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Phillies Notebook: Manager Joe Girardi hoping consistency breeds production from his lineup

Thought Leader: Joe Girardi
April 25, 2022
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PHILADELPHIA — Look at the numbers long enough, and it can induce paralysis by over-analysis. The Phillies have an abundance of high-powered bats in their lineup and thus, a plethora of permutations as to how to arrange their order.

After about a week of get-to-know-you shuffling to start the season, Joe Girardi decided that any decision was better than no decision. And so, after three losses in perennial house of horrors Miami, the lineup of the day in Colorado has become the lineup of the foreseeable future.

That means Jean Segura leading off, Rhys Hoskins second, and cornerstone three-hitter Bryce Harper. It leaves Nick Castellanos reliably hitting cleanup, J.T. Realmuto to feast on middle-of-the-order RBI chances, and hopes to maximize Kyle Schwarber’s power in the six spot.

“Just keeping it consistent,” Girardi said before Friday’s game with Milwaukee. “We’ve talked about it and we’re going to try to keep it consistent. You start to look at some of the on-base against right-handers for Jean and Hos and J.T., it’s pretty similar. There’s not one guy that’s clear-cut more than the others, so we said, why don’t we try to leave it the same, let the guys get comfortable with where they’re at instead of having a different lineup for right-handers and left-handers.”

The primary reason for the change, Girardi said, had nothing to do with Schwarber’s .170 average in his first 12 games as a Phillie, nor his team-leading four home runs. Instead, it was about separating him from Harper in the order, not allowing opponents to use the same lefty reliever to blanket spots 1 and 3 in the order.

Girardi, then, would need righties hitting in the top two spots. As he said, the difference between Segura, Realmuto and Hoskins is negligible. (Their career on-base percentages vs. right-handed pitchers are, respectively, .326, .332 and .344).

The Phillies lack a prototypical leadoff guy, but that archetype has fallen out of fashion in a power-heavy league. Both Hoskins and Realmuto see pitches and draw walks at a table-setter’s rate.

The possibilities are dizzying. Hoskins is a career .223 hitter in the two-hole, reaching base at a .332 clip. He’s been a better hitter at the four spot (.255 average/.385 OBP in 238 starts), but his ability to see pitches and draw walks fits the two-hole.

Segura made his 400th career start at leadoff Friday. He’s a career .297 hitter there with a .341 OBP. Just shy of 70 percent of Segura’s 1,200 big-league starts have been at a top-two spot.

Schwarber has been a slow starter before: He hit.206 before May 1 in 2021 with a slugging percentage of just .365 before unleashing a 16-homer June. He’s made at least 70 starts at five positions in the order, and his highest average and power numbers fall fourth (.274 BA/.563 slugging). In 123 starts in the six-hole, he’s a .258 hitter with an .834 OPS.

Realmuto is likewise a batting-order omnivore with a .313 average in 45 lead-off starts. His highest OPS has come in the third and sixth holes, while his .774 OPS in 735 plate appearances batting fifth is his lowest of the top six spots.

Castellanos has fewer starts battling cleanup (89) than at any other spot between two and seven. But he’s hitting .322 in that small sample with a .914 OPS.

Harper’s achy left elbow has temporarily shelved the jockeying for corner outfield platoon spots, with Harper having to DH to stay in the lineup. He’s expected to throw on Tuesday, Girardi said, in hopes to ramp up to a return to the field. It’s a predicament that would be much more serious had it occurred last year without the DH in the National League, as it leaves the lineup changes as the primary intrigue at the moment.

“Thank God for the DH,” Girardi said Sunday. “… I think it’s important to have that potent bat in the lineup. I’ve always said Bryce plays really, really hard, and he’s a leader by example about how hard he plays. And we need that.”

In four games since the lineup juggling, the Phillies are 2-2. The sample size is obviously miniscule. Like the rest of the season for a 6-9 ballclub, the results are noisy and inconsistent.

Since the change, Hoskins is 1-for-14. Schwarber had heated up, with a pair of homers. Harper (5-for-17) has come on strong, and Castellanos added seven hits in 15 at-bats.

One way or another, the Phillies’ big bats will need time to settle in, particularly the new acquisitions in Schwarber and Castellanos. Girardi is just setting a framework for where that will be. For want of an obvious choice, Girardi had to make a choice.

The rest is up to the guys who are paid millions to hit a baseball.

“These guys are professional hitters and they know that they need to perform,” Girardi said. “So let’s make them comfortable.”

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