When in the NL East, and having designs on competing to win it, the natural conclusion is that you’ll have to score a lot of runs to do so. Fair enough. The Braves are still here, Ronald Acuña Jr. is going to be healthy (enough), A team also can’t expect Francisco Lindor to be in a constant state of bewilderment in Queens…though the Mets have usually been in a constant state of bewilderment as a whole.
Mostly, it’s the pitching NL East teams will face on the reg, with Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Max Fried, Chris Bassitt, Stephen Strasburg, and Sancy Alcántara just some of the names a lineup will see often. So it’s understandable that the Phillies have loaded up on bats this week, bringing in Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to add to Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins. If they can get Alec Bohm to show more of the plate-discipline he showed in the minors, but lost in the majors last year, the lineup could be terrifying.
What could be more terrifying is whatever combination they throw out in the grass of Citizens Bank Park. Because this outfield defense is going to be truly special, and special in a “soda and pop rocks” fashion.
Whether it’s Harper and Castellanos flanking Odubel Herrera, or Schwarber swapping in for Castellanos on occasion, or Harper rotating to DH every so often, the Phillies will have three DHs in the lineup every day, and that’s not including what your mileage is on Hoskins having a glove on his hand for the whole season (Schwarber played 1st for the Red Sox last year, and we’ll be kind and call it a “project”).
Castellanos ranked as the 17th-best right-fielder last year in defensive-runs, according to FanGraphs, with -7.4. And that drops to 30th when measuring all right-fielders who made 300 plate appearances or more. Castellanos may save himself, and anyone around him, some heartburn by switching to left, but not by much. His Pollock-painting routes to balls are just going to be flipped over.
Harper wasn’t much better, with -4.4 defensive runs saved last year in right. Harper’s defense has been the subject of debate for years, and he’s put up some of the worst metrics in seasons past (such as the -5.1 DRS in just 56 games of 2020, or the -18 in his last year in Washington), and then been more than all right in 2019 with +3.0. UZR/150 was kinder to Harper last year, with a +2.0 rating.
If you go by StatCast, Harper and Castellanos were 35th and 39th in Outs Above Average in right, at -6 and -7 respectively.
The less said about Schwarber, the better, who after an initial fountain of success throwing runners out from left in 2017 because third-base coaches refused to believe he wouldn’t trip over his own shoelaces every time he picked up the baseball, has seen his defense deteriorate every season until the Red Sox put him at first to save various outfield walls in the American League from deep bruising.
Trying to save all this will be Herrera in center, who was worth +5 outs above average last year while running sprints between Harper and a far too close to death Andrew McCutchen. His hamstrings will have to be loose this year, too. FanGraphs is less kind to Herrera’s defense, having him in the red in both DRS and UZR/150.
It’s handy then that the Phillies top two starters–Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler–strike out a ton of hitters. And Wheeler is far more ground-ball leaning than Nola. No. 3 Kyle Gibson pitches far more to contact, but he keeps it on the ground as well. He’d better, though it’s a question for him and Wheeler how much they want to depend on the Golden Girls double play combo of Jean Segura and Didi Gregorious. Bryson Stott could get a ride to Philly from Lehigh Valley from the starters by May 1.
It’s one thing to try and outslug everyone. It’s adding another degree or two to the difficulty when you have to outslug the gloves that the Phillies will basically be wearing on their heads. But that’s the Phillies Way.