AnalysisNL East

Philadelphia Phillies 2020 Season Preview

Offseason recap:

Out go controversial manager Gabe Kapler and first-time pitching coach Chris Young. In come former Yankees manager and MLB Network analyst Joe Girardi, along with pitching coach and former Reds manager Bryan Price. Girardi brings a lot more respectability back to a directionless franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011, while Price can do no worse than Young in terms of maximizing the arms available to him.

Didi Gregorius is in Philadelphia on a one-year deal, replacing Maikel Franco, who signed with the Royals. Zack Wheeler has also moved from New York to Packer Ave. on a five-year deal worth over $120 million.  His presence alone immediately doubles the number of games in which the Phillies will have a starter that can give them a good chance to win.

The lineup should be one of the best in baseball, with a mix of healthy veterans looking to rebound, star players in the prime of their careers, and young players with something to prove. Once top prospect Alec Bohm is called up to the big leagues after service time manipulation, the Phillies can confidently give regular rest to veterans in the 60-game sprint without sacrificing quality. Assuming health, the lineup has no holes and realistically has at least eight hitters who should expect to be league average (100 wRC+) or better. 

The question marks with this team start and end with pitching. The rotation needs another two reliable starters after Aaron Nola and Wheeler, who will be expected to leave the club for a week or two for the birth of his child. Maybe Vince Velasquez’s new repertoire can push him to greater heights? Zach Eflin looked good for stretches last season, but is dealing with injuries and still hasn’t proven himself for a full season. Rookie Spencer Howard, who has never pitched an inning above AA, will have to deal with unrealistic expectations in the midst of a postseason race. Nick Pivetta and Jake Arrieta have been nothing but inconsistent.

The bullpen, just like the rotation, has just two pieces that can be relied upon in Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez. Despite having one of the best lineups in baseball, a bona fide ace, and two other starters making more than $20 million per year (non-pro-rated), the Phillies seem to have too many maybes and question marks, compared to other contending teams.

The front office has likely been given an extra lifeline due to the COVID-19 pandemic as it will be easy to blame statistical variance if things go awry in the shortened season. JT Realmuto’s upcoming free agency looms large after the front office and ownership refused to consider a contract extension any sooner. The front office proved in 2019 that it wasn’t willing to give the team needed reinforcements at the trade deadline and with no minor league baseball and the world still in a pandemic, it is unrealistic to expect any significant addition to the roster mid-season.

Projected Lineup:

  1. LF Andrew McCutchen– One of the Phillies’ most important players with a 120 wRC+ and .380 OBP in 2019 at the leadoff spot. The team’s 2019 season derailed once he got injured, pushing everyone up in the lineup.
  2. RF Bryce Harper– Reunited with former Nationals assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon who was behind his second-half surge in 2018.
  3. C JT Realmuto- Should be a Phillie for life, but seems like ownership will penny-pinch and wait till he hits the open market before contract talks.
  4. SS Didi Gregorius- Was a near 5 win player in 2018 with NYY before injuries hit in 2019. Can he get back to his best on a one year prove it deal?
  5. 1B Rhys Hoskins– Tale of two halves in 2019. Posted all-star level numbers in the first half and was one of baseball’s worst hitters in the second.
  6. DH Jay Bruce– Stands to benefit the most from the league-wide DH getting regular at-bats instead of being the first hitter off the bench.
  7. 3B Jean Segura– Was batting over .300 in the two-spot setting the table for Harper and Hoskins until the McCutchen injury. Blamed himself for not running out the infield fly on the play McCutchen tore his ACL, but has lost twenty pounds and now has less pressure on him batting lower in the lineup.
  8. 2B Scott Kingery– Remains a breakout candidate in 2020 after a promising 2019. Pairs elite defensive potential who is finally settled into one position in the majors. Had a 127 wRC+ in the first half of 2019 before regressing to 80 wRC+ in the second half moving throughout the lineup due to McCutchen’s injury.
  9. CF Adam Haseley– Looked promising in his debut season. If the bat stays close to league average he will be a regular in the lineup for years to come.
First look: Phillies 2020 promotional schedule – Phillies Nation
How will the Bryce Harper led Phillies lineup adjust to no fans in the stands at CBP?

Other Hitters who will Contribute:

  • OF Roman Quinn– will platoon with Haseley in CF, starting vs LHP. Will also serve as the team’s designated pinch-runner in extra innings.
  • 3B/1B/DH Alec Bohm- Team’s top prospect should be a lineup regular serving as the primary replacement in the lineup for Bruce/Hoskins/McCutchen/Segura/Gregorius.
  • UTIL Neil Walker
  • UTIL Phil Gosselin
  • OFNick Williams / Kyle Garlick– There isn’t space for both to make the team, especially once Bohm is called up. Each will serve as a pinch hitter (Williams vs RHP, Garlick vs LHP).
  • C Andrew Knapp

Projected Rotation:

  1. Aaron Nola- Reliable bonafide ace who gives the team a chance to win every five days.
  2. Zack Wheeler- Big new free agent addition coming over from the rival Mets. At his career norms, he is a solid 3-4 win pitcher but has the stuff to become an ace in a similar vein to Gerrit Cole after he moved to Houston.
  3. Vince Velasquez- Will open the season in the rotation after looking good in summer camp. Has added a cutter and worked on the change-up, but the Phillies seem to go through this every year before he disappoints when the games actually count.
  4. Jake Arrieta- Makes more money than Bryce Harper. Stats and peripherals have declined for five straight years. The Phillies will take anything productive they can get from him at this point.
  5. Zach Eflin- Take away an awful 62 inning stretch from May 16 to July 27 in 2019 and his ERA was 2.80 over 123 innings. Has dealt with slight injury problems in summer camp so hopefully will be ready for his first start through the rotation.

Projected Bullpen and Arms who will Contribute:

Long Relievers/Potential Starters

  • Spencer Howard- The Phillies best pitching prospect since Nola and Cole Hamels before him. Will be pitching for the big league club by the second week of the season after service time manipulation.
  • Nick Pivetta- Popular 2019 breakout candidate who disappointed. Still has intriguing raw stuff, but can never put it together for a long stretch. Might be best suited as a fire-man reliever.
  • Cole Irvin– Threw between 87-89 mph as a starter and 92-93 as a reliever. Will need to keep velocity consistently in the 90s to be an effective major league pitcher.
  • Ranger Suarez– Still has not reported to summer camp after being placed on the COVID-19 IL.

Bullpen Arms- After spending big money on veteran free agent relievers who have not panned out each of the past few years (Robertson, Neshek, Hunter etc) the Phillies are banking on a few of these arms to be remotely average.

Late inning guys- If either of these guys goes down with an injury, the already thin bullpen could turn into the worst in baseball, which is problematic for a team with postseason aspirations.

  • Hector Neris
  • Jose Alvarez
Can new manager Joe Girardi get the most out of his pitching staff?

Impact of a 60 game season:

In theory, the lay-off should help the Phillies more than hurt. Andrew McCutchen will now be ready for opening day. The implementation of the DH in the national league means regular at bats for Jay Bruce and Alec Bohm once called up. Joe Girardi now can deploy Spencer Howard in the middle of a pennant race without inning limit restrictions. However, the biggest advantage with a shorter season is the increased likelihood of variance for a team that is on the outside looking into the playoffs. This lineup is capable of going on a single hot streak that could be enough to vault them into October baseball.

Key Questions:

  • Will someone step up as a reliable 3rd starter behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler?
  • Does the bullpen have anything besides workhorse Hector Neris and lefty Jose Alvarez?
  • Does Joe Girardi’s impact in the clubhouse and experience mean anything compared to former manager Gabe Kapler?
  • Can lineup veterans such as Jean Segura, Didi Gregorious, Rhys Hoskins, and Andrew McCutchen revert back to early season 2019 form (or in Didi’s case 2018)?
  • Which version of Bryce Harper will we see? The slumping hitter who can’t get around on fastballs and is pressing at the plate in a short season? Or the MVP candidate?

Overall Outlook:

The Phillies are under a long playoff drought. They play in the league’s toughest division and have one of baseball’s hardest schedules. They face many questions marks at the back end of the rotation and the bullpen has two reliable arms. The offense is relying on veterans on the wrong side of 30 to bounce back and stabilize the lineup. The team’s best player will face constant media pressure over contract uncertainty as he sets to reach free agency in four short months. For the Phillies to have success in 2020, almost nothing can go wrong. Many individual players and the team as a collective whole must reach their 75th percentile outcome or greater. One injury to Nola, Wheeler, or Neris and the season is all but over.

Even so, it is extremely hard not to be positive about the upcoming season. Maybe it is just the aurora that there will be live baseball on television after five months off. Maybe not; the Phillies have one of the faces of baseball and a legitimate MVP candidate in the shortened season. They have the best catcher in baseball. The lineup is one of the deepest in the sport, has no holes, and will run 11 deep once Bohm is called up. The 1-2 combination of Nola and Wheeler is already double the number of good starters the team has since 2012. After the first week, they will call up two consensus top 50 prospects. They have a good mix of experienced veterans, the core of the team in their primes, and young players on both sides of the diamond who they hope will take the next step. Meanwhile, the Nationals lost their best hitter. The Braves face pitching problems as well and Freddie Freeman may not be ready for opening day. The Mets already lost Noah Syndergaard to go with Wheeler and Pete Alonso may be due for a sophomore regression.

In a 60 game season, anything can happen. The Phillies can go on a hot streak and win the National League East for the first time in nearly a decade. They could also bottom out and finish in fourth place for the third straight year. What will happen is probably something in the middle. The team will be competitive throughout, in contention for the playoffs facing an extremely tough schedule, and its reliance on young pitching will prove the deciding factor. If one or two more arms from the quintet of Arrieta, Velasquez, Pivetta, Eflin, and Howard can step up, the lineup is deep enough to carry them into October baseball.

Team Superlatives:

MVP: JT Realmuto

Cy Young: Aaron Nola

Rookie of the Year: Spencer Howard

Biggest Disappointment: Rhys Hoskins

Biggest Surprise: Adam Haseley

Best New Addition: Andrew McCutchen returning from injury

My Prediction: 32-28, 2nd WC, Lose in NLDS vs Dodgers

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