Each weekend, Phillies Nation Editorial Director Tim Kelly will answer reader questions as part of the Phillies Nation Mailbag. Questions can be submitted by tweeting at @PhilliesNation, @TimKellySports or e-mailing your question to tsk@TimKellyMedia.com. Let’s get to this week’s question.
What is the ideal Phillies lineup? – @Chrisantosy
This isn’t a flawed question to ask. However, it may be flawed to think that in 2018, there’s one perfect lineup that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler is simply refusing to pencil in. Kapler has left no stone unturned in his quest to get the lineup going. From starting Carlos Santana at third base Wednesday to get Justin Bour in the lineup, to batting Aaron Altherr third in Friday night’s lineup, Kapler’s attempted to shake things up to get a stagnant offense to heat up. At a certain point, though, players, regardless of where they are hitting in the lineup, have to play. Though he still looks like he could suit up, Kapler isn’t going to grab a bat and ignite the lineup himself.
Putting together the ideal Phillies lineup assumes that all in the lineup are performing at an ideal level, which isn’t the case currently. Rhys Hoskins is hitting just .235 since the All-Star Break. Odubel Herrera is hitting just .231 since the All-Star Game, a game many believed he should have played in. With that taken into account, this would be the best-case scenario offensive lineup for the Phillies:
- Roman Quinn, Center Field
- Rhys Hoskins, Left Field
- Odubel Herrera, Right Field
- Wilson Ramos, Catcher
- Carlos Santana, First Base
- Asdrubal Cabrera, Shortstop
- Maikel Franco, Third Base
- Cesar Hernandez, Second Base
The part that probably jumps out the most here is Odubel Herrera. While hitting in the No. 3 spot for the Phillies doesn’t make sense at this juncture for Herrera, when he’s hot, he has the ability to carry a lineup. Perhaps more noteworthy is that he’s slotted into right field – a position he’s never played – in this lineup. But when healthy, Roman Quinn has proven to be the Phillies best option in center field. But if Herrera is hot, as he was to open the 2018 season, you need to find a way to keep him in the lineup. He has played some left field recently, but for our purposes, we’re going to assume Rhys Hoskins is in left field, because that’s where he’s spent the most time in 2018.
Speaking of Hoskins, there’s been a debate for much of the season about whether it makes sense for him to bat second, rather than third or fourth, where a more traditional manager would slot him. However, in a perfect world it makes sense for Hoskins to bat second, because he’ll get more at-bats there than in the No. 4 spot. And with Cesar Hernandez – who has led the Phillies in walks three consecutive seasons – batting ninth, and Quinn batting leadoff, there’s a good chance Hoskins will come up with at least one person on base. Given the speed of both Hernandez and Quinn, there’s a very realistic chance Hoskins will come up with a runner in scoring position.
One of the flaws of Hoskins hitting second is that if he doesn’t get on base, or gets on base but doesn’t bring a run home, that leaves you asking someone else to produce the runs. If Herrera is hot, that’s not as much of a tall task. If Ramos is healthy (and re-signed for 2019), that’s not a bad situation to be in. But when you find yourself in situations like Friday, where Altherr is hitting third and 37-year-old Jose Bautista is hitting cleanup, you may not have as much success with that strategy. That doesn’t mean hitting Hoskins second is wrong in principle, but it’s indicative of the Phillies being another big bat in their lineup away from having a complete lineup. That’s why they are widely expected to pursue at least one of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper this offseason.
But why doesn’t Kapler regularly pencil in the lineup outlined here, given that it appears to be the best he could? There are other considerations in September that keep the best-case offensive scenario from taking place. Quinn, Franco and Ramos have all dealt with injuries to varying different degrees in the last 10 days. Regardless of the health of Ramos, Jorge Alfaro normally catches Aaron Nola, which comes at the expense of one of your best hitters. Herrera has struggled in the second-half, which makes it hard to justify not having Nick Williams in the lineup on most nights. While Asdrubal Cabrera is an obvious offensive upgrade over what Scott Kingery has provided in 2018, Kingery is the better fielding shortstop, which has to be a consideration on a team that has struggled mightily in the field. And truthfully, the Phillies employ three starting first baseman: Hoskins, Carlos Santana and Justin Bour.
Often, I’ll be asked why Kapler doesn’t follow the formula that Charlie Manuel did during the most successful run in team history and just pencil in a nearly identical lineup every game. Well if Kapler had the luxury of building a lineup that included Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino and Pat Burrell, he would do it. He may structure the lineup differently than Manuel did, because he’s more analytically inclined, as a majority of the sport is a decade later. But Kapler doesn’t control the personnel, he can only control what he does with the personnel. And he can’t control how said lineup performs.
The guess here is that in coming years, as players like Alfaro and Kingery potentially come of age, there will be more lineup stability. But this is an organization, from the front-office to the coaching staff, that values optimal matchups. So if you’re looking for as much lineup stability as the Phillies had a decade ago, you may be waiting a while.
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