Updated: 9:52 p.m.
A common refrain from Phillies fans lately is that, despite the win increase of at least a dozen this season, just as many questions remain this offseason as last.
It's the truth. No aspect of this team looks settled. Not the offense, not the defense, not the rotation, not the bullpen.
That being said ... what answers did we get in 2018? (Other than the most obvious one: Nola is an ace. He showed it again Saturday night with seven shutout innings against the Braves. Nola finishes 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA in 212⅓ innings.)
1. Can't have both Velasquez and Pivetta in the rotation
Unless the Phillies have designs of utilizing the "opener" next season — a pitcher who starts the game for matchup purposes but only goes an inning or two — they cannot afford to enter 2019 with both Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta in the rotation.
Both pitchers have big strikeout stuff, but neither has been consistent enough going deep into games or adjusting midway through an outing. It's evident in the massive dropoffs in their numbers as they go through a lineup multiple times.
Gabe Kapler recently supported both pitchers by mentioning their respectable FIPs. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching. It is a number on the ERA scale that rids a pitcher of everything except strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed.
It is an incomplete metric. Yes, Kapler and many others can say that it's a better estimate of future production than ERA, but the issue with FIP is that it treats all non-home runs the same. A 400-foot triple is the same as a groundout to second base. The idea that a pitcher cannot control where or how hard a non-home run is hit is kind of ridiculous.
Think about how many times this season we've seen Velasquez or Pivetta fall apart in an inning and allow multiple well-struck line drives back up the middle. To claim those balls in play were out of their control just because they involved defenders touching the ball? Poppycock.
Pivetta, at this point, has more potential to stick as a starter than Velasquez. Velasquez has made 76 career starts and has a 4.50 ERA with an average of 5.0 innings per start. The sample size is no longer small.
2. This isn't the right outfield
Between 2014 and 2015, the Phillies prioritized outfield defense after watching Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, Marlon Byrd, Darin Ruf and Cody Asche give away too many extra bases.
In the span of four years, they've come full circle, with the outfield defense again a big concern.
Odubel Herrera regressed defensively. We know Rhys Hoskins is not a left fielder. Aaron Altherr, their most instinctive outfielder not named Roman Quinn, struggled so much offensively that he was unusable as the summer wore on.
Unless Herrera hits to make up for the defense, you can't rely on him as the everyday centerfielder. Too many mental mistakes, too many weak throws, too many extra bases taken on medium-deep fly balls to center.
Bryce Harper or not, the Phillies should have two new regular outfielders next season, with Quinn starting in center as long as he's healthy.
3. Time to move on from 3 recent staples
Herrera, Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco could all be gone this offseason.
The Phillies essentially spelled the impending end of Hernandez's tenure here when they signed Scott Kingery to a long-term contract. It is doubtful the Phillies enter 2019 with Kingery as the everyday shortstop. His arm probably isn't suited for third base, and second is his natural position. Can only keep so many infielders.
As for Franco, we did see offensive improvement this season. But that's kind of the reason it's time to move on. Franco's trade value will be a lot higher this winter than it was last winter when he was coming off a .230/.281/.409 this season. Franco this season has hit .270/.314/.467.
He's 26 years old and cost-controlled, so the Phillies should be able to get something of substance in return for Franco — perhaps a starting pitcher.
Aside from the "sell-high" aspect of a Franco trade, the Phillies could turn to Carlos Santana at 3B next season. Santana has fielded his position adequately there, making his first error Saturday in 109 innings at 3B. If the Phils end up signing Harper — a possibility but far from a certainty — the adjustment could be Hoskins to first base, Santana to third and Harper in the corner outfield.
When this topic has been brought up, some fans have claimed that Franco is a better player than Santana. Just not the case, even though Santana entered Saturday night with a .227 batting average. Santana has better at-bats, a better approach, a longer track record of power, and he's under contract the next two seasons for a total of $35 million.
What makes more sense: Eating money to trade Santana for little to nothing in return, or selling high on Franco, who showed improvement but is not essential to this team's ascent? Franco also has a body type that traditionally does not age well in baseball.
If Franco and Herrera are indeed back next season, showing up in spring training in better physical shape is a necessity.