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13 ups and downs of the Phillies 2020 season

Aaron Nola’s issues in September are a bit overblown.

Baltimore Orioles v. Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As Phillies fans remain fixated on the future of general manager Matt Klentak, the J.T. Realmuto free agent saga, and yet another MLB postseason that does not feature the Phils, no one has had much time to reflect on the 60-game 2020 season. There were a number of positive developments and pleasant surprises this season, some serious disappointments, and some things we’re still not sure about.

Who is trending up? Who’s trending down? Who is... well... doing neither? Below is my up/down drill for the 2020 Phillies season.

UP - Alec Bohm

Among players with at least 180 plate appearances, Bohm’s .338 batting average tied with Marcell Ozuna for 4th in Major League Baseball, his .400 OBP was 12th, and among NL third basemen, his 1.2 fWAR was tied with Brian Anderson for 2nd, behind only Manny Machado. However, Bohm played 15 fewer games than Anderson and 16 fewer games than Machado. His defense is still a work in progress, but he hit well enough to justify his spot at the hot corner, and flashed enough power potential for one to think he’ll be a 20-25 homer guy before too long. Had the Phillies not played service time manipulation with Bohm, would they have won the one more game they needed to go to the playoffs?

DOWN - Scott Kingery

Kingery came into the season behind the 8-ball after he contracted COVID during the spring and early summer, so it’s unclear how much of his struggles this year were due to aftereffects of his illness. That being said, he was one of the worst baseball players in the league for the second time in three seasons this year. Kingery was worth -0.6 fWAR after hitting .159/.228/.283, far below Michael Martinez/Steve Jeltz levels, folks. He struck out in an incredible 28.2% of his PAs and had just 6 RBIs in 124 plate appearances this season. By the end of the year he was relegated to bench duty. Kingery may be versatile defensively, but he has trouble staying healthy and isn’t a productive offensive player when he has been out there.

UP - Didi Gregorius

There were questions about Gregorius entering the 2020 season, but Didi was perhaps the most consistent offensive player in the Phillies’ lineup, was durable, and played a solid defensive shortstop as well. He hit .284/.339/.488 with 10 HRs, 34 runs, and 40 RBIs. Those 40 runs knocked in was tied for 4th among NL shortstops, and his 1.4 fWAR was 7th in the league at an absolutely loaded position. In a perfect world, the Phils would probably love to have him back, but he played well enough to warrant a three-year deal somewhere, and there are other shortstop free agents (Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons, and Jose Iglesias among them) from which the Phillies could choose.

DOWN - The Bullpen

Do you really need to read anymore about how bad the Phillies bullpen was? I didn’t think so. Just know that Connor Brogdon showed enough in the last two weeks to know he’s a lock to make the ‘pen, and that you’re likely to see JoJo Romero, Ranger Suarez, Jose Alvarez and probably David Phelps and Hector Neris back in 2021.

DOWN - Aaron Nola in September

Nola had two outstanding starts in September this year and three lackluster performances. In his last three outings, he gave up 13 runs (11 earned), and 17 hits in 15 innings (6.60 ERA). He has a career 4.28 ERA in the season’s final month, far higher than his career 3.47 ERA, and over the last three seasons has September ERAs of 3.57, 6.51 and 3.72, all far higher than his ERAs in other months those seasons. It’s hard to say exactly why this happens to Nola, but as the staff ace, he has to give more than 3.1 innings in the final game of the season when a win puts you into the playoffs. Nola is a steady, unemotional pitcher, so it’s hard to believe he gets rattled in September. It’s likely just one of those freaky things, but it’s happened every year, so it’s hard to know for sure what’s happening there.

UP - Aaron Nola in Every Month Not Named September

After an up-and-down 2019, Nola came out breathing fire this year. Until those final three starts, Nola had a 2.40 ERA in his first nine starts with an opponent’s OPS of just .583.

UP - Joe Dillon

The Phillies offense improved dramatically in every facet in 2020. Their 21.5% K-rate was 5th-lowest in the NL this season, one year after its 23.2% K-rate was 16th. They coupled that with a 10.3% walk rate that was 2nd-highest in baseball, and their 0.48 walks per strikeout was tied with the Dodgers for the best mark in the NL. Their .257 team batting average was tied for 5th-best with the Padres and Rockies (up from .246 the season before), and their .781 OPS was 6th-best (.746 in 2019).

UP - Rhys Hoskins

Dillon also helped Rhys Hoskins rediscover his power stroke. After a slow start, Hoskins finished with a .245/.384/.503 slash line, 10 HRs, 35 runs, and 26 RBIs. Over his last 21 games he hit .276/.357/.644. His wRC+ of 139 was the highest since his short rookie season, and was on pace to hit 39 HRs over a full 162-game season. However Dillon helped Hoskins, it appeared to work.

DOWN - Spencer Howard

We were supposed to get our first taste of Spencer Howard this year after the Phillies finished their service time manipulation in the season’s second week, but Howard largely disappointed before his season ended in mid-September due to another shoulder injury. His fastball, which averaged in the mid-90s early in his starts, dropped by 1-2 mph as the middle innings wore on. He only managed to go five innings in one of his six starts, and finished with a 5.92 ERA with a 1.644 WHIP.

It’s obviously far too early to make any determination on Howard’s career but, one year after having to be shut down for two months with a shoulder injury as a minor leaguer, Howard having to stop his season short again with another shoulder problem is a worrisome trend.

UP - Zack Wheeler

Despite seeing his K-rate drop from 23.6% in 2019 to 18.4% this year, Wheeler was a far better and more consistent pitcher than at any point in his career in 2020. He put up a 2.92 ERA, walked just 2.03 batters per nine innings, and saw a dramatic increase in his ground ball rate, from 43.2% in ‘19 to 55.9% in ‘20. He was a double play machine and was everything the Phillies could have hoped for when they invested five years and $118 million contract last off-season.

UP - J.T. Realmuto

Realmuto put up a career high .840 OPS and, while he was once again a bit streaky at the plate, he still finished with 1.7 fWAR, most among NL catchers (Travis d’Arnaud and Wilson Contreras were tied for 2nd at 1.6). Realmuto lost some of his power stroke over the last month and a half of the season, but was consistently on base and was a plus defender behind the dish once again. There simply is no better or more consistent catcher in baseball, as Realmuto proved once again in 2020.

NOT SURE - Joe Girardi

Girardi made some questionable decisions this year, and his bullpen usage has always caused some stress among fans of the teams he’s managed, and he was at the helm of a team that went 1-7 in its last eight games, when even 2-6 would have gotten them to the playoffs. On the other hand, he was given a bullpen that was impossible to navigate. It’s fair to say that, given one or two reliable, late-inning relief pitchers, Girardi’s first season in Philadelphia would have gone much better.

UP - Andrew Knapp

Knapp’s 2020 season was really incredible. Prior to this season, his highest OPS in a season was .736. In 33 games this season, he hit .278/.404/.444 and put up an incredible 133 wRC+. He should not be considered a viable everyday replacement for Realmuto, but he has solidified himself as a solid back-up catcher in this league, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, I broke down all these up-downs and chatted with Philadelphia Inquirer Phillies beat writer Scott Lauber about the future of Matt Klentak & Andy MacPhail, where things went wrong for the Phils and the prospects of signing J.T. Realmuto this winter. Enjoy!