The 2019 season did no go as planned for the Phillies. After a ton hype coming into the season after the signing of Bryce Harper and trades for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura, among other moves, the Phillies fell short of the playoffs and finished 4th in the NL East. Fast forward to near the end of the 2019-2020 off-season and the start of spring training and the Phillies had a much more quiet off-season than the 2018-2019 off-season. Their significant acquisitions of SP Zack Wheeler and SS Didi Gregorius were both signed by the end of the winter meetings. While both Gregorius and Wheeler are upgrades to the Phillies lineup and starting rotation there are still questions about whether those two acquisitions will be enough to help put the Phillies in the postseason, somewhere they have not been since 2011.
Here are my keys to a postseason return for the Phillies in 2020:
Rhys Hoskins Returns to His 2019 1st Half Form
After Rhys Hoskins had a 2nd half in 2019 that saw him slash .180/.318/.361 and wRC+ of 78 it is easy to forget just how good Hoskins was in the 1st half of 2019. Hoskins slashed .263/.401/.530 with a wRC+ of 140 and was looking like him and Bryce Harper would be a great 1-2 punch for the Phillies and help carry them to the playoffs. Then the 2nd half came and Hoskins spiraled as did the Phillies. Hoskins has worked with new hitting coach Joe Dillon over the off-season and the hope is they can recapture what made Hoskins so good during the 1st half of 2019.
Complimentary Pieces Stay Healthy
Health is an easy one to look at but a lot of the complimentary pieces the Phillies acquired to put around Bryce Harper and then J.T. Realmuto did not stay healthy in 2019. Andrew McCutchen was a key cog to the Phillies lineup as the lead off man and was having a very productive season before he tore his ACL in June. “Cutch” was slashing .256/.378/.457 with a 120 wRC+ and a 16.4% BB% to help set the table for the Phillies lineup. The Phillies were unable to replace his production in the lead off spot after the injury where the they ranked in the bottom 5 in baseball in production out of that spot.
Jean Segura also suffered many nagging injuries to his lower half over the course of 2019 that didn’t quite allow him to be himself. Injuries to Segura’s hamstring, heel, ankle, and right knee no doubt hampered Segura and with him no longer having to man shortstop due to the signing of Didi Gregorius the Phillies could find the hit machine returning in 2020. New acquisition Didi Gregorius showing he’s fully healthy off Tommy John Surgery and returning to his 2017 and 2018 form where he put up back-to-back 4 fWAR seasons would bring a great boost to the Phillies lineup.
Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard Make an Impact
MLB Pipeline released their initial top 100 prospects for 2020 and Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard both ranked in the top 35 with Bohm ranking 30th and Howard 34th. Both had strong seasons across 3 levels in the minors in 2019, even after Howard missed the beginning of the season with a shoulder issue. Both went to the Arizona Fall League, where some of the best prospects across the game come to play, and both had strong showings there as well.
Bohm slashed .361/.397/.528 with 2 HR in 19 games and Howard pitched to a 2.11 ERA, a 0.938 WHIP, and 27 SO in 21.1 IP. They both appear to be on the cusp of making the Phillies. An addition of Bohm can make an already Phillies lineup even deeper and given the question marks in the final 3 rotation spots Spencer Howard could be a significant add. The Phillies have already come out and said that Howard will be on an innings limit of about 140-150 innings but even with that limit he could help the Phillies rotation immensely.
Someone From the Last 3 Rotation Spots Steps Up
The 2019 season was more or less a disaster for the Phillies rotation outside of Aaron Nola. After a promising 2018 that showed good advanced stats like FIP and xFIP for guys like Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez many expected them to continue to progress and have break out seasons in 2019. Nick Pivetta pitched the 2nd game of the season and threw a complete game shutout but was terrible otherwise. He pitched to a 5.38 ERA, 5.47 FIP and 4.58 xFIP and spent most of the season in the bullpen and was also sent down to Triple A at one point. Vince Velasquez was not much better and also saw time in the bullpen.
Zach Eflin started the season strong but then started to struggle in June and was pounded to the tune of a 11.88 ERA in July. Eflin finished strong in September though, pitching to a 2.80 ERA in 35.1 IP. Jake Arrieta also struggled in 2019 pitching to a 4.64 ERA, 4.89 FIP, and a 4.46 xFIP. Arrieta tried pitching through bone spurs in his pitching elbow which eventually he could no longer pitch through and required surgery that ended his season. The struggles of the rotation led the team to claiming Drew Smyly on waivers and trading for Jason Vargas. If the Phillies want to make a postseason push in 2020 they will need a starting pitcher other than Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler to give them productive innings. While Jake Arrieta has not been what the Phillies hoped for when they signed him to a 3-year $75 million deal if they can get his 2018 production it would bring a big boost to the rotation.
Hit on Multiple Spring Training Invitees
One of the things that made the Yankees so good in 2019 was the depth within the organization to help replace the players that landed on the IL. One of those guys was Gio Urshela. It’s unfair to expect any of the Phillies invites to produce the way Urshela did for the Yankees last year where he produced 3.1 fWAR and a 132 wRC+.
The Phillies do have a list of some interesting names that could help them. The list includes the likes of Francisco Liriano, former Nationals closer Drew Storen, Bud Norris, Anthony Swarzak, Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison, and Neil Walker. Bud Norris was effective for the Cardinals out their bullpen in 2018 but did not pitch in 2019. Neil Walker was very effective as a pinch-hitter in 2019 slashing .304/.429/.652 and also brings positional versatility being able to play 1B, 2B, and 3B. Francisco Liriano was effective against both LHH and RHH last year which will be needed out a bullpen arm due to MLB’s newly instituted 3 batter minimum rule for relievers.
The bullpen has a lot of question marks so getting some quality innings from any of the invitees above would be huge. Brad Miller also recently signed with the Cardinals and he was a pleasant surprise for the Phillies off the bench in 2019. Walker or Harrison could bring similar versatility as Miller and Walker looks like he could supply similar power, at least from his appearances off the bench that is.
While it seems like a lot of things will have to break right for the Phillies for them to make the playoffs in 2020, there is a path to get there. The World Champion Nationals lost their best player, Anthony Rendon, to free agency and while they still have one of the best top 3 starting rotations in baseball their offense looks to be a huge question mark going into the season. The Braves lost Josh Donaldson to the Twins in free agency and replaced him by signing Marcell Ozuna. They beefed up the back end of their bullpen by signing Will Smith but there is a question whether Ozuna can provide adequate protection for Freedie Freeman.
The Mets top 3 of their rotation also looks to be among the best in the game and a good offense built around Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, and Michael Conforto. It’s also not likely that Alonso recreates his 2019 season and hits 53 HRs for the second year in a row. The Phillies are not a perfect team by any means but the team is improved and, with a good showing in the first half of 2020, could be significant buyers at the trade deadline. The playoffs are not as out of the question as some people make it out to be for this team in 2020.
Stats Courtesy of: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Spotrac
Graduate from Indiana University of PA. SMWW Certified Scout.