The numbers tell the story.
After their 5-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday, the Phillies have lost six in a row and 10 out of their last 11. Since moving to within a game of first place in the NL East, with a 24-17 record on May 19, they’ve 6-23 since, falling to 13 1/2 games out of first.
And even though there are still five teams with a worse record than the Phils’ 30-40, that 6-23 record since May 19 is the worst in baseball. And as a team, they are hitting a collective .225/.279/.320 with an OPS of .579.
Just for comparison, Steve Jeltz’ career slash line was .210/.308/.268. His career OPS was .576.
In other words, the Phillies, as a team, are one great big Jeltzie, without the Jehri Curl.
But the Phils’ record this year was never important. The 2016 season was all about finding out about players. Who will be a part of the future and who has no future with the ballclub. And even though we’re only 70 games into the season, now’s not a bad time to take stock in what we’ve seen so far this year.
The No Doubt Future Core
Based on their play here in 2016, there are only three members of the big league roster that are sure-fire locks to be part of the Phils’ core moving forward, and they may not be the three you would assume.
Despite struggling his last two times out, Nola has looked at times like a true ace this season, and at worst, a No. 2 starter. His 3.51 ERA and 3.06 FIP are both solid, and he is striking out more batters than his career norm, 9.89 K/9 so far this season. He’s a future All Star and certain building block.
No one was really sure if Eickhoff was going to be able to pick up where he left off last season, but it certainly appears as if he has the stuff to stick in the middle of a competitive big league rotation. He currently sports the best ERA on the team, 3.49, and has two swing-and-miss pitches in his slider and curveball. The throw-in in the Cole Hamels trade has been the team’s second-best starting pitcher this year.
Herrera is clearly the team’s best player, leading Phils’ position players in fWAR at 2.0. (Cameron Rupp is second, by the way, at 0.6, which says a lot about how the Phils have performed offensively this season.) He has become one of the league’s best at getting on base (.400 OBP), and is one of only two players with a wRC+ over 100 (Herrera’s is 127, Andres Blanco is at 102).
Future Still In Doubt
These players have shown flashes of being a part of the next great Phillies team, but inconsistency or lack of track record would make their inclusion as part of the sure-fire core premature.
Is this is a "hot take?" Perhaps, and I believe Franco has the talent to be a part of the team’s long-term future. But can you honestly say for certain that Franco is going to develop into the player we think he can?
After a hot start, Franco has regressed. His fWAR of -0.2 is tied for 18th on the Phillies and is 25th out of 25 qualified MLB third basemen. He’s hitting .236/.281/.409 this season, and has been getting worse with each passing day. His inability to establish any plate discipline and his below average defense has forced Pete Mackanin to knock him down in the order.
After his red-hot start in the spring and first few weeks in the season, it seemed like a sure bet that Franco would hit 30 homers this year and take the next step forward. But right now, he’s simply not a good baseball player.
After his complete game, 16-strikeout shutout of San Diego earlier this year, everyone got really excited about Vinny from Philly. And for good reason. The young right-hander has flashed ace-level stuff. But Velasquez has come back to earth after that performance and has had trouble with pitch economy and lasting deep into games.
He’s also had trouble staying healthy, currently on the DL with a biceps strain. His 3.65 ERA is certainly good for a guy in his first full Major League season as a starter, and his 10.65 K/9 rate is worth getting excited about. He has the talent to be considered a part of the core moving forward, but needs to be more consistent and stay healthy before saying that for sure.
Like everyone else on the roster, Neris has struggled in June, as I wrote about last week. His split finger pitch, one of the most unhittable pitches in baseball in April and May, is no longer that.
But a 3.06 ERA and a strikeout rate of 10.95 is very good, and it’s not unusual for a young relief pitcher to go through ups and downs during a long season. If he reverts back to the reliever we saw in the season’s first two months, Neris could either be the team’s future closer or set-up man, or he could turn into a Ken Giles-light trade chip this July.
Way Too Soon To Tell
First baseman Tommy Joseph got off to a red-hot start after taking the first base job away from Ryan Howard, hitting seven homers in his first 21 games, something no other Phillie had ever done. But since that 21st game, Joseph is batting .065/.094/.097 in his last eight. It’s simply too soon to know anything about Joseph for certain.
Zach Eflin looked good in his second start against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, but had a disastrous debut against Toronto. Again, we just haven’t seen enough from him to know what the Phillies have in him.
We might have had a better idea about Tyler Goeddel if he got more playing time, but the Phillies, who are desperate for offense, are playing Cody Asche and Jimmy Paredes quite a bit, even though they don’t offer much offensive upside over what Goeddel gave them. It’s too soon to know anything for certain about the Phils’ Rule 5 pick, and it would be nice to have a little more information about him at this point in the season.
The Trade Chips
There are a few players who really should only be considered trade assets when baseball’s grand bazaar begins next month.
Jeanmar Gomez has been terrific as the Phils’ closer this season. Even though he doesn’t have strikeout stuff, it’s likely the team will field some offers for him.
Jeremy Hellickson has had a rough month of June, but given the weak state of the starting pitching market this summer, it’s likely teams will call about Hellickson for a spot in the back of their rotation, provided he does better than post an ERA around 7.
Andres Blanco is a terrific bench player, able to fill in at spots all around the infield. In fact, Blanco is a better player than the Phils’ starters at shortstop and second base, and the Phillies could move him at the deadline as well.
Freddy Galvis could be the team’s second baseman once J.P. Crawford joins the team, but if a club offers anything of value for the man hitting .213/.247/.344 this year (albeit with excellent defense), the Phils should jump at the opportunity.
No Future Whatsoever
It seems clear that the following players have no real future with the club.
Ryan Howard will be gone after this season, as will Carlos Ruiz. Cesar Hernandez has proven he is not an everyday second baseman, and he doesn’t play any other positions well enough to be a utility player. Cameron Rupp may be a decent back-up catcher, although you’d like better defense from your secondary backstop. And Cody Asche may be able to stick as a left-handed bench bat, like Greg Dobbs, but is no building block.
Paredes, Peter Bourjos, David Hernandez and the rest of the roster can also be lumped into this group.
As of right now, there are three players I feel comfortable labeling as locks to be members of the next good Phillies team - Herrera, Nola and Eickhoff. Franco is just on the outside of that group, given his struggles this season, as are Neris and Velasquez. Joseph, Eflin and Goeddel all bear watching as well.
So when you watch the Phils flail and struggle to score runs, and when you watch the pitchers struggle to keep the ball in the yard, remember that there are only a handful of players who are really worth caring about.
Focus on the core three, the three on the outside, and the three young players for whom we still need more information. Everyone else is just holding a place until the minor league reinforcements arrive.