The Marlins just won five out of seven games against the Phillies as they fielded a team with a payroll of about $80 million. When compared to the Phils’ payroll of over $200 million, Miami shouldn’t have been able to keep up with the visitors from Philadelphia last weekend. And yet, the Fish have developed a strong, young, cheap pitching staff led by Sixto Sanchez, the 21-year-old stud dealt away in the J.T. Realmuto trade last off-season, a player who could haunt the Phillies for the next decade in Florida, and a collection of professional hitters who always seem to break the Phils’ backs.
General manager Matt Klentak has put together a high-priced roster in 2020. That was the mandate handed down by the fans to owner John Middleton, and it has happened. They went out and got Bryce Harper, signed Didi Gregorius, inked Zack Wheeler, brought on Jake Arrieta, J.T. Realmuto, and Jean Segura and extended Aaron Nola. There is a lot of expensive talent on this team, and some of that talent isn’t playing as well as they need to.
Given the injuries to Spencer Howard, Zack Wheeler (hopefully Wheeler will be able to pitch this week after injuring his fingernail on his jeans last week), Rhys Hoskins and Realmuto, as well as the bullpen’s seeming inability to right itself, the following five players, veterans all, need to step up over these final two weeks if the Phillies are going to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011, even if it is as one of the three extra teams in each league per the expanded pandemic playoff structure.
On August 23rd, Hoskins hit his second home run of the season against the Braves. He had been struggling mightily when that evening began, with a .211/.417/.324 slash line. In the 19 games since, Hoskins batted .275/.348/.663 for a 1.011 OPS with 9 HRs and 19 RBIs until his injury forced him out of the lineup on Saturday. Needless to say, his absence over the next 10 days will be felt.
Entering that same game, Bryce Harper was hitting .343/.478/.714 for a 1.119 OPS. In the 22 games he’s played since that day, he’s batted .178/.351/.274 and recently endured an 18-game homerless streak. In his last five games, Harper has heated it up, with a sorely needed bomb over the weekend in Miami to the tune of a .353/.450/.706 slash line. They’re going to need an MVP-like performance down the stretch from Harper, their most expensive player.
If you haven’t looked at Segura’s contract in a while (I hadn’t), it’s easy to forget that he’s signed through 2022 at $14.85 million per season. In other words, he’s likely going to be here for a spell. Segura’s ability to play third, second or shortstop is valuable, and his flexibility has allowed Joe Girardi to seamlessly install Alec Bohm at third base and, now with Rhys Hoskins injured, back over to third as Bohm takes over first base.
That being said, the Phils’ need more offensive production from James Cigarettes (that’s a nickname not a typo). When Klentak traded for Segura prior to the 2019 season, he had come off three straight seasons in which he hit over .300 and had made the All Star team in ‘18. But in a Phils uniform, he’s hit .274/.325/.415 for an unspectacular .739 OPS, and this year he’s seen his slash line drop to .253/.333/.393. That’s simply not enough production from someone making $14.85 million a season.
In the final season of a three-year, $75 million contract, Arrieta hasn’t lived up to the billing as a No. 2 or 3 starting pitcher at any point during his tenure. He’s been inconsistent throughout his time in Philadelphia and has seen his ERA climb from 3.96 in ‘18 to 4.64 last year to 5.54 in eight starts this season, where he’s completed six innings only twice.
Perhaps his last two starts are reason for encouragement. Against the Mets two outings ago he went seven innings and gave up two runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts and one walk in a 5-3 win, and in his last start against Miami he went 5.2 innings and allowed three runs on four hits with four walks and three punch outs. Often times, Arrieta has no idea where the ball is going when it leaves his hand, but with three more starts likely this season, a sharp Arrieta could be the difference between a postseason berth and another October playing golf.
There is a contingent of Phillies fans out there who are true Zach Eflin believers. When one looks at his peripherals, it’s easy to see why.
Strikeout Rates for Pitchers begin to stabilize around 70 batters faced. Lets check out some SP who have increased their K% the most this year:— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) September 14, 2020
1. Shane Bieber (11.1%)
2. Zach Eflin (10.4%)
3. Yusei Kikuchi (10.1%)
4. Trevor Cahill (9.3%)
5. Aaron Nola (8.6%)#FantasyBaseball
Coming into today, he had a 2.90 FIP, 3.17 xFIP, 3.29 SIERA, 2.71 xERA, and a 25.0 K-BB%.— Mitch Lord (@lord_mitch) September 8, 2020
He has an 89th percentile xwOBA, 77th percentile EV and HH%, 89th percentile xERA, 82nd percentile xBA, 80th percentile xSLG, and 83rd percentile K%.
His ceiling has 100% changed.
I do not post these tweets to poke fun at the Eflin believers nor to criticize them. The peripherals do paint an encouraging picture of Eflin that, if he could put it all together at some point, would make for a very good pitcher.
Unfortunately, we’ve the same about Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez in recent seasons, too. At some point, your actual numbers are what they say you are. In eight starts this season, Eflin has a 5.01 ERA. He has a 1.452 WHIP. He’s giving up 10.7 hits per nine innings, has allowed seven home runs in those eight starts and opponents are hitting .288 against him (albeit with a .378 BABIP).
But let’s go beyond this year. He has started 82 games for the Phillies and appeared in four other games as a reliever. In those 460.1 innings he has an ERA of 4.75 and a FIP of 4.72. The Phillies desperately need him to live up to his peripherals over his last few starts if they’re to overcome the Marlins and hold off the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds for one of those final two playoff spots.
When the Phillies acquired Phelps at the trade deadline, no one expected him to be a wipe-out closer. But he was expected not to wipe out. In six appearances with the Phils, he’s given up five home runs and allowed eight earned runs in 5 1⁄3 innings. That’s a 13.50 ERA, kids, and it’s infuriating because while with Milwaukee this season he had given up just two dingers in 12 games (13 innings) and had an ERA of 2.77. From 2016-19 (he missed all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery), he put up an ERA of 2.85 with a FIP of 3.38 and a WHIP of 1.268.
For the last four years, David Phelps has been a solid, late-inning relief pitcher, yet as soon as he pulled on the red and white pinstripes, he’s been a disaster. The Phils hold a $4.5 million team option for him next year and it’s likely they’ll keep him, simply because they don’t have many better options, but given the struggles of the bullpen (still a league-worst 7.18 ERA), they need at least one of their four trade acquisitions from this year to provide some stability, and Phelps is the most likely candidate to do that.
So there you go. If these five players can step up their game and play up to the levels they’re expected to, the Phillies will likely go to the playoffs. The team should get Jay Bruce, Roman Quinn, Realmuto and Wheeler back soon, which will help. On the latest edition of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh and I broke down the Phils-Marlins series and wondered about the future of a roster without a lot of sure things on it moving forward.