It’s obvious on the face of the standings that the Phillies haven’t been playing great ball. After setting the pace in the NL East through early June, the club took a spill (dropping 11 of 13) and has limped along ever since at about a .500 rate of play. The Braves are largely cruising. The Nats just streaked past. The Mets are even back on their feet and in pursuit.
This is what all of that looks like in Fangraphs form: a bunch of jagged lines that signify devastating changes to the Phillies’ odds of appearing in the postseason. That chart, at least, shows that there’s still at least something like a one-in-five chance … at a coin-flip game to get a full playoff series. The division is the real prize. How are things looking there? Well, the descending jags are beginning to flatline.
More worrying still is the fact that the Phillies’ record may not even accurately reflect the team’s true state. Entering play today, the club was carrying a negative-20 run differential. By measure of BaseRuns — which looks not at actual runs or actual wins, but reasonably expected runs (and by translation wins) based upon underlying performance — the Phils have outperformed their theoretical win expectancy by a whopping seven games. The good news is that the team does not actually sit five games below .500. The bad news is that they have (broadly speaking) played like such a team, and project to play sub-.500 ball going forward.
I can already hear some readers’ alarm bells going off … what happened didn’t really quite happen? you can predict the future? Phooey! None of those fancy stats are gospel, true, though they do provide critical context for understanding outcomes that necessarily depend upon a vast array of factors. And it’s not as if other means of analyzing the situation provide cause for greater optimism. Phillies pitchers — especially starters — are giving up home runs by the bucket. (Analytical aside: the Phils’ three most successful starters — Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Jake Arrieta — have also outperformed their FIP/xFIP/SIERA numbers.) Closer Hector Neris is suddenly on the ropes. What appeared at the outset to be a loaded lineup is now without one of its best pieces (Andrew McCutchen) and carries a distinctively middle-of-the-road .243/.322/.420 collective output.
This is a club that entered the season with huge expectations after promising its fans significant spending and going on to secure the services of McCutchen, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and David Robertson. It’s not as if it’s totally out of the picture. Still, it doesn’t feel like a time for anything close to an all-in push.
And yet … here we are, reading about the Phillies’ broad canvassing of the starting pitching market. The club is reportedly looking into just about every starting pitcher named on MLBTR’s list of the top sixty free agents — including pure rental players, highly paid veterans, and younger/more controllable hurlers. From public reports, anyway, it seems to be the sort of open-ended approach that would seem better suited to a club in a clearer position to contend.
But it may be that we shouldn’t read too much into the laundry list of starting pitching targets. It would behoove the club to have a good sense of the price of all the arms, after all. And at some point, it’d be worth going ahead with a move even for a pending free agent if the acquisition cost is low enough. There’s no particular reason to believe the team would act in an overly rash manner, even if it has an obvious interest in seeing through its significant offseason investments. President Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak have plenty of contractual security, so their incentives should be fully in line with those of the organization itself.
Notably, the club’s leadership hasn’t been shy about acknowledging the predicament. MacPhail seems quite realistic about the situation. It’s no question whether the team is “one trade away from the World Series,” he said: “We don’t believe that. I don’t believe that.” Well then. That doesn’t mean that the club won’t pursue additions, but the declining postseason odds will clearly influence the nature of the pursuit. MacPhail suggested the Phils would “be more judicious with [their] playing talent,” while noting that such hesitancy to give up high-end prospects “doesn’t mean you can’t make a deal where a component is taking on somebody’s salary.”
So, where do and where should the Phillies stand when the deadline hits? That’ll obviously depend upon the final run of play, but presuming the situation remains roughly the same, there’s little doubt that a true all-in deadline approach would be unwise. The odds of a division title are minuscule; chances at a Wild Card are rather low. That said, there’s unquestionably value in pursuing even a play-in opportunity. Drawing fans down the stretch, convincing season-ticket holders to re-up for 2020, maintaining roster morale, preparing for another offseason of player recruiting (free agents and extension targets), adding players who’ll feature on future rosters … there are causes aplenty even beyond that of boosting the odds of a postseason berth itself. And even a Wild Card comes with an approximately 50/50 shot at earning a full series … and who knows from there?
What’s most interesting here is the fact that the Phillies are obviously especially willing to throw their financial heft into acquisition efforts. That may not be possible for quite a few other teams — even traditional big spenders have their limits and are facing luxury tax concerns — and opens up many creative possibilities. Perhaps a rental target or controllable starter could be packaged with a more expensive (albeit potentially still useful) player to reduce the prospect burden. Or the Philadelphia org can simply focus in on the higher-priced segment of the market as things shake out under the pressure of the impending deadline. Plus, while the Phils are seemingly clinging to prospects … who isn’t? There’s plenty of reason to think they can compete with cash — and, more importantly, that it could make bottom-line sense from both a financial and baseball sense to do so. If they fall short in their pursuit of new arms, the Philadelphia front office can sleep easy knowing that it did its best … and, quite possibly, forced the club’s long-term rivals to pony up additional young talent to shut down the 2019 Phils.
No they cannot justify going win now. They suck too much.
It’s the first few months that are giving the Phillies a (likely) false sense of hope. They had a positive run differential and were 10+ games above .500, but things have fallen apart. Key injuries. Awful pitching. Lack of depth. These are things that can’t be completely fixed at the deadline. The general thought is that the Phillies are much better than how they have been playing, but as this article points out that may not be the case. The Phillies could continue to plummit in the standings. Aside from 2 series against the Mets, the Phillies haven’t won a series in quite some time. Buying at the deadline would be foolish, unless they’re buying for next year.
The first few months, when the bullpen was healthy and the outfield was still intact? They need a starter or two as well as a couple of bullpen guys and they’ll be fine.
The “buying for next year” comment is key I think.
So many NL teams within striking distance of the wildcard…. but still only 2 spots there. The chances of sneaking in are slim just based on the amount of competition. So shelling out for a rental player when the odds of it helping are slim just doesn’t make sense. But with extra control… you’re improving this year and next year too.
Likely lots of competition this year for players controlled beyond this season. The rental guys will be moved more likely to the teams with playoff spots locked up.
You can’t justify win now with Harper locked in for the next 12 years and a solid young core intact with Nola, Hoskins among others
Spent too much to not try to get in the playoffs ?
Use some of that “stupid money” to absorb a bad contract like Jordan Zimmerman rather than dealing from a weak farm.
Trade for him now, giving up no real assets to Detroit. Give him a shot. If he’s good, keep him. If not, pay the rest of his salary and trade him for something in the winter to a cheap team.
Good plan for Philly but Detroit would rather have prospect capital for a Boyd or Greene then salary relief.
If ownership could get out from let’s say 70 million dollars in bad money for Matt Boyd and Shane Greene you don’t know what they’d do. I’m not saying any of that would happen but the 70 million bucks is real money and the sons certainly aren’t their father. You’d have to hope that wouldn’t be the case but it wouldn’t be the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.
They don’t have the farm depth to do much and still be okay moving forward. Their biggest problem is that they have so many first, second, and third round picks that don’t advance through the minors and either contribute on the ML level or develop into appealing trade chips.
They can absorb money, the biggest mistake they made was not signing Charlie Morton who ended up in TB on that modest deal. Morton lives in Delaware and made it clear he wanted to stay in the area so it shows the Phils had little/no interest. And then Keuchel signed with ATL on a pro-rated deal the Phillies could afford. Worst case, they could’ve signed him for the remainder of the year and worked on a moderate extension or they could just extend the QO and get a pick or get him on another 1 year idea (since he’d be hard pressed to sit again in back to back years).
Their best bet is to shop in the bargain bin areas on older vets with expiring deals. Then after the season, see what FA they want to hitch their wagon to. Whether it be someone like Bumgarner, Wheeler, Cole, Gibson, etc. The Phillies are closer to not being in the postseason than they are in, due to the fact that they would be below .500 if they didn’t place the Mets as much as they have.
It would be interesting if they sold and bought. I could imagine what a deal for Realmuto would be like? Maybe a team with young, controllable pitching would be interested? Maybe a team like Minnesota? Jose Berrios (who declined a long term extension to go year to year) could be interesting. Of course it wouldn’t be a 1 for 1 there but the Phillies could try to get creative but they lack true “pitching”. They have plenty of guys who can throw the ball hard (Pivetta, VV, Eflin) but few that can actually locate it.
Keuchel couldn’t be extended a QO. He’s had one.
obviously its not a good idea wasting prospect capitol on big moves, but guys that can he had for cheap or cash are a great idea. better hold the prospects until the time is right to really go in.
There’s the ‘baseball’ side of baseball then there are the “optics.” The Phils certain next big move is extending J.T. Realmuto this off-season. I’m confident the Phils will make 1, likely 2 moves to improve their pitching before the deadline. No long term glide paths to contention — they gave up too much for Realmuto to pace themselves.
Their big move(s) will be off-season but don’t sleep on a move like acquiring Danny Duffy from K.C. and Corey Dickerson from the Pirates if Bruce is out for long plus a reliever.
Dickerson? There’s almost no value there. They’d be better off getting Castellanos. Castellanos will be a dirt cheap rental also. I don’t even think Dickerson is worth the remaining 4 million bucks on his salary.
Duffy’s contract is also underwater. Even more underwater. They could have both of those guys for nothing but I’m not sure you’d want to do that.
Look, Jay Bruce Bruce was a marginal add at the time until he became a contributor. Pirates want to move Dickerson; I don’t believe you could say the same foe the Tigers and Castellanos. With corner OF’s McCutchen ,Bruce and #3 under contract, we’re talking about a low cost rental or depth addition going forward.
When you have a starting rotation like the Phils, Duffy is an improvement. Starting pitching is in short supply around the leagues. Phils have signaled they won’t compete for the high end which I don’t mind if they have a high end off-season signing (Gerrit Cole?) in mind. The Phils are exactly where any team would be which fails to “grow the arms.”
The real answer is no. However there’s more to address here.
Given all the spending and trades to assemble this team, waving the red flag means someone has to take the fall for this. Until the organization is prepared to do that I don’t see how they can improve, even with the injured players returning next year.
Klentak isn’t going anywhere after signing an extension (why are GMs who’ve accomplished nothing being extended?). This means Kapler has to go. This also doesn’t mean that’s the solution. Someone has to be accountable for falling short of expectations.
Still half the season left.. Mccutchen was .256/.378/.457 with 117ops+ and led the NL in walks. thats alot of runs taking away with him not on the base path.. Herera was another starter they lost.. people can hate on the harper signing all they want but dudes always been a 2nd half guy his whole career.. i believe they had 8 relief pitchers on the DL at one time… just a run of bad luck and still stayed at .500 ball… dont count them out bc im sure not. NL East went from weak division last year, to a wild card scramble this year. dont count none of them out.
For his career, his batting average is only .008 higher in the second half, and his slugging percentage and obp are higher lower in the second half. Harper had not “always been a second half guy.”
While the team has had too much go wrong for all the blame to fall on him, I firmly believe that Kapler should move off the field and into an office job. Replace him with someone with a completely different style and set up a gut check for the team. The past season and a half have shown similar properties and Kapler doesn’t seem to know how to get the team out of the rut. This years team has greater depth and talent than the 2018 version, yet it feels very similar. Funny thing with the whole “f…..g Dallas Green” thing is that I have been thinking along those lines all season. A kick in the pants won’t work for a guy that just wants to be friends with you, would never get a reaction other than “you mad bro ?”, The team needs an outsider to come in and create a contrasting atmosphere, shock the roster into action……… Or Kapler can paint the clubhouse a new color and praise them for trying hard. Seems like the only guy he disciplines is Franco, who is an easy target…..
Whatever….I might be wrong honestly, but I don’t like Kapler and I can see how a guy like him isn’t able to control or motivate all the ego’s he constantly strokes ever so tenderly. The 70’s teams ate up nice guy Danny Ozark and it wasn’t until Dallas Green came in a cracked heads in 80 that the team got over the hump. It was gut check time and they responded to it, even though they didn’t like it. Sometimes it’s not what you want but what you need.
Kapler is an as*. The best part is when he tries to sound intelligent and uses the word incorrectly. He’s never been a winner and this team is a reflection of his rah rah attitude. Most are collecting a check like Roger Dorn from the movie major league.