Phillies need massive improvements to defense to contend

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WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 23: Rhys Hoskins #17 of the Philadelphia Phillies catches a fly ball hit by Matt Wieters #32 of the Washington Nationals (not pictured) in the eighth inning at Nationals Park on August 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 23: Rhys Hoskins #17 of the Philadelphia Phillies catches a fly ball hit by Matt Wieters #32 of the Washington Nationals (not pictured) in the eighth inning at Nationals Park on August 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /
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The defense was easily the worst facet of the Phillies game this year. If they plan to contend moving forward, they need to make massive improvements.

Now that the Phillies have been eliminated from playoff contention, we are stuck here trying to figure out what went wrong the last two months of the season. The answer? Basically everything. One thing that remained an issue the entire season was the defense, and it is arguably what cost them the National League East.

With six games left to play this year, Philadelphia ranks last in defensive runs saved with -129, 28 fewer than the Orioles, the next-best team. Of the ten worst players in terms of DRS, three are Phillies: Rhys Hoskins (second-worst), Asdrubal Cabrera (sixth), and Nick Williams (10th). The team also ranks 29th in ultimate zone rating (UZR) and has the second-most errors (118).

The outfield has been especially bad defensively this season. Hoskins, Williams, and Odubel Herrera all have -25, -16, and -10 DRS, respectively. Among all outfielders, Hoskins ranks second-worst in outs above average at -18; Williams ranks 13th with -7. Herrera has actually been okay in this regard, making two outs above average. Still, the outfield has rated quite poorly overall this season.

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The infield hasn’t been much better. Scott Kingery, J.P. Crawford, and Cabrera all have -5 DRS at shortstop this year. Cesar Hernandez, a solid defensive player the last few years, has -9 DRS. Maikel Franco has the worst DRS of any infielder at one position with -16. Carlos Santana is the only one even at league-average, but that qualifies him as the best defensive infielder on the team by this metric. When that is the bar, you know things are bad.

A significant portion of these defensive struggles could be attributed to mispositioning. Hoskins, Kingery, and Cabrera are all playing positions they shouldn’t be playing. There is chatter about moving Santana to third base (or even out of the organization entirely) to put Hoskins back at first base and end the failed left field experiment. However, there are examples of players simply regressing defensively, like with Herrera and Hernandez.

Meanwhile, when you compare Philadelphia to the Atlanta Braves, who won the division and have the third-best record in the NL, the defensive differences are striking. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic (subscription required) detailed the defensive overhaul the organization made after hiring Alex Anthopoulos. He implemented defensive changes while with the Blue Jays, bringing them to the playoffs in 2015 and ALCS in 2016 after he left for the Dodgers. Now, Anthopoulos has done the same thing with the Braves, and it has worked wonders for them.

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Ender Inciarte gobbles up fly balls in center field, making 21 outs above average this season, tied for most among all outfielders. Adam Duvall and Ronald Acuna also have positive outs above average. As a whole, the Braves rank second in team outs above average. Atlanta’s infield has been strong defensively as well, with all of their starting infielders posting positive DRS. Freddie Freeman has 12 at first base, Dansby Swanson has 10 at shortstop, Ozzie Albies has seven at second base, and Johan Camargo has six at third base. The Braves rank third in DRS as a team, and it has made all the difference this season.

Certainly, the defense was not the only issue for Philadelphia. Their offense was inconsistent and their pitching staff faltered down the stretch. However, defensive struggles were prevalent all season long, and they only became more glaring over the last two months.

Next. Will Odubel Herrera return or be traded?. dark

When looking at other contending teams, especially the Braves, it’s clear that defense needs to become a bigger priority next season to contend.

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