Phillies

Bullpen construction will be even more vital when Phillies finally open season

Bullpen construction will be even more vital when Phillies finally open season

Phillies manager Joe Girardi, at home in South Florida, is busying himself watching college football classics, cooking and throwing batting practice to his son, Dante, during baseball's hiatus.

Girardi is also doing some thinking about what his roster might look like when the sport gets going again.

A short "spring training," either back in Florida or in Philadelphia — Major League Baseball will likely make an industry-wide call on that one — is expected and teams will probably be able to compensate for the shortened prep time by employing an expanded roster for a few weeks.

Teams will likely look to add to their bullpens as they allow their starting pitchers time to build innings and endurance during the first few weeks of the regular season.

"If we're out a long time and spring training is short, I think we're going to need multiple-inning (relievers)," Girardi said.

Regardless of the length of the season, the Phillies will go with a five-man starting rotation because that is just how pitchers are conditioned these days. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin are expected to fill the top four spots. (Arrieta experienced shoulder stiffness in his last start before spring training was paused last week, but he insisted it was normal and not an injury, and, in fact, he is not being treated as an injured player.)

Before camp was halted, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Ranger Suarez were competing for the fifth starter's job. With Seranthony Dominguez expected to have elbow surgery any time now, the Phillies are pretty low on power arms in their bullpen so they will benefit from either Velasquez or Pivetta in the bullpen. Could both end up there? It's something to think about. Suarez opened eyes with his work in camp and he would give the Phils a lefty in the rotation. The Phils are already deep in lefties in the bullpen with Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez and Francisco Liriano, who is expected to make the club.

In addition to power, Velasquez and Pivetta — and Suarez for that matter — could give the Phils multi-inning flexibility because all have worked as starters and were stretched out when camp was open.

"We're not going to have a six-and-a-half week spring training and the multiple-inning guys are going to become even more important," Girardi said.

The delay in opening the season until at least mid-May could allow relievers Tommy Hunter and Victor Arano, both of whom had elbow surgery last season, the time they need to finish their respective rehab programs and be ready for opening day.

Ditto for left fielder and leadoff man Andrew McCutchen.

"I think we kind of expected them all back in April and seeing that we will not play before May 15th or whatever, I think we all feel pretty good about that," Girardi said of having the trio ready when the season starts.

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Only 3 teams gained more value than Phillies from 2019 to 2020

Only 3 teams gained more value than Phillies from 2019 to 2020

The valuation of the Phillies franchise is up to $2 billion, according to Forbes. It’s an 8 percent increase from last year.

The only teams in the majors to experience a higher percentage year-over-year increase than the Phillies are the Yankees, the World Champion Nationals and the Orioles. Seven teams saw no gain or lost value: the Marlins, Pirates, Royals, Athletics, Indians, Tigers and Diamondbacks.

The Yankees are valued at $5 billion, leading the league for the 22nd straight year.

At $2 billion, the Phils’ valuation is eighth-highest in the majors. They are behind, respectively, the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, Giants, Mets and Cardinals.

The only team with a current valuation below $1 billion is the Marlins at $980 million. Miami was the only team to lose money in 2019, according to Forbes.

MLB’s total revenue in 2019 was $10.5 billion. More than 30 percent of that was from gate receipts, which baseball would not have in 2020 if games are played in empty stadiums. That was the largest chunk, followed by national TV deals, local TV deals and sponsorships.

The Phillies’ 13-year investment in Bryce Harper and the resulting increase in attendance and merchandise sales played an obvious role in the increase but the terms of rights deals are one of the biggest drivers of organizational values.

League-wide, profits have never been higher, which puts MLB in a position to at least withstand the pain of a shortened 2020 season. Forbes estimates that coronavirus concerns will cost U.S. pro sports leagues $5 billion.

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What must Scott Kingery do to make the next leap Phillies need?

What must Scott Kingery do to make the next leap Phillies need?

Scott Kingery hit his first major-league home run two years ago today, a solo shot to left-center at Citizens Bank Park against Reds left-hander Cody Reed.

Kingery's first two weeks in the majors went well but his rookie season was a slog after that. He expanded the strike zone a ton, struck out more than you'd like and barely got on base when the hits weren't falling.

Kingery took a big step forward last season at age 25. He missed a month between April 19 and May 19 with a hamstring injury but hit .347 from opening day through June 1. 

In the month of June, he was an extra-base hit machine with nine doubles, a triple and seven home runs in 114 plate appearances.

August was another productive month for Kingery. He hit .287 with 13 extra-base hits and an .825 OPS. 

All told, it was a solid second season from Kingery. His .788 OPS was exactly the league average, and his extra-base hit total increased from 33 to 57 in just 16 additional plate appearances. When you factor in the strong defense he has played at six different positions, the value is easy to see.

Kingery has started games at second base, third base, shortstop and all three outfield spots. No major-leaguer since 1958 has amassed as many plate appearances in his first two seasons (984) while playing all those positions. That's not just a random fact — it illustrates the rarity of a player being not just a super-utility player but a super-utility starter, and how doubly rare it is for a player to begin his career in that role. 

In 2020, whenever the season begins, Kingery will likely be at second base for the majority of the season. Things can change quickly, though. If Jean Segura suffers an injury, Kingery could shift to third base. If Didi Gregorius gets hurt, Kingery or Segura would slide over to short. If there are injuries in center field, Kingery would likely be the next man up after Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley.

Kingery's versatility is a good thing, not a bad thing, though it probably cost him some offensive effectiveness over his first two seasons. Kingery remarked this offseason that by preparing for so many different positions, there have been many nights in his first two big-league seasons that he felt spent by game time.

His biggest issue at the plate is his constant expansion of the strike zone. Kingery knows it. It's a goal of his to be better at laying off of pitches he has no chance of making good contact with.

Through two seasons, Kingery's strikeout-to-walk ratio is ugly. He's whiffed 273 times and taken 58 walks. No Phillie has struck out that many times in his first two seasons since Pat Burrell in 2001 — but Burrell also walked 75 more times than Kingery has.

Last season, 24% of the pitches Kingery saw were low and away off the plate. He swung at those low-and-away pitches nearly 30% of the time and hit just .127. Obviously, that is a zone a hitter would rather leave alone. 

Kingery's selectivity must improve for him to reach a higher offensive level. There are 118 players with as many plate appearances as him the last two seasons and Kingery ranks 108th in walks.

The Phillies are not relying on Kingery to be their offensive centerpiece or even their sixth-best hitter. However, they'd be so much stronger as a lineup if Kingery could maneuver his way closer to the top of the order and produce. If Kingery could provide consistency in the 2-hole, it would allow someone like J.T. Realmuto or Didi Gregorius to move into more of a run-producing role. And even if Kingery does stay in the 7-spot in the lineup for most of the season, he has a chance to lengthen the Phillies' lineup and turn it into one of the NL's best if he can build on his sophomore season.

Kingery had a .315 on-base percentage last season. The league average was .323. Had he reached base just 10 more times in his 500 plate appearances, he'd have been at .334, which is the same as Realmuto's OBP the last three seasons.

It's a realistic target for Kingery, who does not need to become the next Chase Utley to be valuable or to live up to the $24 million contract he signed before ever playing a major-league game.

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