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2017 Fantasy Baseball: The Fielding Chronicles– Philadelphia Phillies

One of the truths of using a zero-based system is that someone must be negative. Defensive runs saved uses a zero-based system and in that system approximately half of the regulars and half of the teams will be below zero. No matter how much we may like a team, player, manager, or executive, someone must finish last. Sometimes it is because of malpractice or lack of effort, but sometimes it just happens.

The Philadelphia Phillies are somewhere in between all those options. New management is embarking on a rebuilding project and it’s taking a little longer because of the sins of Ruben Amaro Jr. He dolled out some horrible contracts and they are finally getting to the point where those contracts are clearing off. So, it might be a bit unfair to judge on the past and instead look at what is coming this season.

Either way, we are using defensive runs saved from the fielding bible. Those can be found at billjamesonline.com and we will use the individual and team results to compare it with their defensive efficiency rating at baseball-reference.com. Most of the time those numbers are similar, but occasionally we get some wild variation.

Team Overview

Infield Outfield Shifts Total Rank DER Rank
2014 -23 -19 +10 -32 14th .693 7th
2015 -88 -9 -6 -103 15th .667 15th
2016 -35 +4 +8 -23 14th .681 9th

To say that the Phillies were the worst fielding team in baseball in 2015 really doesn’t give it justice. As my grandparents were fond of saying, they were so far in the cellar you couldn’t even pipe any light to them. Unfortunately, they had to take their lumps while they waited for the Ryan Howards and Chase Utleys to move on. 2017 represents the first season they don’t have any of those guys from their pennant winning years.

So, a little snark is perfectly reasonable, but we have to consider what current management had to deal with. They did a good job of dealing guys like Utley and Hamels and getting some talent in return. They even wisely dealt Ken Giles in exchange for a bounty of prospects. So, the future definitely looks brighter than what you see above.

Strongest Fielder

Numbers like above don’t produce many good candidates for this category. Odubel Herrera registers as the only regular with a positive rating (plus 16 runs in two seasons). So, he will have to do. Herrera was a Rule V pick from the Rangers prior to the 2015 season and he has been a regular ever since. Players like Herrera don’t lead you to championships, but if you cobble enough players like him together you can be very competitive. Furthermore, he won’t be a free agent until the 2022 season, so they have some time before he becomes cost prohibitive.

Weakest Fielder

Watching teams go through rebuilds is often fascinating on a certain level. Some players get billed as the next big thing only to fall by the wayside for one reason or another. Maikel Franco is one of those guys that has been highly touted. In less than three seasons he has amassed minus 13 runs with his glove. That could be a harbinger of things to come or they simply may overlook his shortcomings if his bat is good enough. It bears watching.

Key Changes

The Phillies are in a state of transition to be sure. Their biggest changes came in the outfield where they added Howie Kendrick in left field and Michael Saunders in right field. Kendrick has been a second baseman for most of his career, but played in left field for the Dodgers in 2016. He was officially minus five runs overall, so we could look at that as a benchmark and move on. However, we should expect some improvement as he gains more experience.

Saunders was minus 11 runs last season alone in Toronto, but he also had a breakout season with the bat. The beauty of both of their situations is that they are only signed through 2017. So, they provide a decent stopgap for them while they wait for prospects to develop or for the team to be good enough to sign a significant free agent or two.

The only other significant change really isn’t a significant change at all. Officially, Tommy Joseph takes over for Ryan Howard at first base. Of course, he played a little more than half of the games there last season, so this really isn’t much of a change. Joseph was minus six runs with the glove last season, so there really isn’t much improvement there either.

Key Pitchers

Normally, ground ball pitchers are preferable and in Citizens Bank Ballpark they are preferable as well. The problem is that the infield has been so spotty defensively that ground ball pitchers are probably worse off. Aaron Nola has a 54 percent ground ball rate over the course of his career. Normally, that would be a good thing, but it could help explain why his fielding independent pitching (FIP) has been nearly one run lower than his actual ERA over the course of his short career.

The other major hurlers are all flyball pitchers. In fantasy terms, most of the attention is likely focused on Vince Velasquez because he is able to get strikeouts, but no one should sleep on Jerad Eickhoff. Neither is off to a great start this season, but much of that can be attributed to subpar fielding behind them. Both have FIP results considerably better than their current ERAs. That might not mean much now, but regression to the mean is always expected in situations like this.

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