Skip to Main Content
Fan Engagement, Industry Analysis Articles, Media & Tech, Team Performance

Evolution or Revolution: Philadelphia Phillies

By: Craig Haley

While the December hiring of Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations alleviated the uncertainty that swirled with the Philadelphia Phillies in the first two months of the offseason, it didn’t completely clear up the picture.

The Phillies aren’t getting the free-spending version of the two-time World Series-winning executive because, much like other major-league teams, they’re cutting payroll. Dombrowski’s new team also has been working with an interim general manager, Ned Rice, since Matt Klentak was removed from the full-time role in early October.

Change is needed on the field as well because no National League team has gone longer without a winning record or playoff appearance (nine years). The Phillies’ offseason splashes haven’t stopped the disappointment.

Prior to the 2018 season, they signed pitcher Jake Arrieta (three years, $75 million) and first baseman Carlos Santana (three years, $60M). A year later, they inked former NL MVP outfielders Bryce Harper (13 years, $330M) and Andrew McCutchen (three years, $50M), and traded for catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura. Last offseason, pitcher Zach Wheeler (five years, $118M) was their big free-agent addition.

Bringing in new manager Joe Girardi didn’t even prevent the Phillies from having a third straight September collapse during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season – they slumped to a 28-32 record and third-place finish in the NL East.

FALLING IN SEPTEMBER
SeasonRecord Thru Aug.Sept. RecordFinal Record
201872-628-2080-82
201969-6512-1681-81
202015-1513-1728-32

In the aftermath, managing partner John Middleton said he expected the organization to lose $100 million from the troubled season.

“I consider it a retool, not a rebuild, for sure,” Dombrowski tried to reassure at his introductory news conference.

While considering the unknown, let’s take a deeper dive into the issues the Phillies need to address this offseason.

STARTERS HOPE TO BREATHE SIGH OF RELIEF

The Phillies aren’t completely reinventing themselves, but they’re remodeling the bullpen after it imploded with the second-highest ERA of all-time (7.06) and ranked behind only the Colorado Rockies in our Adjusted Team Rankings. The unit’s 1.79 WHIP was the worst in baseball and 47.8 save percentage (11 of 23 conversions) was third worst.

Tommy Hunter, one of the few reliable arms in the bullpen, is a free agent. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

A number of their relievers are free agents, even ones (Tommy Hunter and Blake Parker) who offered stability. Hector Neris (1.71 WHIP) lost the closer’s role, but remains a key returnee with 72 saves since 2016, and rookie Connor Brogdon hits 97 mph on the gun.

Free agents Liam Hendricks and Brad Hand may not fit into the 2021 budget, but a large market of closer-types, including Archie Bradley, Roberto Osuna, Jeremy Jeffress, Alex Colome, Sean Doolittle, Hansel Robles, Shane Greene, Ian Kennedy and former Phil Ken Giles, are cheaper alternatives.

The rotation is certainly hoping to get some help in the bullpen. Our Raw Value metric examines how a batter (RV+) or pitcher (RV-) performs throughout each pitch of an at-bat rather than just the end result, with a score of 100 considered average.

While the Phillies’ starters were fourth in baseball with an RV- of 86, the disastrous bullpen dropped the team RV- to 104, tying with Pittsburgh for 21st, in our Adjusted Team Rankings.

Philadelphia Phillies, 2020OffenseRotationBullpenOverall
Adjusted Team Rankings1042916

The Phillies rely on ace Aaron Nola (RV- of 66), who had a 3.28 ERA and ranked third in the NL with 96 strikeouts over 12 starts, and Wheeler (RV- of 73), who posted a 2.92 ERA in 11 starts. Trade rumors swirled around Wheeler in early December, but Middleton denied the possibility.

While Vince Velasquez’s 131-game career is underwhelming, he’s averaged 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The Phillies tendered a contract to keep him in the rotation with an improved Zach Eflin (RV- of 84) and Spencer Howard, who averaged only four innings in six rookie starts.

Adding a lefty to the group would seem warranted.

OFFENSE COULD SUFFER FREE AGENT LOSSES

With Harper entering the third year of the third-largest contract in baseball history, the Phillies risk wasting too many of the 28-year-old right fielder’s remaining prime years.

His RV+ of 182 in 2020 was the fourth best in baseball, fueling an offense that ranked 10th in the majors by our metrics. Harper slugged a team-high 13 home runs with 33 RBIs, and his .420 on-base percentage was the second best of a nine-year career.

Bryce Harper finished fourth in the majors in RV+ in 2020. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The New York Mets’ pass on Realmuto helps with the Phillies potentially re-signing one of baseball’s leading free agents (he posted RV+ scores of 118 in 2019 and 111 in 2020). A free agent catcher such as Wilson Ramos would lessen a loss of Realmuto offensively, but a defensive signee such as Curt Casali, Jason Castro or Robinson Chirinos may be more important.

Free agency surely will cost the team shortstop Did Gregorius, who produced a team-high 40 RBIs on a one-year contract. A free agent such as four-time Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons makes sense, but Segura could shift back to shortstop from second base if Gregorius departs, possibly opening second base for Scott Kingery.

The latter, though, hasn’t progressed (.159 in 113 at-bats last season) like two other heralded players who arrived from the farm system – first baseman Rhys Hoskins (RV+ of 118) and third baseman Alec Bohm (RV+ of 130), the runner-up for 2020 NL Rookie of the Year.

While the offense is overly right-handed, McCutchen (RV+ of 117) is a welcome return. The late-July start in 2020 aided his return from a knee injury 13 months earlier.

STATS PERFORM’S VERDICT: REVOLUTION

Because they had their share of struggles defensively, the Phillies may have to prioritize improvement in the field. Even without Realmuto, a Harper-Hoskins-Bohm middle of the order should produce, and Nola and Wheeler figure to give the team a chance to win on most days.

The Phillies have to steady the bullpen, and some under-the-radar moves must work because the minor league system isn’t loaded – ranked 26th by Baseball America in August.

Even if they creep above the .500 mark this season, the Phillies appear in spinning-the-wheels mode. Dombrowski, Girardi and Co. have work to do to get this club achieving, instead of underachieving, in the talented NL East.

 

Data modeling and analysis provided by Lucas Haupt.

Enjoy this? Subscribe to The Analyst to receive five stories each Friday from Stats Perform. It’s free.