Phillies: Who plays shortstop when J.P. Crawford returns?

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 05: J.P. Crawford #2 of the Philadelphia Phillies is unable to make a play on the ball in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park on April 25, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 05: J.P. Crawford #2 of the Philadelphia Phillies is unable to make a play on the ball in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park on April 25, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images) /
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The Phillies will face a difficult question when J.P. Crawford returns from the disabled list: is he or Scott Kingery the better option there?

The Phillies have gotten little production from the shortstop position this year. They have gotten -0.3 wins above replacement from the position, ranking 27th in the league. Philadelphia shortstops are hitting just .218 with a 28.2 percent strikeout rate, third-highest in the league.

J.P. Crawford started off the year as the team’s primary shortstop after being stuck behind Freddy Galvis. The team’s former top prospect started off the year horrendously, hitting just .188 with a .575 OPS. His trademark plate discipline vanished as he had just four walks but 19 strikeouts in 71 plate appearances.

Crawford hasn’t played since April 28 due to a forearm strain. In his absence, Scott Kingery has taken over as the everyday shortstop. Up until then, he was in a super utility role, playing just about every position on the diamond just to get in the lineup.

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In the month since taking over as the shortstop, Kingery hasn’t performed well at the plate either. He has a .222/.263/.292 line with three doubles, one triple, and one run batted in during this time. Kingery has struggled with plate discipline as well, walking just 3.9 percent of the time while striking out nearly 20 percent of the time.

Things will soon reach a boiling point at shortstop as Crawford will soon return from the disabled list.

Crawford started a rehab assignment in High-A Clearwater Tuesday night and will eventually progress up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He is due to return early in June once that rehab assignment ends.

When Crawford does return, it will be up to manager Gabe Kapler to determine who plays shortstop for the team. He could go back to what he did at the beginning of the season, with Crawford at shortstop and Kingery cycling around the field. He could also do the opposite as Crawford has experience playing second and third base in the major leagues.

With neither standing out offensively, it may ultimately depend on who mans the position better. The answer would seem obvious from an outsider’s point of view as Crawford is a natural shortstop while Kingery came up as a second baseman. Surprisingly, it may be more complicated than that.

When Crawford was a prospect, he was praised for his ability to make highlight-reel plays, but also criticized as he would often falter on routine ones. This year, Crawford’s defense at shortstop has been poor, making five errors with a .939 fielding percentage. He also has a -3.1 ultimate zone rating and -4 defensive runs saved. Crawford has been worth -0.3 wins above replacement defensively this year.

Meanwhile, Kingery has made huge strides defensively at shortstop. He hasn’t made an error yet in 187 innings there. He has a 0.0 UZR at the position and -1 defensive runs saved. You can see where his flaws remain, but he has also made some highlight-reel plays of his own.

Kapler recognizes Kingery’s flaws at the position, but he believes he can be a shortstop in the long-term: [quote via Scott Lauber of Philly.com]

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"“It’s a work in progress because he doesn’t have a whole lot of reps there over the long haul, but I think athletically he’s doing a great job. I think he’s got everything it takes to be a good shortstop in this league.”."

There is talk that Kingery could go back to Triple-A to hone his approach at the plate. If his offensive struggles continue, that is an option worth considering. Kingery could use that time to figure himself out offensively while also honing his game at shortstop defensively. He could be optioned to the minors when Crawford comes off the disabled list.

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We should still have about a week before Crawford returns. In that time, Kapler should figure out if Kingery is a better option at shortstop than Crawford, and if so, what the team should do with Crawford.

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