Baseball is finally back. The sun is shining in Florida, the palm trees are swaying, and the Phillies are already dealing with injuries. It’s starting to feel like 2019 in Clearwater.
Catcher Andrew Knapp suffered a rib cage injury Wednesday morning, and pitchers Enyel De Los Santos and Victor Arano reported to camp sore. Early indications for Knapp, manager Joe Girardi said, are positive while De Los Santos and Arano will be down for a few weeks. The Phillies, as we all know, were ravaged by injuries last season. They don’t want to repeat that in 2020.
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You might have seen earlier this week that Baseball Prospectus, one of the sport’s leading publications, projects the Phillies to win just 77 games in 2020, four fewer than they won last season. The website, based on its PECOTA proprietary system, expects the Phillies to finish in fourth place for a second straight season.
PECOTA, defined by Baseball Prospectus as “a system that takes a player’s past performance and tries to project the most likely outcome for the following season,” projects the Phillies to struggle defensively and on the mound, is not high on Scott Kingery, expects Andrew McCutchen to be limited, and does not see any Phillies player hitting more than 33 homers.
If PECOTA is right, the Phillies are in trouble. But the system is far from perfect, as it projected the Phillies to win 89 games last season after they signed Bryce Harper. PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus said, “looks at all of the numbers, and all the numbers that make up the numbers, to see which players are more likely to repeat their success and which ones benefited from good fortune.”
Harper hit 35 home runs last season, but PECOTA projects him to tie Rhys Hoskins for the team lead with 33. It also projects both players to be deficient defensively. Of the team’s eight projected regulars, just two — Scott Kingery and J.T. Realmuto — are projected by PECOTA to finish with positive marks of Fielding Runs Above Average.
Kingery will play everyday in 2020, most likely at third base, but PECOTA expects him to hit just .235 with a 78 DRC+, a hitting stat introduced in 2018 by the website Deserved Runs Created Plus. The league average of DRC+ is 100. PECOTA projected Kingery last season to hit .230 with a 70 DRC+, but he finished with a .258 average and 93 DRC+. Perhaps he can again exceed the projections.
It projects McCutchen to have a .826 OPS, but have just 417 at-bats, which would trail only 2019’s injury-shortened season for the fewest ABs in his career. The Phillies could be cautious early on with McCutchen, but it would be hard to see them holding him back too much if he’s having that type of success.
But the season, just like last year, will hinge largely on the pitching. The Phillies upgraded the top of their starting rotation this offseason by signing Zack Wheeler, and PECOTA is high on him and Aaron Nola. But it’s the other three members of the rotation who cause concern. Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Jake Arrieta — the favorites to complete the rotation — are not projected to finish with an ERA better than 4.72. And the Phillies lack much starting depth behind them. If the Phillies are to make the playoffs, they’ll have to bust the projections.
“I think there’s a ton of talent. I really do,” Girardi said this week. “I thought this team changed a lot when Andrew McCutchen went down, and we’re going to get Andrew back. I think that’s really important. And we added some players to make the team stronger than it was last year. But the biggest thing is I believe in the guys in that room and how hungry they are and they want to win, so, to me, I think that’s a good formula for success.”
Jake Arrieta believes that improved health will keep him from becoming a $75 million disappointment, Scott Lauber writes.
Tommy Hunter is back with the Phillies and could play a key role in the bullpen if he proves to be healthy.
Seranthony Dominguez expects to be ready for opening day after avoiding Tommy John surgery last season.
New Phillies reliever Francisco Liriano won a World Series with Houston in 2017, but has mixed emotions now that the team’s cheating has been exposed, Bob Brookover writes.
Today: General manager Matt Klentak holds a news conference in Clearwater, 9:30 a.m.
Sunday: The position players report to camp.
Monday: The Phillies hold their first full-squad workout of spring training.
Feb. 22: Phils travel to Lakeland to open Grapefruit League play against the Tigers, 1:05 p.m.
Jake Arrieta, when describing the pain that he pitched through last season, said that the bone spur in his right elbow forbade him from using “two of my weapons.” The pitcher was forced to rely less on his curveball and cutter last season because he said the grip of those pitches caused his elbow even more pain.
Arrieta threw his cutter last season, according to Pitch F/X data, nearly 50% less than he did in 2018 and nearly doubled his reliance on the changeup. The cutter, Arrieta’s signature pitch, was mashed to the tune of a .667 slugging percentage. He said he’s at full health after surgery removed the bone spur, and the Phillies hope that means his key pitch is back.
“Not having that issue anymore and being able to feel free and easy and not be restricted with my elbow is going to be really good for me,” Arrieta said.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: Matt, think you can write a piece that’s a guide for visitors? When and how to visit Carpenter complex and Spectrum Field to observe workouts, game day experience, best tiki bar? We never know if we’re doing it right! — @HeyItsRichAgain on Twitter
Answer: Rich, thanks for the question. I would recommend heading to the backfields of the Carpenter Complex around 10 a.m. Drive past Spectrum Field, and you’ll find plenty of parking. The workouts seem to be starting between 10 and 11 and ending in the early afternoon. Soon, they’ll open the stadium for batting practice.
If you’re in town for the games, get there early and stay late. Hang on the berm for batting practice and then grab a spot at the Tiki Bar in left field after the game. The Phillies seem to offer the best game-day experience in the Grapefruit League.