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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Defense wins championships

The Phillies need to change their roster building philosophy

The main feat that everyone associates with baseball is the long ball. It is flashy, it is exciting, and it is what puts runs on the board. 

Moments like Jose Bautista’s three-run moonshot in game five of the 2015 American League Division Series (ALDS) and Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in game one of the 1988 World Series generated some of the largest crowd reactions in baseball history. 

However, the home run’s popularity overshadows what is arguably the most important part of the game: defense. Defense doesn’t win over the masses, but it sure helps in winning championships.

When evaluating how good or bad a team is defensively, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is perhaps the most important stat to consider. DRS is a statistic that calculates how many runs a player saves or costs their team by accounting for the player’s range, the likelihood that any given play gets made, and whether or not the player makes said play.

The Philadelphia Phillies ranked dead last in DRS for the 2021 season with -54 DRS. They were a sizable step below the second worst team, the New York Yankees, who finished with -41 DRS. The Phillies have finished in the top half of Major League Baseball (MLB) in DRS just twice since 2012, and have finished in the bottom three on five occasions, including three last place finishes.

In that same time frame, no team has finished worse than 14th in DRS and won the World Series, and just three teams have finished in the bottom half of the league in DRS and made the World Series. 

The Phillies have built one of the most intimidating offenses in all of baseball over the last few seasons, containing the likes of Bryce Harper, J.T Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Jean Segura. However, despite having that offensive firepower, the Phillies have not won more than 82 games in a season since 2018 and haven’t made the playoffs since 2011. Their pitching struggles and defensive struggles are the main culprits of neutralizing the offense’s impact, regardless of who is running the show in Philadelphia.

Although the Phillies have struggled defensively since 2013, their issues have been magnified in the two seasons since manager Joe Girardi and president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, arrived. Neither have an extensive history of running teams with defensive struggles, but the Phillies finished 30th in DRS and 20th in fielding percentage in 2021 and 28th in DRS and 14th in fielding percentage in 2020. 

Despite their lack of historical defensive struggles, Girardi and Dombrowski have brought in and given heavy playing time to players who have been downright dreadful defensively.  In 2021, the following Phillies players all finished with a negative DRS: Harper, Alec Bohm, Didi Gregorious, Andrew McCutchen, Hoskins and Brad Miller. In what was maybe the best encapsulation of the Phillies’ situation defensively, Bohm made three errors in the three innings in a game against the New York Mets on April 11. 

Things got bad enough last season for Bohm to be sent back down to Class AAA in Minor League Baseball in August. All of those players were regular starters for the Phils in 2021, and their defensive struggles are a major reason why the Phillies did not make the playoffs and will, in all likelihood, be held back from reaching their full potential in 2022. 

It seems as if Dombrowksi did not learn a thing from how the 2021 season unfolded for the Phillies, as he made two significant signings late in the offseason. Those signings were outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. Both Schwarber and Castellanos are very good hitters, but pedestrian fielders. Through the opening stretch of 2022, Castellanos is already at -3 DRS, and Schwarber is at 0 DRS.

The Phillies have some quality pieces in place to make a run at the playoffs, including last year’s National League MVP in Harper, one of baseball’s best strikeout pitchers in Zack Wheeler, and several other quality players. However, their defensive struggles have been plaguing them for a decade, and in that decade, the Phillies have not made the playoffs. 

No matter who is in charge in Philadelphia, it seems that they ignore the defensive aspect of the game, and it has been detrimental to every iteration of the team. Until Girardi and Dombrowski stop building the Phillies roster as if they were playing franchise mode in MLB the Show, the Phillies will continue to exist in a state of perpetual mediocrity.

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