Is the Phillies poor defense a management decision / Girardi? or is it just Harper (as an example)?

Attached is a defense of Bryce Harper. Tim Kelly responds to a quote by a scout

"Does any superstar do less to make players around him better?"

and a ranking of the Athletic which categorizes Harper as a "Tier 2/MVP caliber" hitter and not a "Tier 1/Franchise player".

In the course of the defense, Kelly recognizes Harper's faults, specifically his

"inconsistent defensive metrics since joining the Phillies"

and then goes on to cite the great offensive stats we know so well and his team leadership to defend him.

Kelly cites some specific numbers:

11 defensive runs saved & one out above average in 2019

and -7 defensive runs saved and -6 outs average in the two seasons since..

and he does recognize that Harper may have some nagging injuries that contribute.

But does Kelly - and the Scout for that matter - miss the point of this data?

What if the reason why Harper's defense has taken a nose dive since coming to the Phillies is that defensive play is not recognized or even encouraged here? The Phillies poor defense is a regular discussion topic on these forums. We've all heard Girardi asked about defense and say you have to field the balls that come to you and throw them. But what if we aren't reading enough there...

What about other Phillies who have played several years under Girardi and have a track record before.. did their apparent defensive numbers decline when they came here? And why might this happen?

Let's go to Fangraphs Advanced Fielding stats and have a look..

Segura has played 2B & SS recently - primarly 2B for the Diamondbacks, then SS for the Mariners and mostly 2B for the Phillies. But what we are looking for is a general defensive trend, so we'll use whatever we have.

for the years 2017 & 2018 with Seattle as a SS - Segura averaged -1 defensive runs saved compared to average and 2.5 statistical outs above average.

for 2019 - his first year with the Phillies, Segura was -3 def runs saved and -7 outs vs avg. (again as a shortstop)

in 2020 & 2021 as a second baseman under Girardi - Segura averaged 3.5 def runs saved above average and 6.5 outs vs. avg.

So there's a position change involved here but Segura's involvement with the Phillies has not been negative to his defense. On the contrary - he has improved significantly.

Gregorius Before coming to the Phillies in 2020 - Gregorius played for Girardi with the Yankees in the years before 2018.. To test my thesis I'd look at 2018 & 2019 with the Yankees vs. 2020 & 2021 with the Phillies.. but then I noticed something about Didi's defensive data, it's back & forth - and none of it very good:

2016 -8 DRS, -8 OAA

2017 +8 DRS, -10 OAA

2018 +2 DRS, -10 OAA

2019 -9 DRS, -19 OAA

2020 -2 DRS, -8 OAA

2021 -10 DRS, -18 OAA

Injuries may also play a role in some of these numbers. But I can't see a pattern here. Didi just isn't a good defensive shortstop - but of course, Girardi played a role in bringing him here.

Hoskins started the show with the Phillies but I can compare his pre-Girardi numbers to his post Girardi numbers..

in 2019 - Hoskins was +3 defensive runs saved & +1 Outs vs Avg

in 2020 & 2021 - Hoskins has averaged -6.5 DRS & -3.5 OAA

It's worth noting that both years were a significant decline from 2019. So, for whatever reason, Hoskins has not played better defense for Girardi.

McCutchen Before 2020 - Cutch played for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (1 1/2 years) and he wasn't a great defensive player, in the four years 2016-2019 - he averaged -8 DRS and -6 Outs vs avg. In 2020 & 2021 he averaged -7 DRS & -4.5 Outs - pretty much the same player. His best defensive year was 2019 - his first year with the Phillies when he was +5 DRS & -2 OAA.

All Phillies

2017 -33 DRS +2 OAA

2018 -89 DRS -35 OAA

2019 +68 DRS -2 OAA

Girardi Years

2020 -33 DRS -18 OAA

2021 -54 DRS -20 OAA

Okay - the average is significantly lower in 2020 & 2021 - but the data doesn't show that the Phillies were a good defensive team before Girardi came (and were less consistent?)


  • Girardi moved Segura to 2B and he is a better second baseman than he was a shortstop- improving both Segura's defense and presumably the Phillies.
  • Gregorius hasn't been a good defensive shortstop with or without Girardi - but Girardi brought him here.
  • Hoskins has been a significantly poorer defensive player for Girardi than before.
  • McCutchen seems unaffected
  • As previously mentioned Harper's defense actually improved in his first year with the Phillies 2019 and then declined in 2020 & 2021 - especially 2021. (under Girardi)
  • Average aggregate defensive statistics have decline for the whole team with Girardi..

But before folks interpret the conclusion of this piece as "Girardi is a bum because he doesn't value defense.." maybe we should ask the question.. Is Girardi right?

Is the value of diving into walls and railings and crashing into the turf etc.. for the additional range factor and the glamorous defensive highlight reel out worth it compared to the injuries that one might get from putting out this effort? Hitting and pitching are repetitive motions and one can condition for them and detect gnawing injuries. But the parkour of getting those "extra" outs that make one an exceptional defensive player is hardly repetitive stress - it is different every time. Maybe when Girardi says "get the balls that come to you and make the throws.." he is to be taken for his word that he discourages dramatic - strenuous defensive play and encourages players to only get the outs they can get without risk of injury.

In the same way that in the Moneyball/stats aware era - many teams just don't steal bases anymore much - because they have determined that the risk of an out is not worth the additional base and outs are the currency of runs and bases are only partial runs..

If we believe the advanced fielding statistics Girardi's 2020 & 2021 Phillies poorer defense cost the team 18 runs on annual average across 162 games ( .11 runs per game). I'm not saying that's nothin' but maybe this is weighed against some other values..

I'm not saying I agree - I just think it's an interesting viewpoint.