The delayed start to the 2020 season is yet another roadblock that has been thrown in the way of the Philadelphia Phillies’ pursuit back to the playoffs. With changes across the board in their organizational infrastructure during the offseason, owner John Middleton put his staff, players, and fans on notice: he is the one running the show and he will get whichever player, manager or baseball personnel executive that he wants. Let’s take a look at all levels of the team that could be affected by the delay to the season.
The injury that derailed any chance that the Phillies had for success in 2019 was Andrew McCutchen tearing his ACL in June. Now, fully recovered a solid 12 months later, if the season were to start tomorrow, Cutch would hit the ground running, which is a delight to every Phils fan’s ears based on the state of their outfield. Another player that would stand to benefit from this downtime is Didi Gregorius, who only played in the back half 82 games last year as he recovered from a torn UCL.
The engine that drives the car is Bryce Harper—and he looks to improve upon a solid debut season, albeit that it wasn’t an MVP-caliber campaign that many pegged him for in the Philadelphia area. We’ve all seen the workout videos throughout quarantine, so we can only assume that he will be locked in by the time baseball starts again.
The Phillies would be a team that could be poised to make a roster decision based upon the ruling of the DH going into the shortened 2020 season. They could seemingly go with an in-house, assumable option in Jay Bruce, or tag one of Alec Bohm or Nick Williams from the minors. Another option for a shortened season is a one-year flier on Yasiel Puig, who could invigorate the team with his colorful personality and high tempo style that Philadelphians revere. Plus, a player who, when right, can be one of the most lethal bats in the majors. Whoever winds up at DH will surely need to bring a potent bat to a lineup that needs to carve out as many runs as possible from each position in the order.
One of the most underperforming units in the league, the Phillies pitching staff needs all of its members to rebound or improve upon their 2019 season. Staff ace Aaron Nola was snakebit by the long ball last year, much like the rest of the league, which made him regress drastically from his breakout 2018. Going from a 2.37 ERA and ballooning to 3.87 was aided by a 7% jump in HR/FB%. Walks were also an issue, going from 7.0% in ’18 to 9.4% in ’19. This could just have been a dip in the road because the underlying skills support a bounce-back to near his 2018 season with improved K-rate & an identical GB%.
The Phillies will also have numerous options for the back three members of their staff consisting of Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, and Nick Pivetta. Each of these three has been underwhelming throughout his career, with only glimmers of hope occasionally shining down. In a shortened season, things could change. Perhaps two out of the three of these pitchers get hot and go on a roll. At this rate, a fifth starter is seeming less likely by the day, which could very much help the Phillies ride the hot hand and potentially avoid the blowup starts that have plagued these starters the last few years.
Joe Girardi’s Return to the National League
As the Phillies move away from Gabe Kapler’s disappointing two-year stint as manager, the Phillies are ushering in a new team identity with Joe Girardi. One of the most accomplished managers that was on the market will now be manning the dugout in South Philadelphia at an inflection point for the franchise. Girardi brings an “earn it” attitude to a team that has missed the playoffs every season since 2011—a playoff drought spanning almost the entire decade. Let that sink in for a minute… gone are the glory days of the home-grown Phils from 2007-2010. Enter the patchwork roster constructed by GM Matt Klentak. The players’ manager style from Kapler will be soon forgotten once the 2020 season gets underway.
Girardi brings with him a pedigree of success: World Series Champion as a player and manager, a .562 win rate over his 10-year stint with the Yankees, and former NL Manager of the Year with the Marlins. That last accolade is key, as it came in the National League. Girardi has been an AL manager since 2008, but he brings a valuable strategic mindset to a Phillies team that needs every advantage they can get. Girardi boasts a 73% replay overturn rate—almost 20% higher than the rate Kapler had in his two years in the dugout. Maybe the former catcher can get through to the talented, yet always underwhelming starters the Phillies will be counting on with Jake Arrieta, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, and Nick Pivetta (we know for a fact that he’ll know when a pitcher is warmed up, that’s for sure).
Girardi has a track record of not letting struggling players lean on their reputation for playing time. As the marathon of a season turns into a sprint, he could press the all the right buttons and get the Phillies into a Wild Card spot (if that even exists in a shorter season). What we do know is that from a bird’s eye view, Girardi seemed like a hire from owner John Middleton and not necessarily the analytics-based Klentak. It will be very interesting to see how the players, new coaching staff, and front office jell when faced with adversity.
Waiting in the Wings
As a franchise, the Phillies have been notorious in their pursuit of keeping minor leaguers down off the major league roster for longer than the average MLB team. Things may change with such an uncertain type of season that we could have. A world could exist where one injury to any part of the infield would welcome third baseman Alec Bohm to the show. A true power hitter in every sense of the way, his bat is ready for the bigs. The only question left is whether he can play the hot corner every day to make this promotion worthwhile.
Spencer Howard was all the buzz late in fantasy drafts this spring and rightfully so. The end of the Phillies rotation is a mess and Howard has the makings of being a top half of the rotation pitcher for years to come. After only throwing 99-1/3 innings in 2019 though, starting may be out of the question, but how creative the Phillies get can certainly depend on Howard’s 2020 impact. After news of Seranthony Dominguez‘s fate of Tommy John surgery, could Howard be an electrifying and stabilizing presence in a bullpen that lacks the fear of opposing lineups? With a four-seamer that touched 99 mph in the AFL, and plus pitches with his slider and curveball, going back to the bullpen might be what gets his career started, much as it did during his time at Cal Poly.
One other prospect to keep an eye on is Adonis Medina. Once a top prospect in their system, he’s mostly known for being involved in trade talks regarding Manny Machado in 2018. Medina had dominant showings in ’17 (10.00 K/9) and ’18 (9.94 K/9), although he struggled with the jump to AA in 2019. Talk on the farm was that deception was to blame, mainly with ball exposure or pitch tipping. If that is quickly corrected and results follow, that is a dart the Phillies could throw into the rotation or even package up to get an elite level player in a trade.
Photos by Scott Winters and Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)