The Phillies know you think they can’t field –
Apr 22, 2022
Jesse RogersESPN Staff Writer
- Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.
Dave Dombrowski knew the moment could go one of two ways.
On April 11, 25-year-old third baseman Alec Bohm had made three errors in a game against the New York Mets, and the Philly crowd was showering him with boos. After Bohm was caught on camera mouthing ‘I f—ing hate this place,” the Philadelphia Phillies president was hopeful the leadership he acquired in the offseason would show up.
” Our players got with him right away after the game,” Dombrowski said to ESPN recently. “Nick) Castellanos (Kyle Schwarber), (Kyle Gibson) and (manager Joe Girardi) all got along with him. He addressed the issue head-on. “
Instead of slipping out without speaking to reporters or doubling down on his frustrations postgame, Bohm stood in front of his locker and held himself accountable for what was caught on camera.
” I said it. Do you mean it? After the game, Bohm stated that “No.” It was a frustrating night for sure. I made a few mistakes on the field. These people, these fans, just want to win. We come back, they are great. They are my sincere apologies. I’m not trying to. “
The next night, Bohm was greeted with a standing ovation from the 26,045 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park as he walked to the plate for a pinch-hit at-bat in the eighth inning.
“He handled the situation as well as he could,” Dombrowski stated.
In this way, Dombrowski’s offseason changes were going according to plan.
Of course, given those plans, it also comes as no surprise the incident would ignite over defense. Since the two days in March when the Phillies surprised the baseball world by signing both Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, one question has percolated: Can Philadelphia catch the ball enough to win?
The Phillies were already a poor defensive team before their moves this offseason, ranking 24th in the majors with a minus-21.1 rating since the start of the 2020, according to Fangraphs. They were last in the majors for defensive runs saved last season.
The logical thing to do was sign two players who were near the bottom of Statcast’s outs above the average metric, Schwarber (first percentile), and Castellanos (5th).
Schwarber has been hearing criticism about his defense since he came up with the Cubs as a converted catcher in 2015, and the subject was brought up often during an adventurous postseason at first base for the Red Sox last season.
Castellanos, meanwhile, is coming off an All-Star 2021 season with the Reds in which he accumulated 4.0 offensive WAR — and negative-1.3 defensive WAR, according to baseball-reference.com.
Luckily for the Phillies, they will likely only need defense from one of those players at a time, thanks to the introduction of the universal DH, which became a reality in the new collective-bargaining agreement after the MLB lockout ended.
“I kind of scratch my head when people [*] because the reality is only one of them is scheduled to play on a daily basis,” Dombrowski stated about Schwarber or Castellanos. “The designated hitter is the other one. “
(After a sore elbow, Joe Girardi, Phillies manager, was already penciling Schwarber, Castellanos and Castellanos into his corner outfield spots at Coors Field. Harper is expected to be back in the outfield shortly. )
But the Phillies are reassured that there is no reason to be concerned because their players are willing to work hard.
” “We weren’t quite as good as we needed last year,” Bohm stated during spring training. “Everybody knows that. We are working on it. “
Whether it succeeds could be up to infield coach Bobby Dickerson, a defensive guru who has worked with four Gold Glove winners and is best-known for his work with Manny Machado. Dickerson first paired up with the five-time All-Star in Baltimore and spent the past two seasons in San Diego as the Padres bench coach (he spent 2019 as part of the Phillies staff). It doesn’t have be spectacular,” Schwarber stated. “If we make our routine plays that’s how you win baseball matches, that’s what it is.” “
And so far with Dickerson back in town, the Phillies are making the routine plays, ranking 13th in the majors in outs above average.
“Bobby Dickerson is one of the best in the game,” Bryce Harper said. “Guys must want to be coached. This is something that guys need to believe in. We’ll be even better than last year if we do that. “
The biggest reason that the Phillies weren’t worried about giving up a few extra runs this summer because of their defense was that they were now even less worried about scoring them.
“Score we allowed in a little more than what we gave. Harper spoke highly of the team’s philosophy.
When Dombrowski added both Schwarber and Castellanos — joining dangerous hitters like Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Bohm and Jean Segura — he put National League pitching on notice that the Phillies were going to thump. Players were reminded that their offense could be something special, despite all the talk about defense issues.
“I was joking with Schwarber the other day when we scored 10,” starter Kyle Gibson said. “He said ‘I could see this happening in about 40 percent of your starts.’ Sign me up! They will need them to hang with Braves and Mets at top of strong NL East — but early returns have been mixed.
Small sample size alert, but 13 games into the season, a lineup expected to be the Broad Street Bullies has been closer to league average, ranking 12th in MLB at 4. 38 runs per game after finally exploding for nine runs in Wednesday’s series finale in Denver.
Newcomers: Castellanos is thriving in his new home. He posted a. 953 OPS. Schwarber, however, has struggled to find his feet and has only hit. 170 in his first 47 at-bats even after introducing himself to his new fan base by belting a 426-foot home run on the seventh pitch he saw in a Phillies uniform on Opening Day. For the Phillies to reach where Dombrowski sees them going this season, they need to have offensive outbursts and tape measure home runs often enough to compensate for their defensive weaknesses.
“We look good on paper, but we must go out and do it,” Harper stated.
Castellanos echoed that sentiment: “What can be done doesn’t mean s—. “
Their lack of defense wasn’t the only reason that the Phillies bringing in Schwarber and Castellanos was surprising. John Middleton, the owner, showed once again that he is willing and able to do whatever it takes for Philadelphia to win a championship by signing Dombrowski.
“When the news came out, I was a bit speechless,” Harper stated. It shows how much ownership wants the win…I have never worried about that with Mr. Middleton. After going through the lockout stuff, I knew that I didn’t need to worry about my owner. He wants to bring back a championship to Philly. “
This is a team that has doled out more than half-a-billion dollars to make Harper, Realmuto and Zack Wheeler the core of the roster since Middleton famously said, “We’re going into this expecting to spend money — and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it,” heading into the 2018 offseason.
Gibson joined the team through a trade from the Rangers in 2021, but he could tell the Phillies were a team to watch way back during his 2019 free agency.
“I was looking at Philadelphia during free agency, for certain,” Gibson stated. “I don’t think it’s a secret that the Middleton family wants win. They felt that this was their time. “
And so exactly one day after the team agreed to a four-year, $79 million contract with Schwarber on March 16, Dombrowski approached Middleton about inking Castellanos as well. Although he knew some executives would have been fired, he was able to get a good handle of his team’s owner after one year.
“After signing Schwarber I went home and looked at my stuff and I see Castellanos still out there and don’t see him signing anywhere,” Dombrowski said. “I told Middleton that it would be a large contract, but not unreasonable.
“He said that he was all in. ‘”
If Castellanos was hesitant about signing with a team that had just acquired a similar player it quickly faded — that move actually made Philadelphia even more appealing to the slugger.
“Kyle was signed by Castellanos and showed confidence in his character. “A lot of organizations wouldn’t do that for him because everything is so analytically driven,” Castellanos stated. “But knowing Kyle – and banking on it – showed me that this organization is in tune and cares about baseball players.” This gave me peace of mind. “
For now, the Phillies are a work in progress, attempting to improve on defense while waiting for their offense to click and highly regarded starting staff of Wheeler, Gibson, Eflin, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suarez to hit their stride — they can help the team in the field as well.
” The more strikeouts you have the less defense you will need,” Gibson stated. “Defense takes a lot of work. The guys are doing the hard work. “
A city hungry for postseason baseball, Dombrowski is closely watching for it to happen. The architect of the team is certain of one thing: his big additions from the offseason — Schwarber, Castellanos — will be there.
” They are as advertised,” he stated. They bring a new edge to our club. It’s clear that they do. “
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.