Philadelphia Phillies: A Lineup Full of Questions

Tom MechinAnalyst IMarch 30, 2011

Philadelphia Phillies: A Lineup Full of Questions

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    Charlie Manuel's got a lot of decisions to make.  The Phillies' offense could be in trouble. 

    After losing Jayson Werth in the offseason and then Chase Utley once Spring Training started, there seems to be little, if any protection for Ryan Howard in the Phillies' lineup. Manual will have to juggle players in, out and around Howard to provide him with protection and help pick up the slack when he fails to deliver. 

    Over the past few years the biggest topic debated within the Phillies' lineup is whether or not Jimmy Rollins should remain in the leadoff spot.  His low on base percentage and propensity to try and be a power hitter has worn on fans who want to see a true “table setter” at the top of the lineup. 

    Charlie Manuel has shown his stubbornness; his unwillingness to remove Brad Lidge from the closer role in 2009 may have cost them a championship.  His inability to adapt his lineup in 2011 may do the same. 

    Here is a look at the Phillies'—could and should be—lineup to start the season.

Jimmy Rollins Leading Off

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    Yes, Rollins lacks a lot of skills a true leadoff hitter possesses.  He’s impatient, likes to drive the ball and would much rather trot around the bases, watching the ball land in the stands rather than dropping a bunt and legging out an infield hit. 

    However he is the Phillies' igniter both on and off the field.  He’s carried the weight of expectations and carried them well. 

    And most of all, when Rollins is in the lineup the Phillies win games, plain and simple.

Shane Victorinio Batting Second

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    It might not make sense to put your two switch hitters back to back to start the lineup, but Victorino’s skill set makes him a better option at the top of the lineup rather than at the bottom of it. 

    He was moved to the sixth/seventh hole a year ago to take advantage of his overall talent and to “set him free.” 

    What we saw was a player who tried to become an extra-base power threat instead of utilizing all of his skills.  His home runs went up but nearly all of his other numbers fell.  Putting Victorino back in the two-hole gives them another speedy option at the top of the lineup and if he and Rollins are on base together, they will create havoc for opposing defenses.

Batting Third, Ryan Howard

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    Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list. 

    No one has expected Howard to hit anywhere in the lineup but fourth the rest of his career.  Numerous articles have been written about the Phillies lacking a three hole and five hole hitter but they have a nice cleanup bat. 

    But why does he have to bat fourth? The idea of a cleanup hitter is that the first three batters get on base and then he hits a grand slam? 

    Anyone ever remember that happening to start a game?  I sure don’t. 

    And I don’t understand why the Phillies would want to give an opposing team an early break.  If Howard is the lineup’s biggest threat, why give a team a chance to escape a first inning without facing him?  I’d want a guarantee that pitches have to face the most important hitter in the lineup in the first inning rather than perhaps leading off the second without the ability to do anything other than hit a solo home run.

Batting Cleanup...Placido Polanco?

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    Huh? Might be the first response at this.  The fourth hole is designed for power hitter and Polanco is anything but.  However he’s a contact hitter, rarely strikes out and puts the ball in play.  Howard, batting third, has a tendency to strike out quite often.  Would you want back to back players with high rates of strikeouts?  A home run is better than a single.  But a single is much better than a strikeout.  Based on who he batted around Tommy Herr once knocked in 100+ runs in a season.  Polanco could do the same.

Batting Fifth/Sixth, Raul Ibanez/Ben Francisco

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    The fifth and sixth spots can and should be reversed depending on who is pitching. 

    At this point in their careers, Francisco probably has more upside but Ibanez is not as finished as some fans want to believe. 

    He’s a professional hitter with power and average speed.  Either one is capable of 20 homers and 80 RBIs and an average in the .270s.  Not terrible production out of a five or six hole.

Batting Seventh, Wilson Valdez

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    I was tempted to put Ruiz here (or even cleanup) and I think he’s a better hitter than Valdez. 

    I expect nothing more out of Valdez offensively than what he showed last year: a .250 hitter with little power, decent speed and a typical out in the lineup.  

Batting Eighth, Carlos Ruiz

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    While his production might entice some to put him higher in the order, his ability to turn the lineup over in the eight hole is invaluable. 

    Ruiz had a career year offensively last year, and it is not something that should be expected again. 

    However, a batting average in the .260-.270 range should not be out of the question.  Ruiz’s most valuable asset is his work behind the plate.