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What does the optimal defensive infield look like right now for the Phillies?

It’s early yet, but perhaps some players are playing out of their best position

Oakland Athletics v. Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Thanks to the owner imposed lockout on the offseason that caused spring training to get such a late start, this actual playing season has given anyone doing any kind of research less information than in previous years (pandemic years notwithstanding). By this point, we usually have around three weeks of games upon which we can make judgements of a roster, but by now, we only have two. To say that the sample size is still much too small for any kind of definitive statement about the game would be a massive understatement. Still, we can say with pretty fair accuracy that the Phillies’ defense is pretty much as advertised: not good.

Now, it’s not historically bad as some have predicted it would be, but it’s still below average. We’ve had far too many examples via the eye test, but if you like data, we can see that by OAA, as a team, the Phillies are below average, 18th in league with a collective -1 OAA across the roster. That’s just below the Mets (0 OAA) and tied with the Pirates, Red Sox and Yankees. Going more specifically, they are weak in the areas that you’d probably have guessed they’d be weakest at at the beginning of the season.

Phillies’ OAA

Player OAA (min. 10 chances) MLB rank League leader
Player OAA (min. 10 chances) MLB rank League leader
Rhys Hoskins -2 30th 3
Jean Segura 1 t-8th 3
Didi Gregorius -2 t-30th 4
Alec Bohm 0 t-17th 2
Johan Camargo (3B) 1 t-6th 2
Bryson Stott (2B) 2 t-3rd 4
Kyle Schwarber 0 t-6th 1
Matt Vierling 0 t-14th 3
Simon Muzziotti (CF) 0 t-14th 3
Bryce Harper 1 t-1st 1
Nick Castellanos (RF) -1 t-22nd 1

*OAA stats through Sunday’s games

As stated before, it’s much too early to make specific conclusions on certain players and how they will fare. If previous seasons are any indication though, it’s pretty difficult for a player to improve so much during a season that these numbers, whatever direction they are trending, will change so that a poor fielder will suddenly morph into a Gold Glove-caliber defenseman. It can be done with an offseason of dedication to the craft, Marcus Semien being the most at the forefront example in recent years, but it hasn’t been done much in the middle of a season. The best a team could hope for is that a player might be able to transform himself into something maybe a tic better, or at the very least, hit well enough that his defense is glossed over.

So, if a team can’t rely on specific improvement across a large range of players, they have to try and scheme their way around the problem. Putting players in the best position to succeed is the best way a team can create this scheme and implement it to win games. The issue for the Phillies is that if they were to do that, players that are currently hitting well would probably be without a position in the lineup carousel to start a game. Luckily for the Phillies, they have stocked their roster with players that are juuuuust flexible enough that they can move to a new position and the team can still maintain at least a modicum of offensive potential in the lineup.

The regulars at this point are pretty static:

Rhys Hoskins is at first base
Jean Segura is at second base
Didi Gregorius is at shortstop
Alec Bohm (in a perfect world) is at third base

This is what the team would like, so this is what they’d likely trot out most often. With the implementation of the DH this year in the National League and their acquisitions over the “offseason”, we know who the outfielders and DH will likely be most nights. So, we focus more on the infield. Is that setup their best setup defensively?

From the table above, we know that this setup is likely to feature three below average fielders in most starting lineups. It’s lineups like that that are probably going to cost the teams runs defensively, but it could be argued that they are also the best offensive lineup they can create. Since the team has been built to worry more about scoring runs, that’s the direction they should be going. But let’s say the team is in a situation late in a game where preventing runs is slightly more important than scoring them, i.e. they have the lead late and need to protect it. Common sense dictates they adjust defensively, right? What does that adjustment look like.

An argument could be made that right now, it would be this:

The best Phillies infield defense

Position Most often used Optimal/Late inning
Position Most often used Optimal/Late inning
C Realmuto Realmuto
1B Hoskins Hoskins
2B Segura Camargo
3B Bohm Bohm
SS Gregorius Segura

Now, there a few things that jump right out:

  • Moving Segura off of his best spot is scary at first, but with his ability to move right and left coupled with his exceptionally strong arm, he would have more than enough range to cover shortstop for a few innings at a time and is already an upgrade over Gregorius at the spot.
  • Camargo, in the few games he’s played at third base, has been quite good for the team at that spot. However, he’s needed more at second base where Segura vacates, and he’d give the team another solid glove.

There are some things wrong with this alignment as well. Thus far, in the games where he has been at shortstop, Camargo has actually acquitted himself quite well. There have been some hiccups, natural since he’s not a conventional shortstop, but he’s also done nothing to embarrass himself there. He’d be a fine option there as is, plus his being at shortstop has allowed Segura to stay at second base where he has quietly excelled for years. However, the sample size on Camargo and history he’s had (his three seasons of data from Atlanta as a shortstop come out as 0 OAA) don’t inspire a ton of confidence he’s going to be keep up this kind of play over a long season.

The other issue is moving the best infield defensive player in Segura off of his position. When a team has a top notch defensive player at a spot, the wisest move is let him stay there and make sure you don’t create holes trying to plug others. Again, though, this exercise is not suggesting that Segura start there with regularity; this is simple for late inning defensive needs. Obviously the team would be smarter just leaving Segura at second base as much as possible.

I’m not suggesting that the team run this infield defense out to start a game. It’s much more desirable that the team put a lineup together that will score as many runs as they can, as early as they can. We’ve seen all year that that is what they are looking to do each time. But if a game is close, this is a defense at least worth considering at the end of games.