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May 21, 2024

5 Phillies thoughts: Kody Clemens' surge, Matt Strahm's dominance and more

Through 48 games, the Phillies have been the best team in baseball. They are doing it thanks to contributions from stars and improbable contributors alike.

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Kody Clemens 5.20.24 Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Kody Clemens, who opened the season in Triple-A, has slashed .321/.345/.821 in 29 plate appearances with the Phillies in 2024.

As they prepare to host a three-game set against the defending World Series Champion Texas Rangers beginning Tuesday, the Phillies are riding the high of a red-hot 34-14 start. They own the best record in the majors, and it is because they have received contributions from all parts of their roster. Here are five thoughts on the best team in baseball so far in 2024...

Kody Clemens has arrived

In 2023, injuries to key Phillies hitters forced Clemens into an everyday role for much of June, but his production dipped as the sample size grew. He was optioned to Triple-A on July 2 and spent the remainder of the season with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Clemens had a standout season during his time in AAA, collecting 32 extra-base hits in 62 games and posting a .937 OPS.

Clemens carried that momentum into 2024 Spring Training, where he was one of the team's most impressive hitters. But the numbers game caught up to Clemens, who ultimately was optioned back to Lehigh Valley before Opening Day. Clemens had a three-day stint in the majors near the end of April when Bryce Harper went on paternity leave. Clemens received one start during that brief cameo, in which he hit a home run, a double and drove in three runs.

Called back up after Trea Turner went on the Injured List, Clemens went from a lefty bat off the bench available to use in a pinch to one of the team's hottest bats. Clemens has only played in 11 games for the Phillies this year, but he has plenty of important moments to show for it: Clemens rocketed a home run and a triple in his second start of the season. He nabbed a crucial pinch-hit single against New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz at Citi Field last week and went on to score the game-tying run in the ninth inning of a contest the Phillies would go on to win in extras.

Clemens has been particularly clutch in the last few days, though: the 28 year-old hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals on Saturday night -- opening the door for an eventual walk-off sacrifice fly from Harper.

On Sunday afternoon, Clemens followed it up with two doubles, two runs batted in and two runs scored -- including a two-out, go-ahead run-scoring double in the fifth inning.

Maintaining a 1.166 OPS is not a realistic goal for Clemens, but there are indicators that his success is somewhat sustainable: while he has not yet had enough plate appearances to qualify for leaderboards, his Baseball Savant page is a sea of red (indicating elite figures): Clemens has tremendous marks in average exit velocity (92.6 miles per hour), barrel percentage (19 percent) and hard-hit percentage (61.9 percent).

What Clemens' role will be once Turner returns from his injury remains to be seen. But the Phillies very well may have something here.

Matt Strahm's dominance

On Opening Day, Strahm came out of the bullpen and gave up three hits and two earned runs in 0.1 innings. Since then, the southpaw has made 18 appearances, pitched 18.2 innings and not allowed a single earned run.

Strahm was set to become a free agent after this season, but just days before the season began, team signed him to an extension for the 2025 season worth $7.5 million. With the way he is pitching right now and the versatility he has displayed during his Phillies tenure to date, it is safe to say that was a team-friendly deal designed by Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski.

Oftentimes in today's game, pitchers are taught to throw as hard as they can to maximize their potential to nab strikeouts. Many relievers in particular are encouraged to go after strikeouts as often as possible, even if it means their command declines and their walk numbers steadily increase. Strahm has bucked both of these trends.

Strahm is not Jamie Moyer, but he also is not Aroldis Chapman: his four-seam fastball has averaged out at 93.0 miles per hour this season, and yet he is punching out 42.9 percent of the batters he faces -- tied for the second-most among all relievers in baseball in 2024, according to FanGraphs -- and notching 14.2 strikes per nine innings, which is fourth-best in the majors.

Many of Strahm's contemporaries on the strikeout leaderboards have significant command issues. Not only has Strahm's pitch location not suffered despite his uptick in strikeouts, it has actually become pristine. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his season to date: Strahm has walked just one batter all season. His 1.4 walk percentage is tied for second-best in the majors.

Dombrowski and co. have done a terrific job rebuilding the team's bullpen, particularly after the infamously disastrous unit that tanked the team's 2020 season. Strahm, forced into a starter's role to begin 2023 due to injuries, has more than settled in: he is now one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.

Brandon Marsh's everyday hopes waning

From the moment Brandon Marsh arrived in Philadelphia, the former top prospect who fell out of favor with the Los Angeles Angels due to inconsistent hitting and frequent strikeouts has mashed right-handed pitching. But like many left-handed hitters, the discrepancies in his platoon splits have been extreme. The Phillies have been in search of a right-handed platoon partner for Marsh -- last year, Cristian Pache started as the team's left fielder in postseason games against left-handed starting pitchers. This year, left field has often been occupied by Pache or Whit Merrifield, not Marsh, when a lefty is on the mound for the opposition.

Phillies manager Rob Thomson has tried to give Marsh some opportunities against certain left-handers in hopes of eventually developing the fan favorite into a true everyday player, but Marsh's struggles against southpaws have only accelerated in 2024.

Marsh vs. RHP in 2024Marsh vs. LHP in 2024
.288 AVG.118 AVG
.348 OBP.200 OBP
.510 SLG.147 SLG
24.3 K%42.5 K%
8.7 BB%10.0 BB%

Even if Marsh never gives the Phillies more than consistent, productive at-bats against right-handed pitching, terrific defense in left field and decent defense in centerfield, the trade Dombrowski made to acquire him in the summer of 2022 will likely have been a success. But time will tell if Marsh can truly become an everyday part of Thomson's lineup.

Alec Bohm continues to crush with RISP

Not a lot about Alec Bohm's major-league career has necessarily been consistent to date: his defense has gone from unplayable to erratic to mostly viable, though he is still below average at third base. His power has come and gone over the years. But he appears to be putting things together in 2024, serving as the most productive hitter for the Phillies all year long.

What has always been consistent with Bohm, though, is his ability to come through in critical situations -- particularly with runners on base. That tendency has only become more frequent this season.

In 99 plate appearances so far in 2024 with runners on base, Bohm is slashing .393/.455/.667. On Sunday afternoon, Bohm notched two sacrifice flies before launching a three-run home run -- good for a five-RBI game. Bohm's 42 runs batted in on the season is tied with Marcel Ozuna of the Atlanta Braves for most in baseball. On top of that, Bohm leads all major league hitters with 18 doubles.

Bohm's three-run shot on Sunday was only his fifth of the season, and the Phillies would certainly love to see him clear the fence a bit more often than he has so far in his career -- in 2023, Bohm set a career-high with 20 homers. But they have no choice but to be thrilled with the production they are getting from their third baseman at the plate, who is in the top 15 in all of baseball in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Looking ahead to the trade deadline

The 2024 MLB trade deadline is not until July 30, so Dombrowski's front office has plenty of time to ponder what holes it should try to fill via trade. And because of their remarkable start to the season, the Phillies have the gift of being able to show patience and give their current pieces as much time as needed to sink or swim. But it is never too early to start thinking about what this team could add.

The obvious answer is to add an outfielder, particularly a right-handed bat -- the Phillies still do not have a solidified platoon partner for Marsh, as Pache looks to become more consistent at the plate while Merrifield struggles. They already have lefties Harper and Kyle Schwarber locked into the top of their lineup on an everyday basis, with Bryson Stott playing nearly every game as well, on top of Marsh closer to the bottom of the lineup. Teams are going to continue to attack the Phillies with left-handed pitching, and so adding someone who can make opponents pay for doing so while manning an outfield spot would be a boon for Thomson's club.

It is hard to nitpick a roster that is 34-14, but Phillies outfielders have largely struggled at the plate this season. They own a combined Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) of 76 in 2024, according to FanGraphs -- league-average is 100 -- which is the third-lowest among any outfield group in the majors. Marsh's recent slump has contributed to that, but the biggest culprits are Johan Rojas -- who is in the lineup in spite of his subpar hitting because of his defense in center field -- and Nick Castellanos, who entering Monday ranked 162nd out of 163 position players in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2024.

Based on his reputation and salary alone, Castellanos is likely locked into right field on an everyday basis. But adding another outfielder to the group and mixing and matching between that player, Marsh and Rojas to fill the left field and center field could make the Phillies more dangerous offensively.

While the Phillies' bullpen has been outstanding since its Opening Day meltdown -- led by Strahm, Jeff Hoffman and Jose Alvarado -- teams are always coveting another bullpen arm or two, and a right-handed reliever would likely do the Phillies some good. It would give them two high-leverage righties to go with their two high-leverage lefties and would ease the burden on rookie Orion Kerkering. The Phillies are hoping for Yunior Marte to return from the injured list and continue throwing strikes, or a resurgence from Seranthony Domínguez. While either one of those things could happen, they should be luxuries, not necessities.

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