MLB Team Roundup: Philadelphia Phillies

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PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2021 Record: 82-80

Second place, NL East

Team ERA: 4.39 (19th in MLB)

Team OPS: .726 (14th in MLB)

WHAT WENT RIGHT

While the Phillies missed the postseason for the 10th straight season, Bryce Harper did his part by launching 35 homers with a 1.044 OPS over 141 games. In doing so, he made a strong case for his second career NL MVP Award. Zack Wheeler was one of the best pitchers in baseball for the great majority of the season, posting a 2.78 ERA while leading the National League with 247 strikeouts and 213 1/3 innings. He’s one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award. Ranger Suarez was the biggest surprise on the team this year, amassing a minuscule 1.36 ERA over 12 starts and 27 relief appearances. Rhys Hoskins had his best power production since he first broke into the majors, even though his season was cut short. J.T. Realmuto was once again one of the best catchers in the majors. Jean Segura enjoyed a nice season as Philadelphia’s regular second baseman. Brad Miller was a useful super utility player and Matt Vierling emerged as a name to watch for the future.

WHAT WENT WRONG

The Phillies were hopeful that they solved their bullpen with a bunch of new names, but it didn’t work out. The team’s relievers were 25th in the majors with a 4.60 ERA. Aaron Nola had an confusing and disappointing season, posting a 4.63 ERA over 32 starts. Alec Bohm was the big disappointment on the position player side, batting just .247/.305/.342 over 115 games while struggling defensively at third base. He was even demoted to Triple-A for a stretch. Unfortunately, Rhys Hoskins had to be shut down in late August due to abdominal surgery. Didi Gregorius missed extended time due to a mysterious pseudogout issue in his right elbow and struggled to the tune of a .639 OPS over 103 games. Zach Eflin made just 18 starts before requiring season-ending knee surgery which will also result in a late start for 2022. Chase Anderson, Matt Moore, Spencer Howard, and Vincent Velasquez all disappointed in the back-end of the rotation. Howard, not long ago one of the team's top prospects, was traded to the Rangers in the Kyle Gibson/Ian Kennedy trade and Velasquez was cut loose in September. Oh, and the Phillies were dead-last in the majors in defensive runs saved.

FANTASY SLANTS

**After years of landing on silly “Most Overrated” lists, is it possible that Bryce Harper is actually underrated? You can say that in both real life and fantasy at this point. Only Juan Soto has bested Bryce Harper’s 1.021 OPS dating back to the start of last season. This year Harper produced his best batting average (.309) since 2017 while putting up 35 home runs, 84 RBI, 13 stolen bases, and 101 runs scored over 141 games. In terms of pure volume, it’s easy to imagine him getting back to the century mark in RBI if he can stay healthy for a full season. It would also be nice to see the Phillies get some help around him in the lineup. Harper should be a solid bet for double-digit stolen bases, so he’s an easy first-round pick from here.

**Zack Wheeler was very good in the first season of his five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies, but this year he was quite simply one of the best pitchers in the sport. The 31-year-old compiled a 2.78 ERA over 32 starts while leading the majors in innings pitched (213 1/3 innings) and the National League with a career-high 247 strikeouts. Pitching deep into games with regularity, he was one of just four pitchers to top the 200-inning mark this season. Joe Girardi should continue to lean on him in 2022, which is a big deal in terms of where to rank him going into the spring.

What really put Wheeler over the top this year among fantasy hurlers was the massive increase in strikeout percentage. After checking in at 18.4 percent in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, he posted a career-best 29.1 percent this year. Throwing his power slider more often, Wheeler missed more bats and was elite in terms of inducing soft contact. There’s only a select group of pitchers who should be drafted before him in mixed leagues next year.

**Aaron Nola was the top-ranked Phillies’ pitcher on fantasy draft boards in the spring, but he wasn’t able to justify that lofty status this season, posting an underwhelming 4.63 ERA over 32 starts. There were certainly moments of excellence along the way — most notably, he Tom Seaver’s MLB record by striking out 10 straight batters on June 25 — but he had an ERA of 5.30 after that day. Looking at his peripherals, it doesn’t make much sense. Nola missed bats and showed elite control with a 223/39 K/BB ratio over 180 2/3 innings. He allowed more fly balls and was a bit more homer-prone in the process, but it’s hard to ignore that the Phillies’ defense was one of the worst in the majors. That surely didn’t help him. It would be wise to bank on a healthy rebound here. The ADP (average draft position) will likely be reasonable enough.

**J.T. Realmuto suffered a small fracture in his right thumb in mid-February, but that didn’t stop him from starting the season on time and delivering a strong month of April. He was up-and-down from there, dealing with multiple injuries along the way, including a bruised hand and a banged-up shoulder. Still, it was a respectable fantasy season in the end, as he hit 17 homers with 73 RBI, 13 steals, and 64 runs scored over 134 games. The speed still sets him apart at the catcher position, though Salvador Perez deserves to be the top fantasy catcher in drafts next year after his ridiculous power display this year. The DH coming to the National League could help Realmuto stay in the lineup more often and give him a bit of a breather, so he remains a strong pick.

**Don’t sleep on Rhys Hoskins at first base, at least assuming he’s healed by his abdominal surgery come spring training. We actually saw a bit of a different approach from Hoskins this year, as he was much more aggressive at the plate. While his OPS (.864) was actually lower than it was in 2020 (.887), he mashed 27 home runs in just 389 plate appearances. Meanwhile, he posted career-bests in barrel percentage (94th percentile), average exit velocity (83rd percentile) and hard-hit percentage (77th percentile). Hoskins might never be a batting average standout, but he could be a power bargain next year depending on which version of him shows up in Clearwater in the spring.

**What should the Phillies do with Alec Bohm? The 25-year-old carried a ton of momentum into 2021 after hitting .338 in a 44-game sample as a rookie, but he hit just .247/.305/.342 with seven home runs across 115 games. He was demoted in late-August before returning for the final weekend of the season. Expectations were probably out of whack in the first place, as Bohm benefitted from a .410 BABIP in 2020, but it was certainly discouraging to see his strikeout rate climb from 20 percent to 26.6 percent. His struggles on defense probably didn’t help his mindset at the plate. Still, there is hope here, as Bohm ranked in the 89th percentile in average exit velocity and 90th percentile in hard-hit percentage. Yes, much of that contact came on the ground (he was 14th among hitters min. 400 PA with a ground ball rate of 52.7 percent), but he wouldn’t be the first player to adjust and thrive. He might have to do that as a DH, though.

Key Free Agents: Andrew McCutchen ($15 million club option for 2022 with a $3 million buyout), Archie Bradley, Hector Neris, Brad Miller, Ian Kennedy

Team Needs: The Phillies need a steady closer, full stop. They also need at least one outfielder to complement Bryce Harper as well as a plan to improve their defense on the left side of the infield.

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