Philadelphia Phillies: Offseason in Review and a Preview for 2011

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Philadelphia Phillies: Offseason in Review and a Preview for 2011
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
This big move of the offseason gave this team a historically potent pitching rotation.

The Phillies’ dream rotation is getting a lot of press, and it gets more here. It will be a spectacle when the regular season comes around.

The offense, however, is in decline. Most of the Phillie hitters are on the wrong side of 30 and dealt with injuries last year. In addition, the farm system has been gutted of late, and there is little in the way of reinforcements closer than a few years away. Domonic Brown, the young right fielder, is the most exciting non-pitching story as he seeks to replace Jayson Werth’s production.

 

Rotation: Improved

There is little that hasn’t been said about the Phillie rotation. Their five starters (it doesn’t really matter who the fifth one is) could combine for 1000 innings pitched. These guys are going to lead the Phillies to a ton of wins, probably en route to a fifth consecutive division title.

The fifth starter position remains open to my knowledge, and the leading candidates Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton were almost equally mediocre in 2010. Whoever gets the job will be made a double-digit winner by the Phillie offense, provided he doesn’t pitch himself out of a job. There are arguments to be made for either. Joe Blanton has better stuff and could strike out three times as many guys as he walks. He could also be trade bait though, which leaves them with Kendrick.

Kyle Kendrick has been more of a ground ball pitcher in recent years and is cheaper than Blanton. Of course both are candidates to give up 30 home runs over a full season. I do think Joe Blanton is the better pitcher, and he probably gets the job unless the Phillies need to move him to fix a hole in right field.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Lest we forget, the man leading this rotation might be the best starter in the game.

Last year, the Phillies started Joe Blanton in 28 games and he ran up 175.2 innings. With help from a high BABIP-against, he spun an ERA of 4.82. To be honest, he’s probably a low-4.00s guy. Jamie Moyer made 19 disastrous starts, and Kendrick started 31 games, pitching 180.2 innings of 4.73 ball. To replace most of these starts with Cliff Lee and a full year of Roy Oswalt makes this rotation a lot better.

Just to temper expectations somewhat, I will say that Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee both see slight declines in the ERA and WHIP departments. Oswalt posted a BABIP-against of .261 and I’m expecting his ERA to bounce up by about 40 points. He did start striking more guys out last year, probably by throwing more change-ups, which should serve him well. I think Cliff Lee is going to walk a few more than 18 batters this year, plus he will play the entire season in a hitter’s park.

I think Cole Hamels will be about as good as he was in 2010 or even a little better. He added some speed (one or two mph) to each of his three primary pitches in 2010. The strikeouts and groundball rates both jumped. The walks rose too, but not as much as the K's. Roy Halladay is going to be Roy Halladay, which means an ERA no higher than 2.80 and 230+ innings.

Aside from having all the talent in the world, a rotation this deep is nice because it should allow each pitcher to relax in any situation knowing the next three guys can pick him up if he has one of those rare rough games.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Brad Lidge knows no moderation as he bounces between ERAs around 2.00 and ERAs around 5.00.

 

Bullpen: Comparable

Much of the Philadelphia bullpen from 2010 returns, most notably de facto closer Brad Lidge, who could either be great or abysmal. While probably the most electric arm in their pen, he also walks a ton of guys and is a fly ball pitcher in a small ballpark. He brings value to the bullpen by virtue of his incredible strikeout rate, but probably won’t be an elite closer.

Ryan Madson has been a reliable set-up man for the past few years, and Jose Contreras thrived in relief last year. Both go a long way to strengthening this bullpen. Danys Baez is a liability though, with his 1.31 K/BB and 5.1 K/9 rates since 2007. J.C. Romero has control problems but has handled lefties well throughout his career and should be decent.

The only significant change is the absence of Chad Durbin who had the two best seasons of a largely mediocre career in Philadelphia. Over three seasons he contributed 226 innings from the bullpen with a 3.62 ERA, 7.5 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea to let someone else, who will cost about $2 million less get a shot at the bullpen but Durbin was a reliable pitcher who Charlie Manuel liked to go to.

There are a number of relatively unproven guys in the mix as well. Vance Worley is a 23-year-old righty who has been a starter. He has exhibited good control and has a strikeout rate on the higher end of average. He only pitched 13 innings for the big league club, and they were good innings, but his minor league stats project well. I like him best out of the guys in the mix for the bullpen.

Harry How/Getty Images
Jose Contreras made a smooth transition to the bullpen and gives the team depth in the late innings.

Scott Mathieson is going to turn 27 before the season starts and his great strikeout rate in the AAA did not translate to his 39 big league innings. Mike Zagurski is a soon-to-be 28-year-old lefty who might compete with JC Romero for the lefty specialist role. David Herndon made 47 appearances from the pen and posted a 4.30 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP. He’s a low-strikeout, low-walk guy in the mold of Jamie Moyer. Beyond these guys are a number of unimpressive minor league invites.

I think the Phillie bullpen is going to be comparable to that of last year, and though I don’t see them improving much on the 4.02 pen ERA from 2010, they will be fine. Phillie relieves shouldered the second-lightest workload in baseball last year and there is no way that continues.

 

Catcher: Comparable

Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider return to handle the Phillie pitching staff. Carlos Ruiz probably won’t hit .300 again but he will walk a lot with an unintentional walk rate somewhere around nine percent. I think he’s better than your average No. 8 hitter on a national league team. Schneider is an adequate backup who should not be a starter.

 

Corner Infielders: Comparable

If Ryan Howard’s ankle heals completely, which it had not as of two weeks ago, then he can be counted on to approach his usual production. In 2010, his 31 home runs and 108 RBIs were lower than we had come to expect from him but it seems silly to complain about numbers like that.

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Ryan Howard's power output declined in 2010 as he battled an ankle injury.

Can he hit 45 home runs again? I think so, I have no reason to believe his power is fading. His home run per fly ball rate is always very high, his environment and his ability to hit the fly balls far will ensure that. The interesting thing about Howard is that he hits for decent average for a guy who strikes out 32 percent of the time.

Placido Polanco missed 30 games in 2010, which is unfortunate because he is a great contact hitter who plays stellar defense. If healthy, we know exactly what to expect from him: an average within 15 points in either direction of .300, an OBP somewhere near league average and defense worth at least two wins above league average.

I have the same concern with both Howard and Polanco, and it has to do with health. I know what both are capable of and despite their being on the wrong side of 30, I think they can both do what they’ve been doing in 2011.

 

Middle Infielders: Comparable

Ryan Howard missed 19 games, but he led Phillie infielders in games played in 2010. It seems intuitive that the Phillies need their health to have a successful 2011, yet they won 97 games while giving a combined 679 plate appearances to Juan Castro, Wilson Valdez and Greg Dobbs.

Jimmy Rollins was out for nearly half the season and was ineffective for the other half. At his best he hits for moderate power and steals bases, but his recent averages and line drive rates are worrisome. I’m going to attribute it to his calf injury as I know his legs are a huge part of his game.

Harry How/Getty Images
Jimmy Rollins (left) was MIA for most of 2010 due to a nagging calf injury. Jayson Werth (right) has left the team for a huge contract in Washington.

Chase Utley might be one of the few hitters in baseball who actually takes too many pitches. He has the power to hit 30 home runs should be expected to hit somewhere around .280 or .290 with an OBP closer to .400 than .300.

This is one of the more powerful middle infield combinations in the game, and that’s good because they help make up for Polanco’s lack of pop at third base. The duo play very well in the field too, but both of them turned 32 this winter and while I don’t think either is going to decline precipitously, neither will get better.

 

Outfield: Declined

I think it was wise to let Jayson Werth go, given that his absence allowed the team to assemble their outstanding rotation. Still he’s not easy to replace. Domonic Brown will get a chance to be Werth’s replacement, and if he doesn’t get the job, then it will be Ben Francisco. Brown hits for power and average and is fast, but will have to prove himself at the major league level. I cannot bank on him doing what Werth did last year, and even if he does, the Phillies will be without a strong righty bat in the middle of their lineup.

Francisco is a rather average player. He has some power, maybe to the tune of 20 home runs over a full season, but has never impressed enough to be given a full season of play.

Shane Victorino hit .257 last year and did not look like the leadoff-type the Phillies need him to be. I think he can do better. His BABIP was 22 points below his career average but his line drive rate was four percent below last year’s. Since this decline in line drives was replaced with an increase in fly balls, he also hit a career-high 18 home runs. He should be fine and can get the average back up to where it usually is.

Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Domonic Brown didn't impress in a brief stint in the majors last year. He will get another chance.

Raul Ibanez’s power seemed to evaporate last year as he hit 18 fewer home runs in 71 additional plate appearances. He’s going to turn 39 in June, but he should still be able to produce. He hasn’t hit below .270 in the past 11 seasons, he draws enough walks and he should get some of that power back. I think he can hit 20 to 25 home runs, maybe 35 doubles and his presence makes the team better.

 

Bench: Comparable

Wilson Valdez is a 32-year-old utility infielder who at least handles the glove well enough for that role. Hopefully he doesn’t have to play as much this year. Ross Gload will spot Ryan Howard at first base and despite some decent seasons average-wise and the ability to go deep, a lefty on the bench is hardly what this team needs. John Mayberry is the fourth outfielder (fifth if Brown makes the team). Throughout his minor league career, he showed decent power but never was much of an on-base guy. The Phillies are a strong team on offense, but if there are injuries, the replacements are not especially pretty.

 

Lineup

This lineup heavily left-handed lineup is strong, stacked from top to seventh or so. Last year, as injuries took their toll, the Phillies fell to the middle of the pack in most offensive categories. Their .332 OBP was good, but only ranked 11th. Their 769 runs scored ranked sixth and we all know that this lineup should have topped 800.

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If they have their health, that won’t happen again but this team cannot keep it up forever. Everyone in this lineup is over 30, which could be partially remedied by Domonic Brown, but we’re going to begin to see some of these guys decline over the coming years and that will weaken this team, no matter how brilliant their rotation is.

 

The Farm

The Phillies have lost a lot of prospects in recent years en route to their fearsome rotation, and that’s a problem because these guys are aging. The best pitching prospects seem at least a year away and are not exactly what they need in Philadelphia.

Most noteworthy is a 22-year-old starter named Phillipe Aumont, who came over from Seattle for Cliff Lee. Aumont is a huge guy who throws hard but has stuggled with control in AA. There are several hitters who might turn out to be pretty good, but I don’t think there’s anyone (other than Brown) who is closer than two years away, if that.

 

Expected win total: 95-100

The only real divisional competition seems to come from Atlanta. The pitching will carry this team so far that the offense really doesn’t need to be better than it was last year. These hitters can do better, and if healthy, they will, and this team will be even better than last year’s.

 

Previously previewed: New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds

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