The Phillies long-shot run at the postseason is likely going to end this weekend.
The Phils had a chance to make things interesting in the NL East for the last week of the season, entering their four-game series against the Braves trailing by 1 1⁄2 games. A sweep of Atlanta would have made things really fun, and even winning two out of three would at least have kept the conversation going. But after losing the first two games of the series in typical 2018 Phillies fashion, one more Braves victory in this series will officially end this team’s pursuit of October baseball.
So now, we cast our eyes to 2019 and what will certainly be an exciting off-season — one that might see them sign one or two superstar position players, perhaps an exciting starting pitcher, and some bullpen help. They might make a bunch of trades too, and that’s where things get even more interesting.
While trades will certainly bring talent into the organization, general manager Matt Klentak has some decisions to make on whom to deal away in order to make room on this crowded roster for next season. And one of the most disheartening things about this season is that we still don’t really know how many of the homegrown players on the 25-man roster are keepers for the long haul.
Sure, we know Rhys Hoskins isn’t going anywhere, he’s emerged as a dependable, if streaky, power-hitting stud. We have also seen enough to know Jorge Alfaro is going to stick around, and Scott Kingery has that Major League deal so he is very likely staying put, too. But can we say the same for virtually anyone else? And are we sure players like Alfaro and Kingery will improve next season?
According to Wins Above Replacement, it’s hard to feel good about much of this team’s roster right now. Whether you’re using Fangraphs (fWAR) or Baseball Reference (bWAR), the team’s WAR totals (which encompass offensive, baserunning and defensive metrics) are not encouraging.
Before we go any further, I fully submit that WAR is a flawed statistic and should not be used as an end-all, be-all metric. Most analysts look at more than just WAR, utilizing both traditional statistics and newer analytics. This exercise is merely meant to give a snapshot of where the Phils stand according to this still-important metric.
As a team, the Phillies have a collective fWAR of 13.7 among its position players, 20th out of 30 teams this year. The Mets, by the way, are 17th (16.2). The Phils’ collective bWAR, is even worse, dead last in baseball (0.4).
That’s right, according to Baseball Reference, all of the Phillies’ position players have essentially rated out to being a replacement level baseball player.
First, let’s look at the fWAR breakdown on this chart.
Hoskins’ 2.6 fWAR is highest on the team, but he has by far the highest offensive scores, with a team-high wRC+ of 129 and the only really above average offensive score by Fangraphs’ standards. Cesar Hernandez checks in at 2.4 fWAR and, perhaps surprisingly, Alfaro has the 3rd-highest fWAR at 2.1, with much of that due to his pitch-framing abilities. Carlos Santana is at 2.0.
In all, the Phillies have four players with fWARs above at 2.0 or above, but none with an fWAR near 3.0. Perhaps a hot week from Hoskins puts him over that number here at the end of the season, but that’s unlikely. That lack of a three-win player is a problem. It’s also a problem that Odubel Herrera has seen his fWAR fall from 3.8 in each of his first two seasons to 2.9 last year to 1.3 this season. Hernandez has seen his drop from 3.9 in ‘16, to 3.3 last year and 2.4 this season.
These are trends in the wrong direction.
Compare the Phils’ 2018 output to the Mets, who have Brandon Nimmo as a 4.4 fWAR player, and two others in Michael Conforto (2.6), Jeff McNeil (2.3 in just 215 PAs), who are as good as anything the Phillies have. But it gets even scarier when you glance at the Braves’ positional talent. Freddie Freeman has a 5.1 fWAR this season. Ronald Acuna is at 3.9, Ozzie Albies is at 3.7 and Johan Camargo is at 3.0. Nick Markakis (2.9) and Ender Inciarte (2.8) also have higher fWARs than anyone on the Phillies.
That’s six Braves players who would all be at the top of the Phils’ fWAR leaderboard, and the Phillies’ numbers get even scarier when you look at bWAR.
But first, a quick word about the difference between Fangraphs and Baseblal reference and how they calculate their WARs. They’re essentially the same except with defensive metrics, which this year has resulted in some wild swings due to the growth of defensive shifting. Fangraphs uses Total Zone Rating (TZR) while Baseball Reference uses Defensive Runs Saved, a stat that has been incredibly unkind to the Phillies this season.
It’s important to look at bWAR with that understanding in order to know just why they have the Phils pegged dead last in baseball. When you strip out the fielding component, Phillies position players posted a WAR (oWAR) of 13.2, but that’s still just 23rd in the Majors. Their defense-only war (dWAR) of -12.5 is, of cousrse, dead last.
Here’s how that breaks down player-by-player.
According to bWAR, the Phillies did not have a single position player even approach a two-win status. The highest was Carlos Santana, at 1.6, with Hernandez at 1.2, Alfaro at 1.1 and Wilson Ramos, in the month he’s been with the team, at 1.0.
The biggest difference is with Hoskins, whose defensive issues in left field have destroyed his bWAR value, just 0.5. Of course, there is no sensible rationale one can make for Hoskins to be considered a 0.5-win player, and if you strip out the defense, Hoskins leads the team with a 3.2 oWAR, followed by Hernandez at 2.5 and Santana at 1.8.
Still, only Hoskins’ offensive stats are well above average, and for some of the players who have been with the Phillies for a few seasons, their bWARs have slid this season.
Last year, Odubel Herrera had a bWAR of 2.3, this year it’s 0.5. However, his oWAR last year was 1.9 and this year it’s 1.7, so it’s not a drastic drop from 2017, but it is a huge drop from the 4.2 bWAR and 3.6 oWAR he posted in 2016. In 2016, Hernandez had a bWAR of 3.2 and last year it was 3.1. This year, it’s 1.2, with an oWAR that’s fallen from 3.2 last season to 2.5 this year.
It’s also disheartening that some of the young players we expected to be decent were far from it. Aaron Altherr has an fWAR of -0.3 and a bWAR of -0.7. Scott Kingery’s fWAR is -0.1 and his bWAR is -1.4!. In fact, among players with at least 400 plate appearances this season, Kingery’s fWAR is 188th out of 201 players.
Again, this is not to close the book on these players or any others. Nick Williams has had a decent season for the Phillies and has had a couple sustained stretches where he’s been pretty good, but he has an fWAR of 0.4 and a bWAR of -1.2, although when you strip out his defense, his oWAR is 0.8 (his dWAR is -2.5!!!). Do those numbers, along with a .256/.324/.425 slash line and a wRC+ of 103 in 448 plate appearances scream “bulding block”?
J.P. Crawford has hit well since getting regular playing time in September, and he maintains a shoulder problem has affected his throwing, which has been his major defensive problem. But he’s still just at 0.3 fWAR and -0.1 bWAR this year. And what about Maikel Franco? Is a 1.2 fWAR, a 0.1 bWAR and a 105 wRC+ enough to make him someone to build around? Perhaps it is, considering he’s still young, he improved this year and there are no better internal options.
Obviously, there are a lot of flaws with using WAR, and no one should take these WAR numbers alone as a basis for making any decisions. One needs to look at all the numbers and factor in extenuating circumstances (injuries that may have factored into poor play, second half adjustments, natural improvements of young players and others) before making a firm decision in their own minds on these players.
But in looking at these WAR totals, it’s clear most of the position players on the Phillies either had a down year, are trending in the wrong direction, or didn’t get much better in 2018. And if you’re looking for reasons why Phils fans haven’t fully embraced this team, it’s perhaps because they still don’t really know what they’re looking at.