With the holiday season coming to a close and the New Year quickly approaching, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the best gifts we got from the Phillies’ rollercoaster of a 2022 season.
In some form, every Phillie got a gift this year. For instance, veterans Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, and Zack Wheeler reached the postseason for the first time. Mark Appel, a former first-overall draft pick, finally reached The Show after an emotional, up-and-down journey through the minor leagues. After sustaining a hand injury that sidelined him for two months, Bryce Harper was gifted a speedy recovery that allowed him to lead the Phillies through the postseason for the first time since 2011. After Joe Girardi was let go, Bryson Stott was gifted with Rob Thomson, a manager that gave him the opportunity to play instead of becoming rusty on the bench. And of course, every player that suited up in red pinstripes was gifted a ring in honor of the Phillies’ 2022 National League Championship.
All gift receivers must also give, so in that case, what were the best gifts we got from the Phils in the past year?
4. Aaron Nola’s Resurgence
Coming into 2022, nobody knew what Aaron Nola was going to offer. After a 2021 campaign that ended with him having a 4.63 ERA over 32 starts, some thought that the old Aaron Nola—the one that posted a 2.37 ERA over a career-high 212.1 regular-season innings in 2018—would never resurface.
Luckily, this was not the case. Nola made 32 starts during the 2022 regular season and posted a 3.25 ERA in 205 innings, which averages over 6.1 innings per start. He also finished with a 6.3 fWAR, the best in baseball among all qualified pitchers in 2022. Nola received five second-place votes for the National League Cy Young Award and ended up in fourth place overall, earning a total of 48 points in the NL voting.
He was in the 92nd percentile in hard hit percentage, and he was in the 90th percentile in both xERA/xWOBA and chase percentage. Thanks to his elite control and ability to create swings and misses, he was in the 97th percentile in xOBP and the 99th percentile in base-on-balls percentage.
Nola also boasts one of the most effective curveballs in baseball and has established it as his primary two-strike pitch. This past season, he attacked lefties with a sinker that initially appeared well inside but cut back over the plate, and his changeup served as an equalizer that caught opponents off guard. Nola is tied with Royals’ starter Brady Singer for the most looking strikeouts with front door sinkers.
Despite many starters lacking longevity in modern baseball, Nola was one of the most efficient and gutsy pitchers in 2022. He pitched into the sixth inning in 28 of his 32 starts, and one of those where he failed to start the sixth was a scoreless, two-inning start that was shortened by rain.
3. Kyle Schwarber Assuming Leadership Role
The Phillies don’t—and almost certainly never will—have a captain like the Yankees and Aaron Judge, but almost all will agree that having leaders on a team is a necessity. While many might see Bryce Harper as that person, he is more of a role model with his strong work ethic and desire for success than a true clubhouse leader. It’s possible that he could have the necessary leadership qualities, but nonetheless, Kyle Schwarber quickly became the leader in the Phillies’ clubhouse after being signed. From simply making the post-victory playlist to giving heartfelt speeches prior to taking the field, Kyle Schwarber filled the hole as the team’s much-needed leader.
Many fans have wondered which flip switched for the 2022 Phillies, and the answer, simply, could just be having a consistent leader in the clubhouse instead of a group of young, inexperienced players.
We’ll never know how much of an impact Schwarber had outside of physically playing baseball, but there is no doubt that his presence was part of the reason this group was so tight. Their tightness made them a fun group to watch, which was one of the most entertaining pieces of the entire run.
2. Bryce Harper’s Postseason Power Surge
This one was special.
It was no secret that Bryce Harper came back from his injury and struggled out of the gate. Harper hit .196 in his final 29 games of the regular season, but his slump didn’t carry over into the postseason. The first of his six playoff home runs came when he sent Miles Mikolas’ breaking ball into the stands to give the Phillies an early lead in game two of the Wild Card Series. His sixth and final long ball of the postseason came in game three of the World Series, but the most relevant of his homers came in game five of the National League Championship Series. The swing that was heard all around the baseball world quickly became known as the “swing of [Bryce Harper’s] life,” thanks to Joe Davis.
Harper won the NLCS MVP, as he hit .400 with 17 total bases, two home runs, and five RBI over the five-game set. In the National League Division Series, Harper won my unofficial series MVP.
Throughout the entirety of the postseason, Harper hit .349 in 63 at-bats, posted a 1.160 OPS, and drove in 13. If watching him dominate the best pitchers in baseball in the most intense setting isn’t a valuable gift, then I am not sure what is.
1. Big Moves From Dave Dombrowski and the Front Office
We cannot thank the Phillies’ President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, enough. Matching his reputation, Dombrowski spent lots of money and was very aggressive in free agency and at the trade deadline this past season. To quickly recap it, here are all the relevant moves that Dombrowski and the front office made in 2022:
- Signed LHP Brad Hand to a 1-year contract.
- Signed LF Kyle Schwarber to a 4-year contract.
- Signed RF/DH Nick Castellanos to a 5-year contract.
- Traded for UTIL Edmundo Sosa.
- Traded for RHP David Robertson.
- Traded for OF Brandon Marsh.
- Traded for RHP Noah Syndergaard.
- Signed SS Trea Turner to an 11-year contract.
- Signed RHP Taijuan Walker to a 4-year contract.
- Signed LHP Matt Strahm to a 2-year contract.
- Signed RHP Craig Kimbrel to a 1-year contract.
Some of these moves are larger than others, but one cannot blame any of the Phillies’ struggles on Dave Dombrowski when his productivity in the past ten months is considered. Certain players might have had a lesser impact, but all of these guys were compatible enough in their respective roles throughout the season.
For instance, Brad Hand and Noah Syndergaard had some bad moments during their stints in Philadelphia, but they were still key pieces in the Phillies’ success. Hand posted a 2.80 ERA in 55 appearances, and Noah Syndergaard had a 5-2 record with the Phillies.
On the other hand, many of Dombrowski’s moves have been indisputable successes. Brandon Marsh hit .288 in his 132 regular-season at-bats with the Phillies, and Kyle Schwarber led the National League with 46 home runs.
And of course, the Phillies just landed one of the best five-tool players in baseball, Trea Turner, who has a strong history of winning wherever he plays.
If it wasn’t for Dave Dombrowski and the Phillies’ aggressive front office, I can guarantee that the Phillies’ last trip to Houston would have come a month earlier—at the end of the regular season.
Luckily, this did not happen, and we were gifted with a magical playoff run that many have had on their holiday lists and few expected to receive.
Happy holidays and happy New Year, everyone!