When the Phillies won the 2008 World Series and began their five-year run of brilliance, they were led by four legitimate star players — Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. Sure, they had a lot of supporting studs like Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino too, but it was those four superstars that made the Phillies the dangerous team they were.
The 2018 Phillies had one star, Aaron Nola. None of the other prospects that had been cultivated and promoted the previous years had developed into that kind of player. Sure, Odubel Herrera made an All-Star team and Rhys Hoskins had his power moments, but the team recognized that if they were going to compete for a playoff spot, they were going to need to bring in their superstar players from outside the organization.
So, the team gave up their top prospect, Sixto Sanchez, as well as Jorge Alfaro, to get J.T. Realmuto, the man who most believed was the best catcher in baseball. They gave up J.P. Crawford and Carlos Santana to bring Jean Segura to Philadelphia. They signed Andrew McCutchen to a three-year deal and, of course, landed the biggest free agent fish this off-season, Bryce Harper, to a lifetime contract.
These were supposed to be the stars, with the hope Hoskins would take a step forward and become one too.
So far, it hasn’t happened. And the Phillies don’t seem to have an answer.
McCutchen was having a fantastic season until his ACL said “no mas”. Harper’s wRC+ of 115 is far below his career 138, and his 13 home runs are tied for 64th-most in MLB. He’s still hitting just .248 and has made a league-leading seven outs on the basepaths this season. Realmuto had a 126 wRC+ last year after hitting .277/.340/.484. This year, his 93 wRC+ is below league average and he’s hitting a punchless .260/.317/.426. By comparison, Cesar Hernandez is hitting .275/.330/.430.
Over the last three seasons, Segura has hit .304, .300 and .319. This year, he’s hitting .268, with a wRC+ of 95. Only Hoskins has put up the type of numbers you would have expected — a .270/.401/.522 slash line with 16 bombs and a wRC+ of 141. But it’s hard to say he’s the team’s superstar.
And of course, there is the duo of Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta at the top of the rotation. Nola had a solid, eight-inning outing against the Marlins in the Phils’ 2-1 loss on Friday night, which lowered his ERA to a still-too-high 4.55 ERA and 4.40 FIP. He’s already given up 14 home runs this year after giving up 17 in 2018. Arrieta’s 4.12 ERA continues a recent upward trend, and his 15 dingers allowed are among the most in baseball. In fact, Arrieta’s 1.47 HR/9 and Nola’s 1.42 are 6th and 7th-highest in the National League.
If someone told you now that they believed this roster wasn’t deep enough for them to compete for a division title at the beginning of the season, they’d be lying. After this past off-season, Matt Klentak was praised for bringing star players to a team that desperately needed them, and virtually everyone believed they were a 90-win team or better. Looking back now and criticizing Klentak for the 2019 roster is disingenuous, 20-20 hindsight.
But yes, there is a lack of depth on the Phillies. They did not invest in another starting pitcher and instead rolled the dice with Nick Pivetta/Vince Velasquez/Zach Eflin for the last three spots in the rotation. Eflin has worked out nicely and Pivetta seems to be finding it, but Velasquez has bounced between the rotation and bullpen, doing neither job effectively. They essentially have not had a No. 5 starter for most of the season, and the AAA depth at Lehigh Valley has simply been a collection of lousy Major League starters.
That’s not depth. That’s flotsam.
Sean Rodriguez and Phil Gosselin should not have been the first two options off the bench for as long as they were. Homegrown players like Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr failed to provide the depth they needed in the outfield, Roman Quinn is either injury prone or not performing, and Adam Haseley was only here for five minutes before a month-long hamstring injury sidelined him. Andrew Knapp is a below par back-up catcher.
Losing David Robertson and Pat Neshek crippled the bullpen, and the injury/poor performance of Seranthony Dominguez was a double whammy, too.
However, the lack of depth is not why this team is losing. This team is losing because, despite adding a bunch of “star” players this off-season, none of them (with the possible exception of Hoskins) is playing like “stars.”
When you look at the Atlanta Braves, you see two superstars — Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna. When you look at the Dodgers, you see Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Max Muncy. The Cubs have Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Christian Yelich, Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas have performed at All-Star levels. Even the Nationals, who have also underperformed this year, have Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
Depth is important. The Dodgers are the best team in baseball because of their depth. But they are led by their star players, just like every other good team in the National League.
The Phillies put together a roster that was top-heavy, depending on their studs to pace the team, and almost all of them have massively underachieved. That a lineup with Harper, Realmuto and Hoskins in the middle of it is tied for 23rd in home runs this season is ridiculous.
Still, despite the seven-game losing streak and 6.5 game deficit in the NL East, the Phils are just 1.5 games out of the wild card. Their season is not over. If they can rediscover the ability to do the one thing all baseball players were born to do — hit the fastball — they can get back to their winning ways. But that’s up to the supposed superstars the Phillies brought in this off-season to take care of.
If they don’t, changes will be made.
On Episode 297 of “Hittin’ Season,” I discussed some of those potential changes and the things that have gone wrong with the Phillies with Justin Klugh and Liz Roscher, as we felt our feelings and let it all out during a cathartic edition of the podcast. Check it out and please subscribe, rate and review!