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Two breakout candidates for the Phillies

Not that they will, but there is some evidence that they might

MLB: SEP 20 Orioles at Phillies Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

People are always looking for a breakout candidate. We can blame some of that on the proliferation of fantasy baseball, but in the old days of luxury tax thresholds (hey, we don’t know the future yet), teams were always on the lookout for someone who would take another step and yet cost very little. The definition of “breakout” itself is still something of a fluid idea. What constitutes a “breakout”? Is it vast improvement from the previous season, or baby steps toward greatness? Whatever you think a breakout is, it has to apply to someone who is going to take a step forward from what they were the previous season.

The Phillies will need help from all corners of the roster (*at first I made a typo and put “coroner”, which felt apt). The days of relying on Bryce Harper to produce an MVP season might be upon us, but we cannot bank that his back won’t act up at some point in the season. They’ll need help there. The starters have Zack Wheeler, deserving Cy Young winner, and some questions. They’ll need help there. The relievers just lost Hector Neris and Archie Bradley and have only thus far signed Corey Knebel, which means yes - they’ll need help there too. But if we’re looking at those that are already under contract, which players will help? Which are the one that will take a step forward to help this team. Here, I present two possibilities for players who look like they’ll breakout in 2022.

Connor Brogdon

Connor Brogdon does a lot of the stuff you want a reliever to do. He throws hard (his fastball averages 96 mph), has an out pitch already that is trending toward elite and still has a tinge of upside to him since he is still young. These are all reasons to think that he’ll breakout, but it’s the out pitch he possesses that leads one to stand up and take notice.

Brogdon’s changeup is one of the better changeups in the game. Among all pitchers with at least ten plate appearances against it, Brogdon’s cambio ranked 13th with a -7 run value (here’s the whole leaderboard). He’s still middle of the pack when it comes to whiff percentage (33%) with it, but the hitters that faced it struggled to get good contact on it. While he did see a dip in whiff rate, all of the other numbers we’d look at to see how hitters are doing were trending in the right direction.

C. Brogdon

Year Whiff % K% xwOBA Hard Hit%
Year Whiff % K% xwOBA Hard Hit%
2020 39.0% 42.1% 0.267 37.5%
2021 33.3% 25.0% 0.202 22.1%

The fact that the opposition got more looks at his changeups and still he was able to keep them from doing damage with the pitch might be a signal that he was fooling them even as the book was coming out on him. If he can continue this trend and continue working on a cutter as another pitch in his arsenal, he could take a step toward becoming a little more than a generic middle reliever.

Matt Vierling

You might not notice it now, but apparenly, Matt Vierling is expected to play two different outfield positions come 2022. He is currently listed atop the depth chart at both left and center field, something we all know will not happen, but then again we’ve never seen the extent to which John Middleton will avoid the luxury tax.

Vierling, though, is the exact type of player that has gotten better as he has gotten closer to big league playing time in the Phillies’ system, something that cannot be said for other minor league hitters. He was surprisingly good last year in his limited playing time, apparently enough that the team thinks he’s a starter. Is it sustainable?

Looking under the hood, the first thing that sticks out is that he has a really small sample size. Joe Girardi sort of fell in love with the idea of Travis Jankowski playing center field, so Vierling wasn’t able to crack the lineup there, but if he had he might have given the team some needed punch. One of the things that stuck out about Vierling was that he hit the ball hard in his limited plate appearances, ranking 43rd among all hitters (482 of them) with at least 50 BBE (batted ball events) in average exit velocity at 91.5 miles per hour. That tied him with noted home run enthusiast Joey Gallo, and was only one tenth behind Matt Olson. These are the types of names you like to be associated with when it comes to hitting the baseball.

The issue that Vierling had was he still had a line drive approach. Even when hitting the ball that hard, his average launch angle was 6.3 degrees, which among those same qualifiers, would have ranked 441st. His barrels per BBE rate was only 38%, tied for 396th. All of this to say that if Vierling can maintain that increase in exit velocity and somehow improve his launch angle, good things are going to happen.

Bryce Harper will need help.

Zack Wheeler and J.T. Realmuto and Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins will need help.

If the team isn’t going to stretch too far in its ability to add via payroll, this help will have to come from within. Brogdon and Vierling have the potential give that help. We’ll see if it comes to fruition.