Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at the NL East, diagnosing team offseason moves, and predicting how the team will perform in the division. I’ll be starting at the bottom of the division last season and work up from there, so we start today with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies past few offseasons had been fairly quiet, which was not an auspicious look for the ever-aging team. There was a lot of house-cleaning during the 2015 season, however, trading away many staple Phillies like Chase Utley to the Dodgers, Ben Revere to the Blue Jays, and Cole Hamels to the Rangers. These transactions have brought much-needed new blood to the team, and the 99 loss season did secure them the #1 pick in the 2016 Draft, so the future is looking brighter a few years down the road in Philly.
This season, though, will be another lame duck year for the Phillies, with a lot of offensive players only a few years into their pro careers. One player worth keeping tabs on this season is left fielder Odubel Herrera, who led the team in his rookie season with a .297 batting average and .344 on-base percentage.
What the team is missing right now is a young guy who offers some power at the plate. Ryan Howard definitely provides the veteran presence needed to help out a young and developing team, but he struggled immensely at the plate last year, posting just a .229 average and 23 home runs (the 23 HRs still led the team, which shows how little power the Phillies had at the plate last season).
The top of the Phillies batting order shows some promise with the likes of Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis showing marked improvement in their BAs and OBPs from the 2014 to 2015 season. If they can continue their improvement, Herrera may be able to find more RBIs in the 3-hole this season. If the team can find some power in the lineup, or Ryan Howard can return to his monstrous mid-2000s season numbers, the Phillies could be set up with a solid lineup down the road.
The Phillies unfortunately do not have a much better story on the mound, with no clear ace in the rotation. Currently, second year pitcher Aaron Nola is slated in the #1 hole of the rotation this year. Nola posted a respectable 3.59 ERA through 13 starts and 77.2 IP. Being in the 1-slot means you will have to face the opponent’s ace pitcher frequently, though, and in a division sporting the likes of Jacob DeGrom and Max Scherzer, Nola may find himself outclassed on the mound.
A couple of other notables on the Phillies’ roster include Jeremy Hellickson and long-time Pirate Charlie Morton.
Hellickson generated a lot of buzz upon his arrival into the League back in 2010, and posted an impressive 2.95 ERA in his first full season with the Rays on his way to a Rookie of the Year season.
The past three seasons, two with the Rays and last with the Diamondbacks have all seen ERAs of 4.5 or higher. Hellickson provides some veteran experience and I still believe he still has the chance to return to form.
Morton may not have the most glamorous career numbers, but he is a consistent arm to have in the middle of the rotation, which is never a bad thing to have for a team in rebuilding.
The Phillies aren’t slated to be making any miracle runs into the postseason. They are in the midst of the rebuilding process and they and their fans should realize this when coming into the season. This season they should look for continued improvement in several young players and maybe hope for Ryan Howard and Jeremy Hellickson to return to past forms.
Realistically, I think ending the season under 90 wins would be a solid finish for the team. While it may not be the most glamorous of seasons, when you have a team that is in the midst of rebuilding with players only a few years into the scene, the goal is to get those players more comfortable in their roles, or potentially increase their trade stock in hopes of getting more established players.
It will also be interesting to see what Philadelphia does with their draft pick. While they have declared interest in a pitching prospect, most likely AJ Puk or Alec Hansen, I think if they were able to find a big bat, they definitely shouldn’t overlook it.