Entering the 2022 campaign as the clear No. 3 in the division — and having missed the playoffs for the past decade — there were few around the sport who picked the Phillies to advance deep into the postseason, let alone to the World Series last season. They snuck into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, edging out the Brewers for the sixth and final seed out of the National League by a single game. And yet here they are, defending NL pennant winners hoping to match the feat of last season thanks to an enviable core and a handful of impact offseason additions.
2022 record: 87-75 (3rd, NL East; lost in World Series)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 85-77 (3rd, NL East; 3rd Wild Card)
Much like with the Padres’ signing of Manny Machado, when the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract prior to the 2019 season, it was a message to the league that Philadelphia was ready to open a new window of contention. Also like the Padres, it took a few seasons for them to realize that ambition, but it’s safe to say at this point that both teams have arrived on the stage of relevance and established themselves as at-worst perennial projected entrants into the playoffs (especially under the new 12-team postseason format).
While in previous seasons, it has felt like the Phillies had underperformed the talent level on the team come the end of the season, this past season gave us a glimpse into what is possible from a roster that the front office has stacked over the last half-decade.
The Phillies have made a conscious effort to assemble an offensive juggernaut with enough sluggers to compensate for one or two of their boppers having an off-game on any given night. They placed four hitters in the top-50 of the NL in wRC+ and project to do the same in 2023 according to ZiPS. With a few others placing in the top-100, this is a lineup that could have an above average bat from top to bottom. Their 4.47 projected runs per game in 2023 is ahead of the likes of the Yankees and Mets.
Bryce Harper is the clear focal point, as evidenced by his near-legendary playoff performance when he almost single-handedly dragged his team to the World Series with his 1.160 postseason OPS and multiple clutch hits. However, the NLCS MVP is expected to be out until at least the All-Star break as he recovers from offseason Tommy John surgery. In his absence, the other stars on the team need to step up to fill the considerable void he’ll leave.
This was likely baked into the team’s decision to hand Trea Turner an 11-year, $300 million contract this winter. He immediately raised the team’s floor and ceiling, projecting as the most valuable shortstop in baseball in 2023 (6.6 fWAR, 135 wRC+), over half a win ahead of second-place Carlos Correa. Only Aaron Judge has accrued more fWAR over the last two seasons than Turner, giving the Phillies a second bona fide superstar alongside Harper.
Further down the lineup, Kyle Schwarber finished second in MLB with 46 home runs in 2022 and blasted an additional six in the NLCS and World Series, and projects as the 14th-best bat (134 wRC+) in the NL. Behind the dish, J.T. Realmuto has been the most valuable catcher in baseball over the last eight years, placed in the top-ten in fWAR among all qualified hitters over the last two seasons, and projects as the third-most valuable catcher in 2023 (4.8 fWAR, 115 wRC+) behind Adley Rutschman and Will Smith. Rhys Hoskins has quietly turned himself into one of the better hitting first basemen in the NL — his 125 wRC+ since debuting the eighth-highest mark among qualifiers — and ZiPS pegs him for another top-eight finish (2.6 fWR, 125 wRC+) among NL first basemen.
That’s not to say there aren’t still deficiencies when looking at the position player side of the roster. They still likely project as one of if not the worst defensive teams in baseball and we could very well see the all-DH outfield (Harper, Schwarber, Castellanos) at some point this season. The jury is still out on how impactful Alec Bohm can be while placing Brandon Marsh in center feels treacherous. That they downgraded from Jean Segura (eighth-most valuable second baseman last two seasons) to Bryson Stott cannot be overlooked.
On the pitching side, it’s hard not to feel excited if you are a Phillies fan. They have two legitimate aces in Aaron Nola (MLB pitching fWAR leader in 2022) and Zack Wheeler. In fact, since Wheeler joined the team prior to the 2020 season, he and Nola place second and third respectively on the pitching fWAR leaderboard. ZiPS expects Nola to finish second (4.6 fWAR) and Wheeler seventh (3.9 fWAR) in 2023.
The pitchers behind them in the rotation are no slouches either. They did lose a trio of backend contributors to free agency in Kyle Gibson, Zach Eflin, and Noah Syndergaard. However, Ranger Suárez is a capable internal replacement having finished 2022 with a 3.65 ERA and 2.3 fWAR in 155.1 innings while Taijuan Walker is likely a lateral move (worst case) from any of the three departed starters having gone 157.1 innings for the Mets with a 3.49 ERA and 2.5 fWAR.
The Phillies bullpen had long been one of the running jokes in MLB over the last decade, however they made a concerted effort to address that long-standing Achilles heel bringing in David Robertson, Brad Hand, and Corey Knebel. All three have since departed in free agency, replaced by Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto, and Matt Strahm. Alongside internal flamethrowers Seranthony Domínguez and José Alvarado, the Phillies bullpen once again has some of the widest error bars, with many of their relievers equally capable of shutdown performances and blowup outings.
At the very least, this should be a very entertaining Phillies squad to watch with their star-studded lineup, perilous defense and variability of their relievers. FanGraphs still expects them to finish third in the division with Steve Cohen effectively laughing in the faces of the other 29 owners this winter and the Braves’ ability to field a high-floor, high-ceiling team year in and year out thanks to impressive player development and shrewd signings and extensions. However, the bottom half of the Mets offense does not inspire confidence while the Braves will certainly feel the loss of Dansby Swanson. It wouldn’t be the biggest shock to see the Phillies challenge in the division, and as they showed last year, if you can sneak into this newest playoff format, who knows what will happen?
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