Who’s the best player on the Philadelphia Phillies through 16 games?
The eye test would tell you Bryson Stott, who’s playing excellent defense at second base, and holds of the longest hitting streak to begin a season in Phillies history. But the eye test would be wrong.
Much more impressive than him, and more understated too, is Brandon Marsh. Not only has he been Philadelphia’s best hitter, he’s arguably been MLB’s best hitter, topping the National League in OPS at 1.196.
The last Phillie to replicate that over a full season is… well, no one. You’d have to go all the way back to 1894 to even come close. That year Sam Thompson — aided by his impeccable mustache — raked his way to a 1.162 OPS.
The last Phillie to have a better OPS through 16 games (starting on Opening Day) is Pat Burrell, who slashed .373/.492/.804 to begin 2008. The only other Phillie who beat Marsh in OPS through that span in this millennia is Ricky Ledée, and even he had a .905 OPS that year before he was traded at the deadline.
Setting Marsh apart from other Phillies-MVP candidates this year, Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott, is his superior defense over the former and analytical reinforcement over the latter.
Even though Bohm has mostly transitioned to a full time first baseman in Darick Hall and Rhys Hoskins’ absence, his defense is still somewhat suspect, not to mention the hit one takes to his value simply by playing first base. There’s no doubt Bohm has been a fantastic hitter in 2023, but neither his traditional, nor advanced stats match up to Marsh.
Stott has been a revelation both leading off and playing defense at second base. He sports some of the best bat-to-ball skills league-wide, evidenced by a 96th percentile whiff-rate, but his hitting stats are somewhat empty.
Stott’s been a benefactor of some absurd luck; his BABIP still crests .500 16 games into the season. Meanwhile his exit velocity, strikeout-rate, walk-rate and home run-rate are all worse compared to his 2022. That doesn’t necessarily mean Stott’s going to have a bad season once his luck runs out, but he’ll need to make adjustments at some point. He’s currently projected for a .263 AVG and .329 SLG.
The most noticeable difference between Marsh in 2022 and 2023 is his strikeout-rate. Had he qualified in 2022, Marsh would have led all MLB players in K%. Though that figure is still a paltry 25.0% so far in 2023, it’s a drastic improvement, and the trickle-down effect from that change has turned Marsh into the player talent evaluators once thought he would become.
A lot of the praise for Marsh’s improvement can be heaped on Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long. Once a disaster facing left-handed pitching (he hit .188 against LHP in 2022), Marsh has praised Long for his development facing southpaws.
“He can run up the radar gun,” Marsh said in an article by Alex Coffey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “He’s a competitor. He does some crazy stuff out there.”
Long, a left-handed thrower himself, worked with Marsh nearly every day during the offseason from their respective homes in Arizona, and so far the effort has paid off. In an extremely small sample size, Marsh has four hits in 12 at-bats against lefties, all which went for extra bases. It’s a sign that it’s time to remove the platoon label from his name, that and his Bonds-ian OPS.
After spending some time switching with Christian Pache, it seems like manager Rob Thomson is comfortable running Marsh out everyday. For a player who’s in the top third of the league in nearly every traditional and analytical category, from OPS to Outs Above Average, avg Exit Velocity to Chase Rate and Whiff%, even BB% and wOBA, it feels almost comical that Marsh hasn’t played every single game.
The Phillies have had a question mark in center field for so many years. After digging through the proverbial trash heap to find Bradley Zimmer, who received a 2022 NL Champions Ring, a new era has dawned on center field at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies have their guy.