Everyone is gunning for the Phillies.
A quick look at any sports news outlet and you will see a myriad of “doom and gloom” scenarios all pointing to why the Phillies won’t contend in 2011.
You’ll read about Chase Utley’s injury and how the Phillies are doomed without him; how age will be their undoing and you’ll read a lot about Jimmy Rollins and how he has “seen better days” and that without him there is no way they can win.
Well, I‘m here to tell you, don’t believe any of it.
The Philadelphia Phillies will win the NL East; they will win the National League Championship and they have the best chance of winning the World Series. In fact, they will have a better chance than who ever happens to win the American League Pennant (insert Boston Red Sox-sounding cough here).
Utley is an amazing player but he does not hold the fate of the Philadelphia Phillies in his hands…or his knees for that matter. He missed almost half of the 2010 season with a broken hand and yet the Phillies managed to finish with the best record in Major League Baseball.
You can also add Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, and catcher Carlos Ruiz to the list of players who missed significant playing time in 2010.
While backup catcher Brian Schneider managed to avoid the DL, he was virtually unplayable for a good two weeks when Ruiz was out, leaving the Phillies to rely on Dane Sardinha, a call-up from the minor leagues. All those injuries to all those players and still, the best record in baseball.
They were able to overcome these injuries for a very simple reason: the bench, and in particular, Wilson Valdez—who was a New York Mets throwaway picked up by the Phillies in the offseason prior to the start of the 2010 season.
Valdez didn’t make the team initially, but when Rollins got hurt early in the season he was called up to replace him. Oddly, he was soon designated for assignment and after clearing waivers landed back on the Phillies' minor-league affiliate. He was soon brought back and filled a huge void for the team for the remainder of the season.
So far this spring Valdez is on fire, playing every day and hitting well above .300. He is the main reason the Phillies are not looking elsewhere to fill the void of an injured Utley.
The main knock on Valdez is his propensity to hit into the double play. If he can manage to improve that aspect of his game he might qualify as one of the best bench players in baseball.
Yes, the Phillies are the oldest team in baseball. If you add the age of every player on the major-league roster and then divide that sum by 25 (number of roster spots) you will in fact have a higher number than any other team in baseball.
Most of these guys have proven that they can perform and there was no need to call up young talent from the system.
Does that make their combined average age a negative or a positive?
Well, you figure it out. Is the fact that they have a 31-year-old first basemen who is so good he manages to be among the league leaders in production every year a good thing or a bad thing? Sure, once these guys start to decline the age will become a factor, but at this particular juncture in time, this has not really happened.
Which brings us to Jimmy Rollins.
There is no doubt about it, his numbers are falling rapidly.
But why? Is it because of his age?
I don’t think so and I watch every Phillies game, all year long.
What I see in Rollins is extremely poor decision making at the plate with poor at-bats. He swings at bad pitches, he swings early in the count, he seems to always be trying to hit the long ball and he flat-out refuses to walk. Pitchers aren’t getting him out, he’s getting himself out.
Rollins actually started last season off on a tear, hitting over .350 when he injured himself. When he returned to the lineup it seemed as if he was trying to get all his production back at one time, typically on the first pitch. Unfortunately, this is only a problem Jimmy can fix.
From what I have seen of him in spring training, it doesn’t look as though he is on the right path. I really don’t know how long he will last in 2011 if he cannot become a more disciplined, smarter hitter. The bright side is the team was without him for a majority of 2010 and, as mentioned above, they still managed the best record in all of baseball.
Another adage you’ll hear from the naysayers’ mouths refers to the loss of Jayson Werth and how ultimately he was the glue that held the team together and he was the key to the Phillies success and other nonsense.
I guess no one bothered to look at Mr. Werth’s average with runners in scoring position (RISP).
I did. It was .186. Werth came through with the all-important hit with a runner on second or third 19 times out of 100.
As we know these hits almost always result in the true objective of the game—scoring runs—and .186 is a miserable number.
The biggest factor in the Phillies' offensive woes of 2010, besides the injuries, can be attributed to Werths’ poor RISP percentage. While he may be missed defensively, his production on offense should be fairly easy to make up.
Despite Werth's inability to come through with a run-scoring hit, the Phillies still had the best record in all of baseball?
Most likely the Phillies will replace Werth with a platoon consisting of Ben Francisco, Ross Gload and John Mayberry. All three have had fantastic springs and should easily be able to adequately replace the .186 avg. with RISP brought to you by the good folks at Jayson Werth. Enjoy D.C. and your $126 million, Jay.
The addition of Cliff Lee clearly makes them a better team than they were last year. And they only had ace Roy Oswalt for half of the season in 2010. No other team in the National League has made improvements as significant as the Phillies did by adding Lee.
The mainstream media is pandering with their knocks on the Phiillies, but can you blame them?
We all read the stories and ultimately that is their goal. I usually just think about last year when they had the...you know. So, if you’re still worried or if you still don’t believe the Phillies will have a more than successful year, I welcome your explanations of how and why.