Are The Phillies World Series Contenders?

I believe I speak for a lot of fans when I say that come mid-summer, the torture and anxiety of this past winter will be long forgotten.

The addition of Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and David Robertson is proving to be more than enough to bring electricity back to Citizen’s Bank Park; with over 100,000 tickets being sold in the 24 hours after the Harper signing, and prices for Opening Day tickets more than doubling on the secondary market.

The impact that a competitive Phillies team will have on the city is hard to put into words—it’s as if a major void in our past few summers is about to be filled, and you can feel that excitement in the reaction of fans.

But here’s the thing, while the prospect of watching winning baseball on a warm summer night in a sold out ballpark is alluring, regenerating fan interest (building up expectations) and actually competing are two separate things.

Obviously there’s some connection there: in theory, you generate excitement by improving your roster (as the team has done), and by improving your roster you are more likely to be competitive. But we also know that sports don’t always play out that way. There are variables that can’t necessarily be accounted for until the games are actually played, and we should be wary of that until we experience actual success with the new roster.

Nonetheless, Vegas has placed the Phillies odds to win the World Series at roughly 9/1, good for the fifth highest behind the Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers, and Yankees. And depending on the model, most projections have the team set to win 89/90 games this season. These numbers suggest that the Phillies are capable of competing for the World Series in 2019. Taking into consideration their 80 wins from 2018, and the moves they made to build on that, it’s not hard to see why people are drawing that conclusion.

It should be noted that this doesn’t mean Vegas believes the Phillies are the fifth best team in baseball, or that they have the fifth best chances to win the World Series. It’s simply reflective of the fact that a bet on the Phillies has the most volatility of all possible bets—it’s more difficult to gauge what this team will do compared to a team who made relatively few roster changes from last year. With a lot of money expected to be placed (and already placed) on them, Vegas is trying to cover their ass from that ‘volatility’ swinging in the Phillies (& bettors) favor.

While describing the 2019 Phillies as obvious World Series contenders may be a little ambitious, you would be foolish to ignore the fact that it’s a very real possibility.

Here’s one table that shows the type of improvement that our four new bats bring to the lineup.

2018 OPS. 2019 OPS. + / –
Jorge Alfaro .731 —> JT Realmuto .825 + .094
Scott Kingery .605 —> Jean Segura .755 + .150
Carlos Santana .766 —> Andrew McCutchen .792 + .026
Nick Williams .749 —> Bryce Harper .889 + .140

The combined OPS of the starting eight positions players from last year: .741

The combined OPS of the projected starting eight for 2019 (2018 stats): .792

That’s a pretty drastic shift. Our four worst hitters were basically replaced by players who all would have been the second best bat on last year’s team (best bat, in Harper’s case).

It’s not hard to see the Phillies offensive improvement at all. It’s the defensive improvements the team has made that I think deserves more attention. By most metrics, the Phillies were below average defensively in 2018. Much like their production at the plate, this is expected to be a major turnaround in 2019.

The move of Hoskins to first base kills two birds with one stone. Not only is McCutchen going to be a defensive upgrade over him in the outfield, but Hoskins will be an upgrade over Carlos Santana at first base as well.

On top of that, Jean Segura—while merely an average defensive shortstop—will be a major improvement from the poor play of Scott Kingery and JP Crawford.

Another area that will see an upgrade on defense is behind the plate. Other than a rocket for an arm, Jorge Alfaro was very raw for a starting catcher. Insert JT Realmuto and the Phillies have a guy who is borderline elite at blocking balls and framing pitches, and experienced in handling a major league staff.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that every move that the Phillies made this offseason has made a clear improvement on both offense and defense. When you combine those improvements with talent and youth of the pitching staff, it’s almost impossible not to view this as the perfect offseason. The Phillies went from a team in 2018 that found success despite a lot of roster holes, to one of the most complete rosters in baseball.

I know it’s easy to be wary of all the hype surrounding a team that hasn’t actually won anything, but a close examination of the situation leads me to believe that the hysteria is justified.


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