It’s been an odd couple weeks in Major League Baseball. The Cleveland Indians won 22 consecutive games, which may or may not be a record. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost 15 out of 16 games, yet still have the best record in baseball. We enjoyed SpyGate 2.0, and Cody Bellinger tied the record for home runs by a rookie.
It’s a good thing for Bellinger, though, that Rhys Hoskins’ debut came just six weeks ago, or his hold on that record would be tenuous.
Lost amid the late-season chaos is possibly the most impressive start by a rookie in decades.
Since 1980, over 2500 rookies have stepped up to the plate over 100 times. None have a higher on-base plus slugging (OPS) than Rhys Hoskins.
On Thursday, Hoskins, who I’ve taken to calling HOFskins, because of his obvious future home in Cooperstown, hit his 18th home run in just his 34th game. That’s the fastest anyone has ever gotten to 18 home runs.
But of course this wasn’t big news—after all Hoskins was the fastest player to reach 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 as well.
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) September 15, 2017
Entering play on Sunday Hoskins was on pace for 81 home runs over a full season. He can’t keep hitting dingers at this rate. Barry Bonds’ record of 73 seems almost unreachable, but he could slow down quite a bit and still be one of the best hitters in baseball.
This season, 428 players have recorded 100 plate appearances. Rhys Hoskins ranks fifth in walk rate, third in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage, first in OPS, and for those of us who dig advanced stats, first in weighted on-base average (wOBA). And he’s a rookie.
He’s basically been the Joel Embiid of Major League Baseball, only without the injuries. In this stage of the rebuild, the Phillies, like the Sixers, are looking to move past the losing and begin the rise back to respectability.
Consider that the Phillies currently have baseball’s second-worst record, but in the second half, they’ve won nearly half their games.
As the team jettisoned the veterans, a weird thing happened: the rookies outplayed the vets.
Rhys Hoskins is the best example, but outfielder Nick Williams has quietly had a productive rookie season. Jorge Alfaro, the catcher with moonshot power and a cannon for an arm, has earned himself the starting job.
And that’s not to mention the Phillies’ top prospect, J.P. Crawford, who made his major league debut last week.
The oft-maligned Odubel Herrera, a divisive figure among Phillies fans, had a dreadful first half. His oftentimes bone-headed play earned the derision of sports radio hosts, but to the delight of bat flip-loving public, he’s been the most valuable position player in baseball in the second half, according to FanGraphs WAR statistic.
— Phillies (@Phillies) July 31, 2017
He’s been the best player on the Phillies for three years, and the joie de vivre he brings to the game is refreshing in a sport too often concerned with unwritten rules.
In the rotation, starting pitcher Aaron Nola has dealt with injuries, but has produced when on the field.
At times this season Nola has looked unhittable; he had a streak of ten starts where he allowed just thirteen runs and struck out more than a batter per inning. He did it again on Wednesday, when he struck out 11 Miami Marlins and allowed just one run in seven innings.
Unfortunately, the rest of the rotation has floundered. Jerad Eickhoff has taken a step back after a strong 2016 season, and Vince Velasquez has been unable to stay healthy enough to tap into his vast potential. He seems destined to be a late-inning reliever.
Shoring up the rotation should be the front office’s top priority this offseason.
The Phillies should try to sign Japanese import and two-way player Shohei Otani, who’s spent the past few years carving up NPB hitters on the mound and mashing dingers at the plate. He will be very cheap due to the MLBs limits on international signings, but Otani will be able to sign with any team he likes, so the Phillies will have plenty of competition for his services.
The 'Japanese Babe Ruth'—Shohei Otani—will be taking his talents to MLB pic.twitter.com/xTSGW19QiD
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 13, 2017
If the Phillies strike out with him, they could pursue free agents or look to the trade market to fill the holes in the rotation. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez seems like a logical trade candidate.
His combination of high on-base percentage and strong defense make him a valuable player, but the emergence of second base prospect Scott Kingery has made Hernandez somewhat expendable.
Those are questions for November, though.
The important part to the last couple weeks of the Phillies season is that the second-half surge has been led by young players, and with Phillies like Nola, Williams, and especially Hoskins establishing themselves as members of the young core, the team looks poised to climb the standings in 2018.
All statistics current entering play on Sunday.