4 Wishes for Charlie Manuel and the Philadelphia Phillies in 2013
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Christmas may be over, but it’s never too late to start compiling a list of things you’d like in 2013. My list includes some changes I’d like to see Charlie Manuel make this year for the Phillies.
Manuel is facing a unique situation in his ninth season as manager. When Charlie first became skipper of the club in 2005, he had a boatload of young, talented players who were just coming into their potential. Now, however, he is in the exact opposite situation. While talented, the Phillies are an aging, past-their-prime team that has maybe a year or two left to really compete.
This team will require Manuel to make some changes, something he has been reluctant to do in the past.
Here is a list of four things I would like to see the Phillies’ skipper do differently in the New Year.
*All statistics and figures taken from baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Give Domonic Brown a Chance
Let's hope we see much more of Brown this year.
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Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with Manuel is his insistence on using platoons. Assuming the Phillies enter the season with their current roster, the team has five players to man the three outfield spots: Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry and Laynce Nix.
Recently, Ruben Amaro stated that the Phillies could look into using a double platoon in the outfield, splitting the time in the corner outfield spots between Mayberry, Ruf, Brown and Nix. What a nightmare.
Last year, Mayberry was about as average as you can be, posting a .245/.301/.395 line with 14 home runs in 479 plate appearances en route to a WAR of +0.5. It’s not bold to say that he isn't the answer in the outfield. Neither is Nix, who posted a .246/.315/.412 line, albeit in only 127 plate appearances.
My wish for 2013 is that Charlie drops the platoon idea and gives Domonic Brown a chance to play every day.
Brown, once the crown jewel of the Phillies' farm system, has been reduced to a part-time player in the Phillies’ eyes and currently holds little external value (the Phillies recently discussed a "Brown for Alfonso Soriano" swap… ugh). It’s borderline torture to watch the Phillies continually mismanage Brown, holding the young outfielder back and hindering his development (remember, this is a guy they refused to part ways with in the Roy Halladay trade). It’s time that Domonic has his moment in the sun.
For those of you who think Brown is a bust given his performance in the big leagues so far, consider this:
Chase Utley at age 25: 439 PA, .257/.313/.436, 15 HR, 78 RBI
Domonic Brown at age 25: 492 PA, .235/.315/.388, 12 HR, 58 RBI
The Phillies didn't give Chase Utley a chance to play a full season until 2005, when he posted a .291/.376/.540 line with 28 home runs and 105 RBI in 628 plate appearances. I’m not saying that Brown will repeat that performance, but I’m saying that he deserves a chance. As Alec Snyder pointed out in this excellent piece, this is a make-or-break year for the young outfielder. It’s time to find out what the kid is truly made of. 2013 is the year of Domonic Brown.
(For a deeper look at the “small sample size” debate about Domonic Brown, check out this exceptional article by Crashburn Alley’s Bill Baer.)
Find a Way to Get Darin Ruf 600 Plate Appearances
We can hope to be seeing a lot more of this in 2013.
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Speaking of platoons, Darin Ruf is another guy who should not be relegated to part-time duties.
If you’re a Phillies fan, chances are you already know how dominant Ruf was last year. (In case you aren't, check out his gaudy minor league stats here.)
The Phillies enter the season in need of a right-handed corner outfielder with power. Surprise! Darin Ruf is a right-handed corner outfielder with power!
OK, the term “corner outfielder” might be a bit of a stretch for Ruf, whose professional experience thus far has consisted primarily of work at first base. He’s been working in the outfield in the offseason, however, and will surely benefit from the above-average defensive abilities of the newly acquired Ben Revere.
If Ruf gets regular playing time, and I believe he should, it will be because of his bat. He would instantly become the most dangerous right-handed power bat in the lineup and would offer some much-needed depth in the middle of the lineup. At 26, the clock is already ticking on Ruf, who has just 37 big league plate appearances under his belt. The Phillies need to find a way to get Ruf a full season's worth of shots at the plate.
If I had things my way, Ruf would be the Phils’ everyday starting left fielder. If this doesn't happen (and even if it does), the Phillies can still use Ruf at first base to spell Ryan Howard’s struggles against left-handed pitching.
Howard is truly Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the plate:
Career (vs. RHP): 3134 PA, .295/.393/.612 226 HR, 656 RBI, 24.7% strikeout rate
Career (vs. LHP): 1567 PA, .227/.305/.434 74 HR, 264 RBI, 33.9% strikeout rate
Those are some ugly splits, and they’re only getting worse as Howard gets older (he hit .173 against lefties last year; check out his 2012 splits here).
Am I suggesting a platoon? Absolutely not. That would be fairly hypocritical of me.
But against the occasional tough lefty, I think it’s a wise idea to use Ruf to spell Howard’s struggles against southpaws. This would allow Mayberry and Nix to get some time in the outfield, would give Howard some rest (which I’ll address in a bit) and would get Ruf continued work at the plate. It’s a win-win-win.
Just for kicks, here’s a look at Ruf’s splits from his 2012 season in AA Reading (courtesy of BaseballAmerica.com*):
2012 vs. LHP (AA Reading): 171 PA, .385/.475/.838, 19 HR, 10.5% strikeout rate
2012 vs. RHP (AA Reading), 383 PA, .284/.377/.522, 19 HR, 21.9% strikeout rate
*Note: The site does not keep track of plate appearances, so I added walks and at-bats to get plate appearances. Actual numbers could vary based on sacrifices or hit-by-pitches.
Move Jimmy Rollins out of the Leadoff Spot
Rollins is an extremely valuable player, but he belongs lower in the order.
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Jimmy Rollins took some flak last year, but he is undeniably still one of the most valuable shortstops in the NL. He is an integral part of this team, and the Phillies will rely on his production heavily if they want to win this year.
That being said, it’s about time he drops in the order a bit.
Rollins has recently fancied himself a power hitter, and his average and on base percentages have suffered. In fact, both were below the league average for leadoff hitters last year (.261 avg, .324 OBP). This isn't necessarily a bad trend. In fact, given the Phillies' lack of power, Rollins’ tendencies could actually benefit the team.
Jimmy Rollins 2012: 699 PA, .250/.316/.427, 23 HR, 102 R, 30 SB
Ben Revere 2012: 553 PA, .294/.333/.342, 0 HR, 70 R, 40 SB
Revere fits the profile of a leadoff hitter much better. He’s a ground-ball hitter who gets on base and has the potential to swipe 40 bags (possibly even more). His 67.7 percent GB rate since 2010 is the highest in the league in that span, per CrashburnAlley.com. He has absolutely no power, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing for a leadoff hitter. Let Revere get on base, wreak some havoc and circle the bases ahead of Utley, Howard, Ruf and Rollins, the power threats in the lineup.
Here’s how I would roll out the lineup in 2013:
1. Ben Revere, LH
2. Michael Young, RH
3. Chase Utley, LH
4. Ryan Howard LH
5. Darin Ruf, RH
6. Jimmy Rollins, S
7. Carlos Ruiz/Erik Kratz, RH
8. Domonic Brown, LH
Rollins has the opportunity to use his superior power to drive in runs. He can also use his baserunning and speed to create runs on the base paths ahead of the bottom of the order.
Charlie, we know you love to hit Rollins leadoff, but it’s time for a change.
Rest Your Players!
Utley is key to the team's success, but he's way more valuable when he's healthy.
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Plain and simple, the Phillies are old. Injuries have become a major concern for several key players, including Utley, Howard, Ruiz and Halladay.
As far as we know, all of those guys are healthy and ready to go for Opening Day (except Ruiz, who is serving a 25-game suspension). But Charlie won’t be able to ride the core of this team for 160 games as he has in the past.
It’s time for Manuel to start thinking about increasing the amount of rest for these players.
Barring injuries, Utley and Howard have played almost every inning of every game that they could since 2006. Utley started 150 games or more in 2006, 2008 and 2009, the only seasons he’s been healthy. He broke his hand on a John Lannan fastball in 2007 and has faced various injuries from 2010 to 2012.
Ryan Howard has started at least 130 games every year since 2006, with the obvious exception of 2012 (torn Achilles). At 34 and 33 years old, respectively, it’s time to start resting Utley and Howard more often. The Phillies have two backups in Freddy Galvis and Darin Ruf, who are more than capable of filling the void.
A full season of Utley and Howard at full health is much better than two-thirds of a season plagued with injuries and fatigue.
At 33, Carlos Ruiz is also an aging veteran with injury issues; his magnificent 2012 season was derailed by plantar fasciitis. Ruiz, when healthy, catches most games for the Phillies. He is a crucial part of the team, providing an offensive spark and spectacular defense behind the plate.
Catching is no easy task, however, and inevitably takes a toll as the season wears on. The Phillies have found a great backup in Erik Kratz. It’s time to use him a bit more often.
Keeping Ruiz healthy and productive should be a main priority for the Phillies in 2013. Increasing his number of days off may be the only way to do that.
Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Phillies entering the 2013 season, however, is the effectiveness of Roy Halladay. Will he be the dominant force that won the Cy Young in 2010 and finished runner-up in 2011, or will he be the old, tired-looking Halladay that posted a 4.49 ERA in 156 innings of work in 2012?
Like it or not, Halladay is on the latter end of his spectacular career. I fully believe he has plenty left in the tank, but the Phillies need to be smart about how they use him. Halladay has been a workhorse his entire career, tossing 200 or more innings eight times, including each year between 2006 and 2011.
It just might not be realistic to expect this of him in 2013.
I would much prefer 160 innings of a crisp, sharp Roy Halladay than 200 innings of the tired, ineffective Halladay we saw last year. The Phillies have a strong bullpen; it might be wise to keep Halladay on a shorter leash this season.
This doesn't mean a pitch count (which I despise), but it does mean being honest about his health and not being afraid to pull him when things don’t quite seem right.
For the Phillies to win in 2013, they are going to need all of these aging stars to be healthy and effective for the duration of the season. If this means playing fewer innings, then I’ll take that any day over ineffectiveness and repeated trips to the DL.