The lockout is over. The MLB season is happening. Spring Training is here. We finally got to witness the post-lockout transaction frenzy. Correa, Story, Freeman, Matt Chapman, and Jesse Winker have all moved teams since March 10th. The flurry of deals has definitely lived up to the hype.
Among the teams making moves were the Philadelphia Phillies. After another season of finishing around 82 wins, finishing 3rd in the NL East, and missing the playoffs, the team needed changes. They found it first in the form of Kyle Schwarber. A true thumper to fill in the new DH spot and lengthen the lineup. Solid move that originally was going to be the sole topic. Then Dealin Davey Dombroski said hold my beer and dropped a 5yr/$100M contract on Nick Castellanos’ head. Again, a massive middle-of-the-lineup bat to go with Schwarber, J.T Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, and 2021 NL MVP Bryce Harper.
When the Castellanos signing became known to the public, there were some jokes made regarding the defensive abilities of the two newest Phillies acquisitions;
Obviously, Castellanos and Schwarber are better hitters than fielders. And there is something to say about the fact that the Phillies are going to be BAD defensively this year. However, they are going to be very GOOD offensively. So let’s take a look at Kyle and Nick. The good, the bad, the better, and the worse.
I think this one is pretty obvious. The Phillies are adding two free agents who combined to hit .283/.351/.573 with 66 homers and 171 RBIs. Not only that, but with the new DH rule they can put both players in the same lineup, meaning that the Phillies could send out a lineup that goes Jean Segura (3.7 WAR in 2021), Schwarber, Harper (2021 NL MVP), Castellanos, J.T. Realmuto (110 OPS+), and Rhys Hoskins (.530 SLG) That’s a 1-6 that can hold up against the other lineups in the NL East. For the visual learners, here are the hit-charts for Schwarbs and Castellanos at Citizen’s Bank Park.
Call me a genius, but I think that this one is pretty obvious as well. The two newbies have combined for one (1) season of a DRS rating above 0. They aren’t just bad defensively, they are negatives to the team when they play the field. Now I know that some people will call into question how much defense matters when you see the offensive production that both players have. Both players played for teams in the Reds and Red Sox that struggled in the field last year as well. No matter who sits, plays DH, or gets put in left field, there will be some suspect defense in the Philadelphia outfield.
Now let’s get to the better portion of these additions. The last time we chatted, I told you about Freddie Freeman fitting in with both Toronto’s needs and their culture. Well, there is something similar happening in Eastern PA. Both Castellanos and Schwarber do something that the Phillies don’t, and it’s somewhat unknown; they can hit high pitches in zones that their teammates can’t. The Phillies were not exceptional at hitting the ball in the zone in 2021. They ranked 5th in Zone Swing %, yet 6th-lowest in Zone Contact %. Interestingly, they had the 5th-highest Chase Contact rate despite only chasing a moderate 27.3% of pitches. What does all this nerdy mumbo-jumbo tell us, you may ask?
The Phillies need better contact when they swing at pitches in the zone.
Guess what the kid from Waltham and Mr. There’s a Deep Drive Into Left are good at?
*hitting the ball in the zone*
Just look at the run values by swing zone for the two new kids from last year;
If you look at the lineups these two came from last year, Schwarber was hitting with guys like Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers while Castellanos was with Jesse Winker and Joey Votto. Both benefitted from capitalizing on pitches in the zone. They both have been at or about league average in Zone % as well as Zone Contact %. There’s nothing more frustrating as an opposing pitcher than facing a patient hitter like Harper or a contact guy like Jean Segura. They waste pitches, make you empty your arsenal, and will gladly take a walk. You’re all frustrated from that, and now you try a little get-me-over fastball to Schwarber or Castellanos and it’ll end up across the street. That’s how terrifying this lineup can be.
I won’t end this one on a sour note, but it’s something that needs to be addressed. Speaking of addressing things, did the Phillies really address their biggest need with these two???
Myself and some statistics say… kindanotreallymaybe.
Philly’s biggest issues last year were the bullpen and the left side of the infield. This table shows players who logged at least 15 games at either SS or 3B and their WAR values from last year;
This is not very good. Now let’s compare this to how players with at least 20 games played in the outfield. You know, the positions that Philadelphia just shelled out $179 million to.
The WAR values here are much much better. Even if you ignore Harper, the values are noticeably better than anyone they trotted out for shortstop or third base.
I show you these values because the Phillies have put a lot of effort into reviving their bullpen. They’ve signed multiple relievers that can go into different roles and hopefully limit the number of blown saves and random fliers they have to take midway through the season. But what’s the plan for the left side of the infield? Hope that Alec Bohm just had a bad first-full season? Plan on Didi to recover from an injury-plagued, negative-WAR season at age 32? Is Johan Camargo the answer? Or do you expect Bryson Stott to be the guy when he’s only played in 10 games at AAA Lehigh-Valley? Go Iron Pigs?
Look, I think that these are two really good signings for the Phillies and that they’ve had a really good off-season. They have signed thumpers to create a meat-grinder-type lineup. In addition to all of this, Joe Girardi has reunited with his former hitting coach Kevin Long, who was in the building for those late 2000s Yankees teams that made the playoffs five straight years and were powered by their offense. I have no doubts that the Phillies can compete in the NL East. But in a division as tight as this, defense might be that one thing that can put you over the top, and no team since the 2006 Mets has won the division with a Fielding % lower than the 2021 Phillies (.984).