By Scott Elias
February 17th 2020
With the 2020 season fast approaching, the Phillies start spring training with a multitude of questions. Where are Scott Kingery and Jean Segura going to be playing the majority of there time on defense? Will Didi be back to the 2017 & 2018 version of himself? Will the bullpen, with the presence of some questionable veteran arms, be more stable than last season? All are logical and reasonable questions, but I can’t help but think that the 2 biggest questions marks are Rhys Hoskins and Jake Arrieta. Let’s take a dive into why these two can easily make or break the 2020 season for our Phightin Phils.
Remember Bryce Harpers spring straining debut in 2019? I do! A Bryce walk and a Hoskins dinger, and thus began the expectations by the fans of seeing one of the best 3-4 combinations in the game. Harper, though he had his ups and downs throughout 2019, had a very solid season. Hoskins on the other hand had a “tale of two seasons.” His first half slash line was not eye popping, but certainly respectable. A .263/.401/.530 slash line with 20 home runs and 59 RBI’s through his first 89 games, put him on pace to have a season most fan’s would consider a successful year. The second half however, did not exactly go according to plan as he slashed .180/.318./.361 with just 9 home runs and 26 RBI’s through his final 71 games. Statistically he was the worst among qualifying first basemen after the All Star break. Now we can debate for days about all the possible reasons why he struggled so much through the back half of the season, but in the end, he flat out underperformed. Even if this downturn in production dipped to just league average instead of Chris Davis like, it’s pretty apparent the Phillies may have added 2-3 wins to that 81 win total. If those first half numbers can stay even remotely similar through a whole season, this lineup goes from above average, to one of the more feared lineups in the National League.
Arrieta on the other hand, his 2019 seemed as uncomfortable for him to pitch as it was for the fans to watch him pitch. His 4.64 ERA was his worst since 2013. He also allowed his highest opponents batting average of his career at .283. Many fans seem to want to downplay the bone spur issue he tried to pitch through as nothing more than an excuse to avoid the truth that he is washed up. Let’s counter that argument with a few numbers that may make the bone spur a bit more reasonable excuse than some might want to hear. Though his velocity stayed pretty steady throughout 2019, what stood out was the fact that not only did the usage of his change up increase by nearly eight percent from 2018, but the usage of his slider dropped drastically by almost a full twelve percent from the year prior. Anyone who understands pitching to any degree knows that a change up is thrown similarly to a fastball with the same arm slot and angle. While breaking balls like a slider, will require more torque and a different angle which puts more strain on, you guessed it…. the elbow! So it’s pretty simple, he was limited on what he was able to throw and had to rely on pitches he wouldn’t normally rely upon in many situations. Let’s also take into consideration the fact that the Phillies have added three more wins already by signing Zack Wheeler according to his WAR, in comparison to the bottom of the Phillies rotation from a year ago. The addition of Wheeler puts him in a slightly easier situation with the expectations being tempered back to more of a middle of the rotation arm, rather than a front end starter. With a fresh and healthy start to Jake’s 2020 season ahead, and putting his form back to what he has been the three seasons between his Cy Young year and 2019, there is no reason to believe three more wins can’t be attainable for the upcoming season.
Three more wins from Rhys, coupled with three added wins from a full season of Arrieta, now pushes this team from an 81 win team to possibly an 87 win team. Even if we discount the additions the organization brought on in free agency this offseason, the combination of just these two players alone can bring this team immediately into the Wild Card picture and possibly beyond.