On July 7th, the Phillies were losing to the Marlins in Miami, 3-1, when the top of the ninth inning began. The Marlins’ win expectancy at that point was 92%, not great odds for the Phillies, but not impossible. A.J. Puk was on the mound for Miami to close it out, but let J.T. Realmuto get on base via a single. Puk struck out Bryson Stott for the first out, then faced Alec Bohm. A wild pitch allowed Realmuto to scamper to second, then score when Bohm laced a double to left that cut the lead to 3-2 and the win expectancy to 77% in favor of the Marlins. Josh Harrison had the chance to be a hero, but Puk disposed of him rather easily to give Miami two outs and the Phillies an 11% chance of winning the game. Having emptied his bench of everyone else but three hitters - Edmundo Sosa, Garrett Stubbs and Cristian Pache - and having Brandon Marsh due up, manager Rob Thomson opted for a pinch hitter. Normally, we’d have guessed that Sosa would be the weapon of choice, but Thomson chose Pache instead.
It was a good choice.
This offseason, a common refrain has been that the Phillies need to strengthen their bench. Thomson loves to utilize the entirety of his roster, creating a new form of “National League baseball” where instead of using a pinch hitter for just the pitcher, no one is safe from a platoon advantage if he thinks the team can benefit. The problem many people have is that the options available to Thomson in his collection of bench choices are not exactly up to their liking. Wanting upgrades at these positions is fine so long as the realization that some players will not accept bench roles on teams, even if that team is considered to be a strong contender for a World Series championship. Sometimes, a team is going to have to skimp on bench roles and fill them with players that come with excessive warts.
Right now, the bench currently projects to be:
- Garrett Stubbs
- Edmundo Sosa
- Jake Cave
- Cristian Pache
Not exactly an inspiring bunch, but one that draws unnecessary ire from the sections of the fanbase. Having Cave make the final out of the NLCS is not the reason the team lost; they lost because those ahead of Cave on the depth chart weren’t doing their jobs over the seven games in the series. Watching Cave feebly fly out to Corbin Carroll just felt like an apt conclusion to the series.
The other discussion happening around the team this offseason centers on what to do with Johan Rojas. The team has been pretty clear about not wanting to block him with an expensive option in free agency, instead hoping an offseason of work allows him to seize the opportunity to open the season with the team instead of in Lehigh Valley. They’re not afraid to have him start there since they like the options they do have, which brings us all the way back to the initial question of this piece.
Why are we forgetting about Cristian Pache?
When acquired, he was hailed as a project for Kevin Long, a former top prospect the team thought the hitting coach could coax something out of. His elite defensive reputation would allow some leash for the lessons to take hold and indeed it looked like they were. Prior to his getting hurt in late April, he was making the most out of his 26 plate appearances, slashing .360/.360/.600, albeit in cherry picked moments by Thomson. After his return from the injured list, he was still feeling his way around when that home run off of Puk looked like it was going to kickstart a successful season where he would start to fulfill some of the promise he showed in Atlanta and Oakland. Alas, as the story sometimes goes, Pache went back on the injured list days later and when he re-emerged in September, the team had fully committed to Rojas and rendered Pache a down the roster afterthought.
It was kind of a shame too. Pache was playing well, but the team saw their future in Rojas and decided to roll with the defense, his offensive struggles be damned. Pache was relegated to a bench role in the playoffs and now here we are.
The team has been open about the possibility that Rojas starts the season in the minors, something that looks rather likely. With Bryce Harper manning first base, Nick Castellanos still in right field and Kyle Schwarber in the DH role, there is playing time available in left and/or center field. Assuming Brandon Marsh is taking one of them, that leaves another spot to fill. Some have clamored for a better option in the outfield, but maybe Pache is the option the team should be using. He’s already under contract for 2024 for the minimum, he’s not so good that he’d block Rojas should the latter’s ascension continue at a more rapid pace and if Pache is does continue to build on his gains from last year, it can only benefit the Phillies.
It’s hard to make any kind of firm determination from 95 plate appearances, but it looks like Pache was able to grow in several areas.
- hard hit rate: 44.8 % in 2024 vs. 40.8% in 2023
- sweet spot rate: 39.7% vs. 25.3%
- chase rate: 26.2% vs. 27.4%
- xSLG: .392 vs. .300
There are other places too, but these show that there was some good things happening under the tutelage of Kevin Long. His defense, long the elite tool in his prospect toolkit, was still excellent, registering 3 OAA in the meager time he was able to play. As a fourth outfield option, the team could do a lot worse.
Are there things to improve? Of course. Wouldn’t kill him to take a walk now and then. The launch angle for when he does make contact (8.6* in 2024) could stand to move up a bit. Still, instead of using money on another outfielder that might not be a substantial improvement over Pache, the team might be content sticking with him for the time being.
It wouldn’t be the worst idea.