The Phillies have not been good over the last few years. It’s not an earth-shattering statement echoed by one Philly Sports Network Phillies’ contributor. It’s not a sentiment that’s never been said before in fear of betraying one’s loyalties to this particular club. We all know what the last few seasons have brought to this city. In short, very little.
I’ve also previously documented that the Phillies signing Carlos Santana, while stating that the team is trying to compete and draw top free agents to the market once again, was ill-advised as it may put the team in limbo, a quasi-sports purgatory that is difficult to manipulate out of. Nonetheless, the splash signing did show the fans here that the team is now attempting to compete. They may not be playoff worthy this season, but the horizon is within our sights now for the first time in half a decade or more.
With that, it may be time to peer into the perspective 25-man roster and see which elements will be improved, namely most of them, and which still need to be addressed, namely the starting pitching staff.
Pitching cannot win you games. By it’s inherent nature, pitching, standing alone, can, at best, put a baseball team on pace for an infinite 0-0 tie, a game that never ended nor never changed. That;s not to say that pitching is incapable of helping a team win or isn’t a major proponent to a team’s success, but at the surface level alone, pitching staffs cannot win baseball games.
Offenses need to provide run support to those pitching staffs in order to put tallies in the win column over a season. Because of that, a team that scored the fourth least runs a season ago with just 690 is going to need a spark from someone in the lineup other than Santana. And as much as this pains me to say, especially since I went into combat solo against an apparent army on Twitter over the last month since the trade, the X-factor for the 2018 offense very well could be Freddy Galvis’ replacement, J.P. Crawford.
Crawford will be tasked with raising his .214 batting average that he produced in 23 Major League games last season, but he could be primed for a large step forward in 2018. Let me explain how Crawford could be the true leadoff man the Phillies need, but not necessarily the one the fans will want.
Last season, the Phillies finished with the 24th best on base percentage at a shade over .300. As a team, the Phillies got on base at just a .315 clip, in front of just the Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, and the Kansas City Royals. This is where Crawford could help in a big way. Early in his career, Crawford struggled to get on base, striking out more than walking in 2014, 2016 and 2017 at the minor league level. Now, those numbers can be misleading. If you take a look at his promotions throughout the last three years, he’s gone from Lakewood to Lehigh Valley in just three year before getting his MLB call up late last season. Crawford was consistently the youngest player on his team, and often the youngest player in the league, and may have been slightly overwhelmed at each progressive level. But after struggling mightily in Lehigh Valley to begin the season, Crawford seemingly flipped a switch and found his plate approach in the latter portion of 2017. In his 127 games with the Iron Pigs, Crawford walked 79 times, with just a handful of those coming in the first half of the season. he hit just .243 in Lehigh Valley, but his OBP was a solid .351. In the 23 Major League games he played, it was a tick higher at .356. He walked 16 times in 87 plate appearances in Philadelphia.
If Crawford can continue to see the ball well at the plate, work on his pitch selection, and force opposing pitchers to throw a ton of pitches, he’ll be an immediate candidate for the leadoff spot in 2018. Putting Crawford at the leadoff spot, if successful, would allow the Phillies to have a potent three, four combo with Carlos Santana and Rhys Hoskins to drive the first two in the order in.
I understand that many of you are saying that this leadoff proposal would require Crawford to see a ton of pitches and walk a great deal, which is nowhere near a given with the understanding of his past. To that, I agree with you, but I implore you to trust his progression (I will not drop a TTP in this piece, so I changed the wording just a bit) and understand that Crawford isn’t going to be a leadoff hitter like Jimmy Rollins was. They play the same position, they could both be leadoff men, but they are not the same player. Rollins could drive himself in with power. Crawford will need other hitters to plate him. But what Crawford can control is his on base percentage, which, if it can find its way into the high .370’s, will be an effective tool for the Phillies offense in 2018.
It’s not the ideal situation to put a guy with 87 career big league plate appearances at the top of the order to figure things out and produce at the same time, but then again, not much about this Phillies team screams ideal this year. It may not work, but it’s the approach I’d try to take come April.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports