Pete Mackanin peeked at the papers scattered across his temporary desk last week at Coors Field. One, in particular, caught his interest. It was Colorado’s lineup, delivered by a clubhouse employee. The Phillies manager saw the names — Blackmon, LeMahieu, Arenado, Reynolds — and wondered how his pitchers would attack.
“Every time, you’re praying they don’t make a mistake,” Mackanin said. “With our hitters, on a 2-0 count, one day they swing and the next day they’ll take three strikes without swinging the bat. Things like that.”
Managing a young roster requires patience and tolerance. Mackanin knows this; it does not exclude the occasional disgruntled moment. It all stems from one of Charlie Manuel’s favorite adages: The hardest thing in this game, Manuel often said, was to find an everyday regular. Manuel would repeat one part, with emphasis. Every. Day.
Mackanin has used four players — Tommy Joseph, Freddy Galvis, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera — on an everyday basis this season. Two others, Cesar Hernandez and Aaron Altherr, have played every day when not hurt. It is reasonable to expect that within the next 13 months, the Phillies will have decisions on all six of those players. Do they belong? Are they regulars? Are they extras?
A player can be a decent one and still not a first-division regular. It is a test Phillies officials will apply to their roster in the coming months: Can we win a championship with this player in the lineup? That can be complicated; sometimes it is possible to envision a certain player on a great team, so long as there are better players around him.
Mackanin has a simple method for separating the second-division players from the first-division ones.
“You want to know what to expect on a daily basis,” Mackanin said. “It’s hard to be an everyday regular, and that’s the reason. You have to be good on a consistent basis.”
One metric shows the Phillies’ perpetual search for a group of first-division regulars. Adjusted OPS+ adds on-base percentage and slugging percentage, compares it to the league averages that year, and accounts for differences in ballparks. It makes it a good measurement to compare over different eras.
An OPS+ of 100 is league average for that season. That does not make a first-division regular, but it is a starting point. The Phillies, this season, have two players with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title and an OPS+ of 100 or more: Herrera and Hernandez. The same two players met that criteria in 2016. Only Herrera did it in 2015.
The idea is that a first-division regular is one who is consistent at the plate and regularly on the field.
No Phillies hitter reached those standards in 2012. Chase Utley did it in both 2013 and 2014. Domonic Brown and Michael Young did it in 2013, Marlon Byrd in 2014. It’s a fine feat for one season, but a first-division regular is one who will do it over multiple seasons.
Consider this: The 2007-10 teams had five hitters with enough at-bats and a 100 OPS+ or better in four straight seasons. Yes, offense was more prevalent in those years, but OPS+ adjusts for that. It compares to the league averages in those seasons.
Those rosters were filled with first-division regulars. They won many games.
The Phillies like Rhys Hoskins because he has the potential of a first-division regular. Joseph’s first 215 games in the majors were right at league average, using OPS+. They like Herrera, his streakiness aside. Herrera, on a good team, could bat sixth or seventh at the very worst and excel.
They like Hernandez and Galvis because they have both improved with age, and they both offer above-average defense up the middle that is not measured in offensive statistics.
“They’re both in their mid-20s and in historic baseball aging curves, they’re only now kind of approaching their peak years,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. “As long as we see that kind of progress from players in the middle of the field like that, that’s where we’re going to keep our focus.”
That focus could be tested this winter. Galvis will enter his last year of arbitration. What happens if his agent is willing to discuss a multi-year deal? What if another team makes a compelling trade offer for Hernandez? Scott Kingery and J.P. Crawford linger behind the current middle infielders. Do they have better odds of becoming first-division regulars? There are differing opinions.
Franco, probably, is the most maddening. The Phillies do not have a third baseman behind him, so he will have more chances in 2018. After that? Nothing is guaranteed, especially with some major free agents available.
“You know what to expect on a given day with Freddy’s defense, Cesar’s offense and defense,” Mackanin said. “If Franco would improve his plate discipline, he’d be a stud.”
Here’s one last statistical picture: A 110 OPS+ means a player is 10 percent above the league average. The Phillies have had just two such seasons from players with enough at-bats since 2014. Both were by Herrera.
Updates on three
1. Luis Garcia: He teased the Phillies with a 21 2/3-inning scoreless streak. Then he walked seven and allowed seven runs in his next 4 2/3 innings. He is eligible for arbitration this winter.
2. Daniel Nava: If he moves in a waiver deal this month, it’ll be closer to the end of August. He’d like another shot with a contender, and he could help someone as a fifth outfielder.
3. Roman Quinn: He might not return from a ligament injury to his non-throwing elbow before the minor-league season ends. The Phillies still do not believe he’ll require surgery. They’ll push him toward winter ball. But, again, another lost season.