2012 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

2011 Record: 102 – 60 (1st in NL East, Best Record in NL)
Runs Scored:  713, (7th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 529, (Best in the NL)

Season Recap:

With three aces firing on all cylinders, the Phillies were hot out of the gate, hot in the summer, and hot all the way into the playoffs, until they ran into a team that got REALLY hot – the Cardinals.  When the season ended, the team looked old and out of it – and their most productive hitter was unable to crawl to first base as Ryan Howard blew out his Achilles tendon.

Starting Pitching:

Nobody brings the aces like the Phillies, with Roy Halliday, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels going 1 – 2 – 3.  They had Roy Oswalt in the four slot – and he wasn’t horrible – and when Joe Blanton couldn’t make decent starts, the club turned to Vance Worley, who went 11 – 3.  Even Kyle Kendrick was above average in terms of runs prevented.

In 2012, the big three return, albeit a year older.  Roy Oswalt is gone, so Blanton or Kendrick will get the fifth slot behind Worley.  This still still a talented group.  I’m not 100% convinced that the big three will be as good as last year – Instead of averaging 40 runs saved per starter over 220 innings each, they could still be in the top ten and save just 30 runs per slot.  Worley had a nice record, but it was a tad too good.  Kyle Kendrick is a candidate for a big drop in production.  They will still be the best starting pitchers in captivity – they just might not be as dominant.

Relief Pitching:

Ryan Madson was solid again – he’s never really had a bad year – and for that, he was summarily told to look elsewhere for work.  In his place, the Phillies tossed millions toward former Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon.  Relative to the league, Madson was a couple of runs better, but essentially this is a wash.  The question is what will the rest of the bullpen look like.  Last year, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, and David Herndon were pretty good – and, thankfully, little used.  Danys Baez struggled – the weak link in an otherwise decent bullpen.  Another change?  No more Brad Lidge, who moves to Washington.  Look for someone like Brian Sanches, an NRI pitcher, to get a shot at middle relief.

Catching:

Carlos Ruiz was remarkable – arguably the best catcher in the NL other than Yadier Molina – and added a .280+ batting average and +.370 on base percentage.  Back up Brian Schneider struggled, though – batting all of .176.  This will remain a strength so long as Ruiz is on the job.

Infield:

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Placido Polanco all provided decent production.  Even saying that, Ryan Howard fell off to fewer than 100 runs created (33 – 116 – .254, with a .349 OBP and sub .500 slugging).  Chase Utley’s knees are problematic.  Jimmy Rollins was above average at the plate but remains a liability in the field with below average range.  Polanco’s batting is now an issue – his batting average fell to .277 with just 19 extra base hits.  His fielding is fading, though the heavy lefty rotation kept Polanco’s stats in check.  The problem with this foursome is that they are old and fading.  Howard isn’t going to be 100% and there is no date yet for his return.  Utley is seeing a specialist regarding his knee, and both Rollins and Polanco are fighting father time.

To help out, the Phillies brought in former power source Jim Thome, who would be great in a limited role but might have to play a bit more first base than planned.  John Mayberry is likely going to be his platoon partner – Mayberry hits a little like Ryan Howard, but not like the old Howard.  It’s hard to see this group providing as much offense as last year – and if rookie Freddy Galvis can’t hit when playing for Utley, this could be a 50 – 75 run fall off from last year.  Another option might be Ty Wigginton, who can play all infield positions if necessary.  His defense might not be as good as Polanco’s, for example, but he can put more runs on the board these days.

Outfield:

The Phillies have had productive bats in the outfield for years now, and 2012 will be no exception.  Hunter Pence remains in right field – a bit of a liability defensively, but a solid bat that can be found anywhere from third to sixth in this lineup depending on who is playing that day.  He could move to left field to accommodate Domonic Brown, who should get a full-time shot in the outfield now that Raul Ibanez is gone.  Brown has a decent enough arm, youthful range, and room to grow.  Shane Victorino nearly generated 100 runs of offense with his speed and power – 27 doubles, 16 triples, and 17 homers.  He remains the Phillies best leadoff option.

Mayberry remains to play left field or right field, and Laynce Nix is in town as a fifth outfielder – not a bad player to have around.

Bench:

With Wigginton and Mayberry the Phillies have plenty of flexibility, and Brown might be able to give you a few innings in center.  You’d like a little more offense out of Brian Schneider, but the Phillies don’t seem to have another option.  The Non-Roster Invite list in Spring Training is pretty thick with potential bench options (Scott Podsednik, Juan Pierre, Dave Bush, Brian Sanches, Kevin Frandsen, Pete Orr), but I can’t see them all sticking…

Prospects:

Most of the guys who played at AAA Lehigh Valley (Go Pigs!) are guys who have had enough cups of coffee or playing time to warrant their own Starbucks franchise.  The only real prospects to go through there are Brown and Galvis.  Pitcher Justin De Fratus could help in the bullpen – with Lehigh he went 2 – 3 with a 3.73 ERA, but 56 Ks and 11 BBs in his 41 innings there.

Looking at AA Reading, Matt Rizzotti had a solid year – (24 – 84 -.295) and was able to get a taste of AAA.  He’s a bit old for a prospect, but not as old as Mike Spidale, who hit .326 and reminds you of Juan Pierre.  Since the Phillies have the real Juan Pierre, having Spidale seems redundant.  Another outfielder who can hit appears to be Steve Susdorf, who was a late round pick in 2008 out of Fresno State and when given at bats in AA batted .339 – which is what he always seems to do.  Unlike Spilale, though, he doesn’t seem to have speed and may run out of gas at AAA.  The arms look better – Austin Hyatt made 28 starts and finished 12 – 6 with 171 Ks and 49 BBs in 154.1 innings.  Tyler Cloyd made 17 starts, went 6 – 3, and fanned 99 to just 13 walks in his 106.2 innings.  And Phillippe Aumont passed through AA on the way to AAA and was dominant as a reliever.

A+ Clearwater featured 1B Darin Ruf, a hitter – 43 doubles and 17 homers, batting .308 – and Cesar Hernandez, a 21 year old second baseman with speed and a decent glove.  Catcher Sebastian Valle hit .284 and might make the MLB roster in 2014.  The staff featured Trevor May (208Ks in 151.1 innings) and Julio Rodriguez (168Ks in 156.2 innings, 16 – 7 record) – they are now old enough to drink after games.

2012 Forecast:

Teams that win 100 games don’t often repeat that level of success.  Defensively, this team is going to slide because it’s getting older in the infield and the guys replacing Howard at first won’t be as good as Ryan is – and he’s just league average.  Domonic Brown will help the outfield some, but the catching – even as good as it is – is reaching a point where age is going to catch up.  There isn’t a lot of upside in the batting order – most every one here has peaked, except Domonic Brown who can’t be expected to do WAY more than Ibanez. In truth, this team could lose 50 runs in offense and 30 – 50 runs on defense.  If it’s 30 runs on defense, the team likely wins 95 games, which could be enough to win the division.  If it’s 50 runs on defense, the team wins 92 games, which might not be enough considering the Marlins, Braves, and Nationals are all chomping at the bit.

My fear is that it’s going to be the lower number – the Phillies will be in it and might take a wild card slot, but I think 92 wins will be a good season.

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2010 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

Last Five Years:
2009:  93 – 69 (1st, NL East, Lost World Series)
2008:  92 – 70
2007:  89 – 73
2006:  85 – 77
2005:  88 – 74

Runs Scored: 820 (1st NL)
Runs Allowed: 709 (6th NL)

Season Recap:

The best offense in the NL – despite an off season from shortstop and lead off man, Jimmy Rollins.

A solid pitching performance – despite problems with Cole Hamels not pitching like an ace, Jamie Moyer starting to look his age, and a bullpen that couldn’t close the door – namely the oft injured and ineffective Brad Lidge.

The Phillies had one bad month, but one GREAT month, and nobody in the league was really as good – top to bottom – as Philadelphia.  And yet, there were a couple of holes.  The defense at a couple of positions were off – namely center, left, and short – and the starting pitching so degenerated down the stretch that the aged Pedro Martinez was brought in and seen as sort of a Godsend.  No worries – there were enough runs scored on a regular basis that it didn’t really matter.

Pitching:

As mentioned earlier, Cole Hamels was the staff ace who lost his mojo along the way – giving up a few too many homers and hits.  Still – he wasn’t horrible; just league average.  Joe Blanton actually led the Phils in innings pitched and saved his team about seven more runs over the same amount of time.

What helped the Phillies was the surprise performance of J.A. Happ, who moved from the pen to the rotation and went 12 – 4 (one of three 12 game winners), and saving his team nearly 30 runs over league average pitching.  Cliff Lee arrived at the trading deadline and won seven of eleven decisions and looked great the longer he hung around (including the postseason).  Pedro Martinez made nine good enough starts, taking Jamie Moyer‘s spot.  Moyer had served up 27 homers in just 162 innings, though his offensive support kept his record on the positive side (12 – 10).

The other fifth slot starters, Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, and Rodrigo Lopez, weren’t much help – which necessitated Lee’s arrival.

The bullpen was nowhere near as supportive.  In 2008, there were five guys who were well above league average and Brad Lidge converted every save opportunity.  In 2009, Lidge was 22 runs worse than the average pitcher in just 58.2 innings – and ERA of 7.21 proof of the pain.

Ryan Madson was still solid, and Chan Ho Park was decent in long relief.  Chad Durbin, however, fell off while Clay Condrey, Tyler Walker, and Scott Eyre were decent in smaller roles.

Looking ahead to 2010, Cliff Lee was traded to Seattle as part of a three-team deal that brought Roy Halliday to town.  Halliday will be an immediate improvement over just about anyone.  I think Hamels will figure it out and gain about 10 runs against the league.  That will make up for Happ’s falling back a little.  Blanton is what he is – a middle of the rotation guy.  Martinez isn’t back – suddenly Moyer is #5 again – and I’m not convinced that this is going to be a good thing.  Moyer was ten runs worse than the league – probably will be again – so he cuts into the gains of having Halliday at the top.  Maybe Kyle Kendrick will fool enough people long enough to help out – or be a long reliever.

If Lidge gets his act together, if Jose Contreras helps the way Park did, if Danys Baez is tolerable…  Lots of ifs in the bullpen.  I don’t see the bullpen getting better soon.  Even if Lidge comes back and is league average, the rest of the bullpen isn’t all that impressive anymore.  Scott Eyre retired.

The net change is relatively flat.  No matter how good Halliday will be, and even with Hamels returning to form, the rest of the staff isn’t very good and may slip by 10 runs.

Catching:

Carlos Ruiz isn’t horrible and his bat came back last year.  Backups Chris Coste and Paul Bako have some skills – Bako defensively, Coste offensively, though he fell back last year in limited opportunities.

Moving forward, Ruiz keeps his job, to be backed up by former Met Brian Schneider.  No change.

Infield:

Ryan Howard is a FORCE, even if he doesn’t always hit lefties as well as you might want.  And, his glove isn’t a problem.

Chase Utley is an offensive marvel and a defensive wizard.

Jimmy Rollins is NOT – but he still helps out a little bit.  He hit 21 homers, had 40+ doubles, 31 stolen bases – but made a LOT of outs at the top of the order.  And, his range was abysmal – 12 plays per 800 balls in play less than his shortstop brethren, costing his team 26 runs.

Not that you want Eric Bruntlett out there either.

Pedro Feliz didn’t provide too much offense (despite 30 doubles and a dozen homers), but his glove was worthy of gold glove consideration.

Looking ahead, you have three of the four back and former Phillie (and Tiger) Placido Polanco becomes the new third baseman.  I don’t think Polanco will match Feliz in the field (though he won’t be bad), but he might add a few runs offensively.

Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, and Juan Castro back these guys up but won’t get much playing time.  Ross Gload was added as a pinch hitter.

Outfield:

Raul Ibanez hit for power, falling off after a remarkably fast start, but his defensive leaves a lot to be desired.  (Still – he’s better than, say, Pat Burrell.)

In center, Shane Victorino improved as a hitter, but didn’t look totally comfortable in center.  With a range factor of -9 (nine plays worse than average for every 800 balls in play), he cost his team 26 runs.  Add in Ibanez, and you’ve cost your pitchers 40 runs – way too many.

However, rightfielder Jayson Werth was AWESOME defensively – making more putouts than Victorino (very rare for RF to catch more balls than CF) and added 36 homers (four Phillies cleared 30) and 20 steals.

John Mayberry, Greg Dobbs, Ben Francisco, and Eric Bruntlett provide backup innings – but only Francisco can really play the outfield.

Prospects:

The best player in AAA was Lou Marson, a catcher who is now in Cleveland.  Otherwise, this is a team of 30 somethings.  Andrew Carpenter can pitch a little – he fared better in Lehigh than Kyle Kendrick, but doesn’t have ACE material.  Carlos Carrasco is just 23 and has the K/W ratio you like but a 6 – 9, 5.18 mark won’t put you high on prospect lists.

The best player in AA Reading was pitcher Kyle Drabek, who is now in Toronto.  Reliever Sergio Escalona may make the roster – he has okay control and some Ks, but keeps the ball in the park.  At best, a seventh inning guy.  Antonio Bastardo got a shot with the parent club – he looked really good in limited AA time, so he probably needs a full season in AAA to prove he’s worth a roster spot full time.  Outfielders Domonic Brown and Michael Taylor showed bat speed and power – but Taylor is the real prospect after hitting .333 with 15 homers in 86 games.  Taylor, however, is now with the Oakland As – after heading to Toronto, the Blue Jays moved him to Oakland for prospect Brett Wallace.

I mentioned Domonic Brown, who also demolished the Florida State League, but another prospect at A+ Clearwater was Tim Kennelly, a kid from Perth, Australia who is finally coming into his own.  He’s a catcher, third baseman, outfielder – which means they don’t think he can catch.  Yet.  Pitcher Michael Schwimer fanned 82 in 60 innings and at that rate would be a future closer.

Forecast:

You have pretty much the same team as last year, a team that might allow fifteen more runs because of the weaker bullpen. but might not need the bullpen as often with Halliday out there.  If Hamels and Blanton and Halliday eat 675 innings and Happ and Moyer eat 350 more, that leaves only 350 – 400 innings for the bullpen, a very small number.  I don’t like that the team is a year older all over the field, but then again – you don’t mess with a team that has been in back-to-back World Series.  I might have looked for a young outfielder who could fly in center and moved Victorino to left, though.  Can you trade Jimmy Rollins?  I just don’t see anyone to replace him on the farm, though.

Still, I see the team with 820 runs scored and 725 runs allowed, and the system says 91 wins.  My hunch says another division crown, but there are reasons to think it might not happen.  If Atlanta is as good as advertised, the Philles might not win the division and will be hard pressed to hold off the Marlins.  There’s a lot of pride and experience here – but the system says that the Braves will be slightly better.

Pirates Sell Clemente Statue, Outfielders to Washington for Two Players and a Soldier on Horseback Monument to be Named Later (and other news…)

The Pittsburgh Pirates made a second deal including an outfielder today, sending Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to the Washington Nationals for outfielder Lastings Milledge and reliever Joel Hanrahan. [MLB]

The Nationals get a reasonably good defensive centerfielder with some offensive skills and a middle reliever who has been successful in a not-too demanding role.  Meanwhile the Pirates get an outfielder who just doesn’t seem to be living up to the promise (or at least the hopes of promise) attached to him while in the Mets farm system three years ago.  And, they get a failed closer who throws hard, but has a flat fastball.

If you want to know what the Nationals think of Milledge, listen to the comment from Acting GM Mike Rizzo: “We have a great character guy in Morgan.  We have our centerfielder.”

Morgan has essentially a full season of games in his career (157), and has hit .286 with little power, but he draws walks and has some speed (34 steals, but 18 caught stealing).  He’s not a bad fourth outfielder and isn’t even a horrible lead off option if he can just add about 10 points to his batting average and be even more selective at the plate.

Milledge is three years younger than Morgan, so there’s room to grow, but it doesn’t look like he’s grown much since he took AA by storm, hitting .337 at Binghamton.

As for Hanrahan, he was a surprise success for Washington in 2008, with a lot of strikeouts (93 in 84.1 innings) and nine saves when he took over the closer job down the stretch.  However, this year, he sports a 7.71 ERA and has given up 50 hits in 32.2 innings.  Hopefully the change of scenery (getting away from all that losing and going to the Pirates?) will help him find what made him successful last season.

I’m not convinced that the Pirates management has any idea what it’s doing.  It left it’s best prospect in AAA at the start of the season, gave away Nate McLouth for scratch, and now unloaded a productive corner outfielder for two distant prospects at best.  Now this.  How does adding two underperforming guys help Pittsburgh?

On to Other News…

Yesterday’s post included a report about Mike Lowell receiving treatment for his infected and troublesome hip.  Today, the Red Sox placed Lowell on the 15-Day DL.  Returning to the roster is Jeff Bailey, a very good first baseman and hitter, which means Kevin Youkilis will be playing more third base in the near future. [ESPN]

FoxSports reporter Ken Rosenthal reports that the Diamondbacks turned down the Angel’s trade offer for Dan Haren. [FoxSports]

Grady Sizemore’s left elbow may require surgery in the offseason to address the synovitis that causes an inflammation of the joint lining.  As Sizemore has already lost three weeks to the season, the goal is to keep him healthy enough not to miss many more games down the stretch. [SI]

ESPN’s rumor mill includes a note about Brandon Webb likely facing surgery to repair a torn labrum – per a report coming from the Arizona Republic. [ESPN]

Texas Centerfielder Josh Hamilton feels great in his rehab assignment and hopes to join the parent club this weekend.  Even if he returns, Hamilton will not participate in the All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby. [ESPN]

Cardinal Centerfielder Colby Rasmus has missed a few games suffering from a hiatal hernia.  The slumping rookie decided to check out stomach pains and, other than late night feedings contributing to some of the problem, the hernia was discovered.  He hopes to play this week. [SI]

With the Phillies losing Antonio Bastardo to the DL with a strained shoulder, Sergio Escalona gets the call from AAA Lehigh Valley.  Escalona has been with the club on and off this season with moderate success.  He had a solid 2008 in A and AA, turning out strikeouts but still walking a few guys.  He must have a live arm because the Phillies have constantly tried to move the guy up the ladder without having sustained success for long periods of time.  Not that he’s been horrible – it’s just hard to get a reading on a guy when he only pitches in a few games before he moves on.  Anyway – he might get a baseball card, and if he does, you won’t get much money on Ebay for it. [FoxSports]

Welcome Back!

Chad Tracy returns to Arizona after missing a month with a strained oblique.  [SI]

Former Notre Dame Wide Receiver Jeff Samardzija returns to the Cubs, replacing Jose Ascanio who was sent to AAA Iowa.  Though Samardzija was a starter at Iowa, he’ll likely spend more time in the Cubs bullpen. [MLB]

He won’t be back soon, but injured Reds starter Edinson Volquez was cleared to begin throwing.  According to reports, he’ll literally be starting from scratch. [MLB]

I see the Astros brought Mike Hampton off the DL today.  He’ll be back soon…

With Adrian Beltre heading to the DL for shoulder surgery, former Braves farmhand Ryan Langerhans gets a trip to the Mariners.

Rivera Second to 500 Saves; Storm Rocks High Desert, 33 – 18

Mariano Rivera joined Trevor Hoffman in the 500 save club after getting the last of four outs against the Mets.  What made it especially cool was that he had to bat in the ninth inning against K-Rod with the bases loaded and drew a walk for his first career RBI.

Ian Snell, trying to regain his form in AAA Indianapolis, fanned 13 straight batters in a win over Toledo.  Pittsburgh needs Snell to keep that form and help the Pirates make a run at .500 for the first time since Barry Bonds was…  Well, a Pirate anyway.

Antonio Bastardo will miss at least one start with a strained shoulder.

Hurry Back!  Detroit loses Nate Robertson to the DL with what has been described as “a mass” in his elbow.  Fu-Te Ni gets the call from AAA Toledo.  Fu-Te Ni hails from Pingtung County, Taiwan and has been solid, with a 32/9 K/BB ratio and decent ERA in Toledo.

Matt Harrison also heads to the DL, his second trip to the DL with shoulder inflammation.  In his place, Texas recalled Tommy Hunter from AAA Oklahoma City.  Hunter was raced to Texas after being drafted in the first round in 2007 out of Alabama.  His first MLB tour ended with a 16.36 ERA in three starts in 2008, so hopefully this will turn out differently.  I’m not convinced he’s ready.  Hunter shows good control, but doesn’t blow people away.  Frankly, I think the days of Texas being a contender in the AL West might be ending unless they can find some pitchers.  They face Los Angeles in a battle for the division lead starting tonight.

San Francisco put pitcher Kelvin Pichardo on the 60-Day DL with a shoulder problem.  Baltimore’s Koji Uehara’s elbow will require a DL stint as well.

Welcome Back!  Washington’s Scott Olsen returns from the DL (shoulder tendinitis) and gets to face his old team, the Marlins, on Monday.  Shairon Martis heads back to Syracuse.  Mark Ellis returns to the A’s, while Asdrubel Cabrera returns to Cleveland.

Afterthoughts…  The Lake Elsinore Storm topped the High Desert Mavericks, 33 – 18, in a California League game Sunday.  The Storm scored eight in the first, six in the eighth, and give runs in two other innings.  The teams combined for 57 hits and ten homers.  In the game, James McOwen extended his hitting streak to 36 games.

Bastardo or Mazzaro; I like the Tiger

With all the new pitching prospects coming to the majors, your fantasy team might be in need of a facelift.  Here are two pitchers that might give your teams a shot in the arm.  (Wow, with PED use being watched more closely and accusations flying left and right, I shouldn’t use that term, huh?)

Antonio Bastardo arrived in Detroit after a quick run through the Tigers farm system.  Signed out of the Dominican Republic at 21, Bastardo smoked batters for Lakeland (A) and Clearwater (A+) in 2007, and shortly into 2008 was already getting a shot at AA.  He throws strikes, but has occasional fits of wildness.  The OVERALL record is pretty good, but 42 walks in 91.2 innings at Lakeland (2007) and 37 walks in 67 innings at Reading (2008) give you pause.  Bastardo blew through AA and AAA rather quickly in 2009, though – each time he stays a little longer at a level he’s improved, so I like this 24-year-old’s chances to win 10 games or more with Detroit.  Going 17 – 7 with a 2.42 ERA in 242 innings, with 270 strikeouts are the types of numbers you want to see en route the big leagues.  (Rumors that Bastardo is related to former Tiger prospect Yormin Bazardo are untrue.)

Vincent Mazzaro is a 3rd round pick out of Rutherford High School (NJ) in 2005, and the Oakland A’s are pretty high on him.  However, he hasn’t been the dominant pitcher in the minors that Bastardo was.  While Baseball America shows him as a top ten prospect, Mazzaro was posting ERAs over 5 for Kane County (2005) and Stockton (2006) while still in A ball.  In 2007, Mazzaro had his first taste of prospect success, going 12 – 3 with a 1.90 ERA in Midland (AA).  His strikeout rate improved, and more importantly his control was solid.  Instead of walking 71 in 153.2 innings, he only walked 36 in 137.1 innings.  Mazzaro was a little overmatched in AAA at first blush in 2008, but he opened with several strong outings at Sacramento in 2009, earning his call up.  The control remains strong, but I worry about his ability to strike out a lot of guys.  He’s got a slight advantage in that he’s pitching in Oakland which will keep his ERA in check, but don’t look for a lot of checks in the wins column.  At least not until he turns what appears to be improving command into a set of solid out pitches.