Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Philadelphia Phillies 2020 Season Preview

From NBC Sports


       The Phillies made headlines in March of 2019 when they decided to go all-in, after signing former rival Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract. Former MVP Andrew McCutchen and JT Realmuto, arguably the best catcher in the game, both joined the squad, as well as infielder Jean Segura. But when the rotation became a one-man squad and the bullpen was very, very shallow after David Robertson had Tommy John surgery, the Phillies fell, dropping to an even 81-81 record, and 4th in the division. This past offseason, the Phillies tried to once again to go all-in on a former rival to improve the team.

       Offseason additions: RHP Zack Wheeler, SS Didi Gregorius, RHP Anthony Swarzak, IF Neil Walker, IF Josh Harrison, IF Logan Forsythe, OF Nick Martini, OF Mikie Mahtook, RHP Bud Norris, LHP Francisco Liriano.

       Offseason subtractions: IF Cesar Hernandez, OF Corey Dickerson, LHP Drew Smyly, LHP Jason Vargas, RHP Jerad Eickhoff, RHP Juan Nicasio, RHP Mike Morin, OF Odubel Herrera, RHP Jared Hughes, UT Sean Rodriguez, RHP Edubray Ramos, IF Brad Miller.

        Rotation
Aaron Nola cemented himself as the ace of the staff after finishing 3rd in NL Cy Young voting in 2018. Nola had a rough start to the 2019 season, with an ERA of 4.89 after 15 starts. A good July and a great August lowered that to 3.45, but Nola had two bad starts to close the season out. He finished with a 3.87 ERA in 34 starts, with 229 Ks in 202.1 innings. Still only 27 years old, Nola's average exit velocity rose by 2.6 mph compared to his 2018 final number. Former Met Zack Wheeler steps in, and he is another pitcher with a great 2018 (3.31 ERA) and regression in 2019. Wheeler had a 3.96 ERA with 195 strikeouts in 195.1 innings, plus a 1.259 WHIP. Wheeler's fastball averaged 96.8 miles per hour. Right before turning 30, it was a surprise to see Wheeler get a five year, $118 million deal, even if he was the third best starter on the open market. Zach Eflin, the return when the Phillies dealt former face-of-the-franchise Jimmy Rollins to Los Angeles, had a career best 4.13 ERA with 129 strikeouts in 163.1 innings. A struggle from late-June to July forced the Phillies to move Eflin to the bullpen for four outings. He had an average exit velocity of 86.7 mph. Veteran Jake Arrieta, the 2015 Cy Young winner, had a rough second season in Philadelphia, making only 24 starts. Arrieta had a 4.64 ERA, the worst of his career (minimum 100 innings) since before the Cubs acquired him in 2013. The batting average against Arrieta's sinker rose by 34 points from 2018. The final rotation spot will be an intense battle between Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta, while the loser moves on to the bullpen. Both pitchers came out of the bullpen at times in 2019, and Velasquez had some fun in the field as well. A 2nd rounder in 2010, Velasquez struck out 130 batters in 117.1 innings, with a 4.91 ERA. Pivetta had a 5.38 ERA, slightly above his career ERA of 5.34. He struck out 89 batters in 93.2 innings. Pivetta's curveball has a very good spin rate of 2861 rpm.

        Bullpen
The bullpen is just wild. Of the 11 projected spots, very few of them are guaranteed. Hector Neris, last year's closer, is a lock. Neris had a career high 28 saves last year, with a 2.93 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 67.2 innings, with a .199 xBA against. Seranthony Dominguez will miss the season with Tommy John surgery, whenever he gets it. That leaves a pair of lefties as Neris' main set-up men, as David Robertson, the first of many ex-Yankees on the roster, also recovers from Tommy John. Jose Alvarez is one of the two southpaws, acquired before 2019 from the Angels for Luis Garcia, a deal that looked good when it happened and got better when Alvarez posted a 3.36 ERA in 59 innings over 67 games. Alvarez has a career 8.0 K/9. Ranger Suarez, who also is in the running for the 5th starter job, had a 3.14 ERA over 48.2 innings. Suarez had an average exit velocity against of 86.3 mph. Tommy Hunter, still in quarantine, only played in five games last year. In his 70 games with the Phillies over the last two years, Hunter had a 3.50 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 69.1 innings. The 250 pound Hunter has a curveball that averaged 3000 rpm in his short stint last year, but was 2750 rpm in 2018. Non-roster invitee Anthony Swarzak is trying to make his ninth team. For Seattle and Atlanta last year, Swarzak had a 4.56 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 53.1 innings. Adam Morgan, the third lefty so far, has a curveball with a spin rate of 2994 rpm. It will be interesting to see how the three batter minimum rule affects Morgan, as he has appeared in 107 games over the last two seasons, but has pitched it just 79 innings. Last year, Morgan had a 3.94 ERA with 29 Ks in 29.2 innings. He had a 1.011 WHIP. Right-hander Victor Arano has a 2.65 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 74.2 innings in his three year career. While he only pitched in three games last year, Arano's slider had a 64% whiff rate. Robert Stock, owner of a fastball that averaged nearly 98 miles per hour, has 53 strikeouts in 50.1 career innings. He had a solid 2.50 ERA in 2018, but allowed 14 runs in 10.1 innings for San Diego last campaign. Former Angels closers Blake Parker and Bud Norris are in a battle for a spot. Parker has the advantage as Norris did not play in the majors in 2019. Parker had a 4.55 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 61.1 innings for the Twins and Phillies last year. Norris had a 3.59 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 57.2 innings for St. Louis in 2018. The final spot could be between veteran lefty Francisco Liriano and Cole Irvin. Liriano had a 3.47 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 70 innings. It was his return to Pittsburgh, the place where he was an ace. Irvin had 31 strikeouts in 41.2 innings last year for the Phillies. 2019 was Irvin's rookie season.

       Catchers
Top prospect Sixto Sanchez and young catcher Jorge Alfaro were sacrificed to Miami so the Phillies could acquire JT Realmuto. Realmuto became the league's best catcher in 2019, hitting 25 home runs with an .820 OPS. He won his second Silver Slugger and his first Gold Glove. Realmuto had a pop-time to second base of 1.88 seconds. His average exit velocity of 90.3 mph was a career best. Andrew Knapp is back for his 4th season as the back-up catcher for the Phillies. Knapp is an awful hitter, with a career OPS of .663, but he is an above average pitch framer.

       Infielders
Rhys Hoskins burst onto the scene in 2017, hitting 18 home runs in 50 games. He has regressed in each year since, in both average and OPS. Hoskins hit 29 home runs with a .226 average and an .819 OPS last year. He did walk more, with a league leading 116 BBs. Hoskins, who was awful in left field (-18 outs above average in 2018) was able to turn into a good defender at first base, with four OAA. Scott Kingery and Jean Segura will either play second or third base, and it looks more like Kingery will be at second. Playing mostly center field last year, Kingery hit 19 home runs with 15 stolen bases, a .258 average and an OPS of .788. Kingery had a sprint speed of 29.1 mph. Segura has been a middle infielder previously in his career, but will move to third. A two-time all-star, Segura hit 12 home runs with 10 stolen bases and a .280 batting average. While Segura had a low 4.9 BB%, his 11.8 K rate was in the top-five percent of the league. Didi Gregorius, a fan favorite in New York who played under new manager Joe Girardi, comes in on a one year, prove-it deal. Recovering from Tommy John surgery, Gregorius had his worst offensive season since 2015, hitting 16 home runs with a .718 OPS. His 27 home runs in 2018 is the most in a single season for a Yankees shortstop. Gregorius' defense regressed, with -13 outs above average in 2019. The back-up spots are a throw-up between non-roster invitees Neil Walker, Ronald Torreyes, Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison and Phil Gosselin, with the first two being former Yankees (although Walker never played under Girardi). A switch-hitter, Walker was primarily a second baseman before Milwaukee moved him to third and 2017 and the Yankees tried him out at first in 2018. Walker hit eight home runs with a .261 average for the Marlins last year. Walker hit .300 versus fastballs last year. Harrison and Forsythe are the main competitors for the final spot. Harrison is a two-time all-star, but had a .480 OPS for Detroit last year. Forsythe hit seven home runs with a .678 OPS for Texas last year. Harrison's all-star seasons were his only years with an OPS+ of over 100, while Forsythe has one more season with that qualification.

       Outfielders
Bryce Harper may not be a top-ten player in baseball, and he definitely is not worth $330 million, but he is definitely a good player. Harper hit 35 home runs with 15 stolen bases, 99 walks, and an .882 OPS last year. Harper's 91.3 mph average exit velocity was his best in a five year period. Andrew McCutchen has recovered from his torn ACL. Prior to the injury, McCutchen was a good lead-off hitter, with 10 home runs, a .378 OBP and an OPS of .834. It will be interesting to see if McCutchen can keep up his 28.8 ft/s sprint speed. Jay Bruce will be the DH, even after he had two outs above average in left last year. Bruce hit 26 home runs with a .784 OPS for the Mariners and Phillies last year. Bruce's stats were hurt by a low 5.7 BB%. That puts Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn in a battle for that spot. Haseley debuted in 2019, playing in 67 games. He hit five home runs with four stolen bases and a .266 batting average. Quinn has 23 stolen bases in 109 career games, but a .703 OPS. Quinn had a 30.1 ft/s sprint speed last year, which could mean that he is better suited as a pinch-runner. Nick Williams hit 29 home runs from 2017-18, but struggled when he was pushed out of the lineup, with a .151 average and a .442 OPS in 67 games. Williams' strikeout rate went up by nearly 14%.

        Projected Opening Day Lineup
CF Andrew McCutchen (R)
RF Bryce Harper (L)
1B Rhys Hoskins (R)
C JT Realmuto (R)
DH Jay Bruce (L)
3B Jean Segura (R)
SS Didi Gregorius (L)
2B Scott Kingery (R)
LF Adam Haseley (L)

       Projected Rotation
Aaron Nola (R)
Zack Wheeler (R)
Zach Eflin (R)
Jake Arrieta (R)
Vince Velasquez (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Hector Neris, closer (R)
Jose Alvarez (L)
Ranger Suarez (L)
Tommy Hunter (R)
Victor Arano (R)
Nick Pivetta (R)
Anthony Swarzak (R)
Adam Morgan (L)
Blake Parker (R)
Robert Stock (R)
Francisco Liriano (L)

       Projected Bench
C Andrew Knapp (S)
IF Neil Walker (S)
IF Logan Forsythe (R)
OF Roman Quinn (S)
OF Nick Williams (L)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats
50-46 record, 3rd in NL West
Most home runs: Rhys Hoskins (21)
Highest batting average: Didi Gregorius (.306)
Highest OPS: JT Realmuto (.889)
Best ERA, starters: Aaron Nola (3.62)
Best ERA, relievers: Victor Arano (2.32)
Most innings pitched: Aaron Nola (124.1)
Most strikeouts: Aaron Nola (136)
Best K/9: Hector Neris (13.6)

Record through 60 games, last five years
2019: 33-27
2018: 32-28
2017: 21-39
2016: 29-31
2015: 22-38

       Prediction
There is a lot of pressure on the Phillies to do well in 2020. GM Matt Klentak is on the hot seat, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars the past two offseasons. And still, the pitching staff is a wreck and the lineup is worse than the rivals Mets, Braves and Nationals. Now on manager three of his tenure, Klentak might be the only General Manager to get fired over a 60-game season. I predict that the Phillies will finish 4th in the NL East once again, missing the playoffs.

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