After Sunday’s 4-0 loss to the Rockies, the Phillies sat at .500, with a 20-20 record through their first 40 games. It’s the unofficial quarter-pole of the season, give or take a game or two, and so far the Phils have played like their record would indicate.
They’ve been pretty average.
Fortunately, that’s good enough to make them one of only six NL teams without a losing record thus far.
The Cardinals have been abysmal thus far, although they are starting to turn things around. The Padres haven’t hit yet, the Mets’ offense has been a disaster, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander either hurt or missing big chunks of the season, and the only two teams ahead of the Phils in the wild card chase are the Diamondbacks and the Pirates.
It feels like even though the first 40 games have been a struggle at times, the Phillies are in a pretty good spot, holding down the third wild card and just five games behind the Braves in the NL East. They’ve also only played one series against their division rivals (the Marlins), so there is time to make up (or lose) ground over the next four months.
Here’s my report card for the team through the first quarter of the season.
OFFENSE - C
The Phils are tied for 19th in runs scored and home runs, with a walk rate of 7.4% that is better than only two teams, the White Sox and Marlins. Their .263 batting average ranks 6th, and their .425 slugging is tied for 8th, but they’re .322 on-base percentage is 14th. Essentially, plate discipline has been a problem.
The most infuriating statistic has been their failure to execute with runners in scoring position. Their .244 average with RISP ranks 22nd, and they’ve hit just five homers in those situations, tied for the lowest in baseball. They’ve hit 14 dingers with men on base, tied for 23rd, but have just one three-run home run this season and still no grand slams.
The Phillies’ best offensive player in terms of wRC+ has been, unsurprisingly, Bryce Harper, although he’s only appeared in 10 games. Still, what a 10 games it’s been! He’s hitting .333/.409/.564 with 2 HRs, 11 runs and five RBIs after coming back from Tommy John surgery two months early and having no spring training or minor league rehab assignment. What he’s doing simply shouldn’t be possible.
The team leader in fWAR thus far is, shockingly, Brandon Marsh (1.4), whose 157 wRC+ is tops among Phillies players who have been with the team all season. Nick Castellanos’ bounce back season is official, with the right fielder batting .316/.365/.503 with 5 HRs, a team-leading 30 runs and 25 RBIs. This is the guy we thought we were getting! J.T. Realmuto has also recovered from a slow start, hitting .291/.311/.496 with a wRC+ of 113. Alec Bohm has hit the skids a bit of late, but his .270 batting average and .340 OBP would play nicely at the top of the lineup. The .399 slugging percentage is a bit disappointing after his power-infused spring.
Offensively, the biggest disappointments have been Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber. Turner was expected to pace the offense at the top of the lineup, but his wRC+ of 92 and slash line of .262/.311/.405 has been pedestrian at best. Bryson Stott got off to a hot start, but his wRC+ is worse than Turner’s (87) and is hitting .284/.316/.370. It’s all singles from Stott so far. Schwarber has a team-best 9 HRs and 21 runs scored, but he’s striking out 30.0% of the time and is hitting a ghastly .178/.294/.390 with a wRC+ of 87.
Bench guys Jake Cave, Kody Clemens, Edmundo Sosa and Josh Harrison have had some fine moments, doing enough to warrant a start here and there.
All in all, it’s been a largely disappointing offense, but one would expect the power numbers to jump as the weather warms and Schwarber’s June explosion inevitably begins.
STARTING ROTATION - C+
In terms of fWAR, the Phillies’ starters have been among the best in baseball. Their 4.5 fWAR is tied with Tampa for 3rd-best, so why on earth is their ERA at 4.77, 18th in MLB? Only three starting staffs in baseball have a larger difference between their ERA and their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP, 3.83) than the Phils’ 0.94 (Cincinnati and Oakland).
Their strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.42 is 8th-best and their 1.06 HR/9 is tied for 8th, which means they’re doing pretty well in striking guys out (10th in MLB) and not walking guys (7th). Their batting average on balls in play is .298, right in the middle of the pack, so they’re not unusually unlucky, either.
And yet, Zack Wheeler has an ERA of 3.80. Aaron Nola’s is 4.53. Taijuan Walker’s is 5.75 and Bailey Falter’s is 5.75. Matt Strahm pitched pretty well while he was in there, with a 3.51 ERA, and Ranger Suarez’ addition should help.
Honestly, there’s a lot of noise with the starting rotation right now, and the next quarter of the season should quiet a lot of that down. In their early starts, the starters simply weren’t going deep enough into games, Wheeler was dealing with a lot of bad luck, Walker couldn’t find the plate, Nola was having trouble with the big inning and Falter was, well, just faltering a lot. Nola, Wheeler and Walker have looked much better their last 2-3 appearances, and with Suarez back, the trend line is pointing upward with this group.
BULLPEN - C
It’s been a roller coaster for the bullpen through the first 40 games, with injuries and some outlier performances coloring the results. That’s not unusual for relievers in the beginning of a season, as one or two bad outings early can balloon an ERA to unsightly heights before it starts to come back down.
Their 4.50 ERA is 6th-highest in baseball, with a 4.48 FIP that is 9th-worst. They’re striking out 26.1% of hitters, 8th-best, but they have the fourth-highest walk rate in baseball at 10.8%. That’s a cardinal sin for relievers. You can’t issue free passes the way they have, and their strand rate of 67.6% is also among the worst in baseball, 26th, meaning they’re not getting out of jams the way they should be.
But again, some of this is due to early season variance and the existence of relievers who aren’t here anymore. Yunior Marte was sent to AAA after a few disastrous outings in the first couple weeks, and Gregory Soto’s nightmare beginning is a thing of the past, although his 4.00 ERA remains stubbornly high. Jose Alvarado emerged as perhaps the best reliever in baseball (0.63 ERA, 0.86 FIP) before hitting the IL. Seranthony Dominguez (4.41 ERA) and Craig Kimbrel (6.60) have both bounced back and been dominant over the last few weeks. Connor Brogdon has proven to be an invaluable multi-inning reliever (2.61 ERA), with contributions also coming in from Luis Ortiz, new flame-thrower Jeff Hoffman, and Andrew Vasquez (1.59 ERA).
It’s hard to give this unit anything better than a C right now, but again, the trend line is pointing up.
DEFENSE - C-
According to Fangraphs’ Def metric, the Phillies are middle-of-the-pack as a team-wide entity, ranking 19th in Defensive Runs Saved (-5) and 17th in Outs Above Average (-4).
Obviously, J.T. Realmuto remains the best defensive catcher in baseball, especially when it comes to throwing runners out, 12 so far this year, tied for 3rd-most. The positives along the defense include Alec Bohm and Kody Clemens at first, at +1 DRS, tied for 9th-best, Bryson Stott at second, with +4 DRS, tied for 6th, and in right field, with Nick Castellanos’ improved glovework netting +3 DRS, tied for 6th as well!
The strength of the defense was supposed to be up the middle, but Marsh’s defense in center has been lackluster, worth -4 DRS, 5th-worst in baseball. Turner hasn’t been awful at shortstop, but he’s made a number of uncharacteristic blunders defensively, presumably taking his offensive struggles into the field with him at times. His +1 DRS is tied for 15th.
Left field and third base have been downright bad, with Schwarber and Cave combining for -7 DRS, dead last in baseball, and the combination of Bohm and Sosa at third totalling -4 DRS, 7th-worst.
To be fair, Defensive Runs Saved is not entirely and totally reliable, but other metrics tell a similar story, and the eye test largely backs up these finds, too. We’ll see how things look when Harper can play first base, Schwarber can DH and perhaps another outfielder can be added to the roster with some defensive chops.
So, there you go, an informal report card on the Phillies with one-quarter of their games in the books. Like their .500 record, most aspects are in the “C” range, which is to be expected.