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May 24, 2021

The Phillies defense is really, really bad

Phillies MLB
Phillies-Cardinals-Didi-Gregorius-Kate-Frese_041721-88.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius.

We'll get into the numbers in just a bit, but before the Phillies' series began with the Red Sox this past weekend, Dave Drombrowski set the tone.

"We knew we weren’t going to be a real good defensive club,” he told reporters. “But you hope that you can play well and catch the balls that you can catch.”

The Phillies proceeded to make five errors in the three-game set against Boston, and even more defensive lapses that didn't show up in the box score. Not surprisingly, they were lucky not to get swept, dropping two of three to the AL East leaders.

One of the most costly mistakes in the field came in the middle game, a 4-3 loss. Third baseman Alec Bohm decided to cut off a throw that clearly had a chance to get a runner at the plate — and threw it wide of second base instead — and it was the difference in the game.

“It’s really frustrating," Girardi said, referring to the defense Saturday night. "I believe we’re better than what we’re playing. We work on it every day and do things every day. It’s frustrating for everyone involved.”

In Sunday's finale, they proved the defense, indeed, is not getting better as two bone-headed errors in the ninth could have cost Philly the ultimate price if not for a solid five-run lead from the under-achieving offense. Backup shortstop Ronald Torreyes threw a potential game-ending double play ball over Rhys Hoskins' head before a foul pop up on the third base side was dropped by Bohm (after some miscommunication with Andrew Knapp).

There's no way to be absolutely sure exactly how many runs or extra outs these bad decisions in the field have granted Phillies' opponents, but it is undeniable that the team would be better than they currently are in the standings, just floating around the .500 mark.

Philly is embarrassingly bad by pretty much every defensive measure and metric so far, through 47 games (stats via

Defensive efficiency.68325th
Errors2812th most
Fielding runs above avg.-2030th
Defensive runs saved-3130th
Good plays above avg.-225th

According to metrics used to assess MLB defense, the Phillies are just pathetic. A replacement level average defense would likely have the Phillies far and away in first in the NL East. They are almost off the map with regard to how many extra runs the defense has allowed due to a lack of fundamentals.

Bohm, who had a stellar rookie year in 2020, is hitting just .220, and has made eight errors at third base, the fifth most of anyone in baseball. Didi Gregorius has six errors all by himself as well, the 11th most of 1,108 players who have taken the field this season.

PosErrorsFielding runs above avg.Out %
 C02 (6th)71% (30th)
1B1-1 (17th)94% (7th) 
2B5-1 (20th)88% (27th)
SS9-3 (22nd)86% (24th) 
3B8-4 (26th)82% (27th)
LF2-3 (26th)45% (21st)
CF0-6 (27th)56% (22nd)
RF0-4 (26th)47% (25th)

There is no position that is immune. The Phils haven't been credited with errors at catcher, center or right field, but the percentage of balls hit to those positions resulting in outs is abysmal when compared to the rest of the league.

Only Hoskins at first base has fielded his position efficiently enough to be outside of the bottom ten teams. 

The eyeball test and a look at advanced stats paint a clear picture: this isn't an easy fix.

Moving Bohm to first would do more harm than good, as Hoskins has played well there and the potential replacements at third base (like Scott Kingery and Jean Segura) are already stinking it up in the field. Making a single, or even a handful of upgrades wouldn't solve the problem, as the defensive players for the Phillies have struggled independently of one another as well as in tandem.

In addition, the everyday players are delivering, more or less, with their bats — they just aren't timely. As we mentioned last week, the Phils offense hangs their fantastic starting pitching out to dry. They have stranded the 8th most runners on base of all 30 teams. Their .238 team batting average is actually 6th in the NL, while most of their offensive stats are in the middle of the pack. 

Simply put, giving teams extra outs is a losing formula, no matter how well Zack Wheeler pitches or Bryce Harper hits.

"It's been really up and down is what it's been," Girardi said after Sunday's 6-2 win. "It's been everything in a sense. At times we haven't hit, at times we haven't played defense, at times we've haven't pitched. It's been really up and down and inconsistent for reasons that we continue to work on and to try and make us more consistent. If we are going to want to be in this thing in September we need to be more consistent."

In any other sport, or perhaps in any other division, a defense this awful would surely have a team firmly in last place by now. 

"We're fortunate we don't have a team that's 10-12 games over .500 in front of us," he said, when asked if the Phillies were lucky to be only 1.5 games back. "The opportunity is there for us moving forward."

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