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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