Phillies Mailbag: Slow Start, Leadoff, Stubbs
We are back once again with the 97.3 ESPN Phillies Mailbag. We take your questions each week and talk about them on The Sports Bash with Mike Gill. Tune in Tuesday afternoons to hear your questions answered on the air.
Did the season start yet?
Well, as of today the Phillies are 6-10, good enough for fourth place in the National League East. While I don't think that the Phillies will remain there, as I do not believe the Arizona Diamondbacks will win the National League West, I understand the frustration. This is not the start Phillies fans envisioned after winning the National League Pennant.
Many of the players on the Phillies roster have not experienced a postseason, let alone appeared in the World Series. That means the team played an entire extra month compared to what they've become accustomed. We are seeing that in the pitchers.
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler showed lesser velocity in their first couple starts. They seem to be coming together now, finally. Taijuan Walker has gone the deepest so far; he had a full season to prepare. And of course, Bailey Falter and Matt Strahm had lessened expectations.
And we cannot discount injury. Bryce Harper we knew would be out. But Rhys Hoskins was a last-minute shocker, and his replacement, Darick Hall also went out almost immediately. That means each night lineup features two backup players, minimum.
While it would be more reassuring if the Phillies were 10-6, it remains early. I would expect the Phillies to build momentum as the pitching staff becomes more stretched out and as offensive pieces return from injury. Harper could be six weeks or less away. That will be a boost. Ranger Suárez is on the mend and could help the Phillies soon.
But for now, I understand the frustration.
Bryson Stott or Trea Turner leading off?
This is something I have certainly changed my mind as the (early) season has progressed. While it seemed like it was clear-cut that Trea Turner would bat leadoff, I am now in support of Bryson Stott leading off. At least for now.
Let's go back into the 97.3 ESPN time machine. Mike Gill wrote about the Phillies draft selection of Stott in the first round. At the time, this is what the Phillies had to say:
“We selected a dynamic middle infielder who can play exceptional defense, hit for average and hit for power,” Almaraz said in a press release. “He is a leader, has tremendous intangibles and we expect great things from him.”
The Phillies noted Stott's high contact rate and plate discipline.
Being that Stott had no clear position to start 2022, it is understandable that it took him a while to get his feet wet. And he did, claiming the shortstop position by July and holding it down through the Phillies playoff run. It makes sense that he would ascend to the player the Phillies envisioned when they drafted him.
And now Stott has tied the modern record for the longest hitting streak to start a season. Get him as many at bats as possible.
Now to Turner. The Phillies are down Harper and Hoskins. Those are two players that would be a key part of the offense. Turner becomes more important. And there are many in baseball today who believe the team's best hitter should bat second.
Jessy Williamson of Tbonebaseball.com summed it up this January:
While the leadoff batter sets the tone for the offense, the second spot in the batting order is typically reserved for the best hitter on the team. This is because batting second offers the hitter the best chance to maximize their production and help the team score runs.
When Stott is on, Turner can make things happen by getting him into scoring position.
Then, the likes of Kyle Schwarber can hit behind them, along with the likes of Nick Castellanos, Alec Bohm, and J.T. Realmuto. And don't look now, Brandon Marsh is really coming into his own, too.
Stott may not be there the long-term. But if he is, the Phillies should take advantage as long as he is hitting. He might just stick around.
Why not play Garrett Stubbs a little more? As long as they are going to have bench players in the starting lineup for now, why not make it Stubbs more often so J.T. Realmuto can stay fresh?
This is a good point. I have long advocated getting J.T. Realmuto out from behind the plate more often so that the Phillies can protect him. In some of the years that the Phillies faltered down the stretch, Realmuto had some nagging injuries that could be the result of regular play.
Stubbs, a lefty batter, could play against some right-handed pitching. Realmuto could then occupy the designated hitter position, or even see some time at first base. Realmuto has said in the past he prefers to be in the field than serving as designated hitter.
But the designated hitter spot is wide open right now. Lately it's been either Schwarber or Castellanos, with the likes of Jake Cave and Josh Harrison occupying outfield spots. Neither player has been providing above average production.
That's not to say that Stubbs will, either, but I like protecting Realmuto's knees as much as possible. With Harper's return locking in the designated hitter position for some time, I would suggest that now is the time to make use of that designated hitter spot for Realmuto as much as possible.