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MLB Team Roundup: Philadelphia Phillies

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies

2020 Record: 28-32
Third place, NL East
Team ERA: 5.14 (27th in MLB)
Team OPS: .781 (7th in MLB)

What Went Right

The Phillies’ big offseason additions worked out for the most part. Zack Wheeler was as advertised and Didi Gregorius bounced back nicely (10 homers, 40 RBI, .827 OPS in 60 games) after a mediocre first season back from Tommy John surgery. Rhys Hoskins made some encouraging strides at the plate before injuring the ulnar collateral ligament in his left (non-throwing) elbow. Aaron Nola showed improvement from 2019, again cementing his place as one of the National League’s best pitchers. Bryce Harper had some ups and downs, but he still finished with a strong .268/.420/.542 batting line with 13 homers and more walks (48) than strikeouts (43) over 58 games. Zach Eflin had his most impressive season to date, posting a 3.97 ERA and 70/15 K/BB ratio in 59 innings. Top prospect Alec Bohm thrived after his call-up and looks like a keeper in the Phillies’ lineup moving forward. Andrew Knapp enjoyed a terrific year as J.T. Realmuto’s backup.[[ad:athena]]

What Went Wrong

The Phillies entered 2020 with high hopes after replacing Gabe Kapler with new manager Joe Girardi, especially paired with major additions like Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius. As noted above, those signings worked out, but the team still managed to miss the playoffs even though eight teams from the National League qualified this year. The Phillies were four games over .500 on September 8, but they faded with a 7-15 record down the stretch. General manager Matt Klentak was let go after the season while pitching coach Bryan Price surprised many by retiring. The bullpen was the biggest issue for the team on the whole, posting a disastrous 7.06 ERA with 42 homers allowed in 186 innings. Hector Neris lost his closer job and the team’s midseason deal with the Red Sox for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree proved to be a complete bust. Workman posted a 6.92 ERA with 23 hits (including four homers) and nine walks over just 13 innings. Jake Arrieta finished out his three-year, $75 million contract with a disappointing 5.08 ERA over nine starts. Scott Kingery dealt with a COVID-19 diagnosis during summer camp before struggling with a .159/.228/.283 batting line over 36 games. He took on a diminished role after Alec Bohm’s debut. Vince Velasquez struck out 46 batters in 34 innings, but it didn’t translate to success, as he posted a 5.56 ERA over seven starts and two relief appearances. He’s likely to be non-tendered this offseason.

Fantasy Slants

**Much like the Phillies, Aaron Nola faded down the stretch, but he still had a very good year. While Nola had some uncharacteristic control problems in 2019, he showed some improvement in that area this year while posting a 3.28 ERA and 96/23 K/BB ratio in 71 1/3 innings over 12 starts. Most relevant to fantasy players, he posted career-bests in strikeout percentage (33.2 percent) and swinging-strike percentage (13.4 percent). According to Baseball Savant, his xERA nearly matched his actual ERA and was a notable improvement from his 4.21 mark in 2019. He’s worthy of top-10 starting pitcher consideration in 2021.

**Bryce Harper will always be a lightning rod for attention, but he’s been the least of the Phillies’ problems over the past two years. He was the fourth ranked fantasy outfielder in Yahoo leagues this year while batting .268/.420/.542 with 13 homers, 33 RBI, eight stolen bases, and 41 runs scored over 58 games. He was elite across the board in terms of barrel percentage, hard-hit rate, and average exit velocity while cutting his strike out rate from 26.1 percent to 17.6 compared to 2019. It’s still difficult to project a high batting average here, but he has reestablished himself as one of the elite fantasy outfielders.

**Speaking of elite, J.T. Realmuto continues to be as good as it gets at the catcher position. Granted, a lot of his production was packed into the early part of the season. He actually amassed eight homers and 20 RBI over his first 14 games before delivering three homers and 12 RBI over his final 33 games. And so, it was an uneven year, but he still finished as the top fantasy catcher just ahead of the Braves’ Travis d’Arnaud. And that’s despite missing time with a hip injury. Realmuto struck out more than ever before this year, but that was offset somewhat by a huge uptick in his barrel percentage. He also continued to help in the stolen base department, a nice bonus at the catcher position. The big question here is where Realmuto will end up next season. He’ll surely be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market, with one report suggesting that he’s eying a $200 million contract.

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**After signing a five-year, $118 million contract last offseason, Zack Wheeler was everything the Phillies could have hoped for this year, posting a career-low 2.92 ERA (156 ERA+) over 11 starts. The interesting part was how he did it, as he struck out just 18.4 percent of the batters he faced, down from 23.6 percent in 2019 and 24.1 percent in 2018. It’s not like he saw a dip in velocity or swinging strike percentage, so some of this appears to be by design. On the bright side, he once again did a good job limiting hard contact while posting a career-high ground ball and improving his walk rate for the third straight season. Wheeler underwent surgery in October to repair a fingernail, but he should be good to go for spring training. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the strikeouts bounce back a bit next year, so he makes for a respectable No. 2 or 3 starter in mixed leagues.

**Rhys Hoskins underwent surgery on October 5 to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his left (non-throwing) elbow, with a recovery time of four to six months. That timetable doesn’t rule out a return on Opening Day, but his progress will need to be tracked carefully. Obviously it’s preferable that this surgery was on his non-throwing elbow, but it’s still fair to wonder what impact — even briefly — this could have on his power production. Hoskins got off to a rough start this year before putting up nine homers and a 1.011 OPS over his final 19 games prior to being shut down. He’s never going to be a batting average guy, but the combination of power and patience keeps him on mixed league radars.

**If Hoskins isn’t ready for Opening Day, we’ll likely see Alec Bohm flip from third base to first base like he did down the stretch. Either way, Bohm has already cemented his place as a lineup fixture. Called up in mid-August, the lanky 24-year-old produced an impressive .338/.400/.481 batting line with four homers and 23 RBI through his first 44 major league games. He got better as the year moved along, eventually getting chances hitting both second and third in the Phils’ lineup. Bohm benefitted from a .410 batting average on balls in play, but batted ball metrics suggest that his production was mostly deserved. The approach is solid and it’s easy to imagine more power coming down the road.

**While Bohm was a success in his first taste of the majors, it was more of a mixed bag for Spencer Howard, who posted a 5.92 ERA over six starts and also missed time with right shoulder stiffness. He missed two months with a shoulder issue in 2019, but if healthy, it would be quite the upset if he’s not in the Phillies’ rotation out of spring training next year. The sample size was so small this season that it doesn’t make much sense to look into it too much, but Howard was really crushed the second time through the order. Adjustments are needed, so he’s likely to be in late-round flier or waiver wire territory to begin 2021 in mixed leagues.

Key Free Agents: J.T. Realmuto, Jake Arrieta, Didi Gregorius, Hector Neris, Jay Bruce, Brandon Workman, David Phelps, Juan Nicasio, Tommy Hunter, Blake Parker, David Robertson

Team Needs: Well, first off, they need a new general manager. From there, the futures of J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius will need to be decided. The Phillies also need to rebuild their bullpen and add at least one reliable arm to their rotation, with a new pitching coach to boot.