Spring Training is officially upon us as Phillies pitchers and catchers officially report to Clearwater this week. This year’s camp should be a little closer to normal as a traditional 162 game season is on the horizon instead of a frenzied 60 game season. The COVID-19 pandemic is still casting its ominous shadow as it has been for everything over the last year, however the league and its players at least now have some amount of experience of playing baseball in a pandemic.
The Philadelphia Phillies finished last season 28-32 and missed the postseason by one game. Their offense was good, their bullpen was historically bad. We all know by now the biggest storylines from last season. Here we will break down some of the initial storylines for the team heading into 2021.
Is the bullpen fixed?
This will be the most exhausted talking point in the early season. The Phillies had the second worst bullpen ERA since 1901 at 7.06, falling short of the mark set by their ancestors the 1930 Philies who had an 8.01 bullpen ERA. It is near impossible for the 2021 bullpen to be any worse.
The Phillies have made the correct move of purging almost all of their relievers from last year from their roster. Gone are the likes of Deolis Guerra, Brandon Workman, and Tommy Hunter. In are Archie Bradley, Jose Alvarado, and Sam Coonrod. Small bright spots such as Jojo Romero and Connor Brogdon will start 2021 with the team as opposed to in the minors. You can project improvement just by looking at the names on the opening day rosters side by side.
|2020 Phillies Opening Day Bullpen||2021 Phillies Opening Day Bullpen (Projected)|
|Hector Neris||Archie Bradley|
|Adam Morgan||Hector Neris|
|Jose Alvarez||Jose Alvarado|
|Deolis Guerra||Sam Coonrod|
|Tommy Hunter||Connor Brogdon|
|Cole Irvin||Jojo Romero|
|Trevor Kelley||David Hale|
Six of those relievers on the 2020 opening day bullpen had never made an opening day roster before. The only ones still in the Phillies organization are Neris and Rosso, and only Neris will start the season in the majors.
Whereas in 2021, Bradley has been a very effective reliever of the last few years and Alvarado has been excellent when healthy. The Phillies could look to add another reliever before the season, but most likely it will be the above seven with whoever loses the fifth starter spot as the eighth.
Is it enough?
It’s up for debate whether the Phillies did enough to solve their bullpen woes. Bradley is at his best when he is a set-up man, but here he will be the closer. Will he thrive in that role over a full season? Which version of Hector Neris will the Phillies get? Will Alvarado stay healthy long enough to be a factor? Will the younger relievers build off of their success? All are valid questions.
The Phillies bullpen will be drastically improved in 2021. As said before, it’s hard to get worse. However, they still may only top out as an average at best bullpen. They are still far from the strength of the team. But think about this: where would the 2020 Phillies have been if they had a regular bottom five bullpen instead of the second worst bullpen in baseball history? The Phillies lost 8 games in which they led by 3 or more runs. They had a 7.58 ERA in save situations. They lost 8 games in which they led by 3 or more runs and were 8-10 in one run games. How different is their season if they turn just one or two of those losses into wins?
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler were both as advertised at the top of the Phillies rotation. The two combined for a 5.1 WAR and a 9-7 record. Behind them, Zach Eflin turned in a solid season with a 4-2 record and a 3.97 ERA. After that, the rotation was a mess. Jake Arrieta, Vince Velasquez, and Nick Pivetta were wholly ineffective. When injuries ravaged the rotation, the rotation once again contributed to another late season collapse.
The Phillies will be returning Nola, Wheeler, and Eflin as their top three starters. Following them will be newly signed Matt Moore in the number four slot, and some combination of Chase Anderson, Vince Velasquez, Spencer Howard, Ivan Nova, and Ranger Suarez in the fifth spot. The guess here is it’s Anderson’s job to lose, with Velasquez starting in the bullpen and Howard and Suarez in the minors. Nova would usually be considered the odd man out, but he may start in the bullpen or the minors because depth will be crucial this year.
Necessity for Depth
One thing to keep in mind this season for every team is going to be the fluctuation of innings for every starting pitcher. Pitchers will be going from 150 innings in 2019, to 60 innings in 2020, and then ramping back up to 150 innings for 2021. That is potentially harmful for a pitcher and raises concerns over injuries cropping up more often than usual. Perhaps this is why the Phillies and other teams are collecting starting pitchers. Everyone needs, at a minimum, bodies to go out and soak up innings in the event of injuries. This is true about every season, but 2021 figures to be a heavy year for pitcher injuries with the fluctuation.
We may see many teams opt to go with a six man rotation in order to give their starters more rest and time to build up strength after the frenzy that was last season. For the Phillies, Moore and Anderson have significant question marks around them and there are doubts that they will be any more effective than what the Phillies had last year. They are banking on at least one being effective which would give them a reliable number 4 and a bevy of other options for the fifth spot and as depth.
The Phillies rotation is most likely settled, as they have the aforementioned log jam and are running up against the luxury tax. There is still a possibility that they look to sign one of the remaining starters such as Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, but it is looking likely that Moore and Anderson will be their major league acquisitions for the rotation. The Phillies opted to go for quantity over quality for their rotation, perhaps correctly foreseeing an uptick in pitcher injuries. However, if Moore and Anderson don’t perform, they will be right back in the same situation they were last year when the back half of their rotation was a major weak spot.
Running back the lineup
The Phillies lineup was their major strength last year. As mentioned when they re-signed Didi Gregorious, there is sound logic in wanting to run it back with the same lineup. However, that doesn’t mean there still aren’t holes. Centerfield is still a question mark and there are concerns about left field as Andrew McCutchen is coming off of a down season (albeit his first after an ACL tear) and is now 34 years old. The Phillies offense also dipped without Rhys Hoskins in the lineup (5th in runs scored before his injury to 10th after.) Hoskins had Tommy John surgery on his elbow in October and will be healthy to start the season but may have lingering effects.
Center is once again a question mark heading into spring training. Some combination of Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley, and Roman Quinn once again looks to be the method to fill the spot. Kingery had a very poor season where he suffered lingering effects from COVID-19, Quinn was a zero with the bat, and Haseley had some moments but was not given playing time. There are some rumors that the Phillies may bring Odubel Herrera to camp to further complicate everything.
They are still some interesting options left in free agency, with Jackie Bradley Jr. being the most enticing. JBJ wouldn’t necessarily fix their offensive hole but would provide elite defense which may become a priority with the aging McCutchen in left. But once again as is the case with starting pitching, the Phillies will likely start the season with what they have. A best case scenario would be Haseley performs well, allowing Kingery to go back to his super-sub role playing everywhere and giving rest while Quinn could fall into a bench role that utilizes his speed.
If the Phillies find themselves in the middle of the race for the postseason, look for centerfield to be one of the areas in which they look to upgrade.
Bohm’s first full season
Alec Bohm debuted mid-way through last season and had a fantastic rookie season where he finished as the runner-up in N.L. Rookie of the Year voting. Bohm is only the third Phillies rookie in the modern era (since 1900) to finish a season with a batting average higher than .330 with a minimum 150 at bats. The other two, Chuck Klein and Richie Ashburn, are both in the Hall of Fame.
Bohm’s bat lived up to the hype in his rookie season, even if his home run numbers were lower than expected. It will be interesting to watch if Bohm changes his approach to hit for less average but more power or keeps his bat-to-ball technique he had in 2020. Either way, Bohm will be a huge part of the Phillies lineup in 2021 and will most likely hit cleanup or in a major RBI spot.
The only real question mark with Bohm is where he will play. He was very shaky in his first few games at third but settled in relatively well. Nevertheless, there are questions about his ability to stay there. He will most likely have to move off of the hot corner to first or full time designated hitter in the future, But, with no universal DH at least for 2021, Bohm will have to play third with Hoskins entrenched at first. The Phillies are hoping he is at least serviceable enough in the field or that his offense outweighs his defense.