2007: 89-73 (1st NL East)
A boast, a stretch run, and an infield with three MVP candidates – and there’s your recap of the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies. In the spring, shortstop Jimmy Rollins proclaimed his team the team to beat, and then backed it up with more than 200 hits, 30 doubles, 20 triples, and 20 homers. He was probably the third best infielder, with Ryan Howard continuing his impressive power stroke (and setting a league record with 199 strikeouts) from his spot at first base, and second baseman Chase Utley hitting like Ryne Sandberg in his prime.
Meanwhile, they got there despite a rather weak pitching staff. While the Phillies led the National League in runs scored (892), they also had the fifth most runs allowed (821). Granted, playing in Citizens Bank Park doesn’t hurt – it was worth 71 extra homers, though the park was not allowing as many more runs than in previous seasons. In home games, the Phillies and their opponents scored just 29 more runs than they did in road games.
The rotation was well below average, with only two regulars (Hamels and Hendrick) being above average pitchers. So, to win as often as the Phillies did, they were doing it by bludgeoning opponents. Even the bullpen was weak – only two or three guys held their own, led by former starter turned emergency closer in Brett Myers. When the Phillies got to the playoffs, the weaknesses of the pitching staff kept them from advancing.
Looking Back on 2007
Did you know the Phillies have finished at least third in the NL East every year since 2001? In 2000, they were managed to last place by Terry Francona – who has had far more success for a different franchise.
The getaway was problematic. The Phillies got swept by Atlanta in the opening series and continued to lose for two plus weeks. After an extra-inning loss at Cincinnati, the Phillies were 4-11, their bullpen was responsible for much of the problems, and Charlie Manual was refuting rumors he was polishing his resume in search of future employment.
At this point, Brett Myers was moved to the bullpen, as Tom Gordon was not up to the task of being the closer and the rest of the bullpen, including Ryan Madson and others, were failing at various points of the game. Ryan Howard, off to a slow start, began hitting homers in May, and the Phillies began the climb toward respectability. It was a slow climb – not reaching .500 until after game 40, and not getting more than two or three games beyond .500 through the All Star break, at which they were 44-44.
Finishing off a west coast swing, the Phillies finally got a hot streak, winning nine of ten to reach 56-49, but still well behind the Mets. Just when life looked good, the west coast teams headed east and took the momentum away. After Myers blew a game to San Diego, capping a four game losing streak (and six of seven), Philadelphia was still just 66-62 and looking nothing like a playoff team. On the morning of September 8th, they were still just six games over .500 and the Mets were in charge of the division.
At this point, of course, the Braves couldn’t get hot, the Mets started losing games left and right, and the Phillies ran down the Mets from behind. Winning 16 of 22, the Phillies got just hot enough at the right time, winning the last game over the Nationals as New York got blasted out of the playoffs by the Marlins.
Tell me about that offense
It started with Jimmy Rollins, who has great totals achieved through a major league record number of at bats (716) and plate appearances (778). Rollins led the league with 139 runs scored, which is about as many runs as he is credited with creating. The sheer scope of his numbers won him an MVP award.
The award might have gone to Chase Utley, who could have won it except that he missed a month after getting hit by a pitch in the hand. Utley hits for a higher average, is more selective at the plate, and hits for just as much power as Rollins. By my projections, he generated about 19 fewer runs than Rollins, but he did it in 30 fewer games and far fewer outs – he’s worth nearly two runs per 27 outs more than Rollins. And then you have Ryan Howard. Despite a slow start, Howard finished with 47 homers, an on base percentage of .392, and had MVP type statistics.
The outfield also produced runs. Aaron Rowand was the fourth player who created at least 100 runs, hitting .309 with power. Pat Burrell hit 30 homers, had a higher on base percentage than Ryan Howard, and nearly made it five players creating at least 100 runs. If he wasn’t regularly replaced defensively at the end of games, he might have made it – he finished at 95 (93.4 if you take away the benefits of playing at home…). Shane Victorino is lightning fast – 37 steals in 41 tries – and even the catcher, Carlos Ruiz, produced runs. The only weak spot was at third base.
The bench also included Jayson Werth (.400 OBA), Greg Dobbs (10 HRs, .272 AVG), and Michael Bourn (18/19 SBs, decent hitter, and Burrell’s defensive replacement). This was a solid team.
On the whole, the Phillies were slightly below average in terms of turning balls in play into outs. A lot of this was Pat Burrell. However, the Phillies were also bit below average defensively up the middle.
Jimmy Rollins has below average range (-4.7), but makes up for it by being good on the double play and not making errors (just 11 in 162 games). Chase Utley has above average range, is good turning two, and also doesn’t make errors. As a whole, the Phillies were slightly above average in the percentage of baserunners removed by double plays. Howard at first is a hitter – Greg Dobbs was a capable defensive replacement, but nobody is taking Howard off the diamond. Abraham Nunez can’t hit (he only generated about 22 runs in 250 at bats), but he sure can play the field – with a range score of 16.8 (he takes nearly 17 points off the batting average of the batter), and saving some 20 runs for his pitchers with his glove at third base.
The outfield is weak. Victorino has above average range in right and will be asked to play center in 2008. He also brings a decent arm. He and Jayson Werth combined to throw out 17 baserunners last season from right field. Aaron Rowand, for all the notice he gets running into walls, has below average range (-2.5 range, -6 runs) and isn’t going to get any faster. Burrell is wrestling with Josh Willingham as the worst left fielder in the NL. His -9.6 range cost his team nearly 27 runs. If Jayson Werth could hit .270, with his plate discipline, range, and arm, he’d more than replace Burrell.
The starters are costing the team some 10-15 runs behind the pitching staff, though the bench was loaded with glove men who helped close the gap. On the whole, the defense was -2.0 runs, so much of the defensive blame can squarely be placed on the pitchers.
Cole Hamels was brilliant, winning 15 of 20 decisions and with an ERA of 3.39 in a difficult park. He continued to strike out nearly a batter an inning and cut his walk rate down to just 43 in more than 180 innings of work. Jamie Moyer was a shade below average – he won 14 games despite an ERA of 5.01. (I can remember him being a member of the Cubs rotation in 1987 – ouch…) He isn’t going to get better. Hamels might be able to pick up 40 more innings, but Moyer is past his prime, though still reasonably effective.
After that, you have Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick’s 20 starts were effective because he walked even fewer guys than Hamels – 25 in 121 innings. The problem is his strikeout rate – just 49 on the season. So, even though he looked good, he looked like Allan Anderson – so, unless he starts finding ways to send batters to the bench without putting the ball in play, he’s a candidate to go 4 – 13 or 7 – 17 in a season where he gets no run support (he got 6.35 runs per start in 2007).
At least Kendrick held his own. In 30 starts, Adam Eaton had an ERA of 6.29. The former Astros prospect had nothing. He peaked before the all star break – if the season had continued, he would have had the ERA of a Boeing jet. That’s not going to work. Sadly, the Phillies couldn’t replace him, so this is going to remain a hole all season. Part time starters Kyle Lohse, Jon Lieber, J. D. Durbin, and Freddy Garcia (out with injury after ten starts) weren’t much help.
In the bullpen, you had Brett Myers who was the ace but still had an ERA of 4.33. Tom Gordon, also active in the eighties with the Royals, was average at best. Jose Mesa was given 39 innings (1987, Baltimore). Ryan Madson was pretty good, Geoff Geary was okay – and after that, the bullpen was generally easy pickings. By my take, the staff was about 30 runs worse than the average pitching staff.
Obviously, Jimmy Rollins thinks these guys can compete. Let’s see if the numbers support this theory.
It would be hard to improve upon the team offensively. Rowand is gone, signing a free agent deal in San Francisco, and Victorino, while showing a little growth in 2007, will likely generate 20 runs fewer in 2008 than Rowand did in 2007. It would be hard to believe that Rollins can do better than he was in 2008 – he might decline by 10 to 15 runs just because he’s going to turn 30 and may have peaked last year. Utley and Howard should maintain current levels (it’s scary to think Howard MIGHT have a big season yet in front of him, but you never know). At third, the Phillies signed Pedro Feliz from San Francisco, who is probably as good a hitter as Nunez, Dobbs, and Wes Helms combined – and their equal in the field. If Feliz plays a full season, he’s just going to have their stats if you added them up (20 – 90 – .270). So, that’s not an improvement or a decline.
Pat Burrell isn’t going anywhere – he’ll be the same player regardless. Jayson Werth is about as good as a full season of Victorino – maybe ten runs better. The Phillies might miss Michael Bourn, a solid bench player and good fielder who spelled him. On the whole, I see the offense declining, though, by about 40 runs.
The big change to the pitching staff is moving Brett Myers to the rotation and adding Brad Lidge to the closer role. Even if Lidge is decent, is he better than Myers? Looks like a wash to me. Myers as a starter will be better than any of the four ousted starters (Lohse, Garcia, Lieber, Durbin), so that’s worth 20 – 30 runs. But Adam Eaton is still there. Assume Hamels is five runs better, which makes up for Moyer possibly being five runs worse. Kyle Kendrick is probably going to decline unless he strikes guys out – he could be 10 runs or more worse than in 2007 – and worse if he gets a lot of innings and struggles. In total, that’s an improvement of about 10 – 15 runs, tops. After that, it’s a lot of question marks covering last year’s question marks.
By my take, the Phillies win 85 games this year, which is probably five fewer than the Braves.
Down on the Farm: A quick look at the prospect list… There were NO prospects in AAA last year – and it’s amazing how many Ottawa Lynx players were in their 30s. So, don’t expect any immediate impact players here.
The best hitter in Reading (AA) was Mike (Get In Here) Constanzo, who hit for power and walked some (27-86-.270, with 75 walks), but he struck out 157 times. At 24, he’s going to have to hurry to make the big leagues and now Feliz is in his way. Centerfielder Javon Morgan has speed and discipline as well. Fabio Castro was wheeled through the system after a solid (but short) run in AA – he’s 23 and likely on the roster in 2008. He strikes out a lot of guys but occasionally has problems with the strike zone itself. The guy I thought did well was Matt Maloney, a third round pick from the University of Mississippi in 2005, but he was shipped to the Reds for 11 starts of Kyle Lohse. They’ll miss him – Maloney fanned 115 in 125 innings, walked only 43 – but could have a hard time making the Reds rotation in 2008. If the Reds are in contention and need a player, he’ll be trade bait for sure. I think he can pitch.
At Clearwater (A+), I like catcher Louis Marson, even though he’s taken a while to get his career rolling. He’s just 22, though, has plate discipline and hopefully he can make his way to the Phillies in a couple of years. Jeremy Slayden has power and some discipline, but is already 25 so time is running out. Andrew Carpenter (17-6, 3.20) had a good year for the Thrashers, making Long Beach State alumni happy. Also, Joshua Outman, who has a perfect name for a future closer, was 10-4 with 117 Ks in 117.1 innings. He was promoted to AA by the end of the season, which means the Central Missouri State alum might be in the majors in 2008 if the bullpen needs help (it does).