Analytics, Acquisitions to shape the Phillies’ Opening Day Lineup

MIAMI, FL - JULY 13: Manager Gabe Kapler #22 of the Philadelphia Phillies in the dugout before the start of the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on July 13, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 13: Manager Gabe Kapler #22 of the Philadelphia Phillies in the dugout before the start of the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on July 13, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) /

As the 2019 season approaches, analytics tell the story behind the Phillies’ lineup, as we look into the potential starting lineup for March 28th.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler is one of the forefront proponents of new generation managers. He relies a great deal on analytics and trusts that if he sticks to his formula, things will eventually work themselves out. And to an extent, his method worked.

Yet, many traditional baseball minds think that analytics are ruining the game, including the way Kapler runs his team. I, for one, am a huge proponent of using analytics to expand baseball. I think that baseball has always been a thinking man’s game, and analytics allow players and coaches to evolve their approach to the game. The numbers seem to back-up Kapler’s approach, and the outcomes for 2019 look to be even brighter with the new additions.

When comparing league average team stats between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, there was only an increase in one category: strikeouts (up 2.8%). The Phillies saw increased production in home runs (6.9%) stolen bases (16.95%), and walks (17.81%), finishing with the third-most walks in the National League.

However, the team struggled in many other offensive categories, finishing last in hits (-8%), second to last in batting average (-6.4%), and strikeouts (7.3%). Up and down the roster are streaky hitters, which is uplifting when they’re hot, and dreadful when they’re cold. Many players underperformed, and others were thrown into uncomfortable roles.

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The additions of Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, and Andrew McCutchen supply the lineup with a stabilizing factor and players who have consistent production over their careers. I have talked about how Segura and Realmuto help Cesar Hernandez, but how will the rest of the lineup look with them in it? My guess: (only including players actually under contract)

  1. 2B Hernandez
  2. SS Segura
  3. CF Herrera
  4. 1B Hoskins
  5. C Realmuto
  6. 3B Franco
  7. LF McCutchen
  8. RF Williams
  9. P Nola

Regardless of how last year tapered off, Odubel Herrera is the three-hole hitter. He’s not what most managers would consider the prototypical player for that spot in the lineup, but for Gabe, he’s perfect. A free swinger, who has the potential to hit it out, or drop a bunt, and scores as many runs as he knocks in.

Herrera’s production is about the same at every spot in the lineup, but he has almost 300 more at-bats than the next closest position in the lineup. If he can start the way he did in 2018, and not completely collapse as the season goes on, he’ll thrive in that role.

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Rhys Hoskins needs to bat fourth. He’s the clear-cut cleanup hitter of this lineup, with the most home runs and runs batted in on the team last year. He was thrust into the second spot due to Kapler’s opinion that the best all-around hitter should hit there. But Hoskins’ numbers are clearly better in his career in the fourth spot in the lineup, hitting for a better average, more home runs and runs batted in, walking more, all with 96 fewer at bats.

In the battle for third base, I think that the incumbent Maikel Franco will hold his starting spot. But really both Franco and Scott Kingery would fit into this spot.

Franco has above-average production from the sixth spot in his career, with his best batting average in that spot with a .268 average in more than 350 at-bats. Having Franco bat sixth is a suitable position for above average production, where Franco will probably get about 25 home runs and 75 RBI.

McCutchen is on the declining side of his prime, but seeing that his prime was four top-five MVP finishes (winning one), five straight All-Star games, and four Silver Slugger awards, I think there’s still some left in the tank. With the plethora of outfielders the Phillies have, he can get 40-60 games off, which would allow for him to be more effective. In his 30 career games batting seventh, he was relatively productive, batting .376 with eight home runs.

Nick Williams is in a very odd situation. He had a very underwhelming 2018, after having a very production 83 games in 2017. His batting average dropped .032, hitting only five more home runs and five fewer RBI in 94 more at-bats. Also, after the stretch Quinn had at the end of the season, there is a lot of in-house pressure for him to develop rather quickly. I think that the new additions give Williams the biggest blow, with nowhere to really put him in the top/middle of the lineup.

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And all of this goes out the window the moment that the Phillies sign Bryce Harper.

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