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Harper’s injury has exposed the team’s lineup

It was supposed to be a strength. Now, it has none.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Having the National League MVP in the lineup can paper over a lot of a team’s issues. When Bryce Harper is present and accounted for, there is that big threat in the middle of the lineup that opponents must be careful with. We’ve seen time and again how pitchers will act carefully when he is at the plate, preferring at time to face someone else rather than Harper’s ability to put a baseball deep into the night.

Harper is not in the lineup anymore and will not be for at least six weeks, longer if you’re of the pessimistic view of his injury. That means that menacing presence he brings to a lineup is no longer there and teams no longer have to account for it. It also means that the team’s biggest issue that has been an undercurrent to the season has now been thrust to the forefront of their issues, particularly last night.

This team is surprisingly lacking in power this season.

Before this season began, we all had delusions that there was the possibility this version of the Phillies could threaten the team’s single season home run mark, that being 224 home runs in 2009. While their current total of 93 is more than respectable, ranking seventh in the game, it’s still behind the pace needed to match that record year. What’s more, taking Harper out of the lineup means that that pace will probably slow considerably.

What is more concerning is that several players who we would have expected to hit with more power simply have not done so this year. We know that the baseball this year has had some effect on the offense league wide, one of the teams (Oakland) threatening to enter the bottom group of 50 teams as far as worst slugging percentage by a team over the course of a season. However, simply blaming the baseball this year is not sufficient enough to blame all of the Phillies’ ills when it comes to hitting with power.

Take a look at the preseason projections for this team’s slugging percentage and where they are now:

Phillies’ slugging

Player PECOTA SLG% Current SLG%
Player PECOTA SLG% Current SLG%
Schwarber 0.469 0.511
Hoskins 0.493 0.453
Harper 0.529 0.599
Castellanos 0.480 0.381
Realmuto 0.447 0.363
Bohm 0.405 0.359
Gregorius 0.405 0.372
Herrera 0.418 0.401
Vierling 0.367 0.366
Stott 0.371 0.282
Segura 0.422 0.407

Most of this lineup is performing well below what was expected of them heading into the season. Take Harper out of that lineup and the damage looks even worse. For a team that was built on the expectation that it could hit for power, the lack of power is a problem.

As June has unfolded, the lack of power has continued, but was still not though of as much due to the team’s hot streak in the month. It has become even more glossed over with the month Kyle Schwarber has been having. When one or two hitters are carrying a team, we tend to think they as a group are hitting well thanks to the old axiom “hitting is contagious”. As Schwarber has been tearing into the ball at a .284/.404/.695 clip, Harper has actually been just as good, if not slightly better at .359/.455/.641. The difference, of course, has been Schwarber’s 11 home runs to Harper’s 5, but the point is that both of these players have carried this offense during this run they’ve been on in June.

The rest of the team in June?

Phillies in June

Kyle Schwarber 25 114 11 16.7% 23.7% 0.281 0.284 0.404 0.695 197
Bryce Harper 19 77 5 14.3% 14.3% 0.367 0.359 0.455 0.641 200
Rhys Hoskins 25 108 5 13.9% 22.2% 0.355 0.297 0.407 0.549 166
J.T. Realmuto 22 92 2 7.6% 19.6% 0.254 0.220 0.293 0.354 82
Didi Gregorius 20 78 0 9.0% 16.7% 0.298 0.243 0.321 0.386 98
Matt Vierling 16 48 3 4.2% 14.6% 0.306 0.304 0.333 0.522 136
Bryson Stott 23 82 4 7.3% 15.9% 0.220 0.224 0.280 0.408 91
Garrett Stubbs 6 16 1 18.8% 18.8% 0.222 0.231 0.375 0.538 153
Yairo Munoz 9 23 2 13.0% 17.4% 0.143 0.200 0.304 0.500 122
Mickey Moniak 8 26 0 11.5% 26.9% 0.267 0.182 0.280 0.182 39
Odubel Herrera 19 64 2 6.3% 14.1% 0.184 0.183 0.234 0.283 45
Johan Camargo 7 23 0 4.3% 21.7% 0.176 0.136 0.174 0.136 -14
Alec Bohm 24 102 1 2.9% 20.6% 0.312 0.253 0.275 0.343 71
Nick Castellanos 25 103 0 6.8% 22.3% 0.288 0.221 0.272 0.263 51

As the Phillies have been so good in June, one of the fallacies has been that the offense has carried them. While slightly true, the more truthful part is that they were buoyed by two big bats in Schwarber and Harper, given a really good turn by Hoskins and supplemented by well timed hits from supporting players, players like Garrett Stubbs and Yairo Munoz, that have given them wins in games that were close. A more honest overall look at this team would be to say that the offense has not done it’s job that they were supposed to do when the offseason plan came into view. It’s fair to say that they have been disappointing overall outside of a few star turn performances.

Now, their biggest bat is now gone for a while. At some point, Schwarber is going to slow down from this torrid pace he is one. Someone is going to have to start hitting the ball with this offense and with the evidence we have at hand, it’s hard to point to who it is going to be. Past precedent has said Rhys Hoskins has a torrid streak of his own coming, one that we know can carry a lineup for two, three weeks at a time. But while we have defended Castellanos and Realmuto this year, the time for them to start producing as they have in the past is here.

Castellanos has been especially frustrating, but there may have been some new evidence that points out why he has been so bad of late.

We don’t know for certain why Castellanos has not with any power this year, but this is a strong piece of evidence that there may be a deeper rooted issue to his power outage. No player wants to blame injury for poor performance, but if there was an issue with Castellanos’ hand caused by that hit by pitch, it makes a lot more sense than saying he has entered the decline portion of his career.

Other players in the lineup - Didi Gregorius, Alec Bohm - are simply not getting extra base hits. For Bohm, it has to be especially frustrating since his expected numbers are actually quite good (.302/.474 xBA/xSLG), but the actual performance is substandard. Gregorius has continued his lack of power that was predicted based on his early season contact numbers, most of which were in the lower portion of the percentiles among hitters. Couple those two with what Stott has produced and the infield is one of the lowest producing infields offensively in the game.

All of this to say: the offense has disappointed and needs to pick up the pace. There are ways to do so internally via increased playing time of players that can impact the baseball (looking at you, Matt Vierling), but more drastic changes may have to be considered. If Gregorius is going to continue to hit the ball with as little authority has he has, should a replacement be dealt for, perhaps getting someone drastically better on defense to help improve in that department? Does the team consider getting someone with more power for third base and using Bohm more often as a DH? Jean Segura is not due back a while still, so are they going to continue to ride with Stott, or should a replacement be sought there as well? Of course, all of this is impacted by the course the team takes at the trade deadline, but with the amount of money they have sunk into the team, along with the fact that Harper and Segura are due back before the end of the season, selling assets doesn’t look like it’s on the table.

There is still time for the team to make a run. They are still well within striking distance of a playoff spot and have the pieces to make things happen. The offense just has to rediscover the power they were projected to have. That will help things a lot.