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Two low-risk, high-reward moves for the Phillies

As of right now at midnight on July 27th, the Philadelphia Phillies are sitting 14 games above .500. That’s 2.5 games above the Braves and on top of the NL East. It hasn’t been pretty by any means, but they’ve gotten the job done. But it hardly matters 2/3 of the way through the season what your record is. It matters whether or not they are hoisting a banner up in October.

With nothing better to do in the middle of the night, I played around with all the World Series winners since 2000. In every one of those seasons, the World Series winner has been in the top half of their league for both batting averages and ERA (with the exception of the 2005 White Sox and the 2008 Phillies). The current Phillies, however, are nowhere near the top of the league in batting, currently sitting in 12th out of 15 teams in the National League. They’re pitching is right in line at 5th out of 15 teams.

So clearly, they’re lacking some offensive firepower in their lineup. For exercise purchases, I’m going to trust the pitching staff to continue at the pace they’ve been playing at and look at answers for the three lowest performing hitters on their team.

  1. Cesar Hernandez (S) 2B .266/.371
  2. Rhys Hoskins (R) LF .260/.370
  3. Odubel Herrera (L) CF .276/.329
  4. Carlos Santana (S) 1B .215/.353
  5. Maikel Franco (R) 3B .273/.317
  6. Nick Williams (L) RF .260/.336
  7. Scott Kingery (R) SS .236/.278
  8. Jorge Alfaro (R) C .258/.311
  9. PITCHER

Looking at that lineup; they seem to be missing out on a top bat. But is that really what they need? One can argue that the catcher position appears weak here and should be explored, but Jorge Alfaro is actually near the positional average in terms of batting so standing pat at catcher is the smart option. But Carlos Santana, Nick Williams, and Scott Kingery also appear to be underperforming, so let’s explore solutions to those problems.

Carlos Santana for starters has had a season that I argue is one fueled by bad luck or good defense. Taking a look at his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play-measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit), he is having a career low year, almost 50 points below his average BABIP. Statistically speaking, he’s a candidate for a comeback this season (in which he could improve his batting average to around .261 by assuming he hits the ball in play the 86.3% of the time he doesn’t strike out. Multiply that by the deviation in BABIP from his career average in it to find his batting average should be about 46 points higher). When looking at how to fix the team, hope should not be lost on the 60 million/ 3-year man. All of his statistics point to no change in his approach: his walk numbers are up, strikeout numbers down, and contact %’s are the same. There’s no reason to believe he won’t return to his normal career numbers and be the offensive force the Phillies were seeking.

Scott Kingery is a different story. He strikes out in almost 25% of his at-bats, with a BABIP hovering above .300 (showing his batting average won’t be changing much due to luck or defenses. The only way for him to improve is to improve his eyes and keep his weight back (notice he pushes his weight forward losing his pop and balance in his swing). But we’re the Phillies and we’re interested in winning THIS year. Enter Ketel Marte.

The first target I have for the Phillies is Diamondback’s utility infielder Ketel Marte. At age 24, he’s batting .246 this year splitting time at both SS and 2B. He continues to hit the ball harder every year (exit velocity and hard hit % are on the rise). His defense too would be an improvement over Kingery.  Imagine slotting in a new shortstop that would be not only a better hitter this year but also one improving every year (also having control of him for the next 3-5 years with his renewed contract this past winter).

I would be willing to give up a bounty of prospects for him as long as it protected Sixto, Bohm, Medina, and Haseley. I would start talking with the Diamondbacks with a package over LHP JoJo Romero, RHP Frank Kilome, and/or SS Arquimedes Gamboa. He should be expendable after the Diamondback’s trade for infielder Eduardo Escobar. He could grow with the current core. And would give the Phillies options when J.P. Crawford comes back (moving one of them to 3rd base if Franco doesn’t hold up his production).

Now what to do about Nick Williams in right field. His BABIP shows at an all-time low. In the same case as Carlos Santana, I think he is a candidate to come back in the second half however he is pulling a greater % of his contacted balls to the right side of the field than ever. This would make for an explanation for the dip in his BABIP.  As teams use the shift more and more against him, his average will continue to drop (as he has a .245 BABIP against the shift— showing his true average might end up being lower than .260).

Because of this, I think it is time for the Phillies to pick up the phone and make a call to the Rays for Carlos Gomez. Yes, the same man that beat the pulp out of a cooler. Yes, I know he’s only batting .218 and yes he appears to be regressing due to age. But that’s not all of the facts. His BABIP is at a career low. If it readjusts to his average over the last 4-5 years (as BABIPs usually stay constant over time) you’re looking at a man hitting .254 using the same technique we used for Carlos Santana earlier. He’s even lowered his strikeout rate by 5%  from 29.8 to around 25.3% this season while maintaining his pop (hitting 7 home runs already). The only nervous factor has to be his increase in fly balls this season. However, the fly balls might be ok in Citizen’s Bank Park.

Another nice aspect of Carlos’ Gomez’s game is his ability in the clutch, especially with runners on base (.272 career) and with runners in scoring position (.269 career). He provides a clutch factor and veteran leadership to the second youngest team in baseball. Also, he bats a career .288 in September/October. He could be the spark the Phillies need down the stretch.

Now getting your hands on Gomez shouldn’t be hard. Looking back at what the Royals gave up last year for Melky Cabrera (since he was another one year rental bat but was hitting much better at the time; same age as Gomez), the Phillies would have to give up almost nothing for him giving he’s hitting so poor, aging, and a rental. Maybe Jhordany Mezquita, the Phillies #28 prospect would get the job done? I believe so, but I’d sweeten the deal a little more if needed.

 

  1. Cesar Hernandez (S) 2B .266/.371
  2. Rhys Hoskins (R) LF .260/.370
  3. Carlos Gomez (R) RF .218/.304
  4. Carlos Santana (S) 1B .215/.353
  5. Maikel Franco (R) 3B .273/.317
  6. Odubel Herrera (L) CF .276/.329
  7. Ketel Marte (R) SS .246/.316
  8. Jorge Alfaro (R) C .258/.311
  9. PITCHER

That lineup is one not only with a greater potential, but it also is one to inspire confidence in the fans. Gomez would be out next year, hopefully, to be replaced with Charlie Blackmon, Bryce Harper, or Andrew McCutchen. If they strike out in free agency, it never the less gives Nick Williams and the young bats in the minors another year to figure out the bats.

Ketel Marte would be the building block of the future. It would ensure there’s no rush on JP Crawford and if Crawford doesn’t discover his potential soon, Marte could man the shortstop position for the foreseeable future at a relatively cheap cost. The time is now for the Phillies to make a move. Don’t mortgage the top 4 prospects, but take a shot with this season. They beat 2/3 from the Dodgers with a sub-par offense. Give them even an average one at that and Broad Street could be enjoying another parade come November.

 

**All stats come from Fangraphs**

 

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