Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

Phillies Nuggets: Rhys Hoskins doesn’t look long for left field

Rhys Hoskins participated in the Home Run Derby, but to be an All-Star, Hoskins may need to move back to his natural position of first base. (Brian Michael/PhilliesNation)

Think what you may about the three-year/$60 million contract that the Philadelphia Phillies signed Carlos Santana to this past offseason. His first season with the Phillies has been disappointing, though we can debate just how disappointing the former Cleveland Indian has been in 2018 and why exactly that is. One thing that increasingly isn’t up for debate is that one of the side-effects of the Santana signing – Rhys Hoskins playing left field, rather than his natural position of first base – has been unsuccessful.

In the top of the fourth inning of Monday evening’s loss to the Washington Nationals, Zach Eflin had already allowed the Nationals to regain the lead in a game the Phillies had tied at two in the previous half-inning. Still, Eflin had the chance to escape the inning with the Phillies down just 3-2. He got Trea Turner to hit a fly ball to left field. Off-the-bat, it appeared Eflin was going to strand runners on second and third. Turner even looked disappointed coming out of the batter’s box. But instead of starting in on a ball that was hit to shallow left field, Hoskins’ first couple steps were back towards the left field fence. He wasn’t able to recover and the ball dropped in front of him, allowing the Nationals to tack on another run.

This wasn’t a one-time event for Hoskins, who has admirably tried to play left field on a full-time basis for the betterment of the team. He’s been worth -19 defensive runs saved in 2018. He has a -10.6 ultimate zone rating. FanGraphs says that by a comfortable margin, he’s been the worst fielding left fielder in baseball in 2018. In fact, his -15.7 defensive WAR is the worst mark for any qualified fielder at any position in 2018.

Different baseball minds value defensive metrics to different degrees, but it’s clear that the Hoskins experiment in left field hasn’t panned out well. There was some thought that if the Phillies made the playoffs two times with Pat Burrell in left field, they could do so with Hoskins in left as well. And perhaps they will, but it will really be in spite of him being in left field, because Hoskins has graded out on par with Burrell’s worst years in the outfield. Frankly, even at his peak, Burrell probably should have been playing either first base or DHing for an American League team.

A year after posting a 2.0 bWAR in under two months at the major league level, Hoskins has just a 0.8 bWAR to show for his first full major league season. But his offense is about on par with what was expected of him: he’s slashing .257/.366/.505 with an .870 OPS, 27 home runs, 82 RBIs and 73 walks. There are those that would suggest bWAR has some flaws in how it is calculated, but Hoskins doesn’t have a 0.8 bWAR because of his offense – per Baseball Reference he has a 3.0 offensive WAR. He has a 0.8 bWAR because Baseball Reference says his defensive WAR has been -2.8. (The formula isn’t as simple as combining the two numbers. You can read an in-depth explanation of how bWAR is calculated here, but fielding runs are one of six weighted factors in bWAR, which obviously hasn’t helped Hoskins.)

Santana is under contract for two more seasons to play first base. The Phillies acquired Justin Bour – who really only plays first base – in an August waiver trade with the Miami Marlins. But it’s becoming more and more clear that Hoskins – defensively, at least – is in the mold of Burrell. In a perfect world, Hoskins would be a DH, but the Phillies play in the National League, so that’s not an option. So despite the fact that he would be a defensive downgrade from Santana at first, it doesn’t feel like Hoskins can spend two more seasons in left field.

Phillies Nation’s Tim Kelly talks Kapler, Dominguez and Klentak on 94 WIP

So one task for general manager Matt Klentak in what’s expected to be one of the most important offseasons in franchise history may be to find a way to get Hoskins back to playing first base in 2019. In an offseason where Klentak may have to ask managing partner John Middleton to commit a record number of dollars to Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, he also may have to ask him to eat much of the $40 plus million Santana is owed over the next two seasons. Sunk cost probably isn’t the correct way to look at things because there’s reason to believe Santana could bounce-back in 2019. Even in a year where he’s disappointed offensively, Santana has walked 92 times, the most a Phillie has walked since the aforementioned Burrell walked 102 times in 2008. But as long as Santana is at first base, Hoskins will be in left field. And it’s hard to imagine Santana remaining on the team if Hoskins is primarily playing first base. So eating money to facilitate a trade may be their best way to move forward at this juncture.

It’s unclear how the Phillies plan to address Hoskins after the 2018 season. The front-office showed through a large dollar amount how much they value Santana and manager Gabe Kapler seems to as well, as Hoskins often goes to the bench, rather than replacing Santana at first, when a defensive replacement is brought in late in games to play left field. The organization clearly values walks as well, and it’s possible that on top of Santana, the Phillies could trade Cesar Hernandez – who has led the team in walks three consecutive years – this offseason. Navigating through this offseason won’t be simple for Klentak and the Phillies, but it could be an offseason that defines this era of Phillies baseball.

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  1. Tom G

    August 28, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    The Santana signing perplexed me when it was made. Have been waiting for him to begin connecting,he has been the hard luck story on balls in play…but he has not adjusted to the realities of shifts.
    Love his walks…truly helps team.
    But we have too many first basemen, and not enough good outfielders. Williams is reminding me too much of Dominic Brown. Great potential, but swings too much at balls which are unhitable!

    Rhys is a fan fav and a dynamic player. Perhaps we can just ask to be moved to the American League Lol

  2. Craig Glessner

    August 28, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    Moving Hoskins to first base ( hey common sense has no place on this team.). Trade Santana and Hernandez for an outfielder this off season. Throw in JP Crawford and maybe we can actually get someone good. If the Angels are reading this we are FISHING for a trade everyone is available except Nola and Hoskins. GEAUX PHILLIES

    • Matthew Veasey

      September 3, 2018 at 9:28 am

      Craig, we all love the idea of Mike Trout. But fans need to face it, he is not getting dealt – yet. The Angels have him locked up contractually through the 2020 season. The odds are that they won’t deal him without exhausting every possibility of winning with him over these next two seasons and giving it the old college try themselves in signing another contract extension. If it isn’t happening, they will still get a strong package in July 2020. That said, they would get even more at next year’s trade deadline. For me, if I’m the Angels management/ownership, if the club is out of contention next July we have to at least float his name and entertain offers. But he doesn’t get dealt this winter.

  3. Ken Bland

    August 28, 2018 at 2:13 pm

    There’s one thing missing in this choice of moves that beyond concludes that Rhys Hoskins has not panned out in LF.

    Remembering that Hoskins did play some LF (or at least OF) in college (not a lot), when the Santana signing was completed, I forget the exact date, rankly, even the approximate one), Hoskins chance to prepare for a new position was limited. Now, he’ll have a full off season to prepare. In other words, is it so hopeless that maybe he can improve with time? Possibly, yes. But if they want to keep Santana, trying to improve Hoskins defensively might be a solution. Seems premature to discount the idea completely so as not to mention it, though frankly, I’m not so sure it’s a great idea.

    • Matthew Veasey

      September 3, 2018 at 9:24 am

      Never one to pull punches, I think it’s a terrible idea – have since Santana was signed last winter. Stated it the day it happened, and have repeated it ad nauseam since. Get rid of Santana in the off-season. Put Hoskins back at first base and leave him there. Get rid of Cesar in the off-season. Put Kingery back at second base and leave him there. Two moves that absolutely need to be made for 2019.

  4. barry sucktero

    September 5, 2018 at 9:16 am

    because Klentak wouldn’t go an extra year for JD Martinez (2018: 39 HR (2nd), .336 BA (2nd), 115 RBI)…..we got Santana (2018: 20 HR, .225 BA, 77 RBI)….Martinez….an OF…Klentak’s no better than the Rube…..and his choice of Kapler as Mgr proves it!

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