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The Phillies Were Not Strong Up the Middle in 2018

The middle infield was a potential strength for the 2018 Phillies. For the most part, it was not.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies
Another failed at bat by Scott Kingery
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of the season, the Phillies’ middle infield situation looked promising. After jettisoning Freddy “Should of kept” Galvis, top prospect J.P. Crawford was penciled in as the starting shortstop. His tandem partner would be dependable veteran Cesar Hernandez. Hotshot rookie Scott Kingery would be used as a super utility guy, filling in all around the diamond. And Pedro Florimon would provide adequate defense at both positions.

Crawford’s season never really got going. He got off to an awful start at both the plate (.188 batting average through April) and in the field (Five errors in the first month) before suffering an arm strain that placed him on the disabled list. When he returned to the team in June, Kingery had been established as the team’s new shortstop, and Crawford was shifted to third base.

The position switch didn’t help him get more hits, although an increase in walks allowed him to raise his on base percentage to a respectable level. Unfortunately, he soon suffered another injury that kept him out of action until September.

His return to health didn’t result in a return to the lineup. Shortstop was being manned primarily by Kingery, and despite Crawford’s versatility on defense, he wasn’t used at other positions either. The manager’s explanations for Crawford’s burial were as vague as most of his other explanations throughout the season.

You might think that the reason Kingery supplanted Crawford at shortstop was because he was having an excellent season. And if you stopped watching the Phillies after the first three weeks of the season, you’d be right.

As everyone who powered through the entire season knows, Kingery’s season was not excellent. His offensive contributions drew comparisons with a member of the great 2011 team. Unfortunately, the player he was compared with wasn’t Jimmy Rollins.

Defensively, Kingery often resembled a second baseman playing out of position. To his credit, he did seem to improve as the season continued, but he didn’t seem to be nearly as good as his manager thought he was.

The team tried to fix this problem at the trade deadline by acquiring Asdrubal Cabrera. Anyone who read my recaps throughout the year knows that I am not much of a Cabrera fan, and I place 90% of the blame for the team’s collapse at his feet. The ex-Met arrived with a reputation of being a strong hitter who was weak defensively. He turned out to be better than expected on defense, but he left his offense behind in New York. It’s still entirely possible that he was a double agent sent by the Mets to sabotage the Phillies’ season. That’s the only way his season could be considered a success.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies
A rare picture of Asdrubal Cabrera celebrating a win
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

On the other side of the diamond, Cesar Hernandez started out the season looking much like he had the past two years. His combination of above average defense and strong on base skills made him a valuable supporting part of a good lineup. His first half slash line was .270/.378/.382.

The good times did not continue in the second half. He suffered a foot injury in early July, and that may have effected him more than we thought. In the second half he slashed .228/.324/.333 and only had 12 extra base hits after the All-Star Break. His decline was not usually mentioned as one of the causes for the team’s late-season collapse, but it surely didn’t help matters.

As for the backups, the most notable thing about Pedro Florimon’s season was that he was called into pitch on two separate occasions. Much like Crawford, he missed much of the middle of the season with an injury. During that time, Jesmuel Valentin was given a chance to play more and did very little with the opportunity.

Trevor Plouffe is also a person who appeared in games for the Phillies this season. Most of us have likely forgotten the late-July game in which the Phillies and Dodgers played into the sixteenth (!) inning. Just when it seemed like the game might last forever, Plouffe provided some heroics.

Years from now, fans will still likely talk about where they were watching “The Plouffe Game” or what kind of emotions they felt when he hit his blast. (For most of us, I’m guessing the emotion was unconsciousness because it happened in the middle of the night.)

Last, and pretty much least, came Mitch Walding. Mitchy-poo’s career didn’t get off to a great start, but he did give us one memorable moment.

Looking Ahead

The Phillies’ 2019 infield configuration may depend on their pursuit of Manny Machado. It seems likely that if Machado is signed, he will be the team’s shortstop. In that scenario, does J.P. Crawford fight it out with Maikel Franco (you can read about his confusing season here) at third base? Or does the team trade away one of them? Maybe the team trades both of them and uses Carlos Santana at the position?

Without Machado, is there a competition between Crawford and Kingery at shortstop? Many people feel that Crawford will develop into the better defender, but based on playing time and quotes, it seems that Gabe Kapler feels that Kingery is the superior option there. Will Crawford be used in a utility role if Kingery is the starter?

The Phillies reportedly tried to gauge Cesar Hernandez’s trade value last year. If he didn’t garner much interest a year ago, I can’t imagine he’ll get more now that he’s coming off a down year and possibly due for an arbitration pay bump. If the Phillies want Kingery to be their second baseman, they might simply have to take whatever they can get for Hernandez.

The only thing I know for sure is that if in 2019 we see Asdrubal Cabrera playing shortstop for the Phillies, I’m going to be very unhappy.