June 17, 2019
We've heard it time and time again (admittedly, frequently from us), the Phillies need to upgrade their bullpen. The Phillies also need a left-handed starter. Oh, and the Phillies need a replacement for Odubel Herrera.
However, the biggest problem on the Phils roster that's not getting attention is at third base.
With Philadelphia now firmly out of the driver's seat in the NL East, the dynamic seems to be a bit different. Injuries and consistency issues have built up and have caught up with the team. One of those is Maikel Franco, who began the year as an overly productive 8-hole hitter in a stacked lineup, but has become an easy out, or even unplayable.
As recently as May 1, Franco was hitting .262, slugging .516, seven homers and 25 RBI. On June 17, his average is down to .205. Since May 1 he has hit just two home runs and driven in only seven runs.
Using baseball reference's expansive stat database, we looked to compare the Phillies, positionally, to each other team. Using WAR (wins above replacement), here is how the team stacks up at each slot in the line up against the other 29 teams in MLB:
The bullpen, for all its faults, is a weakness in a league of weak bullpens. Centerfield, a spot at which the Phillies rank 23rd, is reeling due to the loss of Andrew McCutchen for the season. Right field is Bryce Harper's spot, for better or for worse (and his strikeout rate certainly hurts his WAR).
Third base is dead last, and 232 of the Phillies 285 third base plate appearances have been from Franco.
Third is typically a position of strength for contending teams, as it sees a power hitter playing the hot corner. Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, Alex Bregman, Rafael Devers and Kris Bryant are just some of the third basemen whose teams are at the top of MLB in 3B WAR.
There is a trickledown effect the Phillies are dealing with that puts them in this particular spot. Scott Kingery, with his 1.3 season WAR and .344 batting average is the man the team should have at third. However, due both to injury issues and to the fact that the Phillies are pretty much short an everyday outfielder (thanks to Herrera's legal troubles and McCutchen's season-ending injury), Kingery has spent more time in the outfield — 19 games — than he has playing third — just nine games.
In 2018, Kingery spent 125 games as a rookie playing either third or shortstop. Due to necessity, Kingery is playing a lot of centerfield and is leaving the infield woefully undermanned offensively.
The longterm solution is in the pipeline, as last year's first round pick Alec Bohm continues to shred Single-A pitching and will likely see a call up to Reading in the next few weeks. He may be big-league ready as soon as next season. As far as 2019 goes, the Phillies need to either acquire an everyday outfielder that lets Kingery start playing more third base, or a third baseman to straight up relegate Franco to the bench.
As a trade candidate, Franco could argue he needs a change of scenery. He is 26 and under team control until 2022 and could perhaps be included in a swap to a non-contending team (sort of like Jorge Alfaro was this offseason).
In addition to their pitching woes, GM Matt Klentak undoubtedly knows he needs to come up with some kind of palatable solution to the worst third base situation in baseball.
Which means for Franco, he better turn it on — and soon. Otherwise, his time as an everyday third baseman in Philly could be numbered.
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