Preseason hype trains are always fun to climb aboard. When the doldrums of winter settle in and the fanbase starts looking for players that are likely to break out, often times someone starts to get some steam behind him, “helium” if you will. It helps to break up what has been a long winter and helps shine a light of positivity on a team that has been frustrating of late. With the advent of advanced statistics and the public use of Baseball Savant, people can sift for themselves through miles of data to see if there is some gold to unearth that isn’t necessarily visible to the naked eye.
The player on the Phillies right now that is most lined up with this is Matt Vierling. Much has been made around the interwebs about Vierling and just how hard he hits the ball. Local writers, including yours truly, have written about how Vierling can be the one player that breaks out thanks to his exit velocity numbers and launch angle readings. Even national people like Keith Law are speculating on their podcasts how a slight swing change might turn Vierling into something a little more than what the initial projections might have foretold. When things like that are being mentioned, we start to take notice and maybe bump up expectations a bit. Where at first, we may have thought of Vierling as a fourth outfielder, maybe now there might be a sneaky starter in there, a touch more if things break right. Maybe instead of being a platoon player, maybe now we have a starter who should be in the lineup five or six days a week.
It’s easy to get swept up in it.
The issue is going to be making sure that the expectations don’t get too high for Vierling. We’re going to have to make sure that we don’t make him out to be more than what he is. At this point, we have a guy who had a very small sample size of success in the majors with data to back up that with some changes to his swing, he might be able to achieve more. The issue is: those changes are hard to make. Compounding the issue is that the coaching he could have used during the offseason has been made unavailable to him thanks to the owners instituting a lockout. Most people have been focusing on players like Alec Bohm, a high draft pick that faltered a bit in last year and was in need of different voices and opinions in order to help him get back to his top prospect status. It almost feels as if the coaches the team did hire were hired with Bohm in mind, coaches with specialties in helping correct the faults Bohm has. What isn’t talked about is that these same coaches could have used these months to help a player like Vierling unlock all of that potential he has. They just haven’t been able to get ahold of him. There shouldn’t be any doubt that they have had some kind of contact with the players, videos texted to him, drills emailed to him, but nothing can compare to one-on-one coaching when it comes to how best serve a player during these offseason months.
Listen, we here at TGP are tempered in our expectations with Matt Vierling. At best, we’re probably going to see a player who is a fourth outfielder type that, should he be able to make the necessary changes, could develop into something like 2-3, maybe 4, WAR outfielder. That’s a valuable asset. But we’re also realistic that he’ll likely just be that guy who can platoon in a spot, get a solid spot start here and there and generally be a player that a winning club knows how to use properly. The Dodgers and Rays have been doing this with players for years now. If the Phillies can start doing it themselves, putting the entire roster into a better position to give positive contributions, this team will be much better off. With Vierling especially, let’s just make sure we aren’t putting too much hype on his back.
Not yet, at least.