Philadelphia Phillies: 2008 Preview

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Philadelphia Phillies: 2008 Preview
But first, a recap of 2007:
 
 
 
What went right?

Duh.

They won the NL East and therefore got into the playoffs for the first time since 1993!

Jimmy Rollins won the NL MVP Award that should have gone to Hanley Ramirez or David Wright. Ryan Howard followed up his 2006 MVP award nicely, and might have netted another one if he'd been healthy all year. Chase Utley finished eighth in the voting, and was better than either of them, though he missed 30 games with an injury.

Pat Burrell held (almost perfectly) steady from his solid 2006 campaign. Aaron Rowand set career personal highs in games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, homers, walks, RBI, OBP, total bases, and strikeouts.
 
The bench was mostly solid, with Greg Dobbs, Jayson Werth, and Tadahito Iguchi, who were all picked up for nothing or something very close to that, being particularly good.

Youngsters Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick combined to go 25-9.
 
 
 
What went wrong?

Pretty much everything to do with the pitching, and anyone who had anything to do with third base.

Brett Myers adapted well to closing after struggling through a few rough starts in April, but his work in that role was forced when Tom Gordon got injured and everyone else in the bullpen forgot how to get guys out. Taking the guy who should have been your best starter and turning him into a reliever cannot be considered a victory in any sense.

Jamie Moyer won 14 games, but he also lost 12, and had an ERA of 5.01. Adam Eaton "won" 10 games, but his 6.29 ERA and 30 homers allowed in 161 innings are much more telling of his season. By the end of June, both Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber were gone for good, and by the end of July, so was Ryan Madson.

Third base was a revolving door, through which Charlie Manuel desperately sent various players to their doom. Abraham Nunez was almost comically bad (.234/.318/.282 with zero homers in 252 at-bats), and Wes Helms was not much better (.246/.297/.368 in 280 at-bats). Dobbs was decent, but didn't get enough playing time.

Ryan Howard, though he adapted well to Jan's old job, set a new MLB record by striking out 199 times.

The team, as a whole, spent its whole stash trying to get into the playoffs and then had nothing left, and got swept out by the red-hot Rockies.


 
Looking ahead...

There have been some significant turnovers for the Phillies in the 2007-08 offseason.
 
 
 
The Offense

...will be hampered both by its losses and its acquisitions, but the Phils probably will still be one of the top five hitting teams in all of MLB.

Rowand's big year netted him a five-year, $60 million contract from the Giants, which was WAY more than Philly (or anyone else) was willing to pay. Rowand's departure, however, doesn't hurt nearly as much as the arrival of third baseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz got a two-year, $8.5M contract, and the Phils hope he will provide "stability" to the third base situation.
 
"Stability" being a euphemism for "mediocrity" in this case. He offers no more quality than incumbent Greg Dobbs did, but he comes with ten times the price tag.

Another new acquisition, Geoff Jenkins, has a little power but not much else to offer. He can be decent as the lefty-hitting half of a platoon with Werth in right field, but probably isn't worth the $13 million they've promised him for 2008-09.

Carlos Ruiz, after a solid two-thirds of a season in 2007, should have a stranglehold on the starting catcher's job, and while he's not likely to be confused with Mike Piazza or even Joe Mauer, he should do well enough.
 
Baseball prospectus has him projected to hit .270/.341/.413 in 389 at-bats, and that sounds about right, though I would give him a little more playing time, now that Rod Barajas is out of the picture.

The rest of the offense, assuming everyone's healthy, should be great. Howard and Utley and Rollins are all MVP-type players, and more than make up for OM/3B Feliz.
 
Burrell is as solid a left fielder as any in baseball, and Shane Victorino's proved that he can play every day. His modest offensive skills and exceptional speed will play better in CF than they did in right anyway.

The bench, while not spectacular on offense, has some worth (and one Werth!). Chris Coste can hit a little as he backs up Ruiz. Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs can play either corner once in a while, though hopefully neither will start in Howard's place unless they need a DH.
 
Werth showed that he's healthy for once, and So Taguchi can be a useful pinch hitter or defensive replacement for any of the corner outfielders.

 
 
Pitching
 
The Phillies will do well to let Brett Myers start and only start this year. The rotation is thin enough without turning a 200-inning pitcher into a 59-inning pitcher. Hopefully he bounces back and wins 15 games with a 3.85-ish ERA.
 
Cole Hamels did exactly that last year but still needs to prove he's able to stay healthy if he wants the team to give him the kind of respect (read: money) he thinks he deserves.

Kyle Kendrick impressed a lot of people last year, but he'll need to prove his performance wasn't a fluke. Last year was the first of his five-year pro career higher than A-Ball. He was doing well enough in AA that the desperate Phils gave him a shot in the majors, and he managed to stick, but the smart guys over at Baseball Prospectus have him projected for a 9-11 record and a 5.35 ERA this year.

The rest of the rotation should be just that: rotating.
 
The nominal fourth and fifth starters are 45-year old Jamie Moyer and (God help them) Adam Eaton. Moyer was at least durable, if not "good" last year, and the Phillies could do worse than to have a guy like him as their number-five starter, someone who can keep the team in games and let the mashers win it against the soft underbelly of the opposition's rotation.

But Eaton? He was dreadful last season, and the Phillies are stuck with him for two more. I can't see him pitching like he did last year and staying employed for the whole year.
 
They'd be better served giving someone from their AAA team a long look, someone like John Ennis or J.A. Happ.
 
Even the Dust-Bin Durbins (J.D. and Chad, no relation) might be better than Eaton, who keeps trying to prove he can't pitch, but nobody wants to believe him. In any case, the Phillies have no shot at repeating as NL East Champions if they don't do something to shore up the pitching rotation.

The Bullpen should be better than the rotation, but until they get Brad Lidge healthy, the whole group is weakened. Lidge's knee surgery makes Tom Gordon the closer again, temporarily, which makes Ryan Madson the primary right-handed setup man instead of the long-man.
 
That, in turn, forces them to use the likes of Clay Condrey, Scott Matthieson, and the Dust-Bin Durbins more often.
 
At least they've got J.C. Romero, one of the more consistent lefty relievers in the majors.


 
Summary


I have a hard time imagining that the Phillies offense can compensate for their lack of pitching. If the chances of Cole Hamels staying healthy enough to pitch 200+ innings and win 15+ games are slim, then the chances of Brett Myers rebounding to again be one of the 10 or 15 best starters in the NL are all but nonexistent.
 
A dozen wins and an ERA around 4.25 might be more realistic, and that just won't be enough.
 
Kendrick's future is anybody's guess, and the rest of the rotation is likely to be a revolving door of guys with ERAs on the wrong side of 5.00, as they were last year. The bullpen can't make up for that, and they don't have the minor league talent to either plug in or trade for another solid starter.

My best guess is something like 84-78, no playoffs.

The Wild Card will come out of the NL West.
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