2021 Phillies defense: Is there any path to improvement?

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Corey Seidman
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Do the Phillies have any path to defensive improvement? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The problem with the Phillies’ defense isn’t just that it’s subpar, or that the deficiencies have showed up nearly every night for a month.

It’s that there is no realistic path to improvement.

Didi Gregorius, who is in the second month of a two-year, $28 million contract, has lost a step at shortstop. He’s committed five errors in 24 games, and he’s been unable to make a few plays because of how deep he’s been positioned to account for the decrease in range.

Andrew McCutchen, in the final year of a three-year, $50 million contract, does not have the range he once did and has struggled several times this season to pick up line drives.

Alec Bohm will be a fixture for the Phillies at third base because his bat and his development are so important to their long-term success. He can’t simply be moved across the diamond to first base because that spot belongs to Rhys Hoskins, who also is not an above-average defender.

Joe Girardi has been asked over the last week if there are ways the defense can improve, or whether the personnel is just the personnel. Girardi has answered those questions by saying the Phillies will continue to work with these players in the field and it’s their job to do all they can.

But, as we discussed on Tuesday’s Phillies Talk podcast, this isn’t a matter of hitting Gregorius 150 extra groundballs a day or McCutchen the same number of flyballs. Extra work can help but it’s not the antidote.

It’s concerning with Gregorius because he’s the captain of the Phillies’ infield and is only about 8% into his contract. There’s no position to move him to. You can’t move him to third because of Bohm. You can only move Gregorius to second if you trade Jean Segura and move someone like Nick Maton to shortstop, but then you’re slipping offensively.

This all applies to 2022, as well. Bohm will still be at third base, Hoskins will still be at first base and Segura will still be under contract for one more season. Even if the designated hitter is adopted by the National League after the current CBA expires at the end of 2021, the Phillies will still have too many DHs for one spot.

Remember, the Phillies pursued Andrelton Simmons in the offseason, valuing his defensive excellence. It appeared they were close to signing him before the Twins finalized a one-year, $10.5 million contract. Simmons has hit .273/.375/.400 through 17 games with his typically excellent defense at short. He is not as much of an offensive difference-maker as Gregorius, particularly from a power standpoint, but the Phillies might be much better off with Simmons. They’d also be better off with the $3.5 million of savings toward the luxury tax threshold, which is the difference between Gregorius’ AAV and Simmons’.

“We need to clean it up. We’re giving them way too many extra outs,” Girardi said Sunday night. “You can keep trying. I’m never going to give up on it. That’s what you do, that’s our job.”

If the Phillies were hitting, the extra outs they’re providing their opponents might be less noticeable. But they’ve scored four runs or fewer in 69% of their games. The combination of shaky defense and inconsistent offense is why they’ve gone a month without a multi-game winning streak, a trend they can end Tuesday night with a win behind ace Aaron Nola.

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