HBT’s 2016 MLB Team Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

Andy Cuello, MLB

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2015 Season: As a Mets fan, I am still not 100% used to this whole “the Phillies suck now” thing, even though it has been 3 years since they’ve been even close to .500. When you look at this franchise’s trajectory since that 2008 championship season, you see that they have simply gotten progressively worse from year to year, winning fewer games and advancing less and less in the playoffs, until they stopped making it altogether.

2015, very much like the two years prior to it, was an absolute disaster for the Phighting Phils, and after the Hamels trade in the middle of the season, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz are now the only familiar faces remaining from that 2008 squad that mashed their way to a ring. Let’s see how/if they can improve upon their 63 win season from last year:

 

Key Additions:  OF Peter Bourjos, SP Jeremy Hellickson, RP David Hernandez, SP Charlie Morton, SP Vincent Velasquez

Bourjos is a solid 4th outfielder. Similar to a white Austin Jackson whom I wrote about earlier, he’s more of an athlete than a baseball player, and his value is that he can play all three OF positions.

phillies 8Hellickson is an interesting guy, as he could finish the season as the Phils’ number two starter if he pitches like he’s capable of. If you look at his career numbers, you’ll see that Hellickson exhibits what I like to call the “Dillon Gee, damn they figured me out” career arc. That is to say, that he is a soft tossing righty who doesn’t throw anything nasty and relies on changing speeds and downward movement to get guys out. Problem with guys like that who don’t throw hard or have nasty breaking pitches is that a 91 MPH fastball is absolute lunch meat to most major league hitters. When they lose command over the course of a start, a month or a season, they get ripped all over the yard. Hellickson was one of the most promising young AL pitchers circa 2011-2012 but his ERA has ballooned up into the high 4s ever since. It will be interesting to see if he is able to keep the ball on the ground because lord knows he will need to pitching in this hitter-friendly ballpark.

Meanwhile, Velasquez is a former 2010 second round pick out of high school who is still only 23 years old. He came over to Philly from Houston in the Ken Giles trade, and in terms of long term upside, he has the greatest chance of being a contributor on the Phillies in 2021 out of all the new faces. Hernandez had a good track record of success out of the bullpen in Arizona before he went under the knife, chances are he will be the closer in Philly now. More on him later.

 

Key Losses: OF Dominic Brown, RP Ken Giles

Dom Brown was actually an All Star in 2013, and if you ask me, I think he has talent and could make at least one more by the time he’s done playing. Once a top prospect, he fell out of favor in Philly because he was undisciplined both at the plate and with the media, and he struggled against lefties. Similar to Michael Carter-Williams, formerly of the cross-town Sixers, when you are the by far the best player on an utterly incompetent Philadelphia team, the Vinnys and Salvatores of the fanbase eventually turn on you, and give you a disproportionate amount of the blame until you either get traded or decide to leave. Don’t be shocked when Brown, who will exclusively see fastballs due to the superiority of the players around him, hits .275 with 15 homers in part time work for Toronto this year. I say part time because he will only get starts against righties.

Ken Giles is gone in the trade that brought over the aforementioned Velasquez, as well as a BOATLOAD of prospects including 2013 1st overall pick Mark Appel. If Appel was pitching better, and up to his draft position, this trade would be a much better steal that it already is for Philly. Nevertheless the Phils got a TON for a relief pitcher. Having said that though, many thought Giles was the closer of the future, and in this day and age where starters only go 6 or 7, you really need 3 “closers” throwing gas out of the pen. The Royals have shown us exactly that in recent years.

 

phillies 4Projected Opening Day Starting Lineup

Cesar Hernandez 2B .272 Avg / 1 HR / 35 RBI
Odubel Herrera CF .297 Avg / 8 HR / 41 RBI
Maikel Franco 3B .280 Avg / 14 HR / 50 RBI
Ryan Howard 1B .229 Avg / 23 HR / 77 RBI
Aaron Altherr LF .241 Avg / 5 HR / 22 RBI
Peter Bourjos RF .200 Avg / 4 HR / 13 RBI
Carlos Ruiz C .211 Avg / 2 HR / 22 RBI
Freddy Galvis SS .263 Avg / 7 HR / 50 RBI

 

On paper, that is one of the worst lineups in baseball in 2016. On the field though, which is where the hitting actually takes place, this lineup can creep up to league average respectability if the two young bucks take that next step. The one sliver lining of the 2015 Phillies was the showing they got from 22-year-old Maikel Franco and 23-year-old Odubel Herrera. These two kids are the present and future of this franchise, and as you can see, they more than showed they belonged last year.

phillies 2I remember distinctly an at bat that Franco put together against Cy Young award finalist Jacob deGrom on an otherwise forgettable August afternoon with the Phillies 20+ games out of the playoffs. Basically, Franco got into a hole at 0-2, and Grommer was throwing the kitchen sink at him: fastball up, fastball down, burying sliders in the dirt, change-ups that dove off the plate. He tried everything, but Franco never chased. He just kept fouling pitches off until the 13th pitch of the at bat when he turned on a 96 MPH fastball and bounced it off the Mercedes Benz sign 430 feet down the left field line. The pitch was 3-4 inches off the plate inside and he had the quick hands to turn on it, and hit a rope that would have landed on the Long Island Expressway had the upper deck not been there. Quite impressive.

Ryan Howard, for both his sake and that of the Phillies, needs to get off to a hot start from April-June so that they can do what they weren’t able to do last year, which is to trade him for as much as they can get at the deadline. I think he still has some good years left, and he just needs a change of scenery. Listen Philly fans, it’s not his fault that he got Pujols money, and I know that none of you ever thought his career would take such a precipitous downturn after he hurt himself making the last out of the 2011 NLCS jogging down the first base line. For all the hate and vitriol he has gotten in recent years for his injuries, slumping production, and ridiculous strike out rate, he is one of the top 8 Phillies of all time, and should have his number retired along with Utley, Rollins and Hamels when all is said and done. Let’s hope he can end his illustrious career in Philly with dignity and fond memories.

 

phillies 3Projected Opening Day Rotation:

Aaron Nola RHP 6-2, 3.59 ERA, 58 K
Charlie Morton RHP 9-9, 4.81 ERA, 96 K
Jeremy Hellickson RHP 9-12, 4.62 ERA, 121 K
Jerad Eickoff RHP 3-3, 2.65 ERA, 49 K
Vincent Velasquez RHP 1-1, 4.37 ERA, 58 K

 

Instead of simply finding warm bodies to throw onto the fire behind former number one guy Cole Hamels like they did last season, this year the Phillies actually have a clue. Nola was the 7th overall pick in the 2014 draft and has legit ace upside. In 13 starts last season as a rookie, he was 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. The WHIP looks high-ish, but he walked tons of guys last year and should begin to bring that number down in 2016.

Eickhoff also enjoyed great success as a rookie starter last season, posting a 2.65 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in eight starts. The previously mentioned Velasquez wasn’t as good, but still had a 4.03 ERA in seven starts and he’s only 23. Right there, the Phillies have 3 young pitchers who can form 60 percent of their rotation moving toward in the future. Hellickson and Morton are the veteran placeholders, but it’s fair to say they have much more upside than any other free agent flotsam they can trot out there at this point. Worth mentioning is that Hellickson is still only 28 and has had success in the past with Tampa. This staff had a higher ERA than any other in the NL except for the Coors Field-Dwelling Rockies in 2015 (5.23 vs. 5.27) so they can only get better from where they were a year ago.

 

Feb 20, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher David Hernandez (30) pitches during the workout at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY SportsProjected Opening Day Bullpen:

Dalier Hinojosa MR MLB Rookie
Edward Mujica MR 3-5, 4.75 ERA, 30 K
Jeanmar Gomez SU 2-3, 3.01 ERA, 50 K
Luis Garcia SU 4-6, 3.51 ERA, 63 K
David Hernandez CL 1-5, 4.28 ERA, 33 K

 

As mentioned, Giles was slated to be the closer of the future here before he was traded, so now the ball will be handed to Hernandez. He was a great setup man for Arizona circa 2011-12, but he’s had Tommy John surgery since then. Last season, in his first year back, he had a 4.28 ERA and a Joba Chamberlain-esque 1.31 WHIP. Good news is, the second year back from TJ is the one where guys really return to form, so let’s see if he’s better in 2016.

Behind Hernandez, there’s former closer Edward Mujica along with holdovers Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez. These names may not look flashy on paper, but if there is one thing that you should know by now after all these previews we been throwing at you, is that if you have former closers now pitching in setup roles, that bodes well for the depth and quality of your bullpen. Closers typically loathe being setup men, they see it as a demotion, so having guys with a closer’s pedigree pitching in the 7th and 8th for your club means you have guys who are going to be pissed off, hungry and incentivized throwing gas. The Phillies won’t be good in 2016, but it will not be because they’re choking away a bunch of 4-2 leads after the 7th inning stretch. These guys will be fine.

 

2016 X Factor: Building a Core

phillies 6Maybe it’s the neurotic, glass perpetually half-empty Mets fan in me…but the triumvirate of Nola, Herrera and Franco in 2016 reminds me way too much of Hamels, Utley and Howard circa 2005 . That’s it folks, that’s all you need to build a foundation: an ace and two all-star position players. These three young men are the key to the Phillies 2016 and beyond, and even if this team only wins 70 games, if Nola goes over 200 innings and pitches to a low 3s ERA, Franco hits 30 bombs and Herrera hits .285 at the top of the lineup consider me scared going forward.

 

2016 Prediction: This team is bad my friends. Pretty bad. They will win more than 63 games in 2016, just because it’s hard to be that bad two years in a row with this parity we now see in baseball. But they will still be in last place in the NL East. It will be a long season, but if the three young’ins take the next step this team will be right back in it soon enough. 70 wins.

 

 

Be sure to check out the rest of HBT Sports’ MLB Team Previews here.

 

Author

Andy Cuello

Andy Cuello, a native of quaint and industrious Larchmont New York, enjoys watching sports, and ordering fried food on Seamless. As a lifelong/tortured Dolphins/Mets/Nets fan, on quiet Murray Hill nights if you listen closely enough, you can hear him ranting about how QBs should not be measured by wins, how Baseball needs a salary cap, and how Tony Romo is a top 10 quarterback of all time. He also enjoys hoppy IPAs, small puppies, and watching his alma mater Boston College foolishly refuse to join the 21st century and eschew academic requirements for football players. Follow him on Twitter @AndySee11

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