Had you watched any kind of Phillies game this season, you were undoubtedly exposed to the CarShield ad that featured Matt Vierling. Of all the players on the team that could have been the spokesman for the company, Vierling was probably the one who you wouldn’t have picked to be the representative.
Sadly, that is probably what Vierling will be remembered for most in 2022. He was on the short side of a center field platoon for most of the season, having to cede time to either Odubel Herrera, Mickey Moniak or Brandon Marsh throughout the year. He was a preseason darling of sorts to breakout during the season thanks to some solid batted ball data that was thought to be a precursor to his deserving of more playing time. Instead, he kept on doing what he was doing and necessitated the team having to acquire Marsh in the first place. Now, as a player still making the major league minimum, he’ll more than likely be a favorite for either a bench spot or more platoon playing time.....but should he? Did he do enough to receive the benefit of the doubt?
2022 stats: 357 PA, .246/.297/.351, 6 HR, 32 RBI, 6.4 BB%, 19.6 K%, 81 wRC+, -0.6 bWAR
There were definitely moments this season where Vierling was good. None more so than this night, a night that saw the Phillies come in against the Blue Jays playing pretty poorly and their playoff spot in peril. They had lost five in a row and had gotten crushed the previous night by the Blue Jays, 18-11. They needed help and boy did Vierling deliver.
There was also a pretty nice stretch from June 14 to July 7 where he hit .306/.400/.490 in 60 plate appearances, but it was a pretty tough struggle for Vierling in 2022.
Vierling came into 2022 as the darling of people to show the most improvement. He had the sweet, sweet batted ball data that some like to scour when looking for a diamond in the rough, showing off top level exit velocities, but only needing a tweak in his swing to change his launch angle a bit. As we are all pretty familiar with, Vierling spent most of 2021 hitting the ball hard, but wearing out the area in front of home plate with all the balls he drove into the ground. “Just get him to lift the ball a little more...,” we pleaded with Kevin Long. After all, we’re smart and they should listen to us.
Well, it seemed that Vierling did listen to that advice, improving in areas that many were hoping he’d improve.
- Launch angle: 6.3* —> 12* (good...)
- groundball rate: 53.8% —> 41.4% (I like it...)
- barrel rate: 3.8% —> 5% (ok, not bad...)
- hard hit rate: 53.7% —> 47.1% (wait wut?)
Even Vierling’s whiff rate went down, something we all would like to see with all Phillies hitters.
Yet Vierling was worse last year than he was in 2021. Yes, the previous season, he had a small sample size and wasn’t exposed as much as he was this year. That could be the issue at hand here, his putting too much time in the outfield, but that was mostly out of necessity. Not having an actual center fielder for much of the year combined with Bryce Harper’s lengthy absence meant someone had to pick up the slack and that was when Vierling’s shoulder was tapped maybe a few more times than it should have been.
There is also the defense to consider. As a guy who comes on for Kyle Schwarber and/or Nick Castellanos, there is almost an expectation that he is better at defense. The number, though, paint a different story. At center field, where he logged most of his playing time, Vierling was actually in the negative when it comes to advanced metrics, registering -1 OAA on the season. It’s what forced the Phillies to go get Brandon Marsh at all, Vierling not being able to perform at the plate or in the field.
The best way to put it is that Vierling was overexposed. Not really a starter in the first place, the team had almost no choice but to play him once Mickey Moniak had his hand broken in spring training. Moniak was running away with the starting job, but when he and Herrera got hurt, Vierling was forced into a role he clearly wasn’t ready for.
Vierling is one of the guys who will benefit most from the Bryce Harper surgery. The team probably isn’t going to be signing anyone of note to replace Harper in the outfield unless they see an issue with his recovery, so it’ll be the Schwarber-Marsh-Castellanos triumverate yet again. Where Vierling comes in is the designated hitter spot, a spot reserved for one of the corner bats to keep their gloves off of the field. That’ll open up a spot for Vierling in the bottom of the lineup.
With Harper out for a while, there is playing time to be had, but it would behoove the Phillies to look for a better upgrade than Vierling. Nothing personal against him, but he is suited to playing every day for a team with World Series aspirations. His performance last year did not warrant his simply being handed the right field position with Harper down, no matter how much people think that would solve the problem. There is nothing wrong with looking to add someone to help grab those Harper at bats and perhaps do something more with them than what Vierling provides.
He’s still not yet eligible for arbitration, which helps him quite a bit as the team looks to spend money to get better.
It’s difficult to measure how a backup performs when his time is extended past what it should be. It’s pretty clear that Vierling isn’t a starter in the league, but he’s shown he can be very valuable as a player who can play all three outfield positions. Even if the best he can provide is similar to what he gave in 2021, that’s something every team would love to have on their roster.
Yet if he is given the same role as fourth outfielder/starter until Harper returns, he must be better. The team is in a tough division and has the target on their backs from the entire National League. They’ll need solid performances from up and down the roster if they hope to repeat as National League champions and push over the finish line towards a championship.