Philadelphia Phillies' First Half Report Card: Infielders

Kevin McGuireSenior Analyst IJuly 13, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 08:  Chase Utley #26 of the Philadelphia Phillies greets teammate Jimmy Rollins #11 to the field against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park on April 8, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Today marks the first day off for the All-Star break, so before we dig into the All-Star game coverage, let's take a moment to give midseason report grades to the infielders. How have the infielders fared overall through the first half of the season? Grades are based upon both offense and defense.

Ryan Howard, First Base
.257 AVG, 85 H, 22 HR, 67 RBI

There should be no surprise in Ryan Howard's offensive numbers. The heavy hitting first baseman has notched 22 home runs up to the All-Star break and is on pace for over 120 runs batted in. Not surprisingly though is his strike out total, which is sitting at 103 strike outs heading into the break.

While fans are getting pretty much what they expect out of Howard, the surprise of the season has been his defense. In 81 games at first base, Howard has committed an eye-brow raising four errors. Last season Howard was charged with 19 errors.

Howard will be in St. Louis for the all star game as a manager's selection and will participate in the home run derby Monday night.

First half grade: A-

Chase Utley, Second Base
.313 AVG, 96 H, 20 HR, 61 RBI

When it comes to Chase Utley Phillies fans have come to expect greatness day in and day out. Naturally, Utley has not disappointed. On pace for a career high in home runs Utley has been one of the most consistent players out of the infield.

Manager Charlie Manuel pushed for his players to hustle on every play and Utley is the best example of what the manager preaches. Take for instance his recent inside-the-park home run or his gamesmanship as he dekes out opposing players.

There is no secret about Utley anymore as he has widely become recognized as the best second baseman not just in the National League, but perhaps all of baseball, as evidenced by his over 5,000,000 fan votes for the All-Star game.

Utley is on pace to have his second highest batting average, falling short of his .332 AVG in his injury shortened, MVP-type, 2007 season. He also is on pace to have his best fielding percentage (.986) for a season at second base (.985 in 2007).

Utley has been voted to the All-Star game and will start at second base.

First half grade: A

Jimmy Rollins, Shortstop
.229 AVG, 80 H, 7 HR, 34 RBI

Jimmy Rollins may be the toughest infielder to grade. Because his offensive production got off to such a rough start, the first reaction to give Rollins a failing grade may be tempting to many fans. But if you look at where his numbers are right now compared to some other players, and consider all he has given defensively, the outlook may not be so bad.

Rollins had an unbelievable 2007 season, en route to MVP honors, and because his 2007 campaign was so stellar, his 2008 numbers felt underwhelming.

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Before the 2009 season started I predicted that Rollins would rebound a little and put together a season that falls between his 2007 and 2008 numbers. Don't look now but that prediction is looking to be in pretty good shape.

With 51 runs scored Rollins is just 25 runs shy of his 2008 total (76). His hit total appears to be pretty much on pace as last season's 154 hits, as are his RBI (34 now, 59 in 2008), and walks (27 now, 58 in 2008). Rollins has struck out more this season though and his batting average has a long way to go, but for as bad as his offense has been this season, it may not be as discouraging as it may feel.

Defensively, though, Rollins makes up for his offensive woes. His .990 fielding percentage is the highest of his career. Rollins has committed just three errors, on pace for his fewest in a full season (seven in 2008).

First half grade: C+

Pedro Feliz, Third Base
.293 AVG, 89 H, 6 HR, 45 RBI

Does Pedro Feliz have the kind of numbers that a guy like New York Mets third baseman David Wright has? No, but he shouldn't. While Wright may be the premiere third baseman in the division one should pay close to attention to where Feliz hits in this high powered lineup, typically seventh.

Batting seventh Feliz usually finds himself leading off innings or batting with few base runners as guys like Howard, Raul Ibanez, and even Jayson Werth have done their part to clear the base paths.

When he was signed by the Phillies, Feliz was thought to be a 20 home run player and defensively sound at third base. While this is not exactly the case, he has been solid in 2009.

Feliz is well on pace to surpass his 2008 stats in just about every category including hits, runs scored, RBI, and walks, and seems to be coming up just short of his 2007 home run total. 

However, with the other players in the Phillies lineup, that may not be a big issue.

Although Feliz is generally a terrific fielder at third base, he has committed six errors after being charged with eight errors all of last season.

First half grade: B

Carlos Ruiz, Catcher
.235 AVG, 39 H, 3 HR, 3 RBI

With Carlos Ruiz you know that you are not getting a Mike Piazza with a bat in his hands. Instead, you are getting a guy who usually comes up as an expected out at the bottom of the order. What Ruiz does do is manage a baseball game and handle his pitchers well.

Pitchers seem to have better games with Ruiz than they did with Chris Coste, and Ruiz knows how to fire the ball to catch a runner stealing or sleeping. Ruiz has thrown out 15 of 26 base stealers and has been a part of five double plays.

With the removal of Coste from the roster, Ruiz figures to see even more playing time, as long as he is healthy.

First half grade: C

Paul Bako, Catcher
.214 AVG, 6 H, 0 HR, 3 RBI (11 games)

Paul Bako has taken over the role of back-up catcher as Coste has been picked up by the Houston Astros. To be fair to Bako, who has only played in 11 games, a midseason grade will not be handed out.

However, Bako's addition to the roster was questioned from day one. He has struck out seven times and come up short in a handful of pinch hitting opportunities, including not being able to get a sacrifice bunt down. But he does get some bonus points for getting a walk-off hit against the Pirates over the weekend, capping off a wild rally in the bottom of the ninth inning for a come-from-behind victory.

Eric Bruntlett, Shortstop
.139 AVG, 10 H, 0 HR, 6 RBI

Keep in mind that Eric Bruntlett, barring injury to a regular player, will not come close to his 2008 stats anyway. Bruntlett has been nothing but abysmal at the plate this season. His pinch hitting appearances have been tough to watch as he has only walked five times this season.

Bruntlett's first half has shown that it is imperative that Ruben Amaro Jr. pick up a right handed bat before the trade deadline.

First half grade: F

Greg Dobbs, First/Third Base
.269 AVG, 29 H, 5 HR, 16 RBI

Greg Dobbs has played 11 games in the outfield this season but he has played 17 games in the infield, so we'll grade Dobbs with the rest of the infielders.

Greg Dobbs got off to a slow start, adding to some early season frustrations in the defending world champions as Dobbs was the best pinch hitter in baseball the year before, but he seems to have turned things around.

Seeing some extended time in the field helped to give Dobbs some extra at-bats and some more time to see some pitches and get in a groove offensively.

Now with the regular players back and healthy, Dobbs figures to go back to being one of the top pinch hitting options for Manuel. With that, Dobbs figures to fall well short of many of his 2008 numbers, but if he can get back in his pinch hitting role with a glimmer of his 2008 success, the Phillies will be in good shape.

First half grade: C

Overall the infield has been pretty solid on both offense and defense. There should be no doubt that the core of the Phillies franchise right now is the infield, with MVP caliber players at first and second base, one of the best defensive shortstops, and one of the better all around players at third base.

While the back-ups at the positions could use some improvement there is probably not another infield that can top the Phillies from top to bottom.

What are your grades for the infielders? Am I off base on any of these guys? Is someone given too high of a grade (or too low)? Share your grades and thoughts in the comments section.