March 23, 2023: The day the Phillies realized they needed a new winning formula.
Rhys Hoskins, while fielding a ground ball to first, tore his ACL, ending his 2023 campaign after signing a one-year, $12 million dollar deal with Philadelphia to avoid arbitration in January of 2023. He is a free agent following the 2023 season, and is unlikely to play for the only professional franchise he's known again.
Hoskins made his debut in 2017 for a franchise that was deep into one of the more painful eras in Phillies history. When Rhys debuted, he carried the entire team, albeit a team entirely made of below-average veterans and failed prospects. He became the fastest MLB player to reach 17 home runs, doing so in just 33 games. His rookie campaign was great, and he gave the fans hope that the Phillies could, in fact, develop top-end talent after years of busts and unproductive players.
After 2017, the slugger never looked back. Since his rookie season, Hoskins has often been referred to as “the heart of the Phillies,” and this season, they miss him more than ever. He is often looked to as a leader in the clubhouse by everyone, as he and Aaron Nola are the two longest-tenured Phillies players. Hoskins is the “glue guy"; he connects the entire roster and helped foster the clubhouse atmosphere that sent them to the World Series in 2022. Without that presence in the dugout and in the lineup, the job falls on everyone else, and so far in 2023, it is very obvious the team is still trying to supplement the energy and production Hoskins brings to the team.
Hoskins feels it, too, as he was visibly distraught and saddened during Opening Day when
he and Bryce Harper both raised the 2022 National League Champions banner at
Citizens Bank Park -- not to mention how devastated he was being brought off the field in Clearwater
after his injury.
Hoskins' abilities on the field, however, are what really makes this Phillies team even
better. In his six seasons of MLB service, all with Philadelphia, Hoskins has amassed 11.1 bWAR, an OPS of .846, and an OPS+ of 125, making him a significantly above-average offensive first baseman. Over the course of his career, Hoskins himself adds 56.6% winning percentage to the lineup. In comparison, Astros first baseman Josè Abreu has a career winning percentage added of 112.4% in
just four more years than Hoskins has spent in the MLB.
In other words, Hoskins has amassed half the winning percentage added Abreu has in four fewer years. Hoskins has only played for one team in one league, not to mention the toughest division in MLB. He's also led MLB in pitches per at bat during that span, averaging 4.41 pitches, 50 points higher than the league average of 3.91. Pitches per at bat is also a huge reason why he boasts a 13.5% walk rate, 5% higher than major league average. His average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage are also both above league average, meaning he hits the ball harder than most of his competition.
Phillies have missed Rhys Hoskins' hard hitting, leadership in 2023 season
In contrast, cumulatively, the 2023 Phillies so far this season are ranked 12th out of the top 15 teams in walks, currently sitting at 180+ with an 8.1% walk rate. They also sit at the 11th spot in strikeouts, at 535+. Compared to 2019, the year Hoskins set a career high with 116 walks, the Phillies had an even 9% walk rate, .9% higher than 2023, and almost 2% higher than the NL Champion 2022 team.
Put simply: Rhys Hoskins increases the team walk percentage by himself. Unfortunately, it is not always enough to offset a player like Nick Castellanos, a free-swinging doubles machine.
While his appearances at the plate are consistently good, Hoskins is a notorious streaky
hitter, meaning the results don't always match the process. Over his career, Hoskins has swung at an average of 40.6% of all total pitches (excluding intentional walks), lower than the 47% league average. This season, however, the Phillies as a whole are beating out the MLB average with batters swinging
48.4% of the time, about 2% higher than the league average so far.
So what does this all mean? The 2023 Phillies are swinging early in at-bats and extremely often. Why they are doing that is unclear, but it is undeniable that without Hoskins in the lineup, this team significantly struggles to both walk and raise pitch counts.
Drawing walks has a high chance to lead to runs, as seen by the Phillies’ bullpen this year and their propensity to lose games after late-game walks. With the Phillies swinging more, as evident from their 535+ cumulative strikeouts, they are struggling to reach base. By taking pitches and being selective as hitters, they've typically forced the pitcher to use more energy and, most of all, pitches.
One thing the 2022 Phillies did frequently was take pitches, averaging 3.92 pitches per
at bat in a year where the league average was 3.93. For hitters, the team play aspect goes
much deeper than just hitting homers or stealing bases. By taking pitches, especially in
innings where runners are on base, the pitcher is forced to work harder and divide his
attention. Deceiving and wearing down pitchers drives up the chance a pitcher makes a mistake and subsequently allows runs, pushing the team closer to victory -- especially in today’s “Pitch Clock Era,” where pitchers are limited in both time allotted per pitch and pickoff attempts. Would've been nice to be able to see Hoskins exploit that.
Together, the Phillies need to have more consistent competitive at-bats. For example, if
Bryson Stott is on second and Trea Turner swings at a ball, looks at strike two, then gets out without moving Stott from second to third, that would be an example of a noncompetitive at-bat, different from an unproductive at-bat. This example is extrapolated across the entire roster, as the Phillies are collectively struggling to produce with runners in scoring position, batting .232 against a league average of .252. Comparing the slash lines of the MLB with the 2023 Phillies, the Phils are down, and it is very obvious why they're sitting at fourth in the NL East.
The solution? Re-sign Hoskins after this season. Period.
The 2023 Phillies will adapt, like every other team, as the season goes on; there is a
reason they play 162 games a year. Baseball is an extremely complex sport, and it is
one of the only sports in North America where there is never one single individual
responsible for the victory or loss. The Sixers’ Joel Embiid has a lot more weight on his
shoulders than Hoskins or Harper do, and that is how the NBA’s culture has developed
in contrast to MLB, where the struggles and strengths of the baseball team are more
divided than an NBA or NFL team. Hoskins alone can be enough to push this Phillies team to
another level where team synergy is riding extremely high, just like last October, but he
is not the only one in the clubhouse who provides the same services.
But, to Hoskins’ defense, no one else on the entire 40-man can do what he does at the
plate. Clubhouse guys are common in sports, but being a major league hitter with above-average production at the plate is the hardest thing to do in any sport in the world.
Bringing Hoskins back on a new deal after the 2023 season will further solidify John
Middleton and Dave Dombroski’s intentions to create a championship-winning
franchise. If the Phillies are to win a ring in the near future, Hoskins should be given a
massive amount of credit for what he has done for the organization and the city of