The vibe around the 2021 Philadelphia Phillies is night-and-day from where anyone thought it would be when the off-season began last November.
Remember those old vibes? The team had come off another September swoon and somehow missed the postseason in a year in which more than half the teams got to the postseason tournament. The general manager, Matt Klentak, was fired, but team president Andy MacPhail was retained and appeared to be in full control. Owner John Middleton indicated the team would pull back on payroll and that the franchise might move forward in 2021 without a GM to replace Klentak. Few people believed the team would spend the cash necessary to retain J.T. Realmuto or Didi Gregorius or add any other significant pieces to this year’s roster. The bullpen was one of the worst in baseball history.
It was a lot of bad.
Then, Dave Dombrowski was hired as president of baseball operations and things changed almost overnight. The team signed Archie Bradley to the bullpen. They traded for Jose Alvarado. Then, the big domino fell, as Realmuto surprisingly re-signed with the Phillies, followed by Gregorius. Suddenly, one of the best offenses in baseball was back together. Dombrowski signed two starters, Matt Moore and Chase Anderson, to big league deals to give the rotation depth and, as spring training progressed, the team’s new stable of relievers, as well as a few homegrown guys, suddenly started lighting up the radar gun and getting people out.
Middleton has the Phils’ right up against the $210 million luxury tax and, not coincidentally, the team has a solid roster that is capable of not only making the postseason, but winning the NL East.
It is with that spirit of optimism that I embark on this year’s edition of 10 Bold Predictions, an annual tradition I embark on in which I leave all rationality and reason at the door and allow myself to think big. This year, in addition to my predictions, I asked my followers on Twitter to provide some of their own bold predictions, and you all came through in grand style.
It’s clear there is much optimism surrounding the 2021 Phillies, as you will see from my predictions, as well as those of the Good Phight/Hittin’ season community! Now, onto the bold predictions!
Aaron Nola Is A Cy Young Award Finalist Again
All one had to do was watch Nola’s performance against the Yankees on Monday night to understand how dominant he is when dialed in. In case you needed a refresher...
Aaron Nola, Pure Filth (Knuckle Curve & Changeup) pic.twitter.com/K9AJsMfdHf— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 22, 2021
Back in 2018, Nola displayed this kind of filth over a full season and finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young race, although he struggled a bit down the stretch in September, an anomaly that really is the only knock on his resume.
Aaron Nola at the height of his powers is a top-three pitcher in the National League, this year, he’s going to be a finalist for the Cy Young Award once more.
Bryce Harper Hits 40+ Home Runs
This may not sound like a “bold” prediction, but keep in mind Harper has hit more than 40 homers just once in his nine-year MLB career, his MVP season of 2015 when he slugged 42. Since then he’s hit: 24, 29, 34, 35 and 13 in last year’s pandemic-shortened season.
One encouraging sign for Harper is that his plate discipline improved dramatically last year. He led the National League in walks (49), the second time in three years he’s done that, but dramatically dropped his strikeout rate from 26.1% in 2019 to 17.6% last season. If that trend continues, his ability to barrel up good pitches will almost certainly result in a 40+ homer season for just the second time in his big league career.
At Leat 3 Phillies Receive MVP Votes
Last year, not a single Phillies player received even one down ballot MVP vote. Not a single baseball writer who was selected to give out MVP votes though any Phils player was even deserving of a 10th place vote. This year, that will change.
While I am not predicting that a Phillies player will win the NL MVP, I do predict at least three Phils will get at least some votes. The most likely candidates are Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Aaron Nola, but I’m also going to throw a dark horse candidate into the mix as well, third baseman Alec Bohm. The position is pretty stacked in the National League, but Bohm looks like he’s going to do nothing but hit all season long.
Mickey Moniak Mashes in AAA
With just a few games left in the Grapefruit League schedule, it appears as if Roman Quinn may have overtaken Odubel Herrera in the race for the everyday center field job. Herrera has slumped the last two weeks while Quinn has hit well as Opening Day draws near. However, I’m less than confident either Quinn or Herrera will keep the job for long.
Enter former No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak, who has a 1.112 OPS in 22 spring at-bats, has hit the ball hard all month long and will be the everyday starter in center for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs this year. If Quinn gets the job, Herrera, who is not on the 40-man roster, won’t even make the team. And if Quinn struggles, Adam Haseley will probably get the next crack at it. The Phils need to know what they have in these two youngsters before turning the job over to anyone else.
That said, it feels like Moniak could be on the verge of living up to his status as a first round draft pick. He’s my pick for breakout minor league player in the Phillies organization this year, and could line himself up for the everyday center field job in 2022.
Spencer Howard Makes Less Than 10 Starts
In contrast to Moniak, I’m less-than-bullish on the Phils’ top pitching prospect Spencer Howard. Howard has missed time this spring with back spasms which don’t appear to be serious but has limited him to just three innings this spring. That comes on the heels of a strained shoulder last year that cost him a handful of starts and another shoulder injury the season before which cost him a chunk of 2019.
With a rotation of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Matt Moore and Chase Anderson and Howard’s sketchy injury history and lack of innings on his arm, it’s unlikely he’s going to be a regular feature of the rotation. The only question is whether Joe Girardi brings him up as a bullpen piece or some kind of reliever/starter hybrid. Either way, it’s hard to see Howard getting at least 10 starts unless there is a catastrophic run of injuries on the starting staff.
Rhys Hoskins Slugs Over .500
Lost amidst the disappointment of the 2020 season and his elbow injury that cost him the final two weeks of last year, Rhys Hoskins had himself a nice bounce back season. In just 41 games he went deep 10 times, slugged nine doubles and put up a slugging percentage of .503. While everyone would love to see the batting average improve from his career .239, his lifetime OBP .366 is just fine and would provide solid production in the No. 2 or 3 spot in the Phils’ order.
Scott Kingery Is Traded to the Rays
It’s hard to see what kind of future Scott Kingery has in Philadelphia at this point. He’s not going to win the center field job (Haseley and/or Quinn appear destined for that role, with Moniak putting on the heat from the minors), he’s not going to be the second baseman (Jean Segura is locked in place there), and being a super utility guy is not going to help his offensive problems, which are legion.
Kingery needs a change of scenery and what better place than Tampa? His contract is not expensive ($19.75 million the next three years, including a $1 million buyout) as long as the Rays feel like they can turn him around. Sure, Kingery provides the kind of positional flexibility that could force Girardi to put him on the 26-man roster in place of the injured Brad Miller, but if he can’t hit, he’s not terribly valuable. Unloading him to a team like the Rays would close a disappointing chapter for Kingery and the Phillies, but might be best for both moving forward.
Phillies Bullpen Finishes Top-10 In fWAR
Folks, even Jon Heyman is a believer.
After having an alltime bad pen last year, Phillies relievers are throwing so well they are making decisions tough for the Phillies. Their bullpen should be OK this year.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 23, 2021
After adding fireballers Jose Alvarado and Sam Coonrod, accomplished relievers like Archie Bradley and Brandon Kintzler, and with a full season of prospects Connor Brogdon, Jojo Romero and potentially Spencer Howard, along with mainstay Hector Neris, the Phils’ bullpen suddenly has a bunch of bat-missers. The results in spring training have been encouraging, and by using fWAR metrics, walk rate and strikeout rate will result in this new group to be among the 10 best bullpens in baseball according to that metric.
Joe Girardi Wins NL Manager of the Year
Joe Girardi is going to win this award because of the following bold predictions...
Phillies Win the National League East!!!
I made the prediction on Twitter and, while many of you were in agreement and/or supportive, there was a vocal number of folks who, shall we say, disagreed with that prediction (check out the replies if you want a few laughs).
Folks, I’m ready to make this announcement:— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) March 23, 2021
The Phillies are going to win the NL East this season.
No, the Phillies are not the favorites. According to Fangraphs, they are projected to go 81-81 and finish in 4th place in the division behind the Mets (92 wins), Braves (89) and Nationals (83).
It’s certainly understandable why prognosticators would have Atlanta and New York ahead of the Phils. The Braves are the three-time defending division champs, have some of the great young stars of the game (Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna, and Ozzie Albies) as well as a loaded rotation (Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka) and solid bullpen. The Mets “won” the offseason by adding a ton of talent (Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco among others) and will almost certainly be better.
However, the Phillies historically bad bullpen was one of the big reasons why they failed to reach the postseason in 2020. Even a slightly below average bullpen would have put them in the expanded postseason dance and, as referenced above, the ‘pen has a chance to be very good this year. The rotation, fronted by Nola, Wheeler and Eflin, could also be among the five best in the NL, and with the return of Realmuto and Didi Gregorius and a full season of Bohm at third, should put plenty of runs on the board.
There’s no reason to think the Phillies couldn’t be one of those teams that surprises in 2020. They’ve looked really good in Clearwater and I believe the Mets are overrated. How often do teams go out and load up on free agents and trades in the off-season only to take a big step back in their first year after doing so? And while Atlanta is still, on paper, better than the Phillies, how big is that gap after the Phils’ moves this off-season?
I believe all three teams are really close, that the Nationals’ window has closed, and that the Marlins’ 2020 postseason appearance was a fluke. The Phillies are GOING to win 90+ games and WIN the NFC East.
Am I crazy? I asked my Twitter followers to give me some of their bold predictions, check them out! Check out those replies!
Hey #Phillies fans... I'm working on a story with my 10 bold predictions for the season, but I want to hear yours! I'll read the best ones on the next Hittin' Season podcast and post them in the article. Let me hear 'em! Use #PhilliesBoldPredictions in your tweet.— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) March 23, 2021
And tell me what you think of my bold predictions and leave some of your own in the comments section below!