The Phillies recently caught the Braves atop the NL East standings, and the two clubs are currently tied five games up on the Nationals. The Phillies have received key production from underrated players, several of which are mentioned below. The bullpen has also played a key factor in Philadelphia’s success, which is a theme of this edition of the stats preview below.
Phillies’ MVP: Forget about the Rhys Hoskinses, Odubel Herreras, and Carlos Santanas of the world. Cesar Hernandez has been the Phillies’ most valuable position player by WARP (2.7) this year. The way Hernandez has got to that level of production is a bit unusual in today’s game of increased power, as he has just 21 extra base hits and a .383 slugging percentage. In fact, Hernandez has the highest position player WARP among players with a slugging percentage below .400. Second on that list is Brett Gardner, almost a full win worse than the Phillies second baseman. Instead of power, Hernandez has been an OBP machine, walking in 14.8% of his plate appearances (tenth in the majors). He has also been a positive in the field, with 5.6 Fielding Runs Above Average (fourth among second basemen). That combination of production has him projected to finish with 3.8 WARP for the season, which would be right around where he has finished the last two years (3.4 and 3.5), making him a consistently good under the radar player.
Pen Pals: Seranthony Dominguez and Victor Arano have helped stabilize a Phillies bullpen that Gabe Kapler has handled a little more traditionally since his first series. In some ways, the pitchers are of a similar ilk. They are both hard-throwing right handers with a slider as an out pitch. To that point, their whiffs per swing on the slider rank 11th (53.7%) and 34th (45.1%), respectively, among relievers. They also both throw a sinker and a changeup, and while Arano throws the sinker around 15% of the time, the two pitches are the least used in each pitcher’s arsenal. Dominguez has better strikeout and walk numbers than Arano, as he has struck out and walked batters at 35.7% and 5.4% rates, while Arano has done so at 26.9% and 6.9% rates. Their DRAs are fairly similar, though, at 2.53 for Dominguez and 2.74 for Arano, which could in part be explained by Arano’s propensity to give up a little fewer home runs. Either way, both pitchers have found great success this season. Even though their ERAs are below their DRAs, meaning some regression is likely, DRA still sees them as great relievers. With what we know about elite bullpens helping teams outperform their Pythagorean win-loss records, and the Phillies having a good-but-not-great run differential of +23 entering Sunday, two pieces like Dominguez and Arano at the back of the bullpen may be key in continuing their push for the postseason.
The Good: The Phillies have only lost once in July. In their seven games since their 17-7 loss to the Nationals on June 29, they have held their opponents to a combined 19 runs.
The Bad: Philadelphia has the lowest run differential (+20) of any division leader by 40 runs.
The Ugly: Phillies catchers Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro have combined to strikeout in 35.5% of their plate appearances.
Zack Wheeler’s velocity has increased in each month of the season. After starting out averaging 95.2 in April, the fastball is up to 97.4 in July, which would be the highest average fastball velocity for a single month in Wheeler’s MLB career.
Photo credit: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports