Phillies baseball has ranged from frustrating to bleak lately, but there are still at least a handful of things to be thankful for as Turkey Day arrives.
The top two
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler pitched as advertised this season. This was what they did in 23 combined starts:
- 6.2 innings per start
- 3.10 ERA
- 1.12 WHIP
- 149 strikeouts, 39 walks
- 0.75 HR per 9 innings
Nola is 27 and Wheeler is 30. The Phillies had and will enter 2021 with one of the top 1-2 punches of any rotation in baseball.
Nola’s performance this summer was midway between his dominant 2018 and slightly disappointing 2019. The advanced metrics, and really the eye test when you watch the movement of his pitches, tell the story of a pitcher who should maintain an ERA in the low-3.00s.
Wheeler showed several promising signs in 2020. Most importantly, the results were there. Beyond that, the groundball approach and consistent velocity bode well for the future. Wheeler’s strikeout rate did not plummet because of an inability to miss bats. It decreased because he generated consistently soft contact early in counts. His fastball was just as effective as ever, routinely reaching 97 mph even toward the ends of his starts.
Phenom at third
What can be said about Alec Bohm that hasn't been already? The NL Rookie of the Year runner-up looks like a cleanup or No. 5 hitter capable of protecting Bryce Harper and driving in 90+ runs annually.
While those expectations may be ambitious after a two-month season, it is Bohm's plate coverage, presence and quality of contact that has inspired such confidence.
Every year, we see guys come up and bash the ball for a few weeks before pitchers adjust and the power display slows down. But Bohm didn't break out with home runs. He broke out by squaring up line drives to all fields and doing most of his best work in clutch moments.
He's not going to hit .450 with runners in scoring position every year but he should be better than average in those situations, and he doesn't strike out as much as most hitters with his size and his pop.
Harper's done his part
Two seasons into his 13-year deal with the Phillies, Bryce Harper has been slightly better offensively with the Phils than he was with the Nationals. He has a .518 slugging percentage and .903 OPS as a Phillie compared to .512 and .900 with Washington.
His full-season averages as a Phillie are 34 doubles, 37 home runs, 111 RBI and 112 walks. With the Nationals, they were 33 doubles, 33 homers, 92 RBI and 103 walks.
Harper has not exceeded or fallen short of expectations through two seasons. He has simply met them.
He turned 28 in October and still has a handful of prime years left. The Phillies certainly did not expect to miss the playoffs in each of Harper’s first two seasons, which we could look back at a decade from now as two of Harper’s best as a Phillie.
Aside from Bohm and the success of the Nola-Wheeler tandem, Rhys Hoskins’ return to form at the plate was the most important development for the 2020 Phillies.
After a year of struggles, Hoskins finally found the pathway out of his extreme pull-happy ways. He stopped trying to launch everything to left field and utilized the middle of the diamond more. He even went the other way a few times, a rarity early in his career. The hit that began his turnaround was a bases-clearing double to the opposite-field gap.
This fanbase was down on Hoskins for a while as he slumped to one of the lowest batting averages in all of baseball, but he remains a central figure for this team. If the Phillies can get the type of offensive production behind Harper they received in August from Bohm and Hoskins, the middle of their order will be well set for years.
In his final 20 games before a season-ending elbow injury, Hoskins hit .277/.362/.651 with four doubles, nine homers and 19 RBI.
Coveted young arm
The Phillies are not rich in top prospects. It feels like they never are.
Part of that right now is because they graduated Bohm and Spencer Howard to the majors in 2020, along with a promising young reliever in Connor Brogdon. Most of it is because they have continuously struggled to identify top-end talent early in the draft or in international free agency.
Last Friday, teams had to add prospects signed four and/or five years ago to their 40-man rosters to prevent them from being eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 draft. The Phillies did not protect Cornelius Randolph, the 10th overall pick in 2015, or Jhailyn Ortiz, their $4 million international signing in 2015. What an indictment.
In the same international class as Ortiz, the Nationals signed Juan Soto for three times less. Fernando Tatis Jr. was signed for about six times less.
In the same first round Randolph was drafted, 20 of the top 26 picks have already appeared in the majors while Randolph has topped out at Double A, hitting .244/.324/.358.
The Phillies do, however, have a 19-year-old pitcher the baseball world seems to covet in Mick Abel. Abel was the first high school pitcher selected in the 2020 draft. He has a huge fastball with impressive offspeed stuff, top-of-the-rotation potential and has drawn comparisons to big names like Justin Verlander.
Abel is already the Phillies’ No. 2 rated prospect by Baseball America, a spot behind Howard and a spot ahead of 23-year-old shortstop Bryson Stott, the Phils’ first-round pick in 2019.