or better than .200 in full season play and a career OPS of a little over .800. And this year alone he is at 23 HRs with five weeks left in this season.
      The obvious concern….his propensity to K contributing to a lower OBP.
      Having him hitting in the three hole, I assume, may be a temporary thing under what Mackanin is doing….he would seem to be a logical 6 or 7 hole hitter if his K rate starts climbing.

  3. Michael C Lorah

    August 29, 2017 02:24 PM

    Clearly, the pitching needs to improve a lot.

    Add a healthy Herrera and Altherr to this line-up, move Hoskins to first, and the line-up is solid – not great, but good. It’ll likely be better if/when Crawford replaces Galvis. After Crawford arrives, Franco remains the only spot in the starting eight that I feel is woefully below average. A few spots are merely hovering right around average, yes, but that’s still better than the dearth of offensive talent seen in the outfield corners, infield corners and shortstop over the last four seasons.

    But the pitching… man, it’s hard to see how that gets turned around immediately. Given the small samples sizes of Hoskins, Williams, Alfaro, Altherr and the yet-anticipated arrivals of Crawford and Kingery, I imagine the front office is not going to go big on a starting pitcher this offseason. I kind of wish they would. If the offense is mostly not a mirage, adding a top starter to pair with Nola would give them a very strong one-two punch. Two good starters and a good-not-great line-up is likely not enough to make them a true contender, but I could see them hovering in striking range and maybe squeaking in with a few good breaks.

    I agree with keeping Eickhoff and Velasquez in the 2018 rotation. I’d just rather see a Yu Darvish added above them in the pecking order than a Jeremy Hellickson added after them.

    • Eddie

      August 29, 2017 05:23 PM

      “But the pitching… man, it’s hard to see how that gets turned around immediately.”

      Sure it is.

      1) 2nd Half Nola is real Nola. ~3.00 ERA
      2) Acquired FA Pitcher is good. ~3.50
      3) 2016 Eickhoff returns ~4.00 200 IP
      4) 2016 Vasquez returns ~4.00
      5) One of the young guys steps up. I’d pick Eshelman. ~4.00.

      Wham, that’s a league-average rotation, with upside for the future. It’s not *likely,* but it’s plausible. And it IS likely that 2-4 of those things happen, which would be a step forward.

      • Jersey Jim

        August 29, 2017 10:20 PM

        Are you Bob McClure?

      • Wildfyr

        August 30, 2017 06:17 PM

        @jersey Jim,
        I nearly choked on my drink reading that

    • Major Malfunction

      August 30, 2017 10:42 AM

      I’m still not sold on replacing Galvis. His glove work is ridiculously good. Once you have a competitive, even good team, defense like that preserves and wins a LOT of games. His arm, range, and hands are almost unparalleled by anyone in the league.

      Normally, elite defense gets a negative return in trades. Things have changed in stats recognition, but you still aren’t going to get an equal return just based on the glove. You’d have to find a unique situation, like an injury, where the trade partner is desperate enough to give you real return.

      I think Hernandez is easier to trade based on his offense and salary control attractiveness. But either way, there’s some wonderful talent in AAA standing by.

  4. Mike Fassano

    August 29, 2017 02:57 PM

    I like both Hernandez and Galvis, but the Phillies need pitching. If trading one, or both, brings us a good starter and a good Lefty reliever, I’m all for it. For the record, I’m against playing Crawford at any position other than SS. With Hoskins, I only wanted to see his bat in the lineup, but with JP, I want to see him in the field at his best position. Is there any chance of an 11th hour waiver deal coming in the next couple of days? It looks as if Alvarez will get 2 more starts for the Pigs, and several more for the Phillies. Better or worse than 50-50 odds that he makes the team next Spring?

    • TommyDigital13

      August 29, 2017 04:28 PM

      If they trade galvis and hernandez for a good starter and good lefty reliever I’d have to think Amaro was hired as gm of the trade partner

      • Mike Fassano

        August 29, 2017 06:04 PM

        I didn’t necessarily mean straight up.

      • Jacob P

        August 29, 2017 07:16 PM

        I think the closest trade you can look at is the Dodgers trading for Logan Forsyth. He was a little more expensive, a little older, and a little better than Cesar Hernandez. They had to give up a top 25-30 prospect in Jose DeLeon, who at the time had debuted. It’s been kind of ugly for both since the trade, but it’s not crazy to imagine the Phillies getting a good prospect, low ceiling/high floor type that’s close to the majors in exchange for Cesar. Or someone with limited service time, that’s a #3 with a little extra upside.

      • Michael Schickling

        August 30, 2017 10:50 AM

        Jacob P,

        That’s actually a pretty decent comp. Forsythe has more power, but Cesar has better defense and fewer strikeouts. The main difference is Forsythe makes a little more than Cesar, and Cesar has an extra year of team control, both of which figure to improve the trade value for the Phils.

  5. Major Malfunction

    August 30, 2017 10:35 AM

    Speaking of Hoskins WAR, I read this the other day: In just 18 games he already has 1.2 WAR, or 8 percent of Ryan Howard’s career total (14.9) over 1,572 games.

    Obviously his pace is unsustainable, but I find that stat fascinating.

    • Michael Schickling

      August 30, 2017 10:43 AM

      At that rate, over the same number of games, Hoskins is on pace for 104.8 WAR, or 18th all time, less than 2 WAR behind Mike Schmidt. #HOFskins

      • Michael C Lorah

        August 30, 2017 11:35 AM

        So the takeaway here is that as good as Rhys Hoskins has been over this otherworldly 19 games, Mike Schmidt was that good for an entire career? Damn!

        (I mean, career WAR factors in Schmidt’s superior defense, so he didn’t need to hit at quite this level – but he still had to hit quite a bit!)

      • Wildfyr

        August 30, 2017 06:19 PM

        The hash tag I’ve been trying to get going is #RhysusSaves

  6. MplsPhilsFan

    August 30, 2017 12:01 PM

    I would actually go in a different direction and try to obtain a quality third baseman using Franco and Cesar. The Reds have Senzel tearing up the minors and a good young player named Eugenio Suarez who is playing very well at 3b for them now. I would like to see the Phils package Cesar & Franco for Suarez and use their first round pick next year on Brady Singer, who can slot into the rotation very quickly. Not a fan of using free agency to get pitchers

    • Romus

      August 30, 2017 05:18 PM

      I think Manny Machado may be on the Phillies radar for their future third baseman.
      Been hearing that mentioned before.
      Evidently there is a past connection from 2010, between Phillies Pres MacPhail and Manny and his agent Dan Lozano. Probably meaning a large payday for Manny from the Phillies come 2019 or who knows, maybe a little earlier.

      • Edwin

        August 30, 2017 07:38 PM

        Arrenado is a better option

      • Romus

        August 31, 2017 08:02 AM

        Arenado….good luck getting him!
        Manny , and GM Dan Duquette, if he still is GM after the season, cannot get him to re-up, then Manny gets traded….it is a matter of what time they will pull the trigger on the trade.
        Could be in December or could be July trade deadline next season….but if the Os are in the Al-East pennant race next year they will not be able to move him then.

        Bottom line…..do not see them settling for one ‘end- of- the- first round’ comp pick letting a possible future HoFer Manny walk.

      • MplsPhilsFan

        August 31, 2017 09:07 AM

        Romus, I have heard Machado’s name bandied about also, but I cannot see Baltimore allowing him to leave. As you stated, he is a Hall of Fame level talent and they are a competitive team. One with an owner willing to spend money. Could and should the Phillies make an offer for Manny if it becomes clear the Os are not going to resign him? Of course, and I would make everyone short of Sixto, Nola and Crawford available. I just do not see it as likely

      • Ryan

        August 31, 2017 09:23 AM

        I’d love to sign Machado as a free agent, but trading for him would be completely illogical. Even if everyone’s wildest hopes and dreams come true (Hoskins, Williams, Altherr, Nola continue raking, JPC, Kingery contribute right away, everyone else rebounds) you’re still looking at an 80-85 win team. Adding two months or even a year of Machado would barely move the needle from above 500 to second wild card in a best case scenario.

        If they want Machado, just float enough rumours about their money truck all year and hope he goes to free agency.

      • Romus

        August 31, 2017 09:40 AM

        The issue with Machado….he will not go to free agency.
        He will either be re-signed by the Os or traded.
        The O’s will take the best offer when the day comes that they realize he is not coming back. and they will get a haul in return.
        The Angelos family are not noted for ‘breaking the bank’ in the past on those 7- plus year contracts. However, they just may do it this time for the face of their franchise….you would think they would to keep the fan base from revolting.

      • MplsPhilsFan

        August 31, 2017 10:28 AM

        Romus, I agree with you that with Manny it will be either a trade or he will be retained by the Orioles. With a player of this magnitude, they will not allow him to go to free agency. The Angelos clan did spring for a 7 year deal for Chris Davis, and they are middle to bottom of the pack in payroll commitments for 2018 and 2019. In short, I feel he will be resigned as they have the resources and would be facing a fan revolt if they did not. If he is made available however, you do whatever it takes to get him. Failing obtaining Manny, would you agree that Suarez would be a good fallback option?

      • Romus

        August 31, 2017 01:45 PM

        Suarez would be a nice get. Has come on in the power game , still has a little bit of swing and miss. I wonder what the Reds price is?
        Cesar and Franco both may be more than what would be required.
        However, I am sure the Reds will take either but also want a pitcher.
        Seems most teams always want to have a pitcher included in part of any return package.

      • MplsPhilsFan

        August 31, 2017 01:56 PM

        If Franco + Cesar is too much, what would you say would be a fair offer for Suarez? Franco + Kilome? Too much again? What about Franco + Lively + Appel?

      • Romus

        August 31, 2017 02:24 PM

        Lively would be an odd player to that package….he was a Red’s prospect three years ago and rated the best pitcher in their system the one year. So they know all about him.
        Appel’s ship has sailed I would think now. His future appears now to be in the relief department.
        Kilome may be a bit much, however the Reds would definitely take their chance with him.
        Reds may also have interest in Eshelman, Crew Anderson or a healthy Eflin to be added in a package.
        Suarez has come on…….but Suarez’s home/away splits are very concerning. His ISO on the road is a tick over .100….not good. So he is a Great American park hitter for sure…..but CBP’s 80 home games for him would be ideal also.

      • Eddie

        August 31, 2017 07:53 PM

        If I’m the Reds, Franco and Hernandez makes no sense.

        Value-wise, it’s okay, but why would a rebuilding club want a 2B who will be turning 30 and hitting FA just as they’re looking to be good again? I’d want a prospect or two. Maybe Franco and Kilome, or Franco, Eshelman and a lower-level arm. Or keep Franco and give me Kingery.

    • Eddie

      August 31, 2017 07:49 PM

      If I’m the Reds, no way do I give up Suarez for Hernandez and Franco.

      They’re in the same boat as the Phils, rebuilding and unlikely to contend in 2018 or even 2019. Why would I give up one of my better assets for 1) a 2B who will be turning 30 and hitting FA just when I’m looking to contend, and 2) a 3B who likely is only a placeholder until Senzel. I’d be willing to trade Suarez, but I want a good prospect or two in the deal. Maybe Franco, Eshelman and a low-level arm. Which might not make sense from the Phillies end.

    • Eddie

      August 31, 2017 07:54 PM

      If I’m the Reds, Franco and Hernandez makes no sense.

      Value-wise, it’s okay, but why would a rebuilding club want a 2B who will be turning 30 and hitting FA just as they’re looking to be good again? I’d want a prospect or two. Maybe Franco and Kilome, or Franco, Eshelman and a lower-level arm. Or keep Franco and give me Kingery.

    • Eddie

      August 31, 2017 09:04 PM

      If I’m the Reds, Franco and Hernandez makes no sense.

      Value-wise, it’s okay, but why would a rebuilding club want a 2B who will be turning 30 and hitting FA just as they’re ready to be good again? I’d want a prospect or two. Maybe Franco and Kilome, or Franco, Eshelman and a lower-level arm. Or keep Franco and give me Kingery.

  7. John kwiatkowski

    August 31, 2017 07:21 PM

    What is it about Crawford that everybody gets that I don’t. Average speed, average power, low average, not close to Galvis on defense.

    • Matt Winkelman

      September 01, 2017 01:11 PM

      Above average defense, maybe not Galvis but close, elite level on base ability

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