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Phillies: 2020’s Right or Wrong Expectations


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

As the playoffs begin, the Philadelphia Phillies faithful want managing partner John Middleton to hold general manager Matt Klentak and president Andy MacPhail accountable for their mistakes. However, fans automatically expect and/or demand success regardless of their unmentioned takes before the season.


A Bust or Developing:

Despite advice to be patient with certain stars, some Phillies fans had mostly unchangeable minds to unload or demote some regulars after four weeks of action. So, were some locals right or wrong in their player evaluations now at campaign’s end, or was caution appropriate? 


“It often happens that things are other than what they seem, and you can get yourself into trouble by jumping to conclusions.” - Paul Auster

For most franchises, their supporters are quick to call an MLB-promoted youngster a bust if he doesn’t immediately produce his minor league numbers: Double-A and/or Triple-A.  Well, one problem is the organizational touting of these future stars, who aren’t even aware of the fan base’s expectations.                               

Although most veteran hitters are streaky, some locals view a slump as something wrong with the regular. And their patience depends on if he is a fan favorite or someone blocking an anticipated superstar. Double standard, no?                   

Because the Show has 30 clubs instead of 16, prospects don’t spend a year at each level to be ready for the major leagues. And another reason is the financial balancing of expensive superstars with the rest of the 40-man roster. Today, a youngster makes an impact in or after his third summer with rare exceptions.    

During the winter, some locals gave up on Rhys Hoskins and wanted Klentak to acquire anything of value, while the first sacker was worth something. However, the GM didn’t trade him and put untested Alec Bohm at first base, but do some fans still consider this one of Klentak’s failures?

At the 43-game mark, Hoskins was hitting .245 with 10 bombs and 26 RBIs. And those stats over a full 162 project to 38 blasts and 98 RBIs. Unfortunately, he had an extended slump due to straying from his initial approach to a more analytical method, but many will quickly doubt him during future struggles.  

As the backup to baseball’s top catcher, who plays almost daily, Andrew Knapp had no value to boobirds. Moreover, their logic targeting a reserve was questionable because he basically did not produce in rare pinch-hitting situations.                                                

Knapp had approximately recorded a .266 average at the top MiLB levels and hit .258 in his first Phillies season. But if a guy has just a few opportunities, expectations should be low. Now, he had 89 plate appearances (31.3 percent) to 195 for JT Realmuto and batted .278 with an .849 OPS, two homers and 15 RBIs.     

If Realmuto re-ups, Knapp can fill in for him if the superstar plays first base to relieve pressure on a sensitive spot, has a two-week stint on the injured list, and/or makes a DH start. Granted, Knapp is not the top backstop option if Realmuto signs elsewhere, but pitching is also a pressing need.                    

Next is Scott Kingery, who was a fan favorite here in 2017 by hitting .313 for the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils. That stated, one local then posted he hoped the Phillies learned their lesson with Chase Utley. Thusly, some were not happy with my assessment of Kingery earning --earning-- the keystone.         

In fact, some blamed the red pinstripes for his rookie showing. But he had averaged .258 with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs in 2019 and was going to be the regular second sacker until his bout with COVID-19. Basically, he’s only had 124 virus-influenced plate appearances and deserves the benefit of the doubt for ‘20. 

While some Phils faithful expected an ace after Vince Velasquez’s 16-strikeout performance during his second outing with the 2015 Fightins on April 14, it was a good sign but premature. It was only his ninth start in the majors, and the National League didn’t have a book on him.  Now, he’s started 106 contests.                            

Making an impact in or after the third year at 30 starts per 162 equals 90 plus 15 after the third campaign for 105 total. But Velasquez has recently shown a new determination in his last 2-3 opportunities, or it could be due to Spencer Howard’s presence. Yet, if the Phillies add a starter this winter, Velasquez will be relieving.    

The veteran is not a bad option for the rotation’s bottom rung because five-spot arms are either innings-eaters with 4.50 ERAs or higher and potential late bloomers. Plus after the former GM dealt 2008’s aging stars, they hoped one pitcher would develop into a three-to-five starter, and with luck a second hurler would be a five.  

Zach Eflin is the perfect example of a player developing during his third summer: 60-90 starts. Currently, he’s at 84 outings, and the curveball is the third pitch he needs to be a “two or three slot” moundsman. But if he made another 20 starts, he could reach a 3.50 ERA with solid expectations for 2021.                                

Fortunately, Eflin finished ‘20 at 4-2 with a 3.97 ERA after relieving during the final three innings on Sept. 27. But he entered the last contest with a 4.15 ERA after dropping from a 3.83 ERA and trying for a complete game in the ninth frame of his previous start.    

With only six appearances under his belt, Howard had no difficulty the first time through an opponent’s lineup, he produced a 1.32 ERA with a .184 average against. But he had a 10.00 ERA for the second turn and a 21.60 ERA for the third time through the batting order with a .405 and a .444 competitor's mark respectively.  

Realistically, he only threw 30 ⅔ innings at Double-A before his six performances with the red pinstripes, and he has a long road of development ahead. But some Phils faithful may be expecting immediate success without realizing how high a hurdle they’re asking him to clear.                      

As for Bohm, he was an unexpected revelation hitting .338 with four long balls and 23 RBIs, plus those numbers project to 14 round-trippers and 79 RBIs. However, pitchers don’t have a complete book on his tendencies and weaknesses, and he may then be on a diet of breaking balls.                    

Bohm’s approach of hitting to all fields eliminates the shift, and he’s not swinging for the fences. But although Richie Ashburn hit .350 and won a batting title in 1958, he also had a two-week slump. So, Bohm --also from Nebraska-- may have some rough patches for more than three straight hitless contests.                              

The abbreviated campaign is over, and the Phillies went 28-32 after being 15-15 at August’s end. Unfortunately, this was their third consecutive September swoon while going 13-17 this month including a 1-7 finish. Short season, long winter.       



Phillies: Win-related Path to October


Photo: Spencer Howard.


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