The good (and bad) numbers that offer a glimpse into the Phillies’ 2022 outlook
Can Aaron Nola return to form by improving one stat? Is there reason to be concerned about Zack Wheeler next season?
The only stat that truly mattered after a 162-game season was that the Phillies finished 6½ games out of first place. They dropped six games in the standings over the final seven weeks, fading yet again in September despite facing a favorable schedule.
But there is plenty to infer from another disappointing season about what awaits the Phillies in 2022. The team’s offseason plan will take shape this month with free agency beginning in November before spring training starts in February.
If we take a look back, we might be able to see a glimpse of the future. Here are 10 stats from 2021 that provide insight into the 2022 Phillies.
Home runs allowed per nine innings by Aaron Nola. That was the 10th-highest rate in the majors and nearly double the rate from his career-best season in 2018. Nola’s strikeout rate, walk rate, and contact rate ran similar to those of previous seasons, but his fly-ball rate (40.5%) was the ninth-highest in the majors and a 13% spike from 2020. That fly-ball rate led to a spike in homers, shooting Nola’s ERA to 4.63, the fifth-highest in baseball among qualified pitchers. His xFIP (3.37) and SIERA (3.26) — two advanced statistics that are similar to ERA but don’t punish pitchers for things they can’t control, like defense — placed him among the game’s elite pitchers.
There’s nothing harder to produce than starting pitching, and Nola is on an affordable contract for two more seasons. The Phillies need him to pitch at the top of the rotation. If he lowers his fly-ball rate, his ERA could look as good as his advanced numbers.
» READ MORE: Young players who must meet Bryce Harper’s challenge with the Phillies in 2022
Pitches thrown by Zack Wheeler in the seventh inning or later, the most by any pitcher in baseball. The Phillies pushed Wheeler deeper this season more than any other pitcher, and he led the majors in innings (213⅓) and was second in strikeouts (247) while positioning himself to be at least a finalist for the Cy Young Award. But Joe Girardi expressed some caution last week about how a heavy workload in 2021 following 2020′s shortened season could affect a pitcher in 2022. It’s something to monitor.
“It’s not the effects of just throwing a 60-game season,” Girardi said. “It’s the effects of throwing the following season in a 162-game season. What does it do to the guys who threw a lot of innings? I don’t think any of us know the answer to that until next year, but I think he’ll be ready. I don’t doubt that.”
Bryce Harper’s on-base-plus-slugging-plus output is the highest by a Phillies batter age 28 or younger since 24-year-old Dick Allen had a 181 OPS + in 1966. How did Allen follow up that season? He hit .307 with a National League-best .404 on-base percentage and NL-leading .970 OPS. The Phillies would take that from Harper as an encore to an MVP-worthy season.
Percentage of increased sinking action by Ranger Suarez on his sinker when compared with the league average, which was the 16th-best among left-handed pitchers. He finished the season with a 1.36 ERA in 106 innings, 62% of which came as a starting pitcher. He found success with his sinker, as he induced weak contact and had the fifth-lowest barrels — a StatCast metric that combines a ball’s exit velocity and launch angle — per plate appearance among all pitchers. He started 2021 in the minors, but he’ll start 2022 in the rotation.
Contact rate by Jean Segura, which ranked 17th among 132 qualified hitters. In 2020, Segura traded his usual high contact rate for a higher walk rate in hopes of spiking his on-base percentage. It worked, but his batting average dropped significantly. He found a way in 2021 to walk at a higher rate than 2019 while hitting 24 points higher than he did in 2020 with an on-base percentage (.348) that was a point higher than last season’s. Segura was a complete hitter and it started with his making contact again.
He has one year left on his contract, which makes Segura, who will be 32 in March, an interesting trade candidate this winter as the Phillies could try to cash in on his best season since 2018. And if they do, they’ll have to figure out who’s playing second base.
» READ MORE: Ten years, no playoffs: Can the Phillies get back in 2022?
Percentage of Matt Vierling’s contact with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher, giving him the 12th-highest hard-hit rate, according to StatCast. Vierling spent the final month of the season in the majors and hit .313 with an .842 OPS over 70 plate appearances. It was his ability to consistently hit the ball hard that most impressed. He played himself into a role for next season, ideally as a fourth outfielder who can also play first base. But that role could change depending on how the Phillies approach their offseason.
Slugging percentage by Alec Bohm against four-seam fastballs, which is the second lowest among all hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. Bohm had a difficult season — .647 OPS in 417 plate appearances — but he still projects to have a role in 2022. Consider Bohm one of the top priorities for the new hitting coach, who will need to dig into why Bohm struggled so much against fastballs and pitches in the zone, which he slugged just .359 on.
Batting average by Didi Gregorius against fastballs in the strike zone, which was the 27th lowest among 440 qualified hitters. He finished the season with career lows in batting average (.209), on-base percentage (.270), and slugging percentage (.639). Teams simply challenged him with fastballs in the strike zone, which he saw for 32.9% of his pitches (55th-highest total among 306 batters with 100 plate appearances).
He’s due $15 million in 2022, but it would be quite the gamble for the Phillies to count on him for an everyday role. They may have to cut their losses this winter.
Major league starts by Mickey Moniak after April 25. It’s been five years since the Phillies drafted Moniak first overall, but the decision makers who made that pick are no longer making the calls. And those in charge now are unconvinced on Moniak, which was evident by the way he was used in the final five months of the season. Girardi said Moniak profiled more as a corner outfielder and president Dave Dombrowski said Moniak “is a few years down the road.” He’s a candidate to be traded this winter.
» READ MORE: Bryce Harper challenges young players to help end the Phillies’ playoff drought
Slugging percentage by Rhys Hoskins in the second half before he had season-ending surgery. It’s the second-best mark in the majors among all hitters with at least 60 at-bats after the All-Star break. If Hoskins stayed healthy and maintained that production, perhaps his bat paired with Harper’s would have been enough to push the Phillies into October. If the National League adopts the designated hitter this offseason, Hoskins appears to be the top internal candidate to fill that role. If so, it could be a way to make sure his bat stays in the lineup and not on the injured list.