Joe Girardi has his work cut out for him in 2020, but he should resist the urge to get too creative with the offense. It can be tempting to think of all the different platoons and combinations that he could come up with, with the DH adding even more flexibility. The 2020 Phillies, though, should ignore flexibility and instead build the best lineup to rocket through a short season.
Ground rules for the 2020 Phillies
First, let’s assume there are no positive infections or quarantines for the Phillies. It is unrealistic, but we will proceed as if the full roster is healthy.
Second, no Alec Bohm…for now. Today, he is anywhere from the 3rd to 5th best hitter in the organization (depending on which Hoskins comes to play in 2020 and if McCutchen is truly healthy). It does not make sense for the Phillies to pull forward his service time, and he is probably not ready defensively.
J.T. Realmuto should choose how many games he will play. He knows his body well enough to make the call every day. Starting fewer than 50 games at catcher would be a surprise. This leaves him with 7-9 games as the DH.
Andrew Knapp does not get enough credit for the bat and glove improvements he has made over the past three years in the majors. Even so, the drop from J.T. to Andrew is much like Batman letting go of Maroni from the building in The Dark Knight: not going to kill the entire offense, but enough of a drop-off to cripple it. Every game that J.T. is the DH equals 4 at-bats for Andrew. It is reasonable to ask if is worth having J.T. DH if it means substituting Andrew Knapp for Jay Bruce in the lineup. Knapp has just a .637 Career OPS against LHP versus .713 for Bruce, so there is no platoon advantage either.
As a hitter, Rhys Hoskins should play 60 games. He hit 20 homeruns and slashed .263/.401/.530 over the first half of 2019. His All-Star level performance dropped to below-replacement level with 9 homeruns and .180/.318/.361 over the second half, which is frightening no doubt. Still, if he hits at even a .800 OPS clip, the lineup around him can support it. Although it would be tough to swallow Rhys in the 6 hole instead of the 4, he would still be a must-start every day. That could change in 2021 with Bohm breaking into the majors.
Like Realmuto, expect Rhys to play 50 games in the field. The number of games he is DH will be dependent on Girardi’s confidence in Bruce and Walker to play 1B. Rhys will never win a Gold Glove, but his 0 Rdrs/yr (Baseball Reference) in 1708.1 innings still stacks up favorably to Bruce’s -11 in 416.1 and Neil Walker’s -1 in 936.2. J.T. could also see a spot start here, but Girardi should not want him playing in the field at all if he is not catching.
2B Scott Kingery and SS Didi Gregorious should each start every game possible at their positions. They have offensive potential not seen up the middle for the Phillies since 2007. That year Chase Utley (.976) and Jimmy Rollins (.875) each posted OPS of at least .800. In 12 years since, no SS and only Utley four times (08, 09, 10, 13) have posted seasons of .800 OPS.
Kingery started 2019 hitting .292 and slugging .545 in his first 58 games, but like Hoskins, cooled off with a .230 AVG and .418 SLG in the second half (68 games). Each game that Kingery does not start at second, Josh Harrison (and not the superior hitting Neil Walker) will. Walker has always been a below average fielder at 2B, and does not possess the lateral quickness at this stage of his career to handle the position. Harrison has not been an average hitter (measured by OPS+) since 2017. Although Kingery has appeal as a utility threat who can play anywhere, his offense is needed at 2B…for every game.
For the same reasons, Phillies fans have to hope that Didi Gregorious stays healthy and starts 60 games at short. The Phillies signed Didi this offseason for a bargain, prove-it deal (1 yr. and $14 million). Didi’s 5 year Yankee slash of .269/.313/.446 would be a welcomed spurt of offense. The potential for 17-18 Gregorious, who took home MVP votes in both years, could push the Phillies into the playoffs.
Rounding out the infield, the Jean Segura experiment will begin at 3B. There are reasons to be optimistic and pessimistic for Segura’s 2020. Segura came to camp in better shape and fully healthy. Like many of the 2019 Phillies, his beginning of the season started out hot and then trailed off sharply. Through 40 games, Segura hit .325 with an OPS of .883. In his remaining 104 games, those dropped to .261 and .686 respectively. The optimistic version of Segura has the potential to keep the Phillies out of a lengthy rut, but the pessimistic version is no better than Maikel Franco.
If Segura struggles, Neil Walker could be in line for significant playing time. In such a short season, if the Phillies are in contention, whispers, and probably roars, for Alec Bohm could push GM Matt Klentak to give the go ahead on the final 10-20 games for Bohm to takeover.
Moving to the grass, Left Field will see the most turnover as Girardi looks to ease the load on Andrew McCutchen. It would not be surprising to see the veteran left fielder play only 30 games in left and 20-25 as the DH. At minimum, the Phillies should face 10-20 left handed starters in 2020. McCutchen should start all of those games (2019 OPS of .840 vs LHP) with Jay Bruce (.798) and/or Adam Haseley (.531) on the bench.
For the other 30 games, expect to see Bruce in left with Haseley/Quinn in center or Haseley in left with Quinn in center. Haseley (2019 14 Rdrs in 65 OF games) and Roman Quinn (Career 2 Rdrs in 86 OF games) both possess above average speed and defensive prowess, so defense should not suffer no matter the left fielder.
Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn in Center Field form the only true platoon for the 2020 Phillies. Both add value defensively and speed on the base paths, and could combine to be average or better at the plate.
Haseley had a strong rookie year offensively, slashing .266/.324/.396 and stealing 4 bases in 4 attempts. He was much stronger against RHP, with a .778 OPS in 185 plate appearances. Quinn, who has struggled to stay healthy since debuting in 2016, has always impressed with raw talent. He was below average at the plate in 2019, at .213/.298/.370. He did, however, add 8 steals in as many tries. For his career, Quinn has a .785 OPS in 116 plate appearances against lefties.
As a unit, the potential of a Haseley/Quinn CF is clear: elite defense, electric speed, and above-average bats. Expect Haseley to see more starts than Quinn, due, in part, to a greater number of opposing right-handed starters, but also to allow Girardi to use Quinn as a late-inning baserunner or defensive replacement.
In right field, Bryce Harper should be afforded the opportunity to start all 60 games. Like Realmuto, Harper has earned the ability to make his own call on how his body feels. Making it easier, Harper’s defense rebounded by almost every metric in 2019. Harper makes the Phillies a better team when he is playing the field and not at DH.
If everything goes as planned, expect the starts at DH to look like this:
McCutchen 20, Bruce 20, Realmuto 7, Walker 7, Hoskins-Harper-Kingery-Gregorious-Segura 6
2020 Phillies: The Blueprint
It seems, then, that the Blueprint for Joe Girardi is to run his starters on the field for as many games as possible. That is exactly it, as the Phillies do not have the depth for any other strategy. They don’t have the quality of star players like the Dodgers or the optimized role players of the Nationals.
A 60-game season is too short to have anyone but the best players on the field. Girardi must turn back from modern MLB managing, and avoid the temptations to be creative.
Very few MLB players play every game of a season. Players are encouraged to take a day off to keep fresh, but the 2020 Phillies do not have the depth to do so. Only McCutchen, coming back from a serious injury, and Realmuto, catching in blistering heat behind the plate, should be allocated days off.
Girardi must trust each of the starters to determine how many games they can play. Each game that a starter takes off, more at bats are allocated to bench players. Bench players should not have the opportunity to “get their hacks in.” They will need to stay prepared off of the field, as there is not room for them on it.
Rotating players to DH creates the same issue. Rotating 6-7 starters per week to DH, with the bench filling in when necessary, could create an additional 5-10% more at bats for non-starters. In a playoff race that should come down to a game or two, these misallocated at-bats could be the difference.
Positional flexibility, again, assuming no positive tests, is not necessary or beneficial for the 2020 Phillies. Gabe Kapler praised versatility and it cost him his job (he will need to be flexible with his new team, the SF Giants, as injuries and opt-outs, plus an already aging core, should prevent any hope of their contending in 2020). Having Realmuto start a game at 1B or Kingery at SS/CF does make the Phillies a better team. It results in the same problem as days off – more at bats are allocated to Gosselin, Harrison, or Knapp (more at-bats for below-replacement-level players).
The Phillies need each starter to stick to their respective positions. Unless they acquire a near-starter-level player or Alec Bohm forces his way into the lineup, they cannot afford to move players around. They should not have to, either, with every spot on the diamond clearly set.
Lineups are often constructed via trial and error over the course of a long season. The 2020 Phillies will not have time to run many trials, and should have a permanent lineup by the end of August.
The lineup must truly be set so that each player fully understands their roles. Spacing lefties is less important with the minimum-batter rule change, but the 2020 Phillies look to have a balanced R/L lineup anyway. Other considerations are: OBP or AVG at top? Where does Harper fit best? Can Hoskins hold down the cleanup spot? What is the best order for Gregorius & Segura? Are Haseley/Quinn best in the 9-hole?
Come September, the only consideration in posting the lineup should be lefty/righty opposing pitcher (not necessarily the starter if the opposing team uses an opener).
Lineup against RHP:
- McCutchen LF/DH
- Realmuto C
- Harper RF
- Hoskins 1B
- Bruce LF/DH
- Gregorius SS
- Segura 3B
- Kingery 2B
- Haseley CF
Lineup against LHP:
- McCutchen LF
- Realmuto C
- Harper RF
- Hoskins 1B
- Gregorius SS
- Segura 3B
- Bruce/Walker DH
- Kingery 2B
- Quinn CF
- Gosselin/ Torreyes
Following this Blueprint, Joe Girardi will turn away from modern managing and flexibility, and towards consistency and routine. The 2020 Phillies will be set to succeed with a high-powered offensive core to propel them to the playoffs.