The Phillies have been stagnant this winter. Although they have technically spent more money on free agents than any team aside from the Dodgers, they haven’t made a single upgrade. All 26 players on their projected Opening Day roster (per Roster Resource) were in the organization last season. Every other NL team has changed things up, at least a tiny bit.
Nearly all of Philadelphia’s free agent dollars went toward Aaron Nola, keeping the longest-tenured Phillie in town for another seven years. They also gave a $1 million split contract to Kolby Allard, a deal that doesn’t guarantee the left-hander any MLB playing time. That’s it. No wonder fans are getting antsy.
Yet here’s the thing: the Phillies are already pretty talented. They’ve got a good bullpen, a great lineup, and a phenomenal starting rotation. Even without a single addition, this team could make a deep October run like they did last fall.
Don’t believe me? Just ask ZiPS.
ZiPS is a player projection system created by Dan Szymborski (currently of FanGraphs), who has spent the past twenty years developing and refining the design. Here’s a quick summary of how it works, courtesy of MLB.com:
ZiPS uses past performance and aging trends to develop a future projection for players. On FanGraphs, the projections are updated daily and predict each player’s numbers over the course of the remainder of the season… Obviously, no one is claiming that every ZiPS prediction will come true, but it is widely regarded as one of the most accurate predictors in the industry.“sZymborski Projection System (ZiPS)” MLB.com
Throughout the offseason, Szymborski slowly releases the ZiPS projections for every team, along with a detailed write-up. Earlier this month, he published the projections for the Phillies, and there’s a whole lot we can glean from his work.
Phillies ZiPS: Position Players
The Phillies have a pair of bona fide stars atop the lineup. How far this team can go hinges on the production they get from the rest of the squad:
- ZiPS pegs Trea Turner to be the best player on the team – This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Even during a difficult season in 2023, Turner finished within one-tenth of a win for the team lead in fWAR among position players. His projections are down from this time last year, when ZiPS thought he’d be one of the best players in baseball, but the Phillies shortstop still looks like a star, and reaching his 80th-percentile projections (6.3 fWAR, 144 OPS+) would put him firmly in the MVP conversation.
- Bryce Harper projects to be one of the best hitters in baseball – Again, this isn’t exactly breaking news. Last year, Harper finished with a 146 OPS+, the ninth-highest in the game. ZiPS thinks he can best that number in 2024, projecting a 150 OPS+.
- Big drop-off for J.T. Realmuto – Fortunately, ZiPS doesn’t think Realmuto will be quite as disappointing in 2024 as he was in 2023. Unfortunately, the projection system still thinks he’s on the decline. He should be an above-average contributor next season, but he no longer projects to be one of the best catchers in baseball.
- It’s not looking good for Nick Castellanos – The right fielder had a mini bounce-back at the plate in 2023, but the projections aren’t convinced it was legit. ZiPS thinks the former All-Star will be the least valuable player in Philadelphia’s starting lineup by a long shot.
- Will the daycare take a step back? – The projections foresee all three of Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott, and Brandon Marsh taking a step back at the plate in 2024. The decline is especially steep for Stott and Marsh, despite their breakout seasons last year. The Phillies will have to hope at least one of them significantly outperforms his 50th-percentile projections if the bottom half of this lineup is going to score enough runs.
- Schwar-burrel? – A fun feature of the ZiPS projections is the near-age offensive comps. ZiPS works by comparing present-day players to a database of past seasons. This means it spits out the top comparisons for every player in the game. Funnily enough, Kyle Schwarber’s top comp this year is another masher from the last great Phillies team: 2008 World Series champion Pat Burrell.
Phillies ZiPS: Pitching Staff
The Phillies have a great starting rotation, as they had last year and the year before that. ZiPS projects more of the same in 2024; Zack Wheeler should be dominant, Aaron Nola should be excellent, and Ranger Suárez should be a solid number three. But about the other two arms?
- Cristopher Sánchez is the real deal – Or at least, ZiPS thinks so. He might not be able to match his 3.44 ERA from 2023, but if Sánchez can stick in the rotation all season with an ERA in the mid-to-low fours (ZiPS has him at 4.36) then the Phillies should be very pleased.
- Taijuan Walker? Not so much – Unfortunately, ZiPS has the veteran taking another step back in 2024. He can still be a serviceable fifth starter if he pitches to his projected 4.67 ERA, but the Phillies might be starting to regret his four-year contract.
The Phillies don’t have a set closer, but they still have a strong bullpen. José Alvarado is the leader (ZiPS: 82 ERA-), followed by a string of capable arms.
- Get ready for a full season of Orion Kerkering – Kerkering won’t turn 23 until April, but ZiPS thinks the rookie phenom can be a valuable asset out of the Phillies bullpen in 2024. Although he has just four games of experience above Double-A (plus a handful of postseason outings), he projects to put up a 90 ERA- next season – that’s 10% better than league average.
- Jeff Hoffman still has something to prove – Out of nowhere, Hoffman was one of the best relievers in baseball last season. His projections are much better now than they were at this time last year, but ZiPS still isn’t fully convinced he can keep it up. His projected 95 ERA- is respectable, but hardly elite. Can the righty prove the projections wrong two years in a row?
- No bounce-back for Gregory Soto? – Soto posted a disappointing 4.62 ERA in 2023 during his first season with the Phillies, but his 2.84 xERA and 3.59 FIP gave fans a reason to be optimistic about 2024. However, ZiPS doesn’t seem to trust those underlying numbers, projecting Soto for a 4.53 ERA (104 ERA-) this coming year.
- The Phillies need one more arm – The ZiPS projections aren’t rosy for the likes of Dylan Covey (125 ERA-), Andrew Bellatti (119 ERA-), and Yunior Marte (109 ERA-), all of whom could see substantial time out of the big league bullpen the way the roster is currently constructed. This team could use one more proven and reliable reliever.
Phillies ZiPS: Final Thoughts
Led by Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, and Aaron Nola, the Phillies are a great baseball team. They have a deep enough lineup and pitching staff to get them to the playoffs, and the stars to carry them through once they get there. As Szymborski put it at FanGraphs, “They’re a top-tier Wild Card team and if the rotation stays healthy, they can power themselves pretty far in October once again.”
The Phillies will certainly hope that guys like Bryson Stott, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh, and especially Nick Castellanos can outperform their 50th-percentile ZiPS projections, but even if they can’t, this team is as strong as any NL club outside of Atlanta and L.A.