Alex Kielar | November 8th, 2019
Bryce Harper entered, for a massive 13-year, $330 million contract, and expectations for the 2019 Phillies skyrocketed. A lot of people picked the Phillies to win the NL East after the signing, but instead, they literally had an average season, finishing at .500 (81-81) and fourth in the division. Not only that but to add salt to the $330 million wound, the Phillies and Harper had to watch the Harper-less Nationals take a crazy route on the way to winning their first World Series in team history. More on the Nationals Cinderella-type season in their recap coming soon.
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Harper actually had a pretty solid season (.260/.372/.510, 35 HR, 114 RBI, 13 OF assists), but I am not so sure those numbers fully live up to the monstrous contract he received. That contract may have blinded everyone when grading Harper’s first season in Philly, and the fact the Nationals won without him started the whole “Harper effect/curse” craze. Harper was definitely not the reason the Phillies severely underperformed, the rest of the team just couldn’t live up to expectations. Rhys Hoskins, Maikel Franco, and every starting pitcher besides Zach Eflin and Aaron Nola had very mediocre seasons. Now let’s delve more into the Phillies 2019 season and look forward to the 2020 season with Joe Girardi as their new manager.
What Went Right
As a said earlier, the Phillies only had two pitchers who had good seasons in Eflin and Nola. Nola did regress from his third-place Cy Young finish in 2018, but still put up pretty solid numbers. He went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA and 1.265 WHIP and his 10.19 K/9 was 13th in the NL among pitchers appearing in at least 100 innings. Eflin was not great with a 4.13 ERA, 4.76 xFIP, and 1.36 WHIP, but did have a fairly solid 73.9 LOB%. He had a very up-and-down season like the team did, and was even banished to the bullpen in the summer.
There wasn’t much else that went right for the Phillies in the 2019 season. JT Realmuto was easily their best player and is arguably the best catcher in the league. His 5.7 WAR (based on FanGraphs) was the best for the Phillies and seventh-best overall for the NL, as he slashed .275/.328/.476 and threw out an MLB-best 46.7% of attempted base-stealers. The second best threw out 16 fewer runners. Other than Realmuto and Harper, Cesar Hernandez, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, and Adam Haseley had productive, full seasons for the lineup.
Hernandez bounced back after playing through a broken bone in his foot during part of 2018 to slash .279/.333/.408 with his .279 average being two points ahead of his career average. Segura slashed .280/.323/.420 and was a pretty solid defender but his UZR was a dismal -1.3 which showed he didn’t have much range. The second-year Kingery slashed .258/.315/.474 and was a solid fielder at any of the positions he was asked to play. Haseley was jettisoned into the role of everyday center fielder after the regular center fielder Odubel Herrera was suspended for the majority of the season because of domestic violence. Haseley had fairly solid numbers with a slash line of .266/.324/.396 and his OPS (.720) was actually 91 points higher than Herrera’s in 103 more PAs. He also played solid defense in center field with a 4.6 UZR and 13 DRS.
There were a few bright spots in the bullpen as well with Ranger Suarez (3.14 ERA, 3.64 xFIP, 1.32 WHIP, 83% LOB%, 7.77 K/9), Jose Alvarez (3.47 ERA, 4.03 xFIP, 1.42 WHIP, 80.5% LOB%, 8.05 K/9) and closer Hector Neris (2.93 ERA, 3.53 xFIP, 1.02 WHIP, 83.6% LOB%, 11.84 K/9, 28/34 saves). The bullpen did have a solid 23.1% K%.
What Went Wrong
Where do I even start with what went wrong with the Phillies? It’s not good when the list of what went wrong is much longer than what went right. The pitching was abysmal, with the hitting not much better, and the injuries and suspension certainly didn’t help the cause.
The Phillies had the fifth-worst ERA (4.53) and xFIP (4.88) and gave up the second-most homers per nine innings in the NL (1.60). Jake Arrieta is supposed to be one of their best pitchers and he pitched to a 4.64 ERA, 4.46 xFIP, and 1.52 WHIP while giving up a .278 BAA. Nick Pivetta couldn’t locate pitches to save his life even with his 98 mph fastball and had an awful 5.74 ERA and 4.75 xFIP, and a .280 BAA as a starter and reliever. The bullpen wasn’t helped by the injury to David Robertson, and six blown saves for Neris isn’t ideal even while his underlying numbers were good. The bullpen as a whole had a 4.39 ERA and blew 19 saves, which is not great, to say the least.
The Phillies had the ninth-worst BA (.246), 12th worst OBP (.319), 13th worst wOBA (.314), tenth worst wRC+ (91) and 15th highest K% (23.2%) in all of the major leagues. The lineup saw a major blow when former MVP Andrew McCutchen went down for the season with a torn ACL, as he had hit 10 homers and drove in 29 runs in 59 games before going down. Hoskins was regarded as one of the Phillies best hitters, but fell off this year, only hitting for a .226 average and striking out 24.6% of the time. Franco was once considered as a key piece to the Phillies core, but his offensive numbers fell off a cliff as he slashed .234/.297/.409 with a 70 wRC+.
Impending Free Agents
The Phillies’ biggest free agent is outfielder Corey Dickerson who hit .304 with a .906 OPS as McCutchen’s replacement. With McCutchen returning for the 2020 season, Dickerson will probably be let go. There’s a chance that Hernandez gets tendered and traded this offseason to shift Kingery into a full-time spot a second base. Franco is arbitration-eligible but after his poor season, won’t get much. After Hoskins’ subpar season, the Phillies may look to move him for pitching.
As far as targeting free agents goes, the Phillies are in desperate need of starting pitching. Like any other team in need of pitching, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg will be the big names, but there isn’t much of a chance either one end up in Philadelphia, as they will both demand big-time money. That means the Phillies will have to target second-tier pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, Michael Pineda and even a possible return to Philly for Cole Hamels. They could also target a third baseman or another bat, and Anthony Rendon is the big name there. Don’t expect him to sign there, of course, though. Didi Gregorius could be an option as well after the Yankees didn’t give him a qualifying offer.
2020 Players to Watch
Obviously, Harper will be the biggest player to watch in the 2020 season based on his contract alone, and if he can build off his fairly solid first season. Kingery should see more strides and become an even bigger player for the Phillies, especially if he fills a permanent position. McCutchen will be a player to watch as he hopes to bounce back well from his injury. Realmuto should continue to be one of the best players on both sides of the ball and he will hope to see better production from the rotation he catches. Nola will look to return to having a solid season and return to a Cy Young contender.
After well-underperforming in 2019, what the Phillies may have needed is a change in management. The front office took that in mind when they made their decision to fire Gabe Kapler and bring in former Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who has seen his fair share of success. He should be a welcomed change as he is knowledgeable and can bring the team in the right direction. The starting pitching is the biggest need and concern, so if they can acquire the right starters to help shore up the rotation, they should vastly improve next season. After watching the Nats celebrate a World Series championship, they definitely will have a sour taste in their mouths and want to do whatever it takes to jump the team from DC in the division.
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