The last time Philadelphia cared this much about Phillies spring training, you were probably a much different person, just as the Phillies were a wildly different team, one trending down instead of up. A lot changes in 11 years, and even though their 2012 iteration failed to meet expectations, there remained a current of Phillies fever in Philadelphia.
The 2023 squad probably won’t match what their 2011 counterparts accomplished in the regular season, but if you got all of your information from social media, it might seem like this year’s team are poised to outdo the mark set by a host of Phillies’ greats.
Surely it’s not too much to ask for improvement from Nick Castellanos and Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott and Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins, while J.T. Realmuto, Trea Turner, Aaron Nola, José Alvarado, Zack Wheeler maintain last year’s pace.
Unfortunately, that’s probably not a realistic scenario..
That doesn’t mean the Phillies as a whole will regress or even stagnate. In fact, the club should outperform their ZiPS projection by a wide margin. 85 wins is laughable for this squad.
Though it’s unfair to project improvement from every facet of the club that underachieved last year, it’s easy to see where the team has improved, not only at the top level, but also around the margins.
The Phillies sported MLB’s 23rd best bullpen last year by ERA. As of March 2023 it’s been six years since they last had a top half bullpen — in 2017 Philadelphia had MLB’s 14th best by ERA. And with several high profile relief additions, the Phillies should fall closer to their 2017 counterparts as opposed to 2022.
Now that the dead weight of players like Jeurys Familia, Odúbel Herrera, Didi Gregorius and Johan Camargo have been jettisoned and replaced with Matt Strahm, Jake Cave, Edmundo Sosa and Kody Clemens, the Phillies should see marked improvement by going from below-replacement level depth players, to above-replacement level depth players.
Meanwhile, the top of the roster has improved, swapping Jean Segura for Trea Turner and Kyle Gibson for Taijuan Walker.
So while it’s not fair to ask for improvement and/or stagnation from the returning players of the 2022 squad. Fans should expect a vast improvement both on the margins and on the surface, leading to anywhere from five to 10 more wins.
It’s hard to think of an area where the Phillies have diminished in talent. Though Matt Vierling and Nick Maton will no longer ride the bench, their likely replacements in Josh Harrison and Jake Cave are more than worthy of Major League roles. The Detroit Tigers’ new duo combined for a total of 0.0 WAR last season, quite literally replacement level.
Perhaps the only area in which Philadelphia should expect real regression is catcher. It’s hard to believe any of the aforementioned players hoping to maintain production will decline drastically.
Though Realmuto is included on that list, he’s not the only Phillies catcher. As a whole, Philadelphia backstops had an OPS of .816 in 2022. That success is due in large part to Realmuto’s backup, Garrett Stubbs, the “BBCIB”.
It’s possible that Realmuto will undergo some regression, but it’s a certainty that Stubbs’ 2022 was an anomaly. He went from a player who had never hit a home run in his albeit brief career, to one who would have averaged 25 homers extrapolating his 2022 out to a 600 PA sample.
With a BABIP of .324, an xBA of .207 and an xSLG of .299, Philadelphia should await only modest production out of the man who gifted Philadelphia Dancing On My Own.
That said, if a reigning pennant winner’s greatest area of weakness is backup catcher, it should be cause for celebration. Thereby calling for a reevaluation of expectations.
For nearly a decade the Phillies’ were forecasted for the cellar, and even in recent years the goal was simply to make the postseason.
Now the sleeping giant has been awoken. Rhys Hoskins’ bat slam and “Bedlam at the Bank” have infused a dreary clubhouse with a winner’s mentality. Owning frontline talent both on the field and in the clubhouse, the Phillies and their fans have reassessed priorities.
The goal now, as one former Phillie great put it, “World F—ing Champions.”