Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pride and joy to announce that Phillies baseball is back. With their annual game against the Florida State Seminoles taking place on Wednesday and their first official spring training game tomorrow against the Yankees, the wait is over.
It's such a great feeling. Sure, spring training games mean absolutely nothing in the long run, but at least we can say that baseball has emerged out of its winter hibernation and has returned. I don't know about you, but in case you couldn't already tell, I'm excited.
I shouldn't diss spring training completely, though—it does count for some players. In the case of the Phillies, a fifth outfield spot—whether as a backup or even the starting left field job—and possibly either a left-handed or overall bullpen spot are still up for grabs on the Phils' 25-man roster. In addition, another bench bat could make its way onto the team, and heck, even the fifth starter in the rotation isn't a lock. It's not like spring training has no significance—just very little. Ah, who am I kidding—it matters. A lot.
Who will win the remaining roster spots is anyone's guess at this point. In left field, it's John Mayberry, Jr.'s to lose, and while Laynce Nix will likely get some starts against right-handed pitching in left, Domonic Brown is lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike and claim the spot he believes is rightfully his. The fifth outfield position is a battle between Brown, Scot Podsednik, and Juan Pierre, who seems like the top dog at the moment. As for the bullpen, Dontrelle Willis seems like the front-runner to be the Phillies' LOOGY this year, but with a good spring, Joe Savery could surprise and earn a spot on the big league roster.
Many mysteries remain as to who will ultimately make the Opening Day roster. In the meantime, questions about player production start to come about at this time of the year. With the absence of Ryan Howard at first base likely at least until May, not only is the team's first base solution still up in the air, the production that the rest of the squad will produce is unpredictable. Today, my job is to try to make things a little less vague. I'll give my predictions of the Phillies' starting lineup by providing both my projected position in the lineup and numbers for each player. I won't be giving any predictions for the ninth spot in the lineup, since that's the pitcher's spot, and considering that the hitting stats for pitchers will be relatively low, I don't consider it worth mentioning. I will, however, go out on a limb and predict that Vance Worley is a dark horse to be the team's best hitting pitcher this year, but for now, Cliff Lee earns top honors in my book.
Please feel free to give your opinions in the comments section below on numbers predictions, position predictions, lineup predictions, or even roster predictions. I'd love to get some debates going.
Projected Stat Line: 137 games, .275 AVG, 15 HR, 68 RBI, .330 OBP, .383 SLG (.713 OPS), 27 SB, 19 2B, 3 3B, 4.8 UZR/150
Other Candidates to Hit at this Lineup Position: CF Shane Victorino, OF Juan Pierre
2011 was an important year for Jimmy Rollins. Now that his free agency has come and gone and he remains in Phillies pinstripes for at least another three years, J-Roll is back and raring to go. In fact, just last week, Rollins and manager Charlie Manuel discussed their opinions on what the team's offensive approach should be for 2012.
For the past 11 seasons, Rollins has been an integral part of the Phillies' success. He's manned shortstop for the Fightins extremely well over that span, providing Gold Glove-caliber defense on the diamond and decent numbers at the plate, the peak of which was his 2007 NL MVP season in which Rollins went both 30-30 and 20-20-20-20 (the former for home runs and steals, the latter for doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases). What's really made Rollins a vital member of this team is not that he's in the upper tier of shortstops in baseball, but that his clubhouse leadership has carried the team far, even as far as winning the World Series in 2008.
Since his MVP season, Rollins' numbers have gradually decreased year by year. In spite of a contract year last season which saw a slight renaissance in his numbers, Phillies fans should expect the norm for J-Roll, and his numbers should come back down to his slight regression.
While I myself don't believe that Rollins should be the team's lead-off hitter anymore—Shane Victorino is better suited for that now than Rollins—there's little reason to believe that, barring injury, Charlie Manuel's going to pencil J-Roll at the top of his lineup card. I do believe that Rollins will have some sort of minor injury that will cause him to miss some time next season, but nothing overly significant.
As for the rest of his stats, I see Rollins' base swiping numbers sitting under 30 for the first time he's played in over 100 games since 2004. While I see J-Roll's average and RBI total a bit higher than usual, the rest of his numbers—especially his OPS—are slated to take an ever-so-slight nosedive. While Rollins' defense looks to remain above average in my book, aside from his clubhouse presence, that's really all the Phillies will be paying him for throughout the life of his new three (possibly four)-year deal. This will likely be the last average offensive year for Rollins—at least, I think so. But I sure hope not.
Projected Stat Lines:
Wigginton: 125 games, .268 AVG, 19 HR, 61 RBI, .323 OBP, .432 SLG (.755 OPS), 5 SB, 22 2B, 1 3B, -9.7 UZR/150 (1B), -11.3 UZR/150 (3B), 2.8 UZR (OF);
Thome: 97 games (mainly PH appearances), .256 AVG, 12 HR, 52 RBI, .405 OBP, .497 SLG (.902 OPS), 13 2B, 0 3B, -0.8 UZR/150
Other Candidates to Hit at this Lineup Position: 3B Placido Polanco, 2B Chase Utley
I'll admit that this was the most difficult lineup position for me to choose, and it's likely that Polanco will hit out of the two spot than either Wigginton or Thome. However, the stats are stats, and that's the main focus, so let's continue on with that, shall we?
With Ryan Howard out at least until May, the players who will likely share first base duties until he returns are Wigginton, John Mayberry, Jr., Laynce Nix, and occasionally Thome. Thankfully, since the Phillies re-upped their bench this offseason, there's not too much to worry about. Defense can be a liability with some of these guys (namely Wigginton and Thome, who'll probably get the most time there), but it shouldn't be too bad.
It's looking like Wigginton will play off the bench for the Phillies in his first season with the team, probably filling in at first base, third base, left field, and occasionally right field and second base. The great thing with Wigginton is that while his defense is way below average, he can play many, many positions. And he can hit. Fantastic. I'll guess he gets the majority of his playing time giving Polanco a break at the hot corner.
First and foremost, it's great having Thome back as a Phillie, and I hope the team does everything they can to get him the World Series ring he covets. Due to his relationship with manager Charlie Manuel, I'm guessing that Thome will be the go-to guy in pinch hitting situations so he gets the best opportunity he can to hit. I'll guess that he'll play maybe a third or a quarter of those 97 games at first base as well. Thome should still be able to hit home runs, extra base hits, and get on base. His stats may be a bit inflated due to his potential lack of playing time, but I think they're still applicable.
Projected Stat Line: 152 games, .296 AVG, 22 HR, 77 RBI, .361 OBP, .497 SLG (.858 OPS), 32 SB, 31 2B, 12 3B, 6.2 UZR/150
Other Candidates to Hit at this Lineup Position: 2B Chase Utley, RF Hunter Pence
2012 will be a huge year for Shane Victorino. On the cusp of free agency, Victorino enters his final contract year set to enter the offseason as its best center fielder. And rightfully so: Victorino has earned three Gold Gloves and has provided production at the plate during his Phillies tenure.
Barring any dramatic injury, Victorino will get a day off here and there and will play almost all of them throughout the season. He won't exactly hit .300, but I have a feeling he'll come very close and not drop off in September like he did last season.
In terms of power, I believe that this will be the year that the Flyin' Hawaiian reaches the 20 home run plateau that he's fallen just short of over each season of his career. His RBI total should increase as well, and like most of the rest of his stats this year, so should his OBP and SLG (and thus, OPS).
Even though I think that Victorino is better suited to be the Phils' lead-off hitter and is more likely to get on base than Jimmy Rollins, I don't think Victorino is as instinctual on the basepaths as J-Roll. Although Victorino's 19 percent caught stealing rate just beats out Rollins' 17 percent, Victorino gets caught stealing nearly one out of five times. As a lead-off hitter, while you do have to get on base—as Victorino does—you have to be a smart baserunner, which the Flyin' Hawaiian is not.
Lastly, Victorino's defense should remain near the top of the list for center fielders this year as it has over the last four or five seasons. I'll also make a bold prediction that he'll win his fourth Gold Glove this year, an award he should have received last year but did not due to the MVP-caliber season Matt Kemp had. While Victorino should have a great contract season, it's just unclear who will reward him for his efforts, and with a Cole Hamels extension still not yet in place, it very well may not be the Phillies who employ Victorino next season.
Projected Stat Lines:
Pence: 154 games, .302 AVG, 29 HR, 106 RBI, .395 OBP, .515 SLG (.910 OPS), 10 SB, 35 2B, 6 3B, 7.2 UZR/150
Howard: 114 games, .262 AVG, 25 HR, 87 RBI, .347 OBP, .504 SLG (.851 OPS), 0 SB, 18 2B, 0 3B, -3.7 UZR/150
Other Candidates to Hit at this Lineup Position: 2B Chase Utley, 1B Jim Thome, UTIL Ty Wigginton, OF Laynce Nix
In his first full year as a Phillie, Hunter Pence should shine in right field. His defense, though off a few times last year, is still strong, and his offense is what will be the backbone of the Phillies next season. Having said that, I'm thinking that his average will be just over .300 once again, and while he won't surpass the 30 home run mark, he'll fall just short. On the other hand, his RBI total should pass the 100 mark with more play as the clean-up hitter.
With OBP and SLG, there's little reason to think that Pence's totals won't increase in a full season playing for the Phils, with half the games played at Citizens Bank Park, where Pence excelled last year. His OBP should reach close to .400 thanks to the support around him in the lineup, and his slugging percentage should increase as long as he gets those extra base hits. He could also swipe roughly a dozen bags. Another bold prediction: Pence will be an NL MVP candidate this year.
With 114 games predicted for The Big Piece, Howard is set to return in mid-May in my book. At that point, he'll struggle immensely, but as the All-Star Break rolls around, he'll pick up the slack and bring some of his totals back up. Thanks to the injury, this will be the first year that Howard doesn't hit over 30 home runs in a season, and this will also be the first season since his rookie year for him not to surpass the 100 RBI or 20 double marks. The only thing I've got for Howard defensively is that he could slightly improve, but not to a significant degree. The Achilles injury is going to take many of Howard's stats down, but hopefully Pence will be able to fill the void in the interim.
Projected Stat Line: 136 games, .287 AVG, 20 HR, 83 RBI, .367 OBP, .457 SLG (.824 OPS), 18 SB, 25 2B, 4 3B, 15.1 UZR/150
Other Candidates to Hit at this Lineup Position: RF Hunter Pence, SS Jimmy Rollins, CF Shane Victorino, OF John Mayberry, Jr.
Finally, after giving him a few possible lineup spots, we finally have determined where Chase Utley will hit in Charlie Manuel's lineup.
There shouldn't be many (if any) setbacks for Utley this season as long as he gets decent rest. With the front office and Manuel both finally coming to terms with that conclusion in spring training this year, the good news for Utley is that his numbers should hover closer to his previous stats than those of last year, a year he'd probably like to forget.
Utley should be able to hit in the .280s somewhere, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him hit low .290s. In addition, Utley should be able to hit close to, if not 20 home runs and surpass 80 RBI. My guess is that his OPS will also climb up from last year, though it's difficult for me to see both it and his other offensive stats fully recovering.
If Utley gets enough chances and his knees feel good enough, he could also steal some bases, and lots of 'em. He's an incredibly smart base runner and knows the right opportunity to take off from first to second or second to third, and he rarely gets caught out. If he's up to it, around 20 stolen bases is realistic for him to attain.
And as always, his defense should be superb. I'd love to see Utley get a Gold Glove this year, but hey, what happens happens. Anything the Phillies can get out of Utley this year helps, and if he finds himself at the plate once more, it could be a surprisingly great year for who Harry Kalas famously dubbed "The Man."
Projected Stat Lines:
Mayberry: 127 games, .266 AVG, 18 HR, 57 RBI, .350 OBP, .488 SLG (.838 OPS), 10 SB, 21 2B, 2 3B, 10.1 UZR/150
Nix: 95 games, .251 AVG, 17 HR, 49 RBI, .308 OBP, .464 SLG (.772 OPS), 2 SB, 17 2B, 1 3B, 5.3 UZR/150
Other Candidates to Hit at this Lineup Position: 3B Placido Polanco, SS Jimmy Rollins, UTIL Ty Wigginton
This could be very interesting.
Last season was a breakout year for John Mayberry, Jr., who proved to the Phillies that he is capable of being an everyday starter in the outfield. While he'll likely have to settle in a platoon role with Laynce Nix in left field for at least next season, Mayberry is on track to continue his success.
With adequate playing time, Mayberry should be able to hit somewhere in the .260-.280 range. I've guessed that it will be closer to the bottom only because pitchers may be able to figure him out a bit more. But who knows? Maybe he'll defy my odds.
As for the rest of his offense, his home run total should increase from last year, but not by much. Although I wouldn't be shocked to see him hit over 20 dingers, I don't see it happening, and I don't see 60 RBI happening yet, either, especially if he hits this far down in the lineup. I would hope that his extra base hits come as consistently as last year, but last year was pretty spectacular and it's not very possible he'll hit as many as he did last year. What I do see as a vast improvement is defense, and I think that with more playing time, his true defensive ability will shine.
Nix is a bit foggier for me to predict only because he hasn't been great with increased playing time. In Washington last year, he was your average, prototypical hitter with moderate home run and RBI totals and your middle-of-the-pack batting average. I expect to see more of the same this year with Nix, but I do also predict slight improvement due to his increased time playing in a hitter's park. Defense shouldn't be an issue for Nix, who's rather good at it, and I see it being above average or so.
Projected Stat Line: 132 games, .279 AVG, 5 HR, 55 RBI, .336 OBP, .375 SLG (.711 OPS), 4 SB, 23 2B, 1 3B, 13.3 UZR/150
Other Candidates to Hit at this Lineup Position: OF John Mayberry, Jr., OF Laynce Nix, UTIL Ty Wigginton, C Carlos Ruiz
Possibly the most difficult Phillies player to predict, Placido Polanco is set as the number seven hitter in my team lineup. While he could still be slotted in at the second spot, it wouldn't be logical, but then again, who else would play there?
Nevertheless, the issue with Polanco is his seemingly never-ending injury woes. Sure, he might say he feels great, as he has in spring training this year, but coming off double sports hernia surgery isn't exactly encouraging. His defense remains stellar and should even if his offensive production drops off again, but the latter occurring is still not a good thing for the Phillies.
Polanco will likely get hurt this season, but he should remain healthy enough to play a sufficient amount of games. Having said that, I don't see any .300-esque numbers like he put up two seasons ago. His body has just broken down, and unfortunately he doesn't have the same consistency with the bat as he used to. A .285 average for Polanco would be my max, but I'm going with just under .280.
With OPS and its subsidiaries, they should be average at best. Polanco has always been a singles hitter anyway with the occasional double, so a SLG of over .370 would be a plus, though I hope he'll surpass my prediction for OBP.
If Polanco stays healthy all season, he'll have the potential to put up decent offense. Of course, Ty Wigginton will likely give Polanco the occasional break, but if the Phillies don't see Polanco working out the whole season, a mid-season trade might not be out of the question for the Gold Glover.
Projected Stat Line: 135 games, .277 AVG, 7 HR, 47 RBI, .385 OBP, .390 SLG (.775 OPS), 2 SB, 27 2B, 1 3B, .997 Fld%
Other Candidates to Hit at this Lineup Position: C Brian Schneider, 3B Placido Polanco
When Brian Schneider is practically the only other option to play at a designated lineup spot, you know it's basically owned by whoever usually plays there. The proud owner of the number eight spot in the lineup is none other than Carlos Ruiz.
Chooch has been one of baseball's most underrated catchers over the last few seasons. His defense is spectacular, his offense pulls through in clutch situations, and he handles the team's ace-studded pitching rotation with both style and reliability. Not bad for a guy who played second base in the minors.
Ruiz should get decent playing time this year, as it's increased every year he's played for the team. The only reason it's not higher is because of Vance Worley and his preference to have Schneider catch his starts. But hey, if Worley goes something like 11-3 again this year with Schneider as the backstop, I don't think anybody's complaining.
While I don't think Chooch will hit as good as .283 like last season, close to it isn't out of the question, and I think he has the ability to hit .280, if not just under. His home run count won't be great—it never is—but his RBI total should increase from last year (at least I think it will). Ruiz's biggest plus is that he's never had a problem getting on base and slugging, which are fantastic qualities in a number eight hitter, and he always seems to keep the offense rolling along as it returns to the top of the lineup.
With his usually-remarkable defense and clutch delivery, as well as his ability to handle the starting rotation, Chooch looks like he'll have another great season. In the last guaranteed year of his contract, will this be the last year he mans the pitching staff, or will Sebastian Valle step into the fold next year?
Only time will tell, but as long as Chooch is the team's backstop, the team's success should continue.