I was never as optimistic as some going into this season. I didn't think the Phillies could come reach .500 for the year, but I did think they could crack 70 wins once again, and maybe even get to 75 wins for the first time in 5 years.
But when it came down to it, I didn't really care about wins and losses this year. And, despite the huge number of losses piling up, I still don't.
What I cared most about going into the season was that key young players showed improvement this year. Not necessarily break out to become the next MLB star (though that would have been nice), but show that they are heading on the right trajectory to being meaningful long-term contributors to this team.
Well, with the Phillies entering June as the worst team in baseball, it doesn't take a lot of work to realize there hasn't been much improvement. We know that Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco have been huge disappointments -- to the point of being benched and, in Franco's case, being considered for a demotion to the minors.
But has anyone on the team not named Aaron Altherr shown improvement over last year? That's what I wanted to find out on this off-day. And, as you can imagine based on the team's performance so far, the results are ugly.
Below is a chart of the Phillies performances this year and last year. The numbers in the chart are adjusted fWAR. For my purposes here, I've adjusted each player's fWAR for a 600 plate appearance season for hitters, a 200 inning season for starting pitchers, and a 70 inning season for relief pitchers.
So, for instance, Altherr had a -0.3 fWAR last year in 227 plate appearances. Translated to 600 plate appearances, that comes to -0.8. This year, he has 1.1 fWAR in 165 plate appearances, which becomes 4.0 in 600 plate appearances.
This isn't a perfect way to show how a player has done each season, but it makes for useful comparison, a more useful comparison than using rate states such as wOBA or OPS+, which don't account for defense or base-running (which fWAR does).
The final column on this chart shows the difference from 2017 to 2016. A positive difference means there's been improvement. Here are the Phils this year ranked from most improved to least (with players who didn't play last year omitted, as well as Clay Buchholz since he's done for the year):
As usual with charts like this, green is good, and red is bad. And, not surprisingly given how bad the team has been this year, there's a whole lot of red here.
What's more disconcerting is that in the green, there aren't many players who really inspire confidence for the future. Daniel Nava and Howie Kendrick have performed well this year, but in very limited playing time. Plus, it's hard to see them part of the Phillies of the future. Pat Neshek has been excellent in relief, but he's also not a part of the Phils' long-term plans. And Luis Garcia's improvement comes only because he has contributed nothing positive or negative this year, whereas last year he was a negative.
Only the previously mentioned Altherr and Jerad Eickhoff are reason for excitement. Altherr has shown the potential that many of us were excited to see from him last year before he was injured. He will probably be the Phillies' lone All-Star representative, and is young enough that he could be part of the team's outfield plans for several years. And Eickhoff is showing he can be a soild part of the rotation in the future. He is on track to post 3 or more fWAR for the season and is improving over last year. That's excellent for a young pitcher.
Beyond that, though, no one is improving, and many players have gone backwards. The list of players in pink and red on this chart is depressing. Many of them were players that we were hoping would show, at the very least, signs of improvement this year, if not more. At least one or two of them were players we hoped would possibly breakout this year.
Instead, we have a crop of mostly young players who are doing their best impersonation of aging veterans -- declining from year to year. Whether it's the coaches who are trying to work with these guys or the players themselves, something has to change so that this list in the future has a lot more green on it.