The Philadelphia Phillies have high-profile players across their roster, but to stand a chance in the National League East they need their stars to play up to the esteem they’re held in.
New manager Joe Girardi has a compelling offense. With the likes of Harper, Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and Scott Kingery in place, this is a lineup that should be in the top third of Major League Baseball in all offensive categories.
On the contrary, they were muddled in mediocrity last season. Finishing 14th in MLB in runs (774), 18th in slugging (.427), 19th in BABIB (.293) and on-base percentage (.319), and 22nd in home runs (215), the Phillies offense didn’t live up to the hype.
Bryce Harper is one of the elite players in the sport. He has finished with 34-plus home runs, 100-plus RBIs, and an OPS above .880 in each of the last two seasons. Harper is also a steady force in right field, as he possesses a strong arm and has good fly-ball judgment.
There’s nothing wrong with Harper’s game. The problem is he gets paid to be more than he is.
Harper is entering the second year of a 13-year, $330 million deal ($25 million average annual salary). That contract includes a full no-trade clause and no opt outs. The commitment Philly brain trust has to Harper equates to a player posting an OPS in the .950-1.000 range, which the former number-one pick surpassed with the Washington Nationals in 2015 and 2017.
What’s the realistic room for improvement with the 2015 NL Most Valuable Player? The 2018-19 version of Bryce Harper is precisely what he is: a modern-day power hitter who’s a likely top-10 player.
Money makes Harper out to be Mike Trout, the only player who has posted an OPS above 1.000 in each of the last three seasons.
Rhys Hoskins has posted an OPS over .810 in each of the last two seasons and logged 63 home runs over that span. That’s superb from a slugging perspective. At the same time, it doesn’t take into account his struggles to get on base.
Hoskins hit .226 last season. He struck out 44 more times than he got on base by means of a base hit (173:129). The Phillies first baseman is the modern-day power hitter. He has a lot of pop in his bat, has answered the bell from a production standpoint, and holds his own at the corner infield position.
Hoskins epitomizes the Phillies’ offensive attack: talented, can burst out on any given night, but can be handled by strikeout pitching. Hoskins is portrayed as a franchise player in Philly. To this point, his play doesn’t warrant that label. If he works the count and gets on base at a higher rate? Different story.
At face value, the Phillies have a reliable starting rotation with upside. It’s contingent on what version of Aaron Nola they’re getting.
Last season was a puzzling run for Nola. He struggled to provide length and was hit hard early in the season. While he righted the ship a bit in the second half, Nola still finished with a 3.87 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and a 116 ERA+. To put those figures into perspective, the right-hander finished with a 2.37 ERA, an 0.98 WHIP, and a 173 ERA+ in 2018. Nola’s efforts led to him being a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award.
Nola throws an overpowering fastball and a cutthroat curveball. He commands those offerings well, has the makeup of an ace, and is one of the most talented pitchers in the sport. By Nola’s side is free agent signee Zack Wheeler, veteran Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez.
Wheeler has historically been a second-half pitcher; Arrieta is coming off an injured-riddled, shaky season; Eflin is a respectable middle-of-the-rotation starter; Pivetta and Velasquez are yet to turn a corner. If Nola is his 2018-self, it adds stability to an unknown rotation.
Last season the Phillies rotation was 24th in MLB in FIP (4.91). The year prior they were sixth in FIP (3.76).
Even if just one of Harper, Hoskins, and Nola is the same player they were in 2019, the Phillies have their hands full in the NL East.
The Nationals are the defending World Series champions. While they lost star third baseman Anthony Rendon to free agency, the Nationals did a savvy job remaking their infield, signing Starlin Castro and Eric Thames. They also added Will Harris and Ryne Harper while re-signing Daniel Hudson to beef up their bullpen. Those individuals will end games for a rotation headlined by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin.
The Atlanta Braves have won the NL East in each of the last two seasons and aren’t going anywhere. Their lineup is stockpiled with high-octane and proven hitters such as Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Nick Markakis, and Marcell Ozuna. On the hill, they have young forces such as Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, and Max Fried, who already make for a reliable rotation. The Braves added reliever Will Smith to fortify the backend of their pen.
The New York Mets have a vibrant offense spearheaded by Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil. The two infielders are surrounded by the likes of Michael Conforto, Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, and Amed Rosario. Even with Noah Syndergaard recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Mets have one of the better rotations in the sport with Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and Steven Matz present.
The Phillies need the best version of their stars. Otherwise, they’re in for another irritating, stagnated season.