Generally speaking, it’s about the time the calendar hits Memorial Day that we start making legitimate judgments about teams across Major League Baseball. And while the sample size hadn’t stopped folks from rushing to judgment about the state of the Philadelphia Phillies, the nature of this point in the calendar certainly indicates that we’re looking at one of baseball’s most disappointing clubs.
Not that it’s easy to keep up in the National League East. The New York Mets have gone ballistic. Their change on the bench coupled with an already star-studded roster has jettisoned them to the top of the division. Not only that, they have more wins than anybody else in baseball as of this writing. Defending champion Atlanta still exists. And while the Miami Marlins aren’t taking the steps that many expected, they’re still a challenging club to match up against on paper. Which leaves the Phillies somewhat listless as we head into the summer months. Should we have expected this? If you live in Philadelphia or any of the surrounding counties, the answer is probably a resounding “yes.”
Extremely Obvious Shortcomings
The Phils had their sights set pretty high coming into the year. Their payroll is the highest it’s ever been. It ranks fourth in baseball behind only the New York squads and the Los Angeles Dodgers. But therein lies much of the problem with the team from an organizational standpoint. Their notable inability to develop talent from within has forced them into building a roster via trades and free agency. Coming into this year, they decided to take a specific approach to roster construction: offense and only offense.
In bringing in two of the top free-agent bats available, the Phillies made a declaration that they’d rely on offensive superiority. Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber were certainly worthy complements to Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Alec Bohm.
Questions remained, of course. The Phillies’ relief corps ranked 28th in fWAR in 2021 (1.1). Their bullpen ERA (4.60) ranked 25th and their FIP (4.61) ranked 27th. Their team defense already sat 27th in Defensive Runs Saved (-54) and 24th in Outs Above Average (-20). Plus, the additions to the outfield, while notable, didn’t solve the absence of offense in centerfield. Phillies’ centerfielders ranked 23rd in wRC+ in 2021, at just 84. So even with a rotation that featured the fourth-highest fWAR (16.8) and more than enough offensive firepower, could they manage to compensate for their shortcomings in those other respects?
The answer to this point in the season has been fairly resounding.
Extremely Obvious Results
The offense has not been the force it was expected to be. As a team, the Phils feature a wRC+ of 99. They’re striking out at one of the higher rates in the league (23.8 percent) and sit in the bottom half of the league in BB% (8.0). They rank 10th in ISO (.158), but even that reads as disappointing given that this team should have been the shining example in the power game, given their lineup.
Schwarber and Castellanos haven’t been as dominant as hoped, sitting just slightly above average by way of wRC+. Realmuto has been massively disappointing. Center field remains an offensive vacuum, as the wRC+ for Phillies in center this year still sits at 25th, at 69. Injuries haven’t helped, either. Bryce Harper has been limited. Jean Segura is now out for at least a couple of months with a broken finger.
So you’ve got some underwhelming performances, a position that still isn’t providing enough offensive output, and some health concerns. When your offense was expected to be the cornerstone of your team’s success, its inconsistency is going to magnify the other roster deficiencies.
Safe to say, that has very much been the case. Philly relievers feature a 4.15 ERA (24th) and 3.97 FIP (18th). They rank 24th in FanGraphs’ Def rating (-7.4) and last in both DRS (-26) and OAA (-19). If the offense was what it was supposed to be, and was healthy, maybe you can compensate for some of that. But when it’s not operating at its full capacity, that’s obviously not going to remotely happen. This is why we saw the Phillies limp to just four wins in their last 12 games in May. It’s why the Phillies, as of June 2nd, have the same amount of wins as the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Is There A Direction?
It’s not as if the Phillies find themselves at some major crossroads here, either. This is what they were always going to be. They went all-in on their offense. They chose to forego opportunities to upgrade their bullpen and their defense. And initially, there was some thought that it might be doable for a time. With a strong rotation and that lineup, it can be argued that you just need passable defense. After all, it’s not as if every single World Series champion from the last decade has been some bastion of defensive excellence (Royals & Cubs notwithstanding). You can get by if the other areas on your roster are well-fortified.
But the Phillies are not a well-fortified ballclub. They’re not even a moderately-fortified ballclub. It’s a team that had to lean almost entirely on those outside additions, with very little help coming from within the organization. A team that chose to boost just one of the three phases. The result has been not only a fairly distant third-place standing in the NL East — something also on shaky ground as they’re just barely ahead of Miami — but legitimate questions about where the organization goes from here.
You don’t necessarily need to have elite pitching and an elite defense to win a title. There’s a version of the Phils somewhere in the multi-verse that can make this type of thing work. However, the organizations that make it work are able to compensate and supplement their roster with talent from within the organization. It’s messy. And it’s muddled. And there’s really no indication of when or how a cleanup can occur. When the disparity between your caliber of offense in comparison with the potential of your pitching and defense is this great, and you don’t have the reinforcements due to a lackluster organizational structure, you instead get these 2022 Philadelphia Phillies.
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)
I assume this was written before today’s news of Girardi’s firing, so impeccable timing.
I imagine Girardi reading this and saying, “See? It’s about poor roster construction. How is that the manager’s fault?”