Philadelphia Phillies: Old, Brittle, Overpaid Team's Flaws Already Being Exposed

Phil KeidelContributor IIApril 24, 2013

Halladay's transition from dominant starter to unrepentant nibbler is, um, a work in progress.
Halladay's transition from dominant starter to unrepentant nibbler is, um, a work in progress.Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Phillies' preseason was best summed up with Andy Dufresne's words to Red in The Shawshank Redemption: "hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

Three weeks into the season, though, the Phillies' reality of greatness lost is more like Red's summation of his reckless youth to the parole board: "that kid's long gone and this old man is all that's left."

Tremendous energy has been poured into analyzing the troubles Roy Halladay has encountered through four starts in 2013. Most of that heated conjecture is wasted.

The plain truth is that Halladay has lost velocity on all his pitches (not just his fastball), and thus has to learn to compete with what he has left, per While it is true that his last two starts were much better than his first two, it all adds up to 2-2 record and a 6.04 earned run average.

Given the prevailing wisdom that Halladay needs to be special for the Phillies to compete in 2013, early returns are not all that convincing.

Compared to Ryan Howard's situation, though, Halladay's first three weeks look positively promising.

The Phillies would certainly take a .274 batting average from Howard this season. But that is where the good news ends.

Howard is slugging .384. His OPS is .678. Those power numbers sync with the expectations a team might have for a decent middle infielder or a speedy outfielder.

But Howard is being paid $25 million this season to hit home runs and knock runners in. Currently, he is on pace for eight home runs and 48 RBI. 

That's not all. Howard's Achilles injury of October 2011 is still not fully a memory, per the Philadelphia Daily News. As a result, manager Charlie Manuel has taken to pinch-running for Howard late in close games, favoring the chance to score with a faster runner over keeping his franchise first baseman in the game.

Digest that for a minute.

The diminished production from two aging players each making more than $20 million per season is only somewhat masking more subtle problems around the diamond.

The Phillies' hitters are in the bottom third in Major League Baseball in both on-base percentage and OPS. They're also in the top quarter in strikeouts and trail traditionally power-starved teams like the Oakland A's, Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners in home runs.

The big offseason acquisition, Ben Revere, is learning that no matter how fast you are, you cannot steal first base. His .205 batting average and .241 on-base percentage have utterly blunted his effectiveness.

The only other regular starter younger than 30 years of age, Domonic Brown, is lolloping along at .206 and playing what can charitably be called an unconvincing left field. One wonders at this point if Brown's name was, say, Steve Smith, whether he would already be at AAA Lehigh Valley.

Maybe the most troubling news for Philadelphia is this: Chase Utley and Michael Young are both healthy and hitting over .300, Antonio Bastardo and Phillippe Aumont have yet to give up an earned run, Jonathan Papelbon is perfect in save chances this season...and the Phillies are still below .500.

Yes, Cole Hamels is almost certainly not going to post an earned run average over five and go winless for a whole season. That problem will right itself.

Ultimately, though, while fans might argue that proven players like Halladay and Howard can turn it around, and that Revere won't hit .205 all season, and that Brown is better than he has been, the likelihood is that as those players' performances trend up to the mean, the performances of Utley, Young, Bastardo and Papelbon will regress to it.

The sort of good news for the Phillies is that the consensus division favorite, the Washington Nationals, are out of the gates slowly themselves.

Still, these first three weeks might have Phillies' fans—who hoped that 2012 was a temporary setback—reflecting on Dufresne's realization on how wrong things could yet go.

"I was in the path of the tornado. I just didn't expect the storm would last as long as it has."