As fun as it’s been watching the Phillies make their way to first place (and then almost immediately fall out of it), it’s been a difficult period to watch the offense. The Phillies’ batters have been struggling to score runs lately, but there’s one batter in particular who has been especially struggling: Rhys Hoskins. On April 27, Hoskins had a .346/.495/.603 triple slash. Since then, his numbers haven’t been so good.
Another hitless day for Hoskins, who was double switched out of the game. He's now batting .140 with a .243 OBP & 33 strikeouts since April 28, a span of 25 games. Hoskins has been in either the No. 2 or 4 spot of the order during this stretch. Tough for offense to overcome that.— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) May 27, 2018
Yeah, that’s pretty bad. Hoskins is now a one-man rally killer installed in the top of the lineup. He’s been in the No. 2 or 4 spot for the entire season, and in the last month it’s really, really hurt.
Only some of this is Hoskins’ fault. He has been bad lately, but I have no doubt he’ll find a way to break out of it. He’s not the one putting himself in the second or fourth lineup spot every day. It’s unacceptable for Gabe Kapler to keep batting Hoskins at the top of the lineup. I get waiting until game 15 of his slump to see if he’s going to snap back quickly. But after that point, it’s time to put the good of the team before your faith in the player.
When Charlie Manuel was managing the Phillies in their previous heyday, he had a predictable formula to his lineups. Jimmy Rollins would bat first, followed by Shane Victorino or Placido Polanco, then Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Sometimes he’d switch around the first and second spots a little bit, but Chase and Ryan almost always hit 3-4 in the lineup. And that continued to happen even when the Phillies were having offensive issues. It was maddening in 2012 when Ryan Howard (who only played in 71 games that year) continued to hit fourth for the vast, vast majority of games when he only hit .223 on the year. Seeing Rhys Hoskins hitting second almost every day is starting to feel like that. (And so is seeing Aaron Altherr starting nearly every day, but this isn’t about him.) If Hoskins is hitting badly and installed in the second spot, he becomes something the offense has to overcome instead of an advantage.
What happened to crazy Gabe Kapler? The Gabe Kapler who called for a reliever who wasn’t ready in the bullpen? Who tossed the entire bullpen at the Braves in the first series of the year? That guy seemed like he was willing to try anything to win. The Kapler we’re seeing now has listened to advice from many places, but I feel like he’s gone too far the other way. It feels like he’s committed to batting Hoskins second and having Aaron Altherr start every game. I know players need stability, but what’s happening now isn’t working for the team. It’s time to change things. I know Kapler has the ability to make those changes. He just has to, you know, do it.
I have another radical suggestion: Hoskins needs to take at least two days off during the next road trip. Before the season, Kapler was very clear about trying to get everyone playing time. Some guys have been playing themselves into a more consistent role, like Jorge Alfaro. But for some reason, Nick Williams has gotten the short end of the stick while Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Altherr have been almost entirely exempt. And unlike Odubel Herrera, Hoskins hasn’t put up the numbers to justify that. (Altherr hasn’t either, but this isn’t about him.) (But seriously, Aaron Altherr has been playing way, way too much for as bad as he’s been hitting. Woof.)
I understand sticking with a player like Hoskins when he’s scuffling. He has enormous potential! But I’m not sure what the justification is for leaving him in the second or fourth spot right now. He’s a human with eyes and a brain, he knows how he’s doing. Moving him down doesn’t mean he’s worthless as a hitter and will never bounce back, and I bet he knows that. It doesn’t show a lack of faith in Hoskins, just a desire to put a more productive hitter behind Cesar Hernandez and/or Odubel Herrera.
Of course, there’s the question of who you move there. And while you could definitely just move someone like Carlos Santana or Maikel Franco into that spot, plucking Hoskins out of the lineup and moving everyone up a spot is an option as well. Here’s the lineup for the May 26 game against the Blue Jays.
In this lineup (which did lead to a win, this is just an example), you could move Hoskins down to seventh and move everyone in front of Jorge Alfaro up a spot. And then switch Aaron Altherr with Nick Williams and you’re in business.
There are a lot of possible lineups. Kapler just has to be willing — or, should I say, BOLD enough — to make the change. If Hoskins starts to hit better, it’s easy to move him back up. That’s the great thing about being able to submit a new lineup every day. But it’s long past time for him to start hitting lower in the order. Until Kapler moves him down, a guy hitting under .200 in the last month will keep coming up after one (and sometimes two) of the team’s most productive hitters. And that’s no way to score runs.
What’s happening to Hoskins isn’t unheard of. In fact, most of the offense is having issues. This is just a collective slump, which can happen in baseball. Lord knows even the best Phillies teams had to deal with those. (The 2010 Phillies particularly come to mind.) But it has to end somehow. And maybe shaking up the lineup, moving Hoskins down a few spots, and spreading the playing time around a little more will help jolt the offense back to life. At this point, it can’t hurt.