Phils improve in Howard's final year with team

Club won more games than in '15, but still need to work on OBP

Phils improve in Howard's final year with team

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies began their season in April hoping to see incremental improvements in their rebuild. They had some, including more wins this season than last.

"We certainly had measureable progress in a lot of areas," Phillies president Andy MacPhail said recently. "We had an outstanding year in our farm system, no matter how you want to measure it. ...We focused more on trying to get a foundation of pitching established. But we still have a lot of work to do. To become a perennial postseason team, there are a lot of things we need to continue to work on."

Young starters key to Phils' success in 2017

Could the Phillies find themselves in National League Wild Card contention next season? That might be a stretch, but certainly they expect further improvement in 2017. But before we look forward, let's look back at the '16 season.

Record: 71-91, fourth place, NL East.

Defining moment: Ryan Howard is the greatest first baseman in Phillies history, and he said farewell when he played the final game of his Phillies career on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park. He had a heck of a run. He helped the Phillies win one World Series, two National League pennants and five consecutive NL East titles from 2007-11. He won the 2006 NL MVP Award and '05 NL Rookie of the Year Award. The Phillies simply would not have enjoyed their success without him anchoring the middle of the lineup. Howard is the last remaining player from the 2008 World Series championship team. He leaves the organization second all-time in home runs, third in RBIs, fourth in slugging percentage, 10th in doubles, 13th in runs and 13th in hits.

Howard's two-run home run

What went right: The Phillies emphasized starting pitching entering the season, and they finished the year feeling like they have a foundation for the future. Of course, health is imperative. Aaron Nola is the best of the bunch, but he suffered a season-ending right elbow injury over the summer. The organization is holding its collective breath that he will be fine when he begins throwing again. But Jerad Eickhoff looks like a great acquisition in the Cole Hamels trade with Texas. He has become the rotation's workhorse. The Phillies also acquired Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and Alec Asher in trades, and each showed promise. It is important that a few of these pitchers solidify their status in the rotation going forward, because without a strong rotation, the team will not win. Need evidence of that? The Phillies started the season 24-17 based almost entirely on quality starting pitching. Jeanmar Gomez surprised in the closer's role, but Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos look like potential closers in the making.

Eickhoff goes six scoreless

What went wrong: The offense proved to be the worst in baseball, finishing last in scoring and near the bottom in on-base percentage. Both must improve in 2017. The Phillies received some nice contributions from Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp. But Maikel Franco arguably had a down year, despite leading the team in home runs and RBIs. Freddy Galvis hit 20 home runs, but he also had the worst on-base percentage in baseball. The Phillies ranked near or at the bottom in OPS among left and right fielders.

Biggest surprise: Joseph probably fits best here, but his season will be recognized a little further down. Perhaps Galvis' 20-plus home runs are the biggest surprise. Nobody could have seen that coming. Combine Galvis' unexpected power and his Gold Glove-caliber defense, and there is no question he will be the Phillies' Opening Day shortstop next year. Now if he can only improve his on-base percentage.

Galvis' solo shot

Hitter of the year: Despite his midseason struggles, Herrera proved to be the most productive hitter on the team. He became the Phillies' only representative on the NL All-Star team as a result. The trick next season will be maintaining his focus from the beginning of the season to the end to avoid any prolonged slumps.

Pitcher of the year: It has to be Eickhoff, who anchored the rotation. He fast became a player and coach favorite in July 2015 after joining the organization. Eickhoff made every turn in the rotation this season, and if he had more run support, he certainly would have had a much better record. It is not out of the question that he could be the Phillies' Opening Day starter next season.

Rookie of the year: Joseph hit 21 home runs, despite joining the team in May and sharing time much of the season with Howard. He is expected to be the Phillies' regular first baseman next season. Certainly he showed he can hit for power, but he said he knows he must improve his on-base percentage. A lot of players could say that.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.