With the end of MLB's regular season coming this weekend, Bally Sports will review the performance of each club with an eye looking at what happened in 2021 and another at what could happen next season. Our next Exit Interview is with the Philadelphia Phillies.
What went right
• Bryce Harper is slashing .305/.427/.607 with 34 home runs, his best season in six years. J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and Brad Miller had effective seasons at the plate.
• Zack Wheeler was a terrific ace in 32 starts, allowing only 16 home runs — kind of remarkable in this day and age. For comparison’s sake, the most homers given up so far is 38 by Jordan Lyles of the Rangers.
What went wrong
• The Phillies still need at least one victory in their final three games to ensure the first winning season for the franchise since… 2011. Twenty-eleven! Did you know it was that bad? If you are a Phillies fan, of course, you did. The Phillies have the fifth-highest payroll in Major League Baseball and they can hardly break .500. It’s not Harper’s fault; he could win NL MVP. It’s not Wheeler’s fault; he could win NL Cy Young.
• The offense is 12th in runs scored, which is probably not as good as they expected to do.
• They didn’t have Hoskins down the stretch because of an abdominal injury that is supposed to be healed by Spring Training. He batted .247/.334/.530 with 27 homers in 107 games, so they missed him for sure.
• They’re 20th in ERA. Their pitchers were in the top third in most strikeouts and fewest walks and were toward the median in home runs allowed. Those details are misleading because they should have been better. They didn’t have great luck, with Aaron Nola’s ERA underperforming when compared to his FIP, and Zach Eflin doing likewise — but also missing about 15 starts because of various injuries. Aside from Ranger Suárez, the rest of the Phillies starters performed poorly.
• The bullpen was bad again, posting a 4.66 ERA and blowing nearly twice as many save opportunities (70) as they have saves (36). They used 21 pitchers who have an ERA north of 4.00. Archie Bradley, Hector Neris, Connor Brogdon and Sam Coonrod were OK. José Alvarádo and Ian Kennedy were highly replaceable. Only, you can’t name a team that’s been worse at replacing their relievers than the Phillies. A good relief corps and they probably win the NL East.
• A promising third baseman during the shortened pandemic season, Alec Bohm struggled at the plate (.247/.306/.344 with seven homers and 108 strikeouts in 409 plate appearances) and in the field (-2 outs above average, -13 defensive runs saved).
•Shortstop Didi Gregorius tanked at the plate and in the field having, at age 31, by far his worst seasons at both ends. He blamed the COVID-19 vaccine. At least he got the shot.
• They’re last in defensive runs saved and 25th in outs above average, so their team fielding is among the worst. Segura was +5 DRS at second and Realmuto was real neutral behind the plate.
• Wheeler is earning more fWAR than Harper and is second only to Shohei Ohtani in bWAR. There doesn’t seem to be a media push for Wheeler to be NL MVP, though. He probably will lose to Max Scherzer or Corbin Burnes for NL Cy Young, too. He has a 2.32 ERA with 247 strikeouts in an MLB-leading 232 ⅓ innings going into the final weekend.
Brogdon posted a 3.43 ERA with 50 strikeouts through his first 57 2/3 innings. He has 11 holds. Is that good? Among rookies, it’s eighth. Is that good? It’s OK.
Reasons for optimism
• Left-hander Ranger Suárez was a revelation, first in relief and then in the rotation, posting a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts. At 26, he’s one of the better starting pitchers in the league right now. For real. He’s also got one of the most confident-looking headshots in the league.
• Harper is still not quite 29 years old.
• Nola had 223 strikeouts in his first 180 ⅔ innings with a walk rate slightly lower than Wheeler’s.
What needs work
• The Phillies already have a $153 million payroll on the books for 2022, and there’s an unhappy labor negotiation going on, so it will be interesting to see if they tack on more salary. But they clearly need to do something more to upgrade. They need major help at shortstop, third base, center field, five relief pitchers and two starting pitchers. Oh, also left field, because McCutchen is a free agent.
• They have one of the five or so worst farm systems right now, but Mick Abel, Andrew Painter, Hans Crouse (who came over from the Rangers in the Spencer Howard deal) might be able to help the pitching soon. Crouse already has made his MLB debut. Shortstop Bryson Stott, a top-100 prospect at Baseball Prospectus, has zoomed to Triple-A after batting .304/.397/.498 with 22 homers, 15 steals and 89 walks in his first 668 plate appearances in the minors.
Check out our earlier MLB Exit Interviews: