With the 2020 season rapidly approaching, fans and analysts alike are projecting how players will perform this year, eager to imagine how the coming season will unfold. Each player’s career is filled with peaks and valleys, so which players will enjoy success this year, and which will be disappointments? Spring Training is about nothing if not unbounded optimism, so after a 2019 season in which it seemed like every player on the roster had a down season, it may be fun to imagine a version of the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies in which each player on the team matched his previous career-best season.
The roster is loaded with players whose best days may be behind them, but Joe Girardi’s team is filled with former award winners. Among them, former National League MVPs Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and former National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta are the obvious candidates for this type of bounce-back dream season, but others such as Jay Bruce, Josh Harrison and Didi Gregorius have also produced at All-Star levels before.
Without further ado, here’s the 2020 dream season Phillies lineup and pitching staff, with each player’s best season and an estimate of how this team may fare in the standings:
Batting leadoff is 2012 Andrew McCutchen, who also handles center field. It’s easy to forget how dynamic he was at his peak, but “Cutch” in 2012 was a true 5-tool player who impacted the game in every way possible. His speed and on-base skills set the table for the boppers in the heart of the order, and he popped 31 home runs of his own that season. Obviously, a case could be made for 2013 version of McCutchen – he was only the National League MVP that year – but the 2012 version was better at the plate, so he’s the pick.
Behind McCutchen is 2016 Jean Segura, who was with the Arizona Diamondbacks that year. In his best year at the plate, Segura slashed .316/.368/.499 and had a career-high 20 home runs. That season also has the added bonus of Segura manning second base for the majority of the year, which is where he’ll need to slot into the field in this lineup.
Third in the order is the easiest call of this exercise, 2015 Bryce Harper. He posted the highest on-base percentage since Albert Pujols’ heyday and sent 42 balls into the stands on his way to being named the unanimous National League MVP.
The cleanup spot is one of the more difficult choices. Rhys Hoskins’ best full season was 2018, when he hit 34 home runs, drove in 96 runs and had a 2.8 fWAR in 153 games. However, the selection here is his historic rookie seasons, in which he set several records for rookie production and accrued 2.2 fWAR in just 50 games. The bet here is that this version of Hoskins over a full season would be a bigger contributor to this hypothetical Phillies team, so rookie-year Hoskins gets the nod.
Rounding out the heart of the order is Jay Bruce in 2010, when he was just coming into his own as a Red. Because he missed some games during this season it’s not actually his best season in terms of counting stats, but it was the season in which he posted career-bests with a .281 average and .353 on-base percentage, while also still supplying the thump typically associated with the lefty slugger.
The bottom third of the order begins with 2014 Josh Harrison at third base, one of his two All-Star seasons and a year where he placed in the top 10 in National League MVP voting with a .315 batting average.
Behind Harrison is J.T. Realmuto from last year, when he solidified himself as the Best Catcher In BaseballTM with a monster season both at the plate and behind it, notably gunning down 37 potential base-stealers on his way to winning both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. His 2018 season was also strongly considered because his bat was so productive, but the 2019 version was too good defensively to pass up.
And finally, the overqualified eight-hole hitter would be 2018 Didi Gregorius, who set career highs across the board, highlighted by 27 home runs from the shortstop position.
The last position player selection will be the bench player, of whom there are many candidates. 2015 Logan Forsythe and 2014 Neil Walker received consideration, but because they mostly played one position (second base) in each of those seasons and this is a utility role, the pick is 2019 Scott Kingery. Kingery brought speed, surprising power and limitless versatility as the team’s primary bench piece, especially in the first half of the season.
The Pitching Staff
The rotation is quite good from starters No. 1-3 before tailing off a bit.
The ace of the staff is of course 2015 Jake Arrieta, who won the National League Cy Young Award that year and famously posted a 0.75 ERA after the All-Star Break.
Behind Arrieta is the Aaron Nola that performed for the Phillies two years ago, finishing third in National League Cy Young Award voting with a microscopic 2.37 ERA over the course of the entire season.
No. 3 is Zack Wheeler, and either 2018 or 2019 fit the requirements but the pick here is 2018. That season he set career-lows in ERA, FIP and HR/FB% while striking out a career-high percentage of batters. After the All-Star Break, Wheeler went 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA in 11 starts in 2018.
After Wheeler, the No. 4 and 5 starters are less certain, much like they are with the real team currently. But in this dream season version of the Phillies, the picks to round out the rotation are 2016 Vince Velasquez and 2018 Nick Pivetta. Neither particularly set the world on fire in these seasons, but both flashed the potential during these years that have made their subsequent struggles so frustrating.
The bullpen is steadied by three familiar names: lefty Jose Alvarez and flamethrower Seranthony Dominguez, both from 2018, and then a younger version of Hector Neris from 2016, when he was a dominant setup man before stepping into the closer’s role in recent years.
How would this team fare in reality? Replacement level for WAR calculations are set so that a roster of replacement level players would have a .294 winning percentage, which would roughly equate to a 48-114 team. The 17 players selected here total to 72.2 wins added, so the dream season 2020 Phillies squad could be expected to finish with a record around 120-42. Not too bad.
Likely? Certainly not, but if just a few of these former MVPs, Cy Young winners and All-Stars recapture some of their former glory, the 2020 Phillies could be quite good. Perhaps not a dream season, but a satisfying one at the very least.
A Note On An Intriguing Name
With Ranger Suarez seemingly in consideration for a spot either in the rotation or as one of the depth starters in case of injury, it’s worth examining what the Phillies see in him that makes them think he could be a decent MLB starter.
When looking at his profile, one number jumps out well above the rest: his fastball has 29 percent less “rise” than the league average four-seamer. This number is extraordinary relative to the league, ranking as the 10th-largest amount of drop of any four-seamer last season. In simpler terms, Suarez’s fastball falls off the table as it approaches the plate, and hitters will often swing over it or make weak contact as it drops much further than they expect, explaining why he ranked in the 89th percentile in terms of exit velocity against.
He isn’t a strikeout pitcher with overpowering stuff by any means, but because of the plummeting action on that fastball he’s a groundball-inducing machine. In his time in the majors last season, he forced groundballs at a rate of 55.1% of batted balls against. This would have been the third-highest rate in the majors if Suarez had thrown enough innings to qualify. Pair that with a true swing-and-miss pitch like his changeup – which forced whiffs at a healthy 33.1% clip – and he starts to be an intriguing alternative to the frustrating trio of Velasquez, Pivetta and Zach Eflin.
It’s unlikely that Suarez will ever be an ace – and he’s still likely an outsider in the competition for a rotation slot – but he may have enough in his repertoire to be more than a typical soft-tossing fringe starter.
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