Just how good is the Phillies’ defensive play really?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 27: Rhys Hoskins #17 of the Philadelphia Phillies during a game against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on June 27, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies won 6-3. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 27: Rhys Hoskins #17 of the Philadelphia Phillies during a game against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on June 27, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies won 6-3. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /

A lot has been made about the Phillies pitching and hitting, but no one talks about their fielding. How good is their defense anyway?

A lot has been made of the Phillies‘ offense and pitching lately, and rightly so both have been disappointing. The offense, in particular, has been like a microwave dinner; the picture looks good, but in reality, it’s bland and mushy. No one has been talking about the defense though, which is an often overlooked, but vitally important part of the team.

Now I know what you’re thinking “I don’t understand defensive metrics! They’re so confusing!” Well, neither do I! I’m too dumb to understand fancy metrics like “Ultimate Zone Rating” so I’m gonna keep it pretty simple.

I’ll look at some pretty standard defensive metrics (fielding percentage, errors, etc.) as well as one called “Defensive Runs Saved above Average” (Rdrs). This stat looks at how many runs more or less than average a defensive player was worth based on the number of chances they got. It’s like WAR, but just for defense.

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By traditional statistics, Philadelphia’s fielding has been average. They rank seventh in the National League in fielding percentage at .984, and eighth in errors with 59. This is a pretty significant improvement from last year when the team ranked second to last in both categories.

A defense with these kinds of overall numbers could prove problematic for a World Series contender.

Unfortunately, it’s been many moons since we talked about the Phillies in that category (different times, May). These numbers are certainly not unexpected from a bubble team, and shouldn’t hinder the Phillies from potentially snagging a wild card.

The Phillies best defender by far has been *checks notes* that can’t be right! *double checks notes and begins questioning whether anyone can honestly know anything* well, I guess it is correct. Jay Bruce has been the Phillies best defender so far this season. The guy who was brought in to be a bench bat. He has an admittedly small sample size (30 games) but has yet to make an error in 57 chances. He’s also racked up three assists already and has been worth six defensive runs saved above average.

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Unsurprisingly, J.T. Realmuto has been a rock behind the plate. He’s only had seven passed balls in his 86 games. He’s also caught 45% of would-be base stealers, the highest rate in the NL. Baseball reference estimates he’s been plus seven in RDRS. His spectacular defense was enough to earn him his sixth consecutive All-Star Game nomination this year.

As underwhelming as Bryce Harper has been offensively most of the year, he’s been surprisingly good with the glove. He has a Saturn V for an arm (get it! it’s an Apollo 11 reference, because the moon landing!) but has been inconsistent in the field throughout his career.

This year Harper has put up some good numbers. His fielding percentage is low at .986, but he’s racked up six outfield assists, including this beaut against Washington. That small fielding percentage has hurt his ratings though, as he’s estimated as being worth two RDRS.

The fielder who’s probably struggled the most for the Phils has been “super-utility man” Scott Kingery. You can’t blame Kingery though, because he’s been playing out of position all season. He’s played a whopping six different positions, and his natural position (second base) has been the one he’s played the least at (only five games).

Kingery is tied for last on the club in RDRS at minus four, and his fielding percentage (.952) is the worst among all position players currently in Philadelphia. Once again though, you wouldn’t be mad if a linebacker had a hard time covering Odell Beckham Jr., so you can’t be upset when Kingery struggles when playing out of position.

Rhys Hoskins, on the other hand, is playing at his natural position, and still struggles. But not nearly as much as he struggled in left field last year. His .992 fielding percentage is pretty good, and he’s committed seven errors in 857 chances. That hasn’t stopped him from posting a minus four RDRS though.

All the other current Phillies fielders are worth between plus one and minus one defensive run saved above average (except Roman Quinn, who’s worth minus two). All in all, the Phillies seem to be an average defensive team. Realmuto is the only guy they currently have who’s elite at his position, and Hoskins is the only one who’s a real detriment.

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I expect the defense to be a real strength next year though, as they’ll have Kingery and Andrew McCutchen back at their natural positions and may have Alec Bohm at third.