Phillies 2018 Preview: 2B and SS

I love baseball. I wouldn’t be writing these articles if I didn’t. I love the tradition and history, which connect us with generations that came before us. I love the quirks – weird superstitions, different shaped ballparks, rally caps. I love sitting in the stadium on a sunny day, beers and hot dogs at hand, taking in the sights and sounds in the stands. There’s just nothing like baseball charm.

I assume you love baseball as well. Why else would you be here? As the winter chill softens and the world begins to come alive, baseball also starts to rouse from its winter slumber. As a fellow baseball lover, that must be music to your ears. Let’s complement that music with our continuing preview of the 2018 Phillies.

Previous Posts –
1B and 3B

Second Base

Cesar Hernandez is about as good a bet as any to be a productive major leaguer in 2018. One of the better second baseman around (8th best WAR in 2017), Cesar also happens to be one of the more underrated. Thus is the curse of playing well on a bad team – with no one looking, you tend to be overlooked.

He followed up a strong 2016 with an even better 2017. Offensively and defensively, there’s not much to balk at. His on-base skills were already great, but 2017 saw him take steps forward with both his power and his speed. He set a new career high in homers (9, previously 6), and although his stolen bases were slightly down (from 17 to 15), he was caught only 5 times vs. 13 times the year prior. It’s nice to see him using his speed, a tool he has in spades, wisely.

Not sure if he enjoyed this or not.

Are there any warning signs to be aware of? His BABIP (defined here) was .353, which is unusually high for the average player. Key words: “for the average player”. Hernandez doesn’t quite fit that mold – Fast players grind out more infield hits, thus running a higher BABIP than expected. As a fast player, Hernandez has demonstrated the propensity to run high BABIPs throughout his career. If his BABIP regresses, it won’t be a precipitous drop.

What can we expect in 2018? Offensively, I don’t see anything to suggest he’ll be mediocre. Defensively, he’ll shine. The only two questions for the coming year-

  1. Will he stay healthy? He’s played more than 150 games only once over the past three years.
  2. Will he play well enough to hold off the surging Scott Kingery? (From the Phillies perspective, this is a good problem to have.)

Shortstop

J.P. Crawford steps in for the traded Freddy Galvis at short. The 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft steadily worked his way through the minors before getting a call up in September. In his brief time with the Phillies, Crawford’s well-polished defense and advanced plate discipline were on full display. Had Crawford been up all year, his 18.4% walk rate would have ranked 4th overall, behind only Joey Votto, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout. That’s some good company, if you ask me. His power was, sadly, on the opposite end of the spectrum – his whimpering .300 slugging percentage would have ranked dead last, given a full season of play. Taken as a whole, his offense is about league average for a shortstop.

On the basepaths and on the field, Crawford is likely to impress – according to Statcast, Crawford is the second fastest player on the Phillies. With the speedy Cesar Hernandez as his partner, the double play duo should be able to gobble up ground balls in a wide range. He has big shoes to fill (Galvis was no slouch with the glove), but he’ll no doubt have his share of highlights.

Crawford demonstrating where his home run power comes from. #WorkHard #PlayHard

What can we expect in 2018? He’ll walk. He’ll make plays in the field. His bat won’t be anemic…but he also won’t be sending balls into the stands with any regularity. Worst case, he experiences all of the growing pains that come with being a rookie. With his defense and plate discipline, even that “worst case” floor will be relatively high.

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