30 Clubs in 30 Days: Philadelphia Phillies

Posted: March 11, 2013 in Uncategorized
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ImageExpectations are mixed in Philadelphia as opening day waits just three weeks away. The Phillies, champions of the National League East from 2007-11, are coming off their worst season since 2002. Injuries and inconsistency from aging veterans cost the team direly in the early going, but a strong 35-24 finish from August on provides hope beyond the horizon for Philadelphia fans searching for another championship for their mantle.

2012 was a tale of two halves for the Phillies. The first half, mired with injuries to Ryan Howard (.219-14-56) and Chase Utley (.256-11-45), hit its low point in June, when a 9-19 free fall, the team’s worst month since April, 2002, left the Phillies 10.0 games out of first for the first time since their spirited run of five straight division titles began with the historic comeback of 2007. On July 14th, the Phillies sat at a season worst 37-51, 15 games behind upstart Washington in National League East play. Just a couple of weeks later, franchise mainstays like Joe Blanton (8-9, 4.56) and Shane Victorino (.261-9-40) were dealt to Los Angeles. The man who was supposed to provide the energy on offense with Howard and Utley out, Hunter Pence (.271-17-59), was also shipped to the Golden State at the trade deadline. For the first time in over half-a-decade, the Phillies were sellers.

But, there is no arguing whether or not a light was switched last June. From the depths of a disastrous season, came a light at the end of the tunnel. From July 14th on, the Phillies were 43-30, good for fifth in the N.L. Extrapolated over an entire season, and the Phillies’ second half record amounts to roughly 95 victories, good enough for a playoff berth in nearly every season in baseball’s modern era.

So, what exactly went wrong in 2012 besides injuries? On offense, Philadelphia relied too much on role players Ty Wigginton (.235-11-43) and John Mayberry (.245-14-46), both of whom drastically underperformed expectations. The bullpen, meanwhile, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In 2012, the Phillies trotted 10 bullpen arms to the mound that were younger than 27. The veterans that the team had planned to rely on in the offseason, Chad Qualls (1-1, 4.60), Jose Contreras (1-0, 5.27), and Dontrelle Willis, did not perform as expected. Contreras battled injuries all season, making just 17 appearances. Qualls was severely underwhelming before being traded for a bucket of balls in July. Willis never made the team out of spring training. The Phillies missed the playoffs by just seven games in 2012. Their bullpen, meanwhile, blew 12 eighth inning leads. A better bullpen might have been the difference between a dreary October and a one-game playoff berth against Atlanta.

This offseason, Ruben Amaro vowed to fix the mess and make the Phillies contenders yet again. The first move came on December 6th, when Amaro shipped 25-year old Vance Worley (6-9, 4.20) along with Baseball America’s #1 Phillies prospect in 2012, RHP Trevor May (10-13, 4.87 in Reading) to Minnesota for speedy young CF Ben Revere (.294-0-32). Both Worley and May had seen their stocks tumble over the previous eight months, and Amaro was able to pawn them off on a pitching starved Twins franchise for a dynamic playmaker in centerfield. Revere has never hit a major league home run. But, he makes up for that lack of power with baserunning ability (74 SB, 19 CS in 254 G) and top-of-the-line fielding prowess.

Days later, Philadelphia continued their overhaul by shipping Josh Lindblom (1-3, 4.63) and AA RHP Lisalverto Bonilla (3-2, 1.55 in Clearwater and Reading) to Texas for veteran 3B Michael Young (.277-8-67). Coming off the worst statistical season of his career, Young will have to prove that he can still handle the hot corner, a position he has not played full time since 2010. Still, the seven time All-Star is just one year removed from a .338-11-106 year and has never had two consecutive seasons hitting below. 300 in his entire 13-year career. The early returns are strong, as Young is raking .344 in 11 Grapefruit League games.

Now, to the bullpen, where Amaro spent $6 million a year on veteran RHP Mike Adams (5-3, 3.27). If he is healed from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Adams should provide the eighth inning stability that the club so direly lacked last season. Since 2008, Adams holds an astounding 16-11, 1.98 line, solidifying himself as one of the finest setup men in the sport. Adams will join 2012 holdovers Antonio Bastardo (2-5, 4.33), Jeremy Horst (2-0, 1.15), Raul Valdes (3-2, 2.90), Phillippe Aumont (0-1, 3.68), Jake Diekman (1-1, 3.95), and, of course, Jonathan Papelbon (5-6, 2.44, 38 SV) to make up a hopefully improved path the victory.

The rotation will once again include Cole Hamels (17-6, 3.05), Cliff Lee (6-9, 3.15), Roy Halladay (11-8, 4.49), and Kyle Kendrick (11-12, 3.90). Joining them is John Lannan (4-1, 4.13), Washington’s opening day starter in 2009 and 2010 who spent much of 2012 in Syracuse with the Nationals’ AAA team. His statistics against NL East teams not from Philadelphia are impressive, and the team expects him to provide adequate innings out of the #5 spot.

Five Year Review:
2012:  81-81
2011: 102-60
Lost NLDS to Cardinals, 3-2
2010: 97-65
Lost NLCS to Giants, 4-2
2009: 93-69
Lost World Series to Yankees, 4-2
2008: 92-70
Won World Series over Rays, 4-1

2012 Team MVP: C Carlos Ruiz: Adderall or not, Chooch Ruiz was by far the Phillies’ MVP of 2012. Where Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee both provided stellar performances on the mound, they had support from a strong rotation as a whole. The Phillies lineup, however, would have been a little league unit if it were not for their 34-year old backstop. Once considered a strong defensive catcher with little offensive ability, Ruiz has blossomed into a bona fide run producer. Since 2010, Ruiz is hitting .303 and averaging 14 HR and 72 RBI per 162 games. In the first half of the season in which Philadelphia was without Howard and Utley, Ruiz was the only hitter who could be relied on in key situations. His .368-5-54 line with RISP earned him his first career All-Star invite and recognition as perhaps the finest catcher in the league. His 25-game suspension for Adderall use is going to hurt Philadelphia early in 2013.

2012 Team LVP: Anyone who pitched the eighth inning: The sheer magnitude of how bad this team was in the eighth inning needs to be recognized to truly understand why they finished .500. Phillies pitchers allowed a .791 OPS, 84 ER, 93 R, and 17 SB in the eighth inning alone, highs among all innings last season. Add to that an astounding 80 BB in 162 eighth innings pitched, nearly double any other inning (the first inning was closest with 46 BB), and one can understand why the team blew 12 leads in the eighth. It did not matter who they were playing or which pitcher was out there, the Phillies bullpen was just plain pathetic in 2012.

Key Acquisitions:

3B Michael Young (Texas Rangers)
SS Yuniesky Betancourt (Kansas City Royals)
CF Ben Revere (Minnesota Twins)
OF Delmon Young (Detroit Tigers)
RHP Zach Miner (Kansas City Royals)
RHP Chad Durbin (Atlanta Braves)
RHP Mike Adams (Texas Rangers)
RHP Aaron Cook (Boston Red Sox)
LHP Cesar Jimenez (Seattle Mariners)
LHP John Lannan (Washington Nationals)

Key Departures

C Brian Schneider (retirement)
3B Ty Wigginton (St. Louis Cardinals)
3B Placido Polanco (Miami Marlins)
OF Juan Pierre (Miami Marlins)
OF Nate Schierholtz (Chicago Cubs)
RHP Vance Worley (Minnesota Twins)
RHP Josh Lindblom (Texas Rangers)
RHP Jose Contreras (Pittsburgh Pirates)
RHP David Herndon (Toronto Blue Jays)

Projected Lineup/Rotation (w/composite 2013 projections):

SS Jimmy Rollins – .255-17-62-24 SB
CF Ben Revere – .282-2-44-35 SB
2B Chase Utley – .261-16-63-13 SB
1B Ryan Howard – .251-28-92
3B Michael Young – .289-10-66
LF John Mayberry – .253-13-48
RF Domonic Brown – .268-13-51
C Erik Kratz – .242-8-27

OF Darin Ruf – .259-9-33
C Carlos Ruiz – .283-9-47
OF Delmon Young – .273-11-47
OF Laynce Nix – .241-6-21
IF Kevin Frandsen – .281-2-15
IF Freddy Galvis – .246-2-14

LHP Cole Hamels – 14-9, 3.21
RHP Roy Halladay – 13-8, 3.26
LHP Cliff Lee – 14-8, 3.03
RHP Kyle Kendrick – 8-9, 4.35
LHP Jon Lannan – 8-9, 4.56
RHP Jonathan Papelbon – 4-3, 2.61, 32 SV
RHP Mike Adams – 3-1, 3.06, 1 SV
LHP Antonio Bastardo – 3-2, 3.17

2013 Outlook

The first thing one realizes when looking at Philadelphia’ lineup is the added speed. A full season of a healthy Rollins-Revere combination at the top of the order would be deadly on the basepaths. When a walk or a single is equal to a double because of the ability to steal a base, it provides the heart of the order with many more run producing opportunities. This alone should add a few wins for Philadelphia when compared to last season’s team, devoid of speed outside of the leadoff spot. Michael Young should also provide a dramatic upgrade offensively to Placido Polanco, who could not stay healthy at the hot corner the past few seasons.

The rotation, as one can see above, is expected to improve on last season’s numbers. If Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay each have ERA’s as low as 3.20 and below, Philadelphia should be in good shape. The bullpen is dramatically improved by the Mike Adams signing. Now, they just need to hope that Jonathan Papelbon’s spring troubles will be left in the Sunshine State and not a sign of things to come this summer.

All in all, I believe that Philadelphia’s second half performance, in which they turned around what was a 90+ loss season and finished .500, is more akin to what they are capable of in 2013. I cannot in good conscience consider them a favorite over Washington. But, I do believe that Philadelphia’s starting pitching is superior to Atlanta’s. If Howard stays healthy, he can still carry this team when the weather gets hot and the ball starts carrying. I see Philadelphia winning between 86-92 games, capturing one of the N.L. Wild Card berths in the process.

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