25 Reasons for Concern for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012

Greg Pinto@@Greg_PintoCorrespondent IApril 18, 2012

25 Reasons for Concern for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012

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    It's a long season.

    The Philadelphia Phillies haven't kicked the regular season off on the right foot, but with some five and a half months left between now and the postseason, there is still plenty of time for this team to figure things out, and with the level of experience this roster holds, you have to imagine they will.

    That doesn't mean that there aren't some obvious concerns for this club, because there are. While the big one is obviously the lack of production from the Phillies' lineup, the team's concerns run much deeper than that.

    Through the first few series of the season, they've shown a bad approach, haven't used the bullpen efficiently, and of course, are dealing with some big injuries.

    If the Phillies want to turn things around, here are a couple of areas they'll need to address.

    **This slide show was written prior to the Phillies' game against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday, April 17, 2012. Any statistical changes that require an edit will be made accordingly.**

    For news, rumors, analysis and game recaps during spring training, check out Greg's blog: The Phillies Phactor!

The Offense

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    Concern: The Phillies' offense hasn't been able to produce.

    This one pretty much goes without saying, but the Phillies' lineup just hasn't produced enough runs to keep the team out of the loss column early in the season.

    The Phillies' pitching staff has certainly lived up to its end of the bargain, posting an ERA of just 2.55, which is the fourth best mark in baseball.

    The offense? Well, there hasn't been much to write home about thus far, and that's not going to change until the Phillies can get a healthy Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back.

    We'll explore this concern a little further, but just know that the offense as a whole is a huge problem.

Team OBP

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    Concern: The Phillies are a team with little power struggling to find their way onto the base paths.

    With two of their biggest power threats (when healthy) on the disabled list, we all knew that the Phillies were going to have to change their approach this season. They've become a much more contact-oriented club with speed to burn.

    The only problem is that they just can't find a way to get on base.

    Heading into the week of April 15th, the Phillies' team on-base percentage of .278 was the sixth worst mark in the MLB. They'll need to improve upon that number or the offense won't see any improvement.

Team SLG

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    Concern: The Phillies have not been driving the ball.

    As we'll explore over the next few slides, the Phillies' greatest concern early in the season has been the club's inability to hit for any kind of power with guys like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the disabled list.

    It's not that they don't have capable power hitters. Guys like Hunter Pence, John Mayberry Jr., Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, and others all have the ability to hit for power. They just haven't done it yet.

    Heading into the week of April 15th, the Phillies' slugging percentage was stagnant at .345—the seventh worst mark in the MLB.

    For comparison, Howard's slugging percentage in 2011 was .488, and that was considered to be one of his worst seasons in recent memory.

Not Scoring Runs

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    Concern: The Phillies have not been able to find an efficient way to score runs.

    At the end of the day, you can't win ball games without scoring runs. We'll delve deeper into some of the reasons that the Phillies haven't been scoring runs in a minute, but it is important to state the obvious first.

    The Phillies have certainly pitched well enough to keep their offense in the game. Their staff has posted a WHIP of 1.05 entering the week of April 15th, which is the fourth best mark in the game.

    They just haven't been able to score runs. One of the biggest reasons for that may be the fact that Charlie Manuel has had to drastically shift his lineup to compensate for those sluggers on the disabled list. Guys like Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, normally run creators, find themselves in the middle of the order tasked with being run producers,

Lack of Extra-Base Power

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    Concern: The Phillies have not driven the ball out of the infield with any consistency.

    We knew that the Phillies weren't going to be much of a home run threat early on in the season and with pitchers breaking camp ahead of hitters, it isn't necessarily surprising to see this lineup, a shell of its actual potential, struggle.

    However, who knew that the Phillies would struggle this bad.

    The club hasn't been able to hit for any power this year, and that is one of the biggest reasons they are having a difficult time scoring runs. The Phillies have just 16 extra-base hits this season. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates have managed less, and they took two out of three games from the Phillies in the first series of the season.

    The lineup will need to start driving the ball, or the Phillies may be doomed over the long haul.

Lack of Any Power at All

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    Concern: The Phillies have not been a threat to drive the ball out of the ball park.

    As was covered in the last slide, the Phillies have barely been able to drive the ball to the warning track, let alone over the outfield wall.

    It is understandable that the Phillies are struggling a bit in the power department with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the shelf, but the power outage that they are currently experiencing is just baffling.

    The Phillies have managed just five home runs this season, with no player logging more than one.

    Again, it is understandable that the club is experiencing a lack of power, but they have guys who can drive the ball. Someone is going to have to pick up the slack, and soon.

A Shift Away from Potent Offensive Teams of the Past

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    Concern: The Phillies are among the worst teams in baseball in regards to at-bats per home run.

    Anyone familiar with the Phillies over the last five years or so has probably heard the term "home runs in bunches" before. That hasn't been the case this season.

    While the Phillies have managed just five home runs in total, they couldn't have been further apart from each other, another reason the club is having trouble staying out of the loss column.

    The Phillies are managing an average of 60.8 at-bats between each home run. Only the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates have posted larger gaps.

Howard's Achilles

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    Concern: How long will the Phillies be without Ryan Howard, and what impact will he have upon his return?

    The Phillies lost more than their shot at a World Series on the final play of the 2011 NLDS as their slugging first baseman would also be lost to a torn Achilles tendon.

    After having surgery to repair the torn tendon months ago, Howard's wound still has not closed all the way, forcing us to wonder just how long the Phillies will be without him. All reports have indicated that the wound is healing nicely, however, and that the important fact is that the tendon is healing well.

    A lot of experts in this area have surmised that a May return would be possible for Howard, but as long as the Phillies are close to the top of the standings, you have to imagine that they will play it safe.

    After all, they need Howard to be 100%. He is a big, bulky first baseman who needs to hit for power to be successful. Try doing that on an Achilles tendon that is anything less than 100% healed.

Utley's Knees

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    Concern: Will yet another new training regiment strengthen Chase Utley's knees, and what will he provide when he returns?

    Whether he realizes it or not, Utley is a sly guy. When players started filing into Spring Training back in February, every indication was that he would be in the starting lineup and playing second base on Opening Day. The knees felt good. He seemed to be good to go.

    However, as the Phillies took the field to compete in Grapefruit League action, the fan base grew more  concerned with each passing game without Utley's name penciled into the lineup. As it turns out, the knees weren't so good. He had reached a "plateau" and needed to see another specialist.

    So Utley flew out to Arizona to work with a specialist and has worked with this specialist as the Phillies' offense struggles to open the season. There was once a hope that he could rejoin the Phillies when they headed West, but they'll do that this week and Utley hasn't taken a single at-bat against live pitching.

    A May return has been the popular guess for Utley as well, but the truth is that no one really knows when he'll be back.

Polanco Struggling at the Plate

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    Concern: Is this the end of the road for Placido Polanco?

    After a good spring, things were looking up for Polanco heading into Opening Day. He was making great contact and for the first time in a long time, seemed to be healthy.

    Something must have happened when the Phillies headed north for the regular season, because the Spring Training Polanco is nowhere to be found.

    Polanco is hitting just .200 and has posted an OPS of .472 through 10 games heading into the week of April 15th.

    He is still a stellar defensive third baseman, but you have to wonder how long the Phillies can stomach that kind of offensive production, or lack thereof.

Mayberry Struggling to Get Things Going

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    Concern: Was John Mayberry Jr.'s 2011 season a flash in the pan?

    A lot of Phillies are struggling early in the season, but one of the biggest concerns has to be the lack of production from John Mayberry Jr.

    After having somewhat of a breakout season in 2011, the Phillies came into the season knowing that they were going to have to get a lot out of the left fielder, now in an everyday role, and he hasn't paid off for them just yet.

    Through nine games, Mayberry has posted an OPS of .536 and has hit zero home runs. After struggling throughout Spring Training as well, one can't help but wonder whether or not his 2011 campaign was more of a flash in the pan than a breakout year.

Thome Still Adjusting to New Role

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    Concern: Will Jim Thome be able to adjust to his role as part-time player / pinch-hitter?

    While the signing of Thome over the winter was largely hailed as a great move by the Phillies, some people were quick to point out that the former designated hitter's last stint as a pinch-hitter, with the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 2009, had not gone so well.

    Thome was ready to give it another shot when he signed over the winter, and the Phillies also asked him to play a little first base as Ryan Howard recovers from his torn Achilles tendon.

    Thome, like so many other Phillies, is off to a slow start. The future Hall of Famer has just one hit and a walk to his credit early in the season and has made just two starts for the Phillies.

    One of the greatest power threats on the club, the Phillies really need Thome to adjust to a more limited role, and quickly.

Wigginton Not Producing

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    Concern: Will Ty Wigginton turn it around at the plate?

    When the Phillies acquired Wigginton from the Colorado Rockies, they expected Chase Utley to be healthy. He would serve primarily as a  bench player, spending some time at first base as well.

    Now, however, with both Utley and Ryan Howard on the disabled list and the rest of the offense spinning its wheels, the Phillies have been playing Wigginton a lot, trying to create some offense. Is that a wise decision?

    Wigginton has posted an OPS of .730 this season, but that number may be a bit misleading. He has just four hits, including a double and a home run, in 18 at-bats.

    The Phillies don't have many options, but if they're going to play Wigginton nearly every day, he'll need to prove that he can still be that type of hitter.

Nix's Disappearing Act

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    Concern: Can Laynce Nix provide that left-handed pop off of the bench that made him valuable to the Phillies as a free agent?

    After missing a couple of Spring Training games with a rib injury, I find myself wondering if that was more of a lingering issue for Nix. He hasn't played much early in the season and his bat speed was noticeably slower.

    However, after starting last Sunday's game against the New York Mets, Nix also started Monday's game against the San Francisco Giants, marking his first back-to-back starts this season.

    Nix swings a power left-handed bat, so if the Phillies are going to get the offense going, he could be the guy to do it.

What's Up with the 25th Man?

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    Concern: Are the Phillies better off carrying another pitcher as opposed to an infrequently used infielder?

    This may be more of an inquiry than a concern, but a thin line separates those two categories anyhow.

    With Chase Utley opening the season on the disabled list, the Phillies decided to take infielder Pete Orr north to start the season, as opposed to an extra pitcher. It seemed like the smart decision at the time, but would the Phillies have been better off with the extra pitcher instead?

    Orr has made just one start on the season as Freddy Galvis and Jimmy Rollins have proven to be workhorses in the middle infield, while guys like Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix get the nod at the hot corners for starts.

    Maybe I'm just making too much of this situation, but would the Phillies be better off with more pitchers and less, ineffective hitters?

Lee Struggling to Get Going

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    Concern: Should the club be more concerned about Cliff Lee's slow start?

    In short, the answer is no.

    Lee hasn't bee terrible to start the season, but he hasn't come out of the gate looking like himself. Normally reliant on pinpoint command, the first two starts of his 2012 campaign have not been up to the lofty standards he has set for himself in the past.

    It probably isn't much to worry about, but certainly something to keep an eye on. Look for Lee to improve upon his location as he makes more starts. If he doesn't, the Phillies will be in some serious trouble.

To Extend, or Not to Extend... That Is the Question

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    Concern: Are the Phillies afraid to commit to Cole Hamels on a long-term deal?

    For the longest time it seems as though both sides know what it will take to get a long-term extension done. Matt Cain's extension with the San Francisco Giants only solidified Hamels' stance—he wants the kind of money the Phillies gave Cliff Lee.

    Given the deals that Lee and CC Sabathia have signed, it isn't unreasonable. The Phillies know that they'll have to give Hamels a similar deal and have publicly stated that they can carry three pitchers earning north of $20 million.

    The question is: Why haven't they done it yet?

    In all reality, it makes perfect sense for Hamels to go to free agency, but you have to wonder if the Phillies are leery of yet another long-term commitment. Time will tell.

Blanton's Long-Term Health

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    Concern: Can Joe Blanton remain healthy throughout the season?

    So far, so good for Blanton.

    After appearing out of the bullpen early in the season, Blanton made his return to the starting rotation to oppose the Miami Marlins and was impressive, effectively utilizing all of his pitches, but his fastball, change-up, and curveball in particular.

    Believe it or not, there is a great deal of value in having Blanton at the back of the rotation. He is a proven starter with the ability to keep his team in the game, and while Phillies' fans have been spoiled with aces in recent seasons, there is certainly value in that.

    More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that keeping Blanton in the rotation gives the rest of the organization some type of structure. Kyle Kendrick stays in the bullpen, where he has been more effective, and guys that should be pitching in Triple-A, like Dave Bush and Scott Elarton, can stay there.

    It's a long season to remain healthy, but Blanton is off to a good start.

Stutes' Control

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    Concern: Is Mike Stutes' lack of command / control becoming a problem for the Phillies' bullpen?

    Stutes is a big part of the Phillies' bullpen right now, but there are some powerhouse relievers getting ready to knock on the door, and someone is going to have to be the odd man out.

    When the Phillies needed a boost last season, Stutes answered the call, but faded down the stretch. His command was poor at the time and a lot of people hoped he would turn it around early in the 2012 season.

    So far, it has been just average—if that.

    Stutes has allowed two walks in 3,2 innings this season, posting a WHIP of 1.636. That's going to have to change, with guys like Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus lurking, if Stutes wants to pitch in the MLB.

Contreras' Arm

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    Concern: Can Jose Contreras be healthy and effective throughout the season?

    As the Phillies prepared to make their annual trip to the West coast to square off with the National League West, the club got a bit of good news when Jose Contreras was activated from the disabled list.

    Now, we have to wonder if he can stay healthy through the dog days of summer and most importantly, what he can provide for the Phillies' bullpen.

    It's a situation worth monitoring. Contreras had exploratory surgery over the winter and is 40-years-old this season. When healthy, he certainly has the potential to be a huge boost to the Phillies' bullpen, but his health is a concern.

Bastardo's Velocity

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    Concern: Is Antonio Bastardo dealing with an injury, or still building arm strength?

    The concern for Bastardo has to be growing.

    He didn't pitch early in Spring Training as he was recovering from a tight forearm linked to dehydration, and when he made his return to the mound, his velocity was significantly lower and the break on his slider wasn't as sharp.

    He is a huge part of the Phillies' bullpen, and even with the emergence of Chad Qualls, having to deal with concern over both Bastardo and Jose Contreras would frustrate the Phillies' plans for the bullpen.

    It could just be the classic case of a pitcher still building arm strength early in the season, but it could be much more. Something to keep an eye on, no doubt.

The Use of the Phillies' Bullpen

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    Concern: Is the manner in which Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee have managed the bullpen becoming a serious problem?

    When the Phillies sputtered out of Pittsburgh following the first series of the regular season, a lot of people, myself included, were willing to pin some of the blame on manager Charlie Manuel, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say that he has lost his touch, I did believe that the management of the bullpen early in the season was horrendous.

    That blame doesn't fall solely on the shoulders of Manuel. Pitching coach Rich Dubee handles a bulk of the decision making, and there were certainly a few questionable decisions made. 

    The most obvious example is the use of Jonathan Papelbon. The final two games of the first series both went to the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied, with the second going 10 innings. In both games, Papelbon watched from the bullpen.

    Following an off day, the Phillies pitched Papelbon in a meaningless ball game because he "needed to get some work in." He promptly surrendered a home run.

    That's just one example, but the Phillies are going to have to manage their bullpen better in close affairs if they want to hold on to leads.

Brown Stalling in Triple-A

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    Concern: Is there anything left for Domonic Brown in Triple-A?

    The Phillies' offense has looked flat out embarrassing at times this season, and yet, one of the players with the most offensive potential this club has to offer is still suiting up for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

    After sending Brown to Triple-A to get more regular at-bats, he came out of the gate slow, but has picked things up over the last week or so.

    During Spring Training, the Phillies sent Brown to Triple-A because they thought they had options. John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, Juan Pierre, Ty Wigginton, and Jim Thome would be playing either left field or first base in any given lineup.

    The consistent theme amongst that group is that none of the five are off to a great start at the plate. If they continue to struggled, would you be in favor of bringing Brown up—for good?

The Rest of the NL East

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    Concern: Are the Phillies a good enough team to beat back the rest of the NL East?

    This one probably goes without saying, but the Phillies are going to have to prove that they can weather this storm of injuries early in the season and hit once their right side of the infield is activated off of the disabled list, because there is a lot of talent in the NL East.

    The Washington Nationals are off to a terrific start this season thanks to some stellar pitching, even with closer Drew Storen on the disabled list. The Atlanta Braves have the pitching. The Miami Marlins are loaded with talent. Even the New York Mets are proving that, at the very least, they can certainly play spoiler.

    With the way the Phillies are playing right now—right around .500 baseball—they should be concerned with the level of talent and competition in the NL East. It's an excellent division.

The Payroll

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    Concern: Has the Phillies' mammoth payroll pigeonholed them into sticking with this roster throughout the season?

    Over each of the last three seasons, when the Phillies have needed a boost at the trade deadline, they went out and got three All-Stars in succession: Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence. With the payroll stuffed against the luxury tax, don't expect a huge move this summer.

    Sure, the Phillies have stated time and again that they would go over the tax limit for "the right move." A quick look over the trade market and the Phillies' farm system shows that said move may not exist this summer.

    The Phillies and their bloated payroll may be pigeonholed into the current roster (of course, what they hope will be a more healthy one) as the trade deadline rolls around, and that may be a concern in and of itself.