Playing Pepper 2017: Philadelphia Phillies
by Scott Butler 3/20/17

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Each year, Daniel Shoptaw from C70 At the Bat asks bloggers from around baseball to do a little Q&A regarding their teams heading into the new season. Here are my answers from the 2017 edition and you can read the full post with contributions from Matt Veasey, Crashburn Alley, and Fightin' Phillies here.

1. Was it a good offseason for the team?  Did they do what they needed to do?  Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

I absolutely love what this front office has been doing.  They are a bit boring and this long rebuild is getting old, but it’s the way it has to be.  Dare I say, Trust the Process?  From John Middleton to Andy MacPhail to Matt Klentak, the Phillies have a plan and the patience to follow through with it.

They needed to improve their outfield and they did that with the additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders.  I would have been hesitant to sign both of those players because it blocks any outfield prospect from starting, but Aaron Altherr will get his chances, Roman Quinn can certainly benefit from some time at triple-A, and Nick Williams wasn’t going to start the season in the bigs.  If things go well, there will be two openings later in the season anyway.  I especially like the Kendrick signing because the Phillies desperately needed a professional bat, some veteran to show these young guys the ropes.

Clay Buchholz was another nice addition.  The move creates a logjam of young starters, but he gives the team another trade chip and stabilizes the rotation.  With injury questions for both Nola and Velasquez, it’s not a bad insurance policy, either.

They also signed Odubel Herrera to a team friendly deal, which could pay off big in the next few years.

There's no move I can think of that I would have made, other than trading Freddy Galvis for Mike Trout.

2. Odubel Herrera had a very nice season last year.  Will he be able to build on that for 2017?

I think he will.  Herrera had a brutal few weeks after the All-Star game and you had to wonder if the success got to his head or the league finally caught up to him, or both.  But just like he did in his rookie season, he finished nicely.  Overall, his batting average dropped in his second season, but his walk rate nearly doubled and his strikeout and home run rates both improved.  Herrera is not yet a finished product and his best years might be still in front of him. 

3. What’s the starting rotation going to be to open the year?

Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buccholz, Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez.

4. Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season? 

I’m not sure if he qualifies as unheralded considering how well he played last year, but Cesar Hernandez is worthy of your attention this season.  I don’t think his 2016 campaign was a fluke.  Hernandez always seemed to have a natural ability to hit the baseball and he finally showed it.  Confidence is a big thing with Cesar and I think he finally believes in himself. One swift kick from Larry Bowa seemed to send the message and Hernandez really took off.  Hernandez earned the chance to be the leadoff hitter with this team for the entire season and it will be fun to see if he can replicate what he did last year.  If that happens, it will be fascinating to see what the Phillies do at second base with Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin lurking in the minors.

5. What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

I’m going to put them exactly where they were last year record-wise and in the standings: fourth place (ahead of the Marlins) with 91 losses.  The Phillies played way above their heads last season – they were tied for first in May for crying out loud – and their Pythagorean win/loss percentage gave them 100 losses last year.  Another 91-loss season would be an improvement and the 2017 Phillies should be a better team. 

The Phillies had the worst offense in baseball last year and if you are only as good as your weakest link, they made a huge improvement by adding Kendrick and Saunders in the outfield.  While neither player is all that special, they are a huge upgrade considering the Phillies left fielders and right fielders combined to hit .223 with 21 homers in 2016.  And let’s be real here, it will be nice to have Ryan Howard’s bat out of the cleanup spot.  The offense will be bad once again, but they shouldn’t be the worst.

On the pitching side, the Phillies have a solid starting staff with a ton of depth.  Regardless of what they do with the bats, a reliable pitching staff will keep them in most ballgames.

6. Who is your all-time favorite Phillie and why?

I was shocked to realize I did not have an immediate answer to that question.  As much as I want to say Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins or Mike Schmidt, I am going to go back about 50 years and pick Robin Roberts.  He wore a Phillies uniform for 14 seasons, he is the club leader in games and innings, and tossed a ridiculous 272 complete games.  Robbie was a true baller who took the baseball with no questions asked and finished what he started.  He openly said he would not throw at a batter, but he was never afraid to challenge a hitter.  One thing I think is pretty cool is that no matter who the batter was, he had only two locations: up and in and down and away.

Ask me ten years from now and my answer might be Odubel Herrera.  He is one of the most entertaining players – dude flips the bat for walks! – and he works the count, makes contact, and just has an overall skillset that is fun to watch.

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