MLB Team Roundup: Philadelphia Phillies
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2022 Record: 87-75
Third place, NL East
Team ERA: 3.97 (18th in MLB)
Team OPS: .739 (8th in MLB)
What Went Right
Ending the longest playoff drought in the National League and an unexpected World Series appearance qualifies as a massive success, even if the Phillies came up short against the Astros. Rob Thomson led the club to a 65-46 record after Joe Girardi was fired in June, so while the Phillies did indeed grab the final Wild Card spot and wouldn’t have even been a playoff team under the old structure, they were a legitimately good team for the bulk of the season. The playoff run was a blast, as their high-end talent delivered at just the right time. It all started with a remarkable ninth-inning comeback against the Cardinals in the Wild Card Game. From there, they knocked out the first-place Braves in the NLDS before securing the National League pennant by defeating the Padres in the NLCS. Bryce Harper thrived with the postseason spotlight, hitting .349 with six homers, seven doubles, and 13 RBI across 17 games. During the regular season, J.T. Realmuto was the team’s most valuable player, slashing .276/.342/.478 with 21 homers and 22 steals while playing exceptionable defense behind the plate. Free agent addition Kyle Schwarber led the National League with 46 homers and Rhys Hoskins hit 30 homers for the first time since 2018. Alec Bohm‘s transformation was one of the bright spots for the season, as he appeared on the outs with the fans before turning things around both offensively and defensively. Aaron Nola played the role of staff workhorse, throwing 205 innings while posting a 3.25 ERA across 32 starts. Zack Wheeler was excellent when healthy and Ranger Suárez largely showed that his 2021 breakout was not a fluke. After years of disappointment in the bullpen, it actually became a strength down the stretch and into the postseason with Seranthony Domínguez, José Alvarado, and David Robertson leading the way. The Phillies’ defense was also improved over the course of the season, with Bryson Stott, Edmundo Sosa, and Brandon Marsh (acquired from the Angels at the deadline) all playing a part.
What Went Wrong
It’s really hard to be negative about how this season played out for the Phillies, as a trip to the World Series looked like a pipe dream in the early part of year. The club stumbled to a 22-29 start, leading to Joe Girardi being fired in June. The bullpen underperformed, the defense displayed poor “fundies,” and their high-priced offensive additions struggled out of the gate. It also didn’t help that Bryce Harper and Jean Segura were injured. Things obviously turned around with Thomson at the helm, but things didn’t click for Nick Castellanos in the first season of his five-year, $100 million contract, as he posted a career-low .694 OPS in 136 games. Corey Knebel was brought in to be the closer after a strong return with the Dodgers in 2021, but he pitched his way out of the closer role and was eventually diagnosed with a tear in his right shoulder capsule. Signed to a one-year, $6 million deal last offseason, Jeurys Familia was a disaster for the Phillies before being let go in early August. Kyle Gibson struggled during his first full season in Philly, posting a 5.50 ERA over 31 starts. He threw a grand total of 2 1/3 innings during the postseason.
**Thank goodness for the DH spot, as Bryce Harper might not have been able to play at all this season without it while dealing with his elbow and thumb issues. He made 90 starts as the designated hitter and appeared in just eight games in the outfield. As noted above, Harper was out of his mind during the Phillies’ World Series run, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the 2021 NL MVP during the regular season. The 30-year-old posted a rough .227/.325/.352 batting line over 35 games after returning from a fractured left thumb in late August. The bigger question moving forward is the status of his right elbow, as he’s dealing with a torn UCL. His ADP (average draft position) could shift dramatically depending on what doctors recommend. We should know more after he goes for surgery (unclear if it will be Tommy John surgery) next week, but Phillies president Dave Dombrowski said this week that the procedure is likely to “slow him down” for 2023.
**Zack Wheeler‘s 2022 campaign was also impacted by injury, as the Phillies’ ace dealt with right forearm tendinitis down the stretch. He ended up missing a month, but was excellent upon his return in September and he kept it going during the Phillies’ postseason run. Wheeler showed some signs of fatigue in his first World Series start, but he bounced back nicely in what ended up being the decisive game of the series. If healthy, Wheeler figures to be on the cusp of the Top-12 starters off the board in mixed leagues in 2023. After all, he showed very little in the way of drop-off from his monster 2021 season, posting a 2.82 ERA (3.10 xERA) and 163/34 K/BB ratio over 153 regular season innings. While his swinging strike rate was down slightly from 2021 (11.4 percent, down from 12.3 percent), his walk percentage mostly held steady and he continued to prove adept at inducing low exit velocities from hitters.
**While Aaron Nola didn’t finish strong in the postseason, he enjoyed an excellent bounceback showing during the regular season. He logged his most innings (205) since 2018 while posting 3.25 ERA and a career-low 0.96 WHIP across 32 starts. The ERA was a full run better than the 4.63 ERA he posted in 2021. Nola walked just 3.6 percent of the batters he faced, the best in the National League, and a number only topped by Corey Kluber (3 percent) among all qualified MLB starters. Only Dylan Cease, Shohei Ohtani, Justin Verlander, and Carlos Rodón outpaced his 2.74 xERA. It’s certainly fair to wonder if the large workload (Nola threw 25 2/3 innings during the postseason) simply caught up to him during the postseason. Like Wheeler, Nola is right in that top-12 range among starting pitchers going into drafts next year.
**Salvador Perez was the top fantasy catcher in drafts this spring after leading the AL with 48 homers and 121 RBI in 2021, but J.T. Realmuto has earned his place back atop the rankings. In addition to slashing .276/.342/.478 over 139 games this season, Realmuto slugged 22 home runs and scored 75 runs while establishing new career-highs with 21 steals and 84 RBI. Only four catchers hit more homers, only Will Smith drove in more runs, and only Daulton Varsho scored more runs. Aside from Realmuto and Varsho, no other catcher-eligible player stole more than six bags. Realmuto never stole more than 13 bases in a season before this season, so it’s hard to count on a repeat here, but he was only thrown out once this year and his sprint speed remains in lofty territory. He’s as safe as it gets. The question is what it always is, though: How early are you willing to go in fantasy leagues for a catcher?
**Sort of like the Phillies themselves, we saw two versions of Kyle Schwarber this year. There was the one who struggled through the end of May and the one who was one of the game’s top sluggers after the start of June. Serving as the Phillies’ leadoff man, Schwarber mashed 35 homers with 73 runs scored and an .873 OPS over his final 107 games. He also went 8-for-9 in stolen bases during that time, an unexpected bonus for fantasy managers. He had never stolen more than four bases in a season before. Schwarber struck out around 30 percent of the time this season, but he also hit the ball in the air more than ever before and ranked in the 99th percentile in average exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, and barrel percentage. Even if fantasy managers can’t count on batting average, his power and patience should continue to be there in 2023.
**What happened to Nick Castellanos? Expectations were big for him after he signed a five-year, $100 million deal with the Phillies last offseason, but he struggled to the tune of a .263/.305/.389 batting line. He hit just 13 homers in 558 plate appearances, his lowest total in a season since he hit 11 in 148 games during his rookie season in 2014. It was all a bit vexing, as Castellanos has generally hit the ball hard during his career. However, he ranked in the 22nd percentile in average exit velocity, the 23rd percentile in hard-hit percentage, and the 39th percentile in barrel percentage. He was also more aggressive than ever before, swinging the bat more often than any other qualified hitter and posting the second-highest chase rate of any hitter (only Javier Báez swung outside the zone more often.) Not great. Are these fixable things? Who knows. But it probably can’t get any worse. Given his track record, Castellanos would seem to be a natural rebound target in drafts next year.
**As noted above, Alec Bohm enjoyed quite the turnaround over the course of the season. The low point: A two-error game at Citizens Bank Park in April where he could be seen on camera saying, “I hate this blankin’ (the word wasn’t blankin’) place.” Bohm came clean and was quickly embraced by Phillies fans. The 26-year-old went into a bit of a funk at the plate in the early part of the summer, but he slashed .298/.330/.425 with nine homers over his final 95 games and actually played a respectable third base. Along with his contact-heavy approach, Bohm hits the ball hard, so his .290 xBA indicates that his success wasn’t a matter of good luck. The big question from a fantasy perspective, as it has been for quite some time, is if he can bring some more power to the table. Until that happens, he’s probably more of an option to fill a corner-infielder spot on a mixed league roster.
Team Needs: Shortstop stands out as an obvious place to make a potential upgrade, with the Phillies already being linked to prominent free agents in that area. The Phillies have some exciting starting pitching on the way in the minors, but odds are they’ll add at least another starter while also securing needed depth for their bullpen. This team is good, and could get even better next year.