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2019 Philadelphia Phillies Season Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies enter into the 2019 campaign with endless amounts of hope and a renewed positive attitude towards baseball that hasn’t been the case in South Philly since 2011. As the club was in 1st place in the NL East through August, the team proved worthy that they were ready to take the next step and exit the rebuilding phase. However, over the last 2 months of the season, nothing went right. All of the starters, Aaron Nola aside, could not locate pitches, being plagued by inconsistency (Scott Kingery and Odubel Herrera), and playing through bad injuries (Cesar Hernandez and Jake Arrieta). All of this culminated in missing the playoffs, a signal to the front office that the team needed massive improvements and a few smashed TVs due to “Fortnite” courtesy of an expensive, aging, non-fit Carlos Santana.

General Manager Matt Klentak did not have specific needs this off-season, rather he needed to improve every single aspect of the club. The 2018 version of the Phils had arguably the worst defense in history, a shaky bullpen, and a very shallow lineup that was also devoid of left handed hitters. With fan expectations sky high, especially after owner John Middleton’s “stupid money” comment, it was important that the organization pulled through in every phase. CHECKMATE. The last person to be so successful in acquiring so many powerful pieces in one short time was the mad titan Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail completed their infinity gauntlet with 6 major moves.

Here is an exact snapshot of an article I wrote on January 5th that became BEFORE the 3 biggest moves were made.

Klentak has eluded to his off-season checklist a few times and so far he has done a great job not overpaying and improving the roster to fit around a superstar (more to come).

  • 1. Sign a Superstar- Still in progress
  • 2. Upgrade the Defense- Yes (Segura and moving Hoskins back to first)
  • 3. Upgrade the Bullpen- Yes (Robertson, Nicasio, Pazos)
  • 4. Move Rhys Hoskins back to 1B- Yes
  • 5. Upgrade the Offense- Yes (Segura, Cutch, and hopefully Manny or Bryce)

Let’s recap one more time, as many Phillies fans, including myself, still can not believe the talent that will don red pinstripes this season and the many more in the future. It all started with the trade of misfit Carlos Santana and former top prospect who hasn’t lived up to expectations in JP Crawford, for the all-star SS Jean Segura. Segura is one of the best contact hitters in baseball and brings much-needed defense to a position that was the worst in baseball in 2018. This was only the start, as the team signed former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen for 3 years at $50 million dollars, to play everyday in LF, an open spot due to Rhys Hoskins moving back to 1B. A few weeks later Klentak and Middleton dipped back into free agency by acquiring David Robertson, the single most consistent relief pitcher over the past decade. D-Rob helped to stabilize a young and sometimes erratic bullpen who struggled with left-handed hitters. Quietly, Aaron Nola also committed his future in Philadelphia signing for 4 years and 45 million, with an $11 million club option. Nola, who is already one of the best pitchers in the game, is now a Phillie for his entire prime.

Fast forward until spring training started and fans became very anxious as they knew big names were still available through trade and free agency. All along in my articles and on my Twitter, I have maintained that for the Phils to consider themselves true championship contenders now and in the future, they would need to add 2 stars and another 2-3 everyday proven above average major league talent. Luckily the trade market was active with Paul Goldschmidt, Corey Kluber, Noah Syndergaard, and JT Realmuto all dangled around, and of course the two 26-year-old superstar free agents, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado. On February 7th, news broke that the Marlins had agreed to send the best Catcher in baseball, JT Realmuto, to the Phightin Phils in exchange for Jorge Alfaro, the #13 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez, and another minor league pitcher (Will Stewart). Already a star, with a 4.8 fWAR in 2018, the move to hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park from Marlins Park will improve his already stellar numbers even higher. Realmuto ranks 3rd in road wRC+ with 137 over the past 3 years, but most importantly he is a certain someone’s favorite baseball player. And his name is Bryyyccceeeee Harpppppeeeerrrrr. After a roller coaster negotiating process with agent Scott Boras, the Phillies signed their second former NL MVP in giving Bryce Harper 330 million dollars guaranteed over the next 13 years. The most marketable face in baseball has acclimated himself with Philly fans in the best possible way since his singing. After one Philadelphia legend departed in March, with QB Nick Foles signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars, there are shoes left to fill and he is the perfect option to fill them. With no opt-outs and a no-trade clause, Harper is a Phillie for life and once again the move to CBP is likely going to see his numbers rise, as 45 homers annually is not out of the question. In 2018 Harper had 34 HRs and a .393 OBP in a supposed very down year, and according to his fly ball numbers playing in CBP would have added an extra 7 HRs. Fourty-one home runs is something only a select handful of players in baseball history can even dream about, let alone in a down year.

Moving on, this new look roster now has a bonafide ace, a 2-5 that all are healthy and ready to break out, one of the ten best bullpens in the game, and arguably the deepest lineup 1-8 in all of baseball, a pure juggernaut. Just three years ago, Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, and Maikel Franco were the teams 1-3 hitters. Now, they bat 6-8 with all of the pressure off of them because the team’s success will not be based off of their hot streaks, rather that will just be an added compliment. Just look at Opening Day, Franco hit a 3 run moonshot. How many teams have an 8 hitter capable of 25 home runs and getting hot by hitting .330 in a month (July 2018) or a wRC+ of 110 in the second half. While the new additions bring joy and excitement, higher expectations also come to light, and I do wonder how they will handle pressure. The Philadelphia Phillies should strive to win the NL East and grab a wildcard spot at the worst. This organization’s championship window is finally opening and fans can not wait for another Red October down on Packer Ave.

Below are my predictions for the 2019 Phillies main contributors and some words regarding them.

R/HR/RBI/SB AVG/OBP/SLG/wRC+/WAR

1. Andrew McCutchen- LF 106/27/73/9 .260/.365/.465/130/2.8

Manager Gabe Kapler has entrusted veteran addition Andrew McCutchen to be the leadoff hitter due to his high OBP skills and his all around consistency. For example, Cutch has never hit below 20 HRs in his career and with the move to CBP I would expect that to continue. He may not be the MVP he once was but Cutch is one of the most reliable everyday players in baseball and still a well above average player.

2. Jean Segura- SS 101/16/58/18 .300/.340/.420/110/3.5

Segura improves a position group that was one of the worst in the MLB both offensively and defensively. Adhering to this off-season’s theme of reliability and consistency, Segura is another hitter who fans can expect to play 150+ games and be a table setter for the top of the lineup. Instead of Kapler tinkering with the lineup every singe day, the new veteran additions will be in the same roles almost every game.

3. BRYCE HARPER!!!- RF 97/40/115/6 .270/.400/.600/158/5.2

Bryce hit it out much like Nola smashed draft “expert’s” expectations

The most recognizable face in baseball is also the most polarizing figure. As a 22 year old, he hit .330/.460/.650 with 42 HRs and a stellar 197 wRC+. While it is unlikely he reaches some of those thresholds again, there is still a chance he does. Harper is one of the top 10 elite hitters and a mega-superstar, the kind of player who sells tickets (The Phillies have sold out each game of their opening series against the Braves). Some concerns have been raised by his defense, but over the course of his career he has been around league average, and I would expect him to continue to be near that mark. Last year was an anomaly because Harper was clearly dogging it in his contract year as to not get an injury diving to the ground. On the hitting side, Harper’s mechanics are back to looking like his historic MVP campaign as his stance and his load are keeping his hips straight up and instead of bent allowing for even more rotational power and a greater ability to adjust late to a pitch.

4. Rhys Hoskins- 1B 90/38/108/3 .250/.360/.515/134/3.9

After debuting in 2017 with 18 HRs in 34 games, Hoskins was immediately thrusted into the spotlight as the team’s best media presence. Hoskins was really the only consistent hitter last year in his first full year, but now with much-needed protection and less pressure by the media he can take another step further. Just look at opening day, the Braves intentionally walked Bryce Harper to fill the bases for Hoskins. Rhys responded with a towering grand slam and it really proved that opposing pitchers will have to pick their poison in this newly minted lineup. Defensively, Hoskins was one of the worst fielders in the majors in Left Field, but now he is back to his natural position of 1B, a position he has played his whole life and proved to be adequate in. In 328 innings at 1B in the majors, he has put up a 5.4 UZR/150 which would have ranked him as the 3rd best fielding 1st Baseman in the entire league, so I am not worried at all about his defensive value.

5. JT Realmuto- C 71/27/85/1 .280/.335/.490/127/4.4

Jacob Tyler Realmuto is different from mostly every other catcher in baseball. He is one of the best blockers and throwers, with his framing skills improving by the year. His sprint speed and agility resembles a middle infielder and his hitting numbers away from Marlins Park have been elite. As I aluded to earlier his road wRC+ is actually higher than Bryce Harper or Manny Machado and would equate him to Freddie Freeman’s 2018 season. With two elite hitters ahead of him, Realmuto will not get pitched around.

6. Odubel Herrera- CF 62/18/72/5 .275/.340/.430/107/2.9

Odubel Herrera has taken a step back from his all star worthy numbers a few years back, but with less pressure and more protection (sound familiar anyone?) he can focus on just baseball and getting back to his peak form. He has very odd hitting mechanics, and it doesn’t seem he will change, but he has still been an above average hitter throughout his career. He also has an infectious personality which makes him one of the most well liked players in both the clubhouse and with fans.

7. Cesar Hernandez- 2B 82/13/58/14 .270/.370/.380/108/3.1

Cesar has been a mainstay at the top of the lineup with good contact skills and a high OBP. Prior to last year he made some changes with his swing to hit the ball in the air more. As a result he hit a career high 15 home runs. Even though his other numbers took a significant hit last year, he sustained a broken foot that he played through which really hurt him. Pre injury, in 2018, he hit .270/.378/.382 with the added power and I expect him to fully recover in 2019. Both Cesar and Odubel have each put up multiple 3.5+ fWAR seasons and if they can come close to reaching their previous heights and potential the Phils will have the best 6-7 hitting combo in baseball.

8. Maikel Franco- 3B 51/23/66/1 .265/.310/.455/101/1.4

The Ryan Tannehill of baseball, Franco has been a breakout pick every year since his debut as a top 15 prospect, but never actually lives up to expectations. He has always been a streaky player who one month can lead your lineup and be a force, but go colder than the ice age next month. Through the first two games of 2019, Franco already has 2 big HRs which does nothing to silence the breakout picks. When hitting in the eighth spot in his career, he has hit over .350. Franco is an average defender who doesn’t strike out much and doesn’t have great plate discipline. With absurd raw power, Franco once again has the tools to take the next step, but he hits the ball on the ground way too much.

INF. Scott Kingery 52/7/31/13 .245/.295/.365/80/0.8

Kingery looked overmatched by major league pitching in his rookie campaign while playing SS, a position he wasn’t very comfortable in. Luckily for himself and the Phils, who signed him to a six year contract prior to 2018, they have plenty of time to figure it out. He may not be a key piece for 2019, but the team still views him as a franchise cornerstone in the future in a mold of a Dustin Pedroia. Kingery, much like Franco and Herrera, has all the tools and intangibles to become a star, he just may not put it all together this year.

OF. Nick Williams 22/13/34/1 .255/.320/.440/106/0.4

A key piece in the Cole Hamels trade, Williams has struggled adjusting to major league baseball. He still has potential to be an impact bat in the starting lineup, but there isn’t a path to regular playing time for the 25 year old. As a rookie he had a .375 BABIP which regressed to the mean in 2018 which meant his numbers took a slight step back, but with new hitting instructor Jason Orchard, Williams could take a big step forward if he changes his approach to hit more fly balls instead of grounders. In an alternate version of Groundhog Day, Williams, Herrera, and Franco are all in similar boats, and the organization has provided resources to help them improve, but it is up to each player to use them and become better baseball players.

The Pitching Staff:

It all starts with the ace from Louisiana, Aaron Nola. Coming out of college, Nola, the 7th overall pick, was viewed as a safe arm who would probably be a number 3 pitcher, but nothing more. Nola has hit those expectations out of the park much like Bryce Harper did in his second game donning Phillies Red. Nola has always been a great ground ball pitcher, but what has taken him to the next level is his ability to get strikeouts and limit walks. This is the main reason he works so well in the hitter friendly Philadelphia; he keeps the ball out of the air and he keeps hitters off the bases. My favorite Nola moment, and the time he cemented himself as a top 10 pitcher was August 23, 2018. ON the road in Washington D.C. he was facing off against Max Scherzer and Nola promptly out-dueled him with the culmination of his outing being a strikeout of future teammate Bryce Harper with 2 men on and holding a 2 run lead. Nola is so dominant, that on Opening Day 2019, he did not nearly have his best stuff, as he gave up 5 walks, but he still limited the potent Braves lineup to 2 runs.

Nola becoming a true Ace

Moving on, number two pitcher Nick Pivetta is almost everyone’s sleeper pick, including my own, due to his great underlying numbers. Pivetta had a 10.32 K/9 in 2018 and between him and Nola, they may have the best curveball by a pitching duo. He was extremely unlucky in 2018 with a .326 BABIP and pitching in front of the worst defense in league history. If Pivetta can reduce his fly ball rate in CBP and limit hard contact, even regression to the mean will show massive improvement in his standard numbers. This next graphic courtesy of Mike Petriello (MLB.com) shows that it was Pivetta who was hurt the most by the awful defense.

Expected average vs. actual average, balls in play, Phillies SP, 2018
+.037 // .199 expected, .236 actual // Pivetta
+.019 // .219 expected, .238 actual // Eflin
+.016 // .213 expected, .229 actual // Velasquez

-.006 // .239 expected, .233 actual // Arrieta
-.012 // .192 expected, .180 actual // Nola

Pivetta had one of the biggest differences in FIP (3.79) and ERA (4.80). While this number may be inflated due to the amount of hard contact he gives up, it shows that Nick Pivetta was very good at controlling the things only he can control. If he can keep his his curveball down in the zone, he will find even more sucess. Look at the line drives produced when he left it up in the zone.

Pivetta found some success with his Curve by missing bats, but can this pitch help him get even better?

Pivetta’s fastball which ranges up to 98 MPH and his curve which lies around 2840 RPM give him the stuff, he just needs some fine tuning around the edges.Bottom line is that the 26 year old, acquired by the Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon, with a career 5.37 ERA has all the potential to become a bonafide number 2 pitcher.

Jake Arrieta, the former ace, has seen declined velocity and numbers over the past few years, but he dealt with a knee injury in 2018 and played through it. This spring he looks fully healthy and primed for a bounce back year to stabilize the rotation after Nola. As a notorious advocate against the shift, Arrieta likes to claim that the shift depresses pitchers when they see grounders trickle through. The best part about this, was that Arrieta was actually helped by the Phils defense in 2018 like the graphic showed above.

“-.006 // .239 expected, .233 actual // Arrieta”

Moving on, Arrieta faced some other problems last year with his arm spot as the injury caused his exit point to be closer to side arm than ever before. Thanks to Megan Montemurro of The Athletic, who reported that under player information coordinator Sam Fuld, this problem has been solved. If Arrieta can miss more bats in 2019 and keep the ball out of the outfield he will outperform expectations.

Arrieta’s spray chart of hits. Notice his curveball was not too effective in 2018.

A likely path success in 2019 Jake Arrieta is to rely on his fading curveball less, whose effectiveness was likely hampered by the lower arm slot, and rely more on his power slider. So far his upgraded slider has been thrown harder than ever and with more break than ever. Check out this clip from @PitchingNinja on Twitter.

Arrieta can ride this pitch to 2019 success

Moving on, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez have won rotations jobs over Jerad Eickhoff, who was injured for the entire 2018 campaign. Eflin (June 2018) and Velasquez (his 16 strikeout performance in his first Phillies start). Eickhoff was the Phillies best starter in 2016, but as I said previously, he has caught the injury bug and needs to stay healthy if he wants to be part of the Phillies future. Velasquez is on one of his last straws as a starting pitcher, as his durability raises concerns, even with a step forward in 2018. Even if he doesn’t work out as a starter past this year, he has elite stuff and would easily transition into a key bullpen piece in the mold of other converted starters Wade Davis, Josh Hader, and Seranthony Dominguez. Eflin in his first full year in the majors posted a 3.80 FIP and showed promise to hold a rotation spot for years to come.

The bullpen has been through many ups and downs during the rebuilding era, but overall it had been one of the Phillies’ main strengths. Former Phillies, Juan Nicasio and Pat Neshek are back to give veteran stability in the middle innings with the potential for more as both have posted elite seasons in the past 3 years. Tommy Hunter was dissapointing in 2018 after singing a big contract posting a 3.80 ERA, but he is good at inducing soft contact and his numbers could improve slightly due to the upgraded infield. It was a tail of two halves for former closer Hector Neris. Neris had a 6.90 ERA with a 12.39 K/9 and a 3.73 K/BB in the first half, but a demotion to AAA to help him find his groove worked and it resulted in a 2.04 ERA, 17.83 K/9, and a 7.00 K/BB. While his numbers in 2019 won’t reflect his second half numbers, he should be more consistent and return to being a very good reliever who can get you saves. Jose Alvarez and Adam Morgan are the only lefties in the pen, but both don’t project to be anything special. This is where key new signing David Robertson comes in; his numbers against lefties have been even better than his numbers vs righties. Robertson will be one of the two main bullpen fire arms. The very analytically inclined organizations does not like to have a set closer, rather pitching their best relievers in all situations depending on the game situation. Seranthony Dominguez was in High Single A at this time last year, but since his call up in May, he was one of the best in the game. The former starter struggles mightily when working multiple days in a row, so it is up to Gabe Kapler to figure out when to unleash Seranthony’s 102 MPH fastball and 92 MPH slider. All in all, the bullpen should be top 10 in the majors with the addition of D-Rob and putting Neris, Neshek, and Dominguez in the best situations possible for them.

Team Awards Predictions:

MVP: JT Realmuto

Runners Up: Aaron Nola, Bryce Harper

Dark Horse: Nick Pivetta

Cy Young: Aaron Nola

Runner Up: Nick Pivetta

Dark Horse: Seranthony Dominguez

Breakout: Cesar Hernandez

Runner Up: Scott Kingery

Dark Horse: Vince Velasquez

Most Impactful New Addition: Bryce Harper

Runner Up: JT Realmuto

Dark Horse: Hitting Instructor Jason Orchard

Best Minor League Player: Spencer Howard

Runner Up: Adam Haseley

Dark Horses: Matt Vierling, Mickey Moniak

Looking Ahead/Expectations:

2019 Outlook: This team at minimum should contend for a playoff spot and if the holdovers from 2018 and before can take the needed steps that they have the ability too, a championship is very much within the possibility of this team.

Future Outlook: The Phillies championship window has now officially opened and much like the 2019 outlook, the sucess of the farm system and young player will ultimately determine how far they go. With Harper having only a 25.3 AAV, the team still has tons of payroll flexibility to lock up JT Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins long term, with Realmuto, who is under team control for two years less, have more importance in the near future. With Mike Trout and other star free agents like Nolan Arenado and Chris Sale not entering free agency, the outlook is bleaker than it was a few months ago, but the Phillies and John Middleton still have more than enough money to pursue players like Gerrit Cole or Francisco Lindor in a few years.

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