More than a handful of Phillies will benefit from delayed regular season

More than a handful of Phillies will benefit from delayed regular season

Given the CDC's recommendation that crowds of 50-plus should be avoided nationwide for at least another eight weeks, it is unlikely we see regular-season baseball before late May or early June. 

Phillies players have been advised by Joe Girardi to work out like it's the offseason. "If you're a pitcher and throwing some light bullpen (sessions), do that," Girardi said.

It's hard to see many silver linings in the sports world during this unexpected period of inactivity, but one is that the delayed start of the regular season will benefit several key Phillies.

Andrew McCutchen

This is the most obvious one. McCutchen, recovering from ACL surgery, was not going to be ready by the original opening day of March 26. But he should be ready when the 2020 regular season does begin. He'll have had an additional two months or so to ease into more comfortable lateral movements and changes of direction and speed.

McCutchen is a huge key to the Phillies' season because he's their most capable leadoff hitter and can also be a run producer. In a lot of ways, he made the Phillies "go" last season before his injury on June 3 in San Diego. 

David Robertson

Robertson had Tommy John surgery in August 2019 but was already throwing by mid-February and said at the beginning of camp that he felt like he could go throw a bullpen session that day.

Obviously, the Phillies are approaching it more cautiously. The chance existed even with a March 26 opening day that Robertson could contribute late in the regular season. Now, he may be able to pitch a half-season's worth of innings in the Phillies' bullpen.

The Phillies are desperate for bullpen help, especially with Seranthony Dominguez looking like he's headed for elbow surgery of his own. Robertson is so much more accomplished than anyone else in the Phillies' bullpen. He had a 2.59 ERA in 65 appearances per year from 2011-18 and has more than a decade's worth of experience in high-pressure spots.

Spencer Howard

The Phillies were set to monitor the workload all season of their top pitching prospect, 23-year-old Spencer Howard. His career-high in innings in any season was 112 in 2018 and the Phils weren't going to let him go too far beyond that number, though no limit was ever explicitly stated.

With the 162-game season almost sure to be shortened, a larger portion of Howard's innings could come at the major-league level. There shouldn't be as much of a need to space out his starts or reduce his big-league role because of the minor-league innings he'd thrown prior to his call-up. 

We could see the majority of Howard's innings come in The Show in 2020.

Aaron Nola

This is kind of a hidden one, but the Phillies' ace has pitched 212⅓ and 202⅓ innings the last two seasons. The abbreviated 2020 schedule should prevent him from hitting the 200-inning mark again, which could better preserve Nola's right arm long-term.

Similar theme for Zack Wheeler, who has averaged 189 innings the last two seasons.

Alec Bohm

Some have speculated the shorter regular season could affect service time considerations and make the Phillies more likely to call up their top offensive prospect, Alec Bohm, earlier than expected. 

But the fact still remains that the Phillies' infield is set with Scott Kingery, Didi Gregorius and Jean Segura. Barring injury, Bohm isn't taking the everyday spot of any of those guys.

Bohm could still force the Phillies' hand by tearing up minor-league pitching and giving them little choice but to insert him into a run-producing spot in the lineup. But that moment probably will not come early in the modified 2020 regular season.

Tommy Hunter and Victor Arano

Two Phillies relievers coming off season-ending injuries who were probably not going to be ready for opening day but might be sufficiently past them by the time the season begins. Hunter had surgery last July to repair his right flexor tendon. Arano had elbow surgery last May.

Hunter and Arano combined for just 10 innings last season. Arano had been very effective the previous two seasons, posting a 2.57 ERA in 70 appearances.

Other teams

The Phillies aren't the only NL East team that will get players healthier over these next couple of months.

• Freddie Freeman had been battling an elbow injury that affected him late in 2019 and slowed him in camp.

• Cole Hamels was set to miss at least a month with a shoulder issue.

• Yoenis Cespedes (ankle) and Michael Conforto (oblique) of the Mets weren't set to make their regular-season debuts until at least mid-April.

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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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