Phillies

Phillies who would be most affected by baseball eliminating the shift

usa_jakearrieta_philliesbluejays.jpg
USA Today Images

Phillies who would be most affected by baseball eliminating the shift

There was more talk in 2018 than ever before about defensive shifts because, well, there were more defensive shifts than ever before. 

According to Jayson Stark, "there were nearly 8,000 more shifts on balls in play in 2018 than in 2017." 

Stark had a very interesting piece for The Athletic about the possibility that the shift is banned or reduced as early as opening day 2019. He mentions MLB's competition committee recently supporting an anti-shift rule change and that the next step would be passing it through the players' union.

You'd think that every left-handed hitter in baseball would support a rule stating the defense must have two defenders on either side of second base. Lefty hitters are so much more affected by the shift than their right-handed counterparts. It's not even close. 

Left-handed hitters faced the shift 29.6% of the time last season compared to 8.9% for righties. And of the 59 hitters who faced the shift the most in 2018, 58 were left-handed. The lone righty was Edwin Encarnacion, a pull-happy power hitter. 

Imagine being Ryan Howard right now hearing about this. It would be like the government erasing all student loans the year after you finally pay yours off.

The two Phillies affected most by the shift in 2018 were the two high-priced free-agent signings, Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta. Santana faced a shift in 85.5% of his plate appearances, the most of any NL hitter. Interestingly, Santana's numbers were nearly identical whether or not he was facing a shift. It doesn't feel like it after a season filled with groundouts to second base, but it's the truth.

Arrieta was vocal about how much he disliked the shift, more specifically the way the Phillies were shifting. "We're the worst in the league with shifts, so we need to change that," a pissed-off Arrieta said in San Francisco in early June.

His complaint made sense. Arrieta had come over from the Cubs, who shift less than any team in baseball. (It helps that they've had a tremendous infield defense the last three years.) And the most successful years of Arrieta's career came in Chicago, so of course, he'd look to shifting or a lack of shifting as a contributing factor.

But there were 222 pitchers in baseball in 2018 whose infields shifted more often behind them than Arrieta. The Phillies shifted 19.8% of the time behind Arrieta. They actually shifted much more frequently behind Aaron Nola — 26.4% of plate appearances.

With Santana now in Seattle, the Phillies don't have any extreme pull hitters who would benefit greatly from the shift being eliminated. Defenses did shift against Rhys Hoskins 43% of the time — one of the highest marks vs. a right-handed hitter — but he had a .389 wOBA against the shift compared to a .349 wOBA against a normal alignment. In other words, Hoskins was much better against the shift than against a normal defense.

The 10 hitters across baseball who would stand to benefit most if the shift goes away: Matt Carpenter, Brandon Belt, Freddie Freeman, Eric Thames, Mitch Moreland, Michael Conforto, Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Moustakas and Jackie Bradley, Jr.

If you're wondering about Bryce Harper, his 2018 was almost a 50-50 split of being shifted vs. facing a regular alignment.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Phillies have a number of options in filling infield need

Phillies have a number of options in filling infield need

SAN DEIGO — On Day 1 of the winter meetings, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak reiterated his team’s need to add a starting infielder.

“That's been the focus,” Klentak said Monday afternoon. “Today is Day 1, but technically we've been here for almost two full days. It feels like that is what we have mostly been working on since we've been here. We're just trying to explore all different avenues. Single-year and multi-year fits. Trade and free-agent fits. In the way that the pitching market has really come together quickly, this one doesn't seem to be coming together quite as quickly. But not because there aren't options.”

The free-agent pitching market is indeed moving quickly. Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals on a staggering seven-year, $245 million deal on Monday and Gerrit Cole is expected to blow past that deal in the coming days. The Phillies made some (sort of) news Monday when their signing of Zack Wheeler became official after the right-hander passed his physical exam.

“We felt it was important to add someone to our rotation that could pair with Aaron Nola at the top and give us a chance to win any series against the best pitchers in baseball,” Klentak said. “I think those are as good a twosome as you'll find in the league.”

New manager Joe Girardi concurred.

“We have 1 and 1-A,” he said.

Now, the question is: Who will play second base, third base and shortstop behind Wheeler and Nola?

Scott Kingery and Jean Segura are likely to hold down two of the spots. We say “likely” because there’s always the chance that Kingery could play center field (right now it looks like Adam Haseley will be the guy there) and Segura could be traded if the Phils could find someone to take on the three years and $45 million that remain on his contract. That won’t be easy, even if the Phils eat some salary.

Ideally, the Phillies would land a shortstop like free-agent Didi Gregorius on a one-year or manageable multi-year deal and move Segura from shortstop to second base and play Kingery at third. The Phillies have had serious talks with Gregorius, but have to be ready to pivot if they can’t lock him up. As Klentak said, there are options in the infield. Most of them, however, are not shortstops. A free-agent second baseman like Jonathan Schoop could be a good fallback if the Phils can’t sign Gregorius. He had 23 doubles and 23 homers in 433 at-bats for the Twins last season. Signing Schoop would mean that Segura would have to stay at shortstop or move to third with Kingery playing shortstop.

There are plenty of options at third base, from veteran Todd Frazier to top-of-the-market superstars Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. There are also versatile veterans like Starlin Castro and even Brock Holt who could be used in mix-and-match, platoon scenarios.

“There’s a bunch of different ways we can go,” Klentak said. “We can go a shorter-term variety, we can look at a longer-term solution, we can look at the trade market, we can look at the free-agent market and we can look into piecing it together with multiple players potentially, which not only would help the starting infield, but would improve the bench. That’s where a lot of our focus this week is being turned.”

All right, let’s address those top-of-the-market names: The Phils have had contact with the representatives for Rendon and Donaldson and they have not tapped out of those markets, but signing one of those big-money players remains a longshot. The Phils signed Bryce Harper for $330 million last winter, Wheeler for $118 million this winter and still have to budget for a potential $100 million contract extension for J.T. Realmuto. Rendon is expected to command well over $200 million and Donaldson should get more than $25 million per season when he lands. The Phils are creeping up on the luxury-tax threshold of $208 million in total payroll. Managing partner John Middleton would go over the tax for the right opportunity. There’s a lot of never-say-never here, but …

“Ownership has always encouraged us to stay engaged on everything,” Klentak said. “If there's an opportunity to bring something to them we will. I think the most notable example was signing Jake Arrieta two years ago. That was not necessarily on our radar. It came together late and the owners jumped on it. I'm not going to sit here today and declare that we are or are not in on certain players or that we will or will not exceed the tax threshold. Our job is to keep an open mind and continue to pursue all avenues and see what makes sense for us. There is an element of this from a management perspective in making sure we apply the proper balance to roster building and not get too top-heavy. We need to be responsible about it, but we're not going to shy away from pursuing or at least exploring opportunities, whether we bring them to the finish line or not.”

With Wheeler on board, an infielder on the way, the return to good health of some key players and the projected improvement of others, Klentak is confident of this:

“We are definitely building a team that we expect will contend in 2020,” he said.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Good thing the Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did.

Stephen Strasburg, who entered the offseason as the No. 2 starting pitcher in free agency behind Gerrit Cole and ahead of Wheeler, is returning to the Nationals on a massive seven-year, $245 million contract, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

As historically good as Strasburg was in October, that is an insane number for him. He will turn 32 midway through the first of the seven years. He has made 30 starts in just three of nine seasons and reached 200 innings twice. He was more durable than ever in 2019 and, boy, did he cash in because of it. 

Two seasons ago, in 2018, Strasburg made 22 starts with a 3.74 ERA. Had he had that type of season in 2019, he probably wouldn't have even opted out of the remaining three years and $75 million to find this next payday.

Good for him. But also good for the Phillies in agreeing with Wheeler five days before the Nats retained Strasburg. Because if Wheeler was still on the board today, that number is at least $20 million higher and maybe more. Would a team go to $140 million for Wheeler? What about $160 million? Think about how many free agents the White Sox have struck out on in recent years. Wouldn't they have been likely to up their offer one more time if Wheeler was still out there to see what Strasburg signed for?

Strasburg is a great pitcher, don't get it twisted. He proved in 2019 that he can be the most reliable and important arm in the league when the pressure is at its peak. But forget Year 6, by Year 3 or 4 of this deal, the Nationals could be regretting it mightily.

And if this is what it took to sign Strasburg, Gerrit Cole is even more likely to approach $300 million.

There has been much more offseason activity leaguewide than there was at this point a year ago. The five best remaining free agents are Cole, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The next three would be Nick Castellanos, Didi Gregorius, Marcell Ozuna and then you're getting into back-end-rotation types.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies