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2018 Phillies in review: An ineffective outfield

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Well, this outfield certainly was.....something

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The players

Nick Williams: .256/.324/.425, 17 HR, 50 RBI, 111/32 K/BB, -1.0 bWAR
Aaron Altherr: .181/.295/.333, 8 HR, 38 RBI, 91/36 K/BB, -0.8 bWAR
Jose Bautista: .244/.404/.467, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 15/11 K/BB, 0.4 bWAR
Dylan Cozens: .158/.273/.289, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 24/6 K/BB, -0.3 bWAR

To say that this collection of players was a disappointment would be an understatement. We knew going in to the season that it would be a defensive alignment that defensive metrics wouldn’t take too kindly to, but this team was almost as offensive with the bat. Outside of Rhys Hoskins (who will get his own, separate piece), these players weren’t exactly setting the world on fire. It got so bad that Jose Bautista was resurrected in the hopes he could inject a little life into the offense. Sadly, outside of Hoskins, he ended up posting the best WAR number of any player to roam the Philadelphia green. It’s a collection that is badly in need of an overhaul. If only there were some impact free agents available for the taking....

The good

For the catchers, I decided to look at the good things that happened to each player. Here, I wanted to simply highlight some things that were good overall.

Nick Williams’ improvement over the season - The book on Williams coming in to the season was that he was impatient, but had power. He had decent speed, but couldn’t field. If he could bring his walk rate up just a tad, he’d be an above average player. Another notch in the belt of the Hamels trade. Come the end of spring training and Williams looks like a bench piece more than the lefty hitting side of a platoon, pouting about not getting at bats, he wasn’t coming off too well. Granted, he was only hitting .203/.277/.288. He wasn’t walking (9.2%) and was striking out a ton (30.8%), but once he was put in to the lineup more often than the cliff diving Altherr, he performed better. From May 7 on (an arbitrary starting point since that was when he started getting into the lineup more regularly), he hit .264/.332/.448 with a 6.8% walk rate and a lowered 23.8% strikeout rate. As Ben Harris wrote in June, his plate discipline also improved dramatically. Had he been able to be even a competent outfielder, he’d have finished with a positive value when it comes to WAR. Alas, the DRS and UZR gods did not smile on him, giving him negative marks for both. It was still nice to see him improve as the season. It gave us hope that he could potentially be another win in the great Hamels sell off.

Of course, when it comes to defense, using a glove to catch a ball is good start.

The bad

Hot take: Aaron Altherr and his poor season screwed up this year for this team more than anyone else - In 2017, Altherr finished with a .272/.340/.516 line, good for a 125 wRC+. He looked like a building block for this team, albeit one that would be more of a “solid regular” than “All-Star candidate”. A team needs those 3-4 WAR players to help sustain the stars on the team. When Carlos Santana was acquired and Rhys Hoskins was sent to the outfield, Altherr was forced into a timeshare with Nick Williams that neither was particularly comfortable with. It should in both of their results. Altherr was so bad, he was sent to the minor leagues to work on his swing more than anything while the team went with Roman Quinn as the fourth outfielder. When he was summoned back, Altherr still didn’t hit, ending 2018 with the putrid line you see above.

Now, imagine Altherr approaches his line from 2017 this past year. What does this offense look like now? While he wasn’t meant to be a superstar outfielder, the team did expect another solid performance out of him since he had shown over a fairly large sample size that he would do it. When he couldn’t, the team was forced to scramble. Think about it. When Herrera when into this tailspin, he kept going out there because they had no one else who could play centerfield. Quinn helped, but what if Altherr was hitting well? Maybe they scratch out a few more wins with his bat in the lineup.

While Altherr alone wasn’t the cause of all the team’s offensive woes, the fact that he was so bad this year destroyed a lot of the plans the team had for the season.

The fielding - I mean....

Good heavens.

It’s not like it was just bad. It was historically bad. Even if you’re like me and skeptical of advanced defensive metrics, there is no denying that this team was terrible with the leather. Hoskins is not a left fielder, but that problem could potentially be solved for 2019. Williams is not a right fielder, but there is the possibility he could be headed back to left field, his natural position, next year depending on how all the roster maneuvering shakes out. I personally believe Herrera is still an asset in center, but even if he is sent packing himself, Roman Quinn (more coming on him later) can more than make up for his shortcomings up the middle. Perhaps a lot of the issues can be solved by putting players back to where they are most comfortable, perhaps not. But at least we can take solace in the hope that it can’t get much worse than it was this year.

Can it?

Jose Bautista had the second highest outfielder WAR on this team - If Baseball Reference is your go to for stats, Bautista’s 0.4 bWAR tied for second with Roman Quinn, a tenth of a point behind Hoskins. If you like Fangraphs, he finished third (0.6) behind Herrera (0.9) and Hoskins (2.9). Even if it’s a counting stat, it’s still sad that no one else on this team could accumulate even a respectable number. It speaks to why their ineptitude in the outfield must be addressed this offseason.

We will speak no more of this.

The future

Wow.

Where do we begin?

There are so many question marks with this position headed into the winter. Just to name a few:

  • Does Hoskins head back to first base?
  • Is Herrera here on Opening Day?
  • Can Quinn supplant Herrera even if the latter is still on the roster?
  • Does Altherr still need to be tendered a contract with Quinn showing a smidgen of ability to stay healthy?
  • Is Bryce Harper the main target in free agency?
  • What do we do about Nick Williams?

These are a lot of the questions Matt Klentak and company need to answer this year. Signing Harper solves a lot of problem, but others need to either continuing improving or at least get back to where they were if this unit wants to be thought of as at least average. Another performance like this in 2019 and this team will probably miss the playoffs yet again.