The Phillies’ team defense has not been particularly good this season. You’ve seen it with your eyes plenty in the club’s first 24 games and some of the metrics bear it out. The Phils will enter Tuesday night’s game at Washington ranked 27th in the majors at minus-10 defensive runs saved (DRS), according to Fangraphs.
On the short-term plus side, the Phils have been better than the Nationals, who are tied with Boston at minus-12 DRS. Toronto brings up the rear at minus-15.
So far this season, we’ve seen Roman Quinn make a couple of costly misplays in center field. By the same token, Quinn came up huge Sunday night in Atlanta when the Phils were on the brink of blowing a ninth-inning lead. He got to a ball in the gap in a flash, made a clean pickup, a tight plant with his back foot and fired a strike to Didi Gregorius who in turn fired a two-hop strike to catcher Andrew Knapp. An all-around sharp defensive play, with many moving parts, turned into a game-saver for the Phillies, who very easily could have found themselves heading into Washington riding a six-game losing streak.
Like the bullpen, the Phillies’ overall defense will have to be better if they’re going to put together a run that gets them over .500 and into playoff contention over the final 36 games.
It’s getting late early in this 60-game sprint.
It’s not surprising that the bullpen has struggled. It was predicated for months that this unit would have problems and it has. It’s also not completely surprising that the overall team defense has been a shortcoming.
Sure, there are strengths on defense. Gregorius has been very good at shortstop. So has J.T. Realmuto’s all-around work behind the plate. Bryce Harper improved his defense greatly in right field last season.
Defense is not a strength for Rhys Hoskins at first base. Left fielder Andrew McCutchen, who’ll turn 34 in October, is not nearly as fleet as he was before he blew out his left knee last season. Outfielder Jay Bruce has been plagued by nagging injuries to his legs and throwing arm. All of this takes a toll on a player’s defense, especially at the highest level of the game, where a split second can mean making the play or not, a runner staying put or moving up.
Friday in Atlanta, rookie third baseman Alec Bohm had a difficult night in the field. He was charged with three errors in one inning, though one was eventually changed to a hit. Bohm got the next night off. Manager Joe Girardi said he wanted to give the young player a rest. Giving Bohm a night to clear his mind probably also factored into Girardi’s strategy, and Sunday night Bohm returned to the lineup and hit his first home run. He also made a couple of important plays late in the game to contribute to the win. They weren’t spectacular plays, but they were important, and would have been killer if they weren't made.
There have been questions about Bohm’s defense – whether he’ll be able to stay at third base long term – since he was drafted third overall two years ago. The people who drafted Bohm strongly defend his ability to handle the position now and in the future. Outside talent evaluators believe defense could be a struggle and he could one day end up at first base. Bohm, to his credit, has worked hard at improving his defense at third. He also has a first baseman’s mitt and gets reps there.
It’s too early to say what position Bohm will play long term. Hoskins will have something to do with that. He has swung the bat a lot better over the last two weeks, but he’ll need to sustain it to prevent first base from becoming a landing spot for Bohm. Maybe Bohm will make it all moot. Maybe his defense at third will continue to improve and he’ll put down roots at the position. Or maybe Hoskins will be used as a designated hitter or even became a trade candidate and Bohm will move regardless.
As we look at the Phillies’ roster and the defensive challenges that some of their players face, it’s a good thing the club can utilize the DH this year. If it stays in the National League for good after this year, or comes back with the new collective bargaining agreement in 2022, the Phillies won’t complain. They have plenty of DH options and should for a while.