Having strong defense key to Phillies championships

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 28: Left fielder Rhys Hoskins #17 of the Philadelphia Phillies dives but can't make a catch on a ball hit by Tyler Flowers #25 of the Atlanta Braves for a double during the ninth inning of a game at Citizens Bank Park on September 28, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Braves won 10-2. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 28: Left fielder Rhys Hoskins #17 of the Philadelphia Phillies dives but can't make a catch on a ball hit by Tyler Flowers #25 of the Atlanta Braves for a double during the ninth inning of a game at Citizens Bank Park on September 28, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Braves won 10-2. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /
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To win a championship, the Phillies need to improve on defense and not move players out of the position as they have been.

According to Phillies beat writer Scott Lauber of Philly.com, general manager Matt Klentak laid the groundwork for another season of players playing out of position.  Klentak apparently reiterated that Rhys Hoskins could still split time between first base and left field while Carlos Santana could split time between first and third base.

If this is true, then maybe Philly radio personality Angelo Cataldi’s statement that Klentak is incompetent rings true.

As Klentak meets to discuss potential trade scenarios with his fellow GMs in Orlando this week, his statement is cringeworthy. Why would you be willing to revert back to putting players out of position when your team was dead last in almost every defensive statistical category last year? A long-time baseball tenant has always been to not accommodate one player by moving others out of position.

Let’s be honest. Hoskins is not a good left fielder and Santana will never be a good third baseman, especially when he has not even mastered first base.

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Does this also mean we will see Scott Kingery struggle with shortstop again?  He is a natural second baseman.  The notion that he could be a quality MLB shortstop in the future is a bit of a stretch.

In 1980, Phillies World Series-winning manager Dallas Green kept the same defensive lineup in just about every game. In 2008, Charlie Manuel did the same thing as the Phillies won their second championship trophy.

Good teams allow their players to master their positions. The new progressive philosophy of needing players with the flexibility to play more than one position may work in little league but it serves no real purpose in the major leagues.

When players are consistently in the same position every player on the field benefits, especially pitchers. Everyone gets used to where they will be, how they throw, how they think, etc. Last season, pitcher Jake Arrieta seemed baffled by the defense behind him, and rightfully so.

A second baseman knows what angles and spin the ball will be taking from his shortstop and third baseman on a double play ball. A good first baseman knows the spin, the dips, the sails and the tails, and all the different arm angles from all his infielders.  All the infielders know the first baseman’s footwork, his best side to throw to and his abilities at picking balls out of the dirt.

Practice every day at the same position allows players to hone their skills and build repetition. Repetition creates consistency and consistency is a road to perfection. You won’t get that when you have a different person in a new position all the time. You cannot win a World Series with mediocre fielding; you must have a good consistent defense.

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Hoskins is a big-time major league hitter, not a magician with the glove. Everyone knows his defense is not his strong suit. But practice will not make perfect in left field because he is lacking in natural ability.  The arm, speed, and quickness are just not there.  It wasn’t there for Greg Luzinski either in 1980, but he had an absolute gazelle in centerfield named Garry Maddox, also called the ‘Secretary of Defense’.  Pat Burrell wasn’t the greatest left fielder, but probably better than Hoskins and Luzinski.  He also had Shane Victorino the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” running down the left-center corridor.

Unfortunately, Hoskins does not have that with Odubel Herrera, who is still learning the position and suffers from frustrating mental lapses. Herrera posted strong defensive numbers in previous years and was even nominated for a Gold Glove, but that evaporated this season.

On both World Series teams, all the other players were natural in their positions. GMs Paul Owens and Pat Gillick weren’t screaming for flexibility and moving players around as if the diamond was a chessboard.

It is very important, however, that every team has ONE utilityman, not several. The often-injured Pedro Florimon was underrated in the position, but the Phillies let him walk. Maybe they should pursue the Royals’ Whit Merrifield as their super-utility guy.  But the worst thing Klentak can do for the Phillies, as well as Kingery’s career, would be to label him as the utilityman again and play him out of position all the time. He will never learn how to hit major league pitching if he is constantly having to learn how to perfect new positions.

The infatuation with Santana should be over and it should not impede the progress of this team. Trade him and accept the fact that it wasn’t the best move signing him to a $60 million contract. Let Hoskins work on improving his first base skills by playing him there every day. And if you do not want Franco playing third, then sign Machado or Donaldson but don’t put a slow-moving mediocre first baseman over there.

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The time has come for the Phillies to field a good defensive team every day. It is also time for Klentak and his new age manager Gabe Kapler to prove that they are competent baseball people and not merely progressive thinkers without a clue.

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