The State of the Phillies Halfway Through the Year
Well, it’s been a horrible year and it’s not even half over yet. I was way off with my prediction, so I will have to talk to the people in our analytics department. Almost everything that could go wrong has gone wrong this year. I didn’t think the offense would be great, but I thought it would be better than last year which was abysmal. Technically it is slightly better at this point with a team OPS of .696 over last year’s .685. Plus, the Phillies are not last in team OPS like last year, they’re….in second to last place in the NL. But it’s still no real improvement. Let’s take a look at what has gone wrong.
Most concerning to me has been the pitching. This team’s strength was supposed to be a group of good, but not great, young pitchers they could build around. Right now only one of their starters has an ERA under 4.0 (Nola just arrived after his last excellent start) with only Nola and Hellickson having WHIPs of under 1.3. And while Hellickson’s WHIP may be half-decent his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is sky high at 5.58. Jerad Eickoff had a good year last year only to follow it up this year with a disappoint result at a 4.93 ERA and a WHIP of over 1.5. And Vince Velazquez is looking more like a bullpen arm at this point. I had high hopes for Zach Eflin after a strong end of the year and corrective knee surgery, but his ERA of 6.03 says otherwise. And it seems like every young starter that they call up is getting hammered almost every outing. To be fair, Nick Pivetta has shown flashes and Ben Lively has been decent, but with small sample sizes. Even Jake Thompson who had an amazing year at AAA last year before getting called up and rocked, is now getting rocked at AAA to the tune of a 5.98 ERA. What positives can be taken from this? The first is that Aaron Nola’s arm has been fine, which is actually really important. If he can somehow keep from hurting his arm again and improve his pitch location he could be a solid number 2 or 3 starter in their rotation. The only other positive you can really glean from this horrible staff performance is that these young pitchers are getting experience and it’s fairly rare I’d say that pitchers dominate from the start of their careers. Greg Maddux had an ERA of almost six his first full year, and in the five starts the year before that it was almost as bad. Randy Johnson had an ERA of over four his first two years as well. So hopefully some of these young guys can figure some things out over the course of this year.
I was thinking that the offense would be moderately better this year due to some of the free-agent signings like Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick. On the contrary, as I noted above, it’s just marginally better than last year. I wasn’t expecting much from Saunders as he has really only had half a good season in his whole career, which happened to be the first half of last year. However, I thought he would be able to give a little more than what the 2016 outfielders had (e.g. Peter Bourjos, Tyler Goeddel). He was so bad, though, that the Phillies had to release him and eat the remainder of his contract this year. Howie Kendrick has been good, but also hurt too often. GM Matt Klentak’s goal of signing veterans to one-year free agent contracts in order to trade them for young talent has not gone well the past two years. It’s a good strategy, but for the Phillies most have either gotten hurt (Charlie Morton, Clay Buchholz) or played played too poorly (Michael Saunders, Joaquin Benoit) to be traded or even to stay on the team. There have been some successes in this area: Pat Neshek is one of the best relief pitchers in the Major Leagues this year and Howie Kenrick has played great (when he is able to stay on the field). Jeremy Hellickson may fall into this category if he can keep it together and pitch well before the trade deadline. They won’t get any great prospects for these players, but they could get some decent prospects. Acquiring veterans on short contracts to flip generally don’t get top prospects; it’s more about volume and acquiring young role-players like bullpen arms, super-utility guys or 4th and 5th outfielders. And if you’re lucky, you may wind up with an everyday player, a la Jayson Werth.
As for the the bullpen it’s been all over the place. Benoit has been a bit of a mystery as he still has good velocity but has been hit around pretty well. Hector Neris came into the season projected as a closer-in-waiting, but has had a rough year. As it stands right now, the bullpen has settled down a bit. Luis Garcia and Pat Neshek have had excellent years, but the latter will soon be on another team.
Before the season began I wrote about ten questions the Phillies had going into the season. Let’s check in to see how those have been answered thus far:
1.Will Odubel Herrera put together a full season of good play? The answer is “no”. Herrera’s stock has really dropped and a trip to Lehigh Valley shouldn’t be ruled out.
3. What will Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens do now that they are not playing in Reading? Hoskins has continued to due very well and Cozens is rebounding after a horrible start. Hoskins has to be brought up this year and Joseph needs to go (my next post).
4. Can Tommy Joseph build on a good 2016 season? The answer appears to be yes to an extent. After a slow start, Joseph has put together a solid season with a slash line of .251/.311/.467. Not great, but a good slugging number. It’s actually very close to what he had last year. Joseph will have trade value (but again, that’s the next post).
5. Will Mikel Franco live up to his prospect label and have a good year? The answer again is “no”. Franco has been a big disappointment to say the least with a slash line of .219/.277/.381 and a WAR of -.9. He’s lucky the Phillies have no third base prospects (although super-prospect Scott Kingery has been taking balls at third) and are miles from contention. Unless Franco has a monster second half, the Phillies will look to move on from him soon.
6. Will Freddy Galvis realize he’s not a home run hitter and try to get on base at least at a somewhat respectable rate? Galvis is having a little better year at the plate this year and continues to play excellent defense. His OBP is up and he continues to hit with some pop. He has also emerged as a leader on a young team. What the Phillies will do at shortstop in the next few years will be a good side story. Galvis has one more year before he is a free agent and prospect J.P Crawford has struggled at AAA this year.
7. Can Aaron Nola stay healthy? Yes, he has! While on the disabled list this year, it was not for his elbow, which is huge. However, there’s a whole second half to play, so we will see.
8. Just what is Vince Velasquez? Good question. Right now, he’s not looking like a major league starter. He’ll need a great second half to stay in that conversation.
9. Which of the Phillies young pitching prospects will be for real in 2017? This one is still up in the air. Eickoff, as mentioned, has taken a step back. Eflin disappointed. Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta have shown the most promise this year, but they will need many more starts to fully prove themselves.
10. Will the catcher of the future be identified this season? Not really. Cameron Rupp had a nice season last year, but has struggled in 2017. Andrew Knapp and his mustache have hit to the tune of a .755 OPS. However, prospect Jorge Alfaro is at AAA now so we’ll see. Alfaro has cooled off greatly after a strong start offensively and rarely walks. While he has a very strong arm, he is still a work in progress defensively. I believe he has to be in the majors next year, so it’s possible you may see a platoon with he and Knapp with Rupp back in AAA or on another team.
As you can see, some questions remained unanswered, so we’ll check back in at the end of the season. The trade deadline should be interesting for the Phillies and could help clear up some of those questions. It’s been a tough season for the team, but hopefully it’s part of the “process” and the Phillies will soon be improving in the win column.