Tag Archives: Hunter Pence

Offensive ending to 2019 a harbinger for winning Phillies in 2020?

There is no arguing that the Philadelphia Phillies 2019 season can rightly be considered a failure. The final 81-81 record and fourth place divisional finish was a major disappointment to an organization and fan base that began the season with lofty expectations.

The Phillies entered the season’s final month with a winning record at 69-65. Though they had fallen to third place by that point, the club was still squarely in the postseason hunt at just 3.5 games behind the second NL Wildcard playoff berth.

Over that final month, the Phillies produced just a 12-16 record, collapsing in both the standings and that playoff hunt. In the end, they finished eight games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for that second NL Wildcard spot.

However, despite the losing record during the month of September 2019, there were positive signs which might bode well for the 2020 Phillies campaign to come.

While much was made last season of injuries to the bullpen and inconsistencies across the starting pitching rotation – and those did indeed exist, and were obvious contributing factors to the final record – one fundamental offensive statistic also reveals a big part of the problem.

In 2019, the Phillies offense finished 14th, or middle-of-the-pack among the 30 teams of Major League Baseball, with 774 runs scored. Seems about what you might expect for a .500 ball club, right?

But when you take a glance only a little bit beyond those overall numbers you find more than just a middling group of run producers. The 2019 Phillies hitters cannot even be considered to have been simply inconsistent. This was actually a truly schizophrenic bunch.

The magic number for the 2019 Philadelphia Phillies turned out to be four. Score four or more runs, and you win the vast majority of the time. Don’t reach that mark and you lose.

The Phillies were 72-23 during the 2019 season in those games in which the offense produced at least four runs scored. That figure was fourth-best in the 15-team National League, trailing only the baseball’s top regular season club, the LA Dodgers, as well as the World Series champion Washington Nationals and the NL Central champion Saint Louis Cardinals.

However, when the Phillies offense failed to reach that four-run mark, the club went just 9-58, a .134 winning percentage that was 14th of the 15 National League clubs.

The deficient pitching was a big part of that latter poor record. When the Phillies offense couldn’t score, the pitching wasn’t good enough to win games on their own.

For some perspective, the franchise-record 102-win Phillies team of 2011 failed to score at least four runs in 78 games. Last year’s club was 11 games better in that regard. The 2011 club with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Raul Ibanez leading the way finished just 13th in the NL in runs scored that year.

But that 2011 Phillies ball club also went 30-48 during games in which their offense failed to score at least four runs. It was the outstanding pitching of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Vance Worley, and a solid bullpen led by closer Ryan Madson that made such a record possible.

The Phillies addressed their offensive shortcoming that year, acquiring the dynamic bat of Hunter Pence just prior to the trade deadline. The club produced at least four runs in 27 of the first 36 games with Pence in the lineup and nearly doubled their lead in the NL East over that six week period.

The point of all this being that had the 2019 Phillies been able to score at least four runs more frequently – and they averaged 4.78 per game – they would have been a winning ball club. That’s even with their poor pitching. They may even have been a playoff team. Of the top eight teams in average runs scored per game, seven reached the 2019 postseason.

Despite their poor 12-16 record over the month of September, the offense finally began to produce more consistently. During the season’s final month the Phillies set a new franchise record for home runs in a single month by slugging 46 long balls.

It wasn’t just a power surge. Beginning with games of August 27, the Phillies stole 23 consecutive bases without being caught. This was the first such successful stolen base streak by the club in a decade. Their 81.3% success rate overall in 2019 was the fifth-best by any Phillies team since the statistic was first tracked over a half-century ago.

With the increased power linked up to the effective use of speed over that final month, the Phillies offense produced at least four runs in 16 of 28 games. The hitters averaged 6.78 runs scored per game during the month, two more runs per game than over the full season.

Certainly the Phillies 2020 offense cannot be expected to score four or more runs in 90 games, and the team will not average more than 6.5 runs per game. That would be the pace set by the team in September of last season.

Also, it wasn’t as if much of that increased production came from those expected to be regulars in 2020. Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto, the club’s two most consistently productive hitters over the course of the season, had fairly normal production levels in September.

Meanwhile, a few of the others had a poor month. Rhys Hoskins slashed just .170/.274/350 over 117 plate appearances. Scott Kingery slashed .191/.232/.393 over 96 plate appearances during September. Jean Segura was .238/.253/.333 during the month. Those three, expected to be regulars in 2020, combined for nine homers, 28 RBIs, 34 runs, and nine stolen bases in September.

One of the biggest run producers for the Phillies during September 2019 was Brad Miller. The utility man received 56 plate appearances during a month in which he slashed .327/.339/.800 with eight home runs, 11 RBIs, and 12 runs scored. Miller played in 66 games and made 26 starts for the Phillies last season after joining the club in mid-June. The 30-year-old is currently a free agent.

The addition of Zack Wheeler to the starting rotation and expected better seasons from both Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta should combine with better health and consistency from the bullpen in the coming season to give the Phillies better results on the mound.

Given reasonable health in 2020 by the key players in the lineup, the increased offensive production of September 2019 could indeed be a harbinger of better days to come. The performances of Hoskins, Kingery, and Segura this coming season will be pivotal in making that happen.

Combine even a modest turn towards those better offensive numbers with a similarly modest increase in performance from the pitching staff, add them to the presence of new manager Joe Girardi, and it all could well add up to that elusive winning record and playoff berth in 2020 for the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB 2020 free agent market

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Super agent Scott Boras again finds himself in the middle of much of the big Hot Stove season action

 

Welcome to the latest episode of the ‘Ring the Bell‘ podcast. For those simply reading this piece at the website, it doubles as the script for today’s episode.

As I discussed in yesterday’s episode which evaluated the Phillies current roster and payroll situations, the ball club has a number of important needs. General manager Matt Klentak will find himself increasingly under the glare of the spotlight as this Hot Stove season moves along and he attempts to fill those needs.

First, let’s take a minute to run down the list of what I see as those Phillies needs this off-season, in order of importance:

  1. Starting pitching
  2. Starting pitching
  3. Center field
  4. Bench
  5. Bullpen
  6. Third base (?)

That was not a typo in listing ‘Starting Pitching’ twice. It is simply that important, first of all. And also, the club needs two new proven winning veteran starting pitchers, at least one of whom should be an “ace” level rotation arm. Now, let’s take a look at who is available on the free agent market.

STARTING PITCHING

There are two big names here, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. They should and will be the Phillies top two targets in free agency. Principal owner John Middleton has made the addition of top-level starting pitching a priority for the team, and is prepared to spend top dollar to secure such an arm.

The problem is not going to be one of either money or will power. The problem for the Phillies will be that they are not the only team in search of this level of pitching talent, not by a long shot.

The world champion and division rival Washington Nationals and their World Series opponents, the Houston Astros, are not simply going to let Strasburg and Cole respectively walk away from their ball clubs without a major effort to retain them.

Also, it is publicly known that the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels will be shopping aggressively for this type of arm as well. Speculation is that the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Atlanta Braves are among any number of other teams with the desire and money to land one of these top two starting pitchers.

It’s hard to know what is going through Strasburg’s mind. There has been some speculation that opting out of his contract with the Nationals was purely a strategy to get more money from the only organization he has ever known.

The 31-year-old, 10-year veteran was due to make another $100 million over the next four years in Washington. Some have speculated that he could get another $50 million and another year, at least, on the open market.

While it would not be a surprise to see the Nationals and Strasburg announce a new deal at any point, that is far from a given. The longer he hangs out there on the market, the more clubs are going to his agent, Scott Boras, with interest.

Cole is also represented by the Boras Group. The 29-year-old is the biggest name on the free agent market this winter. I expect to see Boras take him on a tour of interested teams and cities, similar to what we saw happen last year with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Don’t expect to see Cole sign with anyone until February.

While the Phillies will be in the mix for both, their money and genuine interest making them legitimate contenders, they should not be considered the favorites for either pitcher. Cole, a native of Newport Beach, is said to be interested in either a return to SoCal or a spot at the top of the Yankees rotation. Strasburg, a San Diego native, may also go the SoCal route if he doesn’t return to D.C.

It is going to be curious to watch the Phillies pursuit of a top arm, because as I said, what the rotation really needs is two more experienced, proven, veteran starting pitchers.

The longer that Cole remains unsigned, and Strasburg as well for that matter, and the longer the Phillies genuinely believe that they are in the mix for one or the other, then it becomes a somewhat dangerous game.

There is a large group of talented starting pitchers just below the talent levels of Cole and Strasburg. Most if not all of those pitchers are going to sign somewhere earlier than at least Cole will be signing. The Phillies are going to have to commit to one of the next level of pitchers by Christmas, possibly even within the next few weeks.

The most obvious target would appear to be 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. Turning 36 years of age two days after this coming Christmas, Hamels has already said that he would be open to a return to the club with whom he broke into the big-leagues and first became a star.

Judging by social media, Hamels remains popular with the fan base. And judging by his comments, the feeling is mutual.

MLB Phillies insider Todd Zolecki quoted Hamels earlier this week:

I know Philly is finally trying to make that push. They’re building their roster. If I fit on their roster and their plans, I’d love the opportunity to come back. It’s probably more on their end, though, to reach out and see if I actually do fit in their plans. It would be difficult for me to say, ‘Hey, I want to play there, can you guys make it happen?’ But I’m always willing to play for that team and city and attempt to win a World Series. That’s where I am right now. I just want to have the opportunity to get to the postseason, just so that I can try to win.

Hamels then went on to say, according to Zolecki, that he would even be willing to play on a one-year contract:

I’m not there to handcuff somebody or an organization…I can do one year here and there and just play as long as I can play. I think that’s what will help give me an opportunity to play on teams that are trying to go to the postseason. If you need one guy, I can just kind of bounce around. Obviously, if the Phillies were interested in longer than one, I’d entertain that, too. But I think I want the opportunity to have as many opportunities to get to the postseason and try to win. I’ll go every year. I’ll prove myself. I don’t mind having my back against the wall. I think I perform better like that anyway. It just keeps me more accountable.

This just seems to make too much sense. Hamels is clearly interested in a return to the Phillies. The fans would love to have him back. He has the talent and experience that the club is looking for, and he has something else going for him – Hamels is left-handed. The club has not had a truly effective southpaw in their rotation since, well, since Hamels left in 2015.

No longer in his prime, this could absolutely work on a one-year deal with a club option for another year or two. The Phillies, as long as all the medicals check out, should waste no time with this decision. Klentak should be on the phone with Hamels agent today.

If they just can’t work something out, or don’t want Hamels for some reason, there are other interesting arms.

Available free agent left-handers include 30-year-old, 4x NL All-Star and former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner…32-year-old, 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel…33-year-old Korean native and 2019 NL All-Star Hyun-Jin Ryu…29-year-old, 2017 NL All-Star Alex Wood.

Available right-handers would include 29-year-old, former first round MLB Draft pick Zack Wheeler…31-year-old, 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello…30-year-old, 2019 AL All-Star Jake Odorizzi.

There are a few dozen other possibilities as well. But frankly, anyone other than the pitchers mentioned already would be a disappointing addition.

The Phillies would be wise to take Hamels up on this word, and wrap him up to fill the 3-4 slot in their starting rotation for 2020. Then they can concentrate all of their efforts into trying to land one of the really big fish.

CENTER FIELD

There are a lot of Phillies fans who seem to think that the club is okay here with either Scott Kingery or Adam Haseley. Frankly, if you truly want to be a contending team, I think that is just crazy talk.

Kingery has handled himself admirably out there for someone who is not a natural outfielder. Haseley deserves much credit for rising from Double-A to a regular big-league role last season.

But neither is the answer for a contending Phillies ball club.

Kingery needs to be handed his natural second base position and allowed to play it every single day, barring some situational need or emergency. Haseley would be well served getting more everyday plate appearances at Triple-A or serving a fourth outfielder apprenticeship in 2020.

There has been some chatter on social media about the team bringing back free agent outfielder Corey Dickerson, who excelled with the Phillies following his arrival from Pittsburgh at this past season’s trade deadline.

Yes, Dickerson hit .293 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in just 137 plate appearances with the Phillies. Extrapolate those numbers over a full season and you have something like a 35 homer, 120+ RBI campaign.

However, the 30-year-old Dickerson is a free agent for the first time. He is going to parlay that performance into a nice, well-deserved payday. And he is, unfortunately, not a center fielder. Just 27 of his 571 big-league games in the outfield have been played in center.

If you are thinking of putting him in left field and having Andrew McCutchen slide over to become the everyday man in center field for the Phillies, you really need to think again.

McCutchen is now 33-years-old and has not played center field regularly in either of his last two seasons. He is coming off major knee surgery as well.

While he can spot-start or slide over temporarily during a situational or emergency need, as he did for 10 starts and 15 total games this past season with the Phillies, he is no longer the player who won a 2012 Gold Glove Award as a center fielder.

Roman Quinn is also not the answer. I love Quinn’s tool set and have been publicly in his corner for a few years now. But even someone who is as big a fan as I am has limits. Quinn has proven that he simply cannot remain healthy long enough to be a reliable starting option.

No, what the Phillies really need is a new center fielder, someone from outside the organization. Unfortunately, there really are not quality options available this year in free agency.

You have a premier defender such as Juan Lagares. There is pure base stealing speed in Billy Hamilton. There is an aging veteran such as 34-year-old, 5x AL All-Star, 4x AL Gold Glove Award winner Adam Jones.

None of those is a realistic option. Jones played just one game in center last year for the Dbacks, and two years ago with Baltimore he was rated as one of the worst regular center fielders in the game defensively by Fangraphs.

Lagares will turn 31-years-old in spring training and has just a .254/.297/.361 career slash line in 2,119 career big-league plate appearances. With a slash of just .242/.297/.326 over 3,089 plate appearances, Hamilton is even worse with a bat in his hands.

There is no answer available in free agency. If the Phillies want to improve in center field, it is going to have to come via trade.

During this past season, I wrote that a worthy trade target could be found in Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He turns 30 years of age early in the 2020 season and can become a free agent after next year.

If I’m Klentak, I’m on the phone looking to see if we can find a reasonable match in trade for the 2018 Gold Glove Award winner and ALCS Most Valuable Player.

THIRD BASE

Don’t count me among those who feel that the Phillies need a third baseman. Again, this is assuming the club does what I think it should do – give second base to Scott Kingery, and cut ties to Maikel Franco by not offering him arbitration.

If I’m running things, top offensive prospect Alec Bohm is starting at third base on Opening Day 2020. I let him know that right now.

When Bohm’s season ends following the conclusion of the Premier 12 tournament, at which he is Team USA’s starter at the hot corner, I tell him to go home and enjoy the holidays. Just keep working out and stay in shape. Don’t report to Clearwater until early February. And be mentally ready for your role as the Phillies starting third baseman.

Now, that’s me. The club could actually go in a number of directions. They could offer a contract to and bring back Franco as the starter, at least to begin the season. Then let him try to hold off Bohm for as long as he can.

Or the club could offer a contract to Cesar Hernandez, cut ties with Franco, give the third base job to Kingery, and fill center field some other way. Once Bohm is deemed ready, they could either slide Kingery back to center if no good option has emerged, or work out some king of position-sharing scheme involving the players. That option seems too messy.

Another option would be to cut ties with Franco and sign a free agent. There are a handful of interesting options if the Phillies try to take this route.

In order of talent, those free agent options would be Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, and Mike Moustakas.

Rendon will be expensive and would tie up the position for years, meaning that the Phillies would either be banking on the NL getting a DH as soon as the 2021 season, or they would be considering a trade of either Bohm or Rhys Hoskins. I love Rendon as a player, but with Bohm nearly ready, this just doesn’t seem like the right move.

Donaldson just played on a one-year deal with Atlanta at a $23 million salary. He’ll turn 34-years-old a month from today. Perhaps the Phillies could lure him with a similar one-year offer? That would mean Bohm at least starts the season back at Triple-A.

The 31-year-old Moustakas is a bit trickier. He played with Milwaukee this past season at $7 million and received a $1 million buyout of his contract for next year, rather than the Brewers committing to his $11 million mutual option.

Moustakas is going to be seeking a multi-year offer from some team. He is still young enough that someone is likely to make that kind of offer in order to add a 35-homer bat to their lineup. I am betting it won’t be the Phillies.

Again, my choice here is to give the job to Bohm, spend your free agent money on pitching, and move on from the old, losing Franco-Hernandez infield combination.

BENCH

Putting together a bench group that includes at least a few veteran options for new manager Joe Girardi, preferably options that can hit the ball, will be another Klentak challenge.

The Phillies are already slated to have Jay Bruce return. He should help out as a pinch-hitter, on the outfield corners, and could even turn out to be a lefty-hitting backup first base option, giving Hoskins a blow against a few tougher right-handed pitchers. Girardi should be able to get him plenty of at-bats to keep him sharp and happy.

Assuming the Phillies move on from both Franco and Hernandez, as well as Odubel Herrera, that leaves other outfield depth options as Roman Quinn and Nick Williams. The infield would need help. There are a bunch of interesting options who could fit the bill:

The club could try to re-sign 30-year-old Brad Miller, who appeared in 66 games with the Phillies this past season. Miller played four different positions, mostly at third base and in left field, and produced a dozen homers in just 130 plate appearances.

38-year-old Ben Zobrist can play second base and an outfield corner. He even covered shortstop for one game last season with the Cubs.

Starlin Castro turns 30 at the end of spring training. He played both second and third this past year with the Marlins, and even held down shortstop, where he was a former starter, in three games.

At age 36, Howie Kendrick showed just how valuable he can be in a part-time role while helping the Nationals win their World Series. Kendrick, who played in 39 games with the 2017 Phillies, saw time at first, second, and third this year in Washington.

30-year-old Derek Dietrich ripped 19 homers in 306 plate appearances while covering first, second, and left field this year in Cincinnati. He even appeared in one game at the hot corner, and has played in 146 career games there.

33-year-old Eric Sogard hit .290 while playing five different positions between stops in Toronto and Tampa Bay this past season.

Former popular Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence turns 37 in April, and enjoyed a bounce-back campaign in which he was named to the American League All-Star team. His bat, outfield glove, and infectious enthusiasm could be a perfect mix for this team’s bench group.

The Phillies could use a reliable backup catching option, and yesterday I mentioned one of their former prospects as a possibility. That would be 31-year-old Travis d’Arnaud, who finally stayed healthy this past season and showed off his fine combination of offensive and defensive skills.

More veteran backstop options who could add an alternative to Andrew Knapp include 37-year-old Russell Martin, 34-year-old Matt Wieters, 32-year-old Bryan Holaday, 36-year-old Robinson Chirinos, 34-year-old Jonathan Lucroy and a half-dozen or so others.

These are just a representative sample of the dozens of names who could fill out a veteran bench for the Phillies.

BULLPEN

As I mentioned on yesterday’s podcast, assembling a bullpen is a tricky proposition from year to year. The Phillies pen was decimated by injuries this past season, but most of those arms should be back in 2020.

They could do nothing, and still end up with an effective group. However, adding someone as a strong, veteran back-end option couldn’t hurt. Dellin Betances, Will Smith, Steve Cishek, Will Harris, and Pedro Strop are just a few of the couple dozen veteran relievers available.

And how about this possibility: lefty Jake Diekman? Wouldn’t it be sort of ironic if the Phillies brought back both Hamels and Diekman, who they traded away together in 2015, in the same off-season? Diekman turns 33 in January, and struck out 84 batters over 62 innings this past season as a southpaw out of the pen.

Again, as with third base, I don’t feel this is an area of desperate need. But if the Phillies want another bullpen arm, there are plenty from which to choose.

WRAPPING IT UP

Well, that’s a look at the free agent market. The Hot Stove season is officially underway. Free agents can sign with any team at this point, though signings of the bigger names are likely to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

And those free agent ranks are only going to swell when the December 2 deadline passes for teams to offer arbitration, which is the decision that the Phillies will need to make on Franco and Hernandez.

As we move through the off-season, this podcast will focus occasionally on rumors regarding the club, and I’ll certainly be talking and writing about any big signings.

I hope you’ll come back tomorrow, when I’ll be talking about the MLB Award winners to this point, as well as the nominees for the major awards to be handed out next week, including the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards in each league.

Remember, you can follow any written pieces or podcast episodes through links at the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds @philliesbell. I hope you’ll stop by and enjoy. Until next time, God bless you and yours.

Boston Red Sox add former Phillies first baseman Tommy Joseph

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Back from Korea, Tommy Joseph signs with Bosox

The Boston Red Sox have announced the signing of Tommy Joseph, the Phillies former first baseman. Joseph had played in Korea earlier this season with little success before receiving his release.

Joseph, who turned 28-years-old just three weeks ago, was a second round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants back in 2009 out of high school in his native Arizona.
At the July 2012 trade deadline, Joseph was sent to the Phillies along with pitching prospect Seth Rosin and outfielder Nate Schierholtz in exchange for outfielder Hunter Pence.
From a Phillies perspective, Joseph was the centerpiece of that deal. A catcher at the time of the trade, he never developed in the way they hoped.
Joseph finally reached Philadelphia in May 2016 as a first baseman. For most of that season as well as the 2017 campaign, he was the Phillies starter at the position. He appeared in 227 games at first base and another pair as a Designated Hitter.
After slashing just .247/.297/.460 with 43 home runs, 86 extra-base hits, and 116 RBIs, Joseph lost his playing time in September 2017 to Rhys Hoskins. When the Phillies signed Carlos Santana as a free agent that December, the writing was on the wall. Joseph was released during spring training of 2018.
The Texas Rangers picked him up off waivers, and Joseph spent last season split between the Double-A and Triple-A levels in the Texas farm system.

For this 2019 season, Joseph signed a $1 million deal with LG Twins of the KBO in Korea. However, he produced with just an OPS of .758 over 217 plate appearances, far below the league average of .866 for foreign players. The Twins replaced Joseph by signing Carlos Peguero, who had experience playing in both Major League Baseball and in Japan.

Joseph was released from his deal, and returned to the United States. The Red Sox have assigned him to Triple-A Pawtucket, and barring injuries he will likely remain there, possibly hoping for a September promotion when rosters are expanded.

Hunter Pence, Ian Happ would be perfect fits for Phillies bench at trade deadline

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Hunter Pence has refreshed his career at home in Texas

The majority of chatter and rumor involving the Philadelphia Phillies as the 2019 trade deadline approaches has revolved around pitching, and for good reason. The Phillies are probably going to need to find a pair of new starting pitchers in order to remain in contention for a postseason spot this year, and that remains the case after the signing of lefty Drew Smyly.

However, there is no doubt that the club could also use better options coming off their bench. There are a pair of hitters rumored to be available who could help bolster those bench options for manager Gabe Kapler.
One of those is a name and face familiar to many Phillies fans, corner outfielder Hunter Pence. After completely reworking his swing and rededicating himself to a new training regimen, Pence stunned many across baseball by emerging as an AL All-Star this season at age 36.
Pence, who plays for the Texas Rangers, is now the subject of a new documentary “The Pence Method“, which will air for the first time tonight (Saturday) on FS1 at 9;00 PM.
Jeff Wilson for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram interviewed Pence recently, and quoted him on how it felt to know that teams were interested once they learned of the changes he was making.
There was a lot of doubt. I lost my job. I wasn’t playing every day, and it hits your confidence. I wasn’t necessarily doing great right away. It took a lot of failing to really learn the swing change. When you’re going through that process, and when I heard that at the winter meetings at lot of general managers were interested, it was tears of joy. I felt super grateful and honored. It was like a light at the end of the tunnel.
Pence, who has earned more than $120 million over a 12-year big-league career which included a stop in Philadelphia from July 2011 through July 2012, would eventually accept a $2 million dollar, one-year deal with the Rangers. He has far outperformed that contract.
Over 58 games and 228 plate appearances, Pence is slashing .291/.351/.587 with 15  home runs, 30 extra-base hits, 48 RBIs and 45 runs scored. He has an outstanding .938 OPS, and while used mostly as a DH (30 games), Pence has also played 16 games in left field and five in right.
Coming back to Philly, Pence would become a right-handed bat off the bench as a pinch-hitter while also providing occasional innings as a corner outfielder.
Texas was in the AL Wildcard race throughout the season’s first half. But having lost 11 of their last 15, the Rangers now find themselves 5.5 games in back of the second Wildcard spot and nine games out in the AL West Division. At some point soon they are going to have to do the right thing and sell on what has basically been a rental player in Pence.
Getting a big price in return will not be easy, despite his production. But any contender could use a player with the energy, dedication and skills of a Hunter Pence. The Phillies especially so, if a trade match can be found.
Perhaps the Rangers would take a flyer on someone like Nick Pivetta, just bumped to the bullpen by the Phillies in favor of newcomer Drew Smyly, for their rotation?

MINOR LEAGUE UTILITY PLAYER COULD ALSO HELP

Ian Happ appeared as a utility player in each of the last two seasons with the Cubs, but has been at Triple-A all of this year. (Ian D’Andrea)
The other interesting available name is that of Ian Happ, currently playing at Triple-A Iowa in the Chicago Cubs system. Happ is a 24-year-old (he turns 25 next month) who appeared with the Cubs as a utility player in each of the last two seasons, but has not been called up yet in 2019.
Across the outfield, Happ appeared in 117 games in center, 88 in left and 38 in right field. On the infield he played in 46 games at second base, 24 at third base and saw action at first base for a pair of games.
This year at Iowa, Happ has split his time between center field (76) and second base (19) while also appearing twice in left field. He has produced 16 homers, 34 extra-base hits, 52 RBIs and 63 runs scored while also stealing nine bags.
The Cubs might actually be a fit for someone like either Cesar Hernandez or Maikel Franco. A straight-up swap of Happ for Hernandez would allow the Phillies to put Scott Kingery at second base on an everyday basis, with Happ taking over the center field depth spot and spelling almost anyone at any other position as well.
This is a deal that could potentially expand to see the Phillies go after Cubs backup catcher Victor Caratini as their own new backup behind the plate to replace Andrew Knapp, who has appeared over-matched for the most part. With the Cubs recent signing of Martin Maldonado and the anticipated return next week of two-time NL All-Star Willson Contreras, general manager Jed Hoyer may be inclined to swap both Happ and Caratini if the right pieces can be found in return.
Sure, let’s keep the focus on the starting rotation, where it belongs. But if Phillies general manager Matt Klentak doesn’t also have his eye on making improvements to the club’s bench, it could eventually sink the team down the stretch. Pence and Happ would upgrade the Phillies depth for the 2019 playoff push.

MLB 2019 Power Rankings: Astros, Dodgers remain at the top of each league as July opens

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Texas Rangers have been a surprise AL contender in 2019

This is a Philadelphia Phillies site, and so the team’s place on my MLB Power Rankings always needs to be highlighted. When I debuted the 2019 rankings on June 1, there were fans upset that the first-place club was in the #15 slot.

By the June 15 rankings, the Phillies had moved up a spot to #14, although by then the team had dropped to second place. Still, I heard complaints from fans who believed the club should be ranked higher.
Maybe now they can admit that the rankings were on to something? The Phillies have now slipped to the #18 spot. They have the 12th-best record in MLB overall, and are buoyed by their defense, tied for 8th in the game. But their hitting attack has been mediocre (15th) and they are seriously weighted down by a pitching staff rated just 25th in baseball.
Fans are allowed to be unrealistic about their team based on pure emotion. My own personal feelings have nothing to do with the MLB Power Rankings published here at Phillies Nation. Instead, it’s all about each team’s actual results and statistical performances.
There is never any subjectivity on my part. I take key statistics and rank each of the 30 teams in Major League baseball on their ability to actually win ball games as well as their performance on offense, on the pitching mound, and in the field.
The MLB Power Rankings will be updated here at Phillies Nation on the 1st and 15th of the month for the remainder of the regular season using the following methodology.

RANKINGS METHODOLOGY

Introduced and then upgraded during the course of last season, my formula for compiling the rankings received another tweak to begin this year. By the end of 2018, I was researching each of the 30 MLB teams current position in the four categories of winning percentageruns scoredpitching OPS, and fielding percentage.
This year, runs-per-game has replaced that simple “runs scored” category in order to get the offensive component. I then assign each of those component category team rankings a 1-30 value and simply add those values up to determine an overall final ratings score. Where there was a tie, it is broken by win-loss percentage, then by runs-per-game, followed by pitching OPS.

2019 JULY 1 –  MLB RANKINGS

The Houston Astros repeat at the top of the Power Rankings. But the top four teams remain the same, just with a slight juggling of the order.
The hot risers are the Washington Nationals, who have shot up 11 places since June 1. In the American League, the Texas Rangers are up again, this time from 11 to 8 after going from 16 to 11 in the June 15 rankings. And the Oakland A’s burst up from 12 to 5 this time around.
On the down side, the Milwaukee Brewers have dropped from the top ten down to 16. Meanwhile, the San Diego Padres, who like the Phillies landed a huge off-season free agent in Manny Machado, have been struggling along in the lower half. The Friars are 20th for a second straight ranking.
In parentheses are the team’s positions from the June 1 and June 15 rankings, shown in that order from left to right.
  1. Houston Astros (3-1)
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers (1-3)
  3. Minnesota Twins (2-2)
  4. Tampa Bay Rays (4-4)
  5. Oakland Athletics (8-12)
  6. Arizona Diamondbacks (9-5)
  7. Atlanta Braves (12-9)
  8. Texas Rangers (16-11)
  9. New York Yankees (5-8)
  10. Boston Red Sox (6-6)
  11. Chicago Cubs (10-13)
  12. Colorado Rockies (11-7)
  13. Washington Nationals (24-19)
  14. Saint Louis Cardinals (14-15)
  15. Cleveland Indians (18-18)
  16. Milwaukee Brewers (7-10)
  17. Cincinnati Reds (13-16)
  18. Philadelphia Phillies (15-14)
  19. Los Angeles Angels (19-17)
  20. San Diego Padres (17-20)
  21. Miami Marlins (23-26)
  22. Kansas City Royals (21-21)
  23. Pittsburgh Pirates (20-25)
  24. New York Mets (22-23)
  25. San Francisco Giants (29-27)
  26. Toronto Blue Jays (28-28)
  27. Seattle Mariners (26-22)
  28. Chicago White Sox (25-24)
  29. Detroit Tigers (27-29)
  30. Baltimore Orioles (30-30)

SPOTLIGHT TEAM: TEXAS RANGERS

Few people had the Texas Rangers as a serious contender entering the 2019 Major League Baseball season. But the Rangers have bashed the ball around the yard, ranking 5th in runs-per-game, and have also played solid defensively.
Unfortunately for the Rangers they play in the same division, the American League West, as the top team in our rankings, the Houston Astros. As of today, the Rangers trail their Texas rivals by six games in the loss column. The Rangers are tied with the Cleveland Indians in the loss column in the race for the second AL Wildcard playoff berth.
The big bats in the Texas attack have been a trio of hitters who have rotated the left field and designated hitter positions: Joey GalloShin-Soo Choo, and a rejuvenated Hunter Pence. Shortstop Elvis Andrus is also enjoying a strong first half. Both Gallo and Pence, who is currently on the IL, were selected for the AL squad in the 2019 All-Star Game.
What has held Texas back is their pitching staff, which factored at just 23rd in the rankings category of OPS-against. One bright spot has been AlLAll-Star Mike Minor, a 31-year-old left-hander who could become a big trade chip should Texas fall out of the playoff race later this month.
Credit first-year manager Chris Woodward for keeping the team believing in themselves. Now, does GM Jon Daniels believe enough to go out and try to bolster that rotation for a genuine playoff run? Or will the Rangers actually become sellers as that July 31 trade deadline approaches?
(Previous spotlight teams: June 1 – Minnesota Twins , June 15 – Atlanta Braves)
Originally published at Phillies Nation as “2019 MLB Power Rankings: July 1