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.

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A Weekend of Wheeling and Dealing…

After a weekend of work and play, it’s time to see what all happened while we went Christmas and Hanukkah shopping…

Who Signed?

Rafael Soriano was signed to a $7 million contract – and then traded by the Braves to Tampa for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Soriano immediately upgrades the closer role in Tampa, a problem all of 2009.  [FanHouse/SI]

Houston inked reliever Brandon Lyon to a three year, $15 million deal.  Lyon isn’t bad – he’s dependable, but is he really better than Grant Balfour?  $3 million better for the next three years?  (See his deal below.)  [SI]

The new third baseman in Houston is former Phillie Pedro Feliz – one year, $4.5 million.  [SI]

Scott Olsen got an incentive-filled deal with the Nationals – coming off a disappointing season and shoulder surgery.  [ESPN]

Jason Kendall – who looked like he aged four years at the plate last year – signed a two year deal with the Royals.  (See John Buck, below.)  By the way – Miguel Olivo might not return.  The Royals confuse me.  [SI]

Meanwhile, the Royals signed Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Royals non-tendered catcher John Buck, but he signed with Toronto for $2 million pending a physical.  [ESPN]

Two years ago, he was a closer – now, J.J. Putz is an eighth inning guy in Chicago for one year at $3 million.  There are a lot of incentives, too.  [SI]

Kevin Correia will stay in San Diego, signing a one-year, $3.6 million deal.  [ESPN]

Arizona signed Augie Ojeda and Blaine Boyer to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Braves signed outfielder Matt Diaz for one year at $2.55 million. [ESPN]

Grant Balfour signed with Tampa – one year, $2.05 million.  [SI]

Milwaukee gets one more year with Craig Counsell – who remains a valuable utility player at 39.  [MLB]

Esteban German remains in Texas for 2010.  [MLB]

The Cubs tendered offers to eight players, (Jeff Baker, Mike Fontenot, Koyie Hill, Ryan Theriot, Tom Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall) with Neil Cotts likely heading to arbitration.  [MLB]

The Dodgers tendered offers to nine players (go read the article), including Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and Russell Martin.  Everybody gets a raise in LA!!!  [MLB]

Who Got Let Go…

The Braves non-tendered outfielder Ryan Church and second baseman Kelly Johnson.  [MLB]

Boston non-tendered outfielder Brian Anderson.

The Mets non-tendered four players, including pitchers Tim Redding and Lance Broadway, as well as outfielders Cory Sullivan and Jeremy Reed.  [ESPN]

Despite hitting 20 homers in little more than a half season, Johnny Gomes was non-tendered by the Reds.  He might still sign somewhere, but let’s face it – he’s a DH.  [ESPN]

Chien-Ming Wang is a free agent, and apparently disappointed that the Yankees didn’t stay with him…  Since injuring his ankle running the bases, Wang has REALLY struggled. [ESPN]

Matt Capps, closer for Pittsburgh, was caught off guard – he was non-tendered by the Pirates.  [MLB]

Jose Arredondo, about to have surgery, will not have an Angels contract for 2010.  [MLB]

Jack Cust (Oakland), Ryan Garko (San Francisco), Mike MacDougal (Washington), D.J. Carrasco (Chi Sox), Clay Condrey (Philadelphia), Alfredo Amezaga (Florida) join a LONG list of free agents.

Here’s a good summary of who is now available…  [SI]

For a complete list of transactions, you can always go here…  [MLB]

What’s the Hold Up?

Jason Bay may not return to Boston – the hold up appears to be the duration of the contract.  Bay wants five years; Boston is offering four.  [ESPN]

Mike Lowell’s injured thumb is stalling an agreement between Texas and Boston.  Boston would (a) get catcher Max Ramirez – a good prospect and (b) pretty much pay for Lowell to play in Texas where he would play first, DH, and backup Michael Young at third base.  [ESPN]

The Cards made a pitch to Matt Holliday and hope to have an answer this week.  [FoxSports]

Happy Birthday!

One of the more famous names in baseball history, Bill Buckner, turns 60.  Billy Buck was a hustler – played through injuries, used to complain about every called strike or close play at first base.  He was unfortunately humbled by that error in the 1986 World Series and his career degenerated quickly after that – though he was showing signs of age at the time.  He had a lot of hits – 2715 of them – and used to be fast.  Something tells me that he’s probably mellowed a lot over the last 20 years…  I’d love to buy him lunch.  Happy Birthday, Billy.

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include: Honest John Anderson (1872), Maurice “The Comet” Archdeacon (1897), Toothpick Sam Jones (1925), Ken Hunt (1938), Ken Hill and future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio (1965) – I loved Biggio who was an amazingly versatile athlete, Dave Nilsson and Scott Hatteberg (1969), Angel Guzman (1981), and Josh Fields (1982).

Afterthoughts…

Peter Gammons thanks everyone for the memories at ESPN.

Dad, Daughter Find 15 Minutes of Fame over a Foul Ball (and other news…)

This is what it’s all about – a family going to the ball game.  Steve Monforto, a long-time Phillies fan, takes his wife and two daughters to the game and for the first time catches a foul ball.  After sharing the moment with those around him, he does the nice thing and gives the ball to his daughter – who promptly throws the ball over the railing and down to the lower deck.  The girl immediately realizes (from the reaction of the fans around her) that throwing the ball may not have been the right thing – but Daddy rescues her by giving her a big hug.

And this morning (Thursday), the family will be on the Today Show.  Click on the link and watch the MLB video (or watch it here, below) – it’s priceless.  The article on MLB is also well written and contains a number of great story lines.  [MLB]

As expected, Jorge Posada and Jesse Carlson were suspended three games for their roles in a bench-clearning incident.  Posada needed three days off anyway… [ESPN]

The Texas Rangers lost a fourth straight game (maybe I should add the Rangers to the “Is it Over” segment below), this by a one-hitter to Oakland (!) – mostly because they don’t have their two most productive hitters in the lineup.  Michael Young may play this weekend against the Angels, but his hamstring is still a problem.  And, Josh Hamilton not only has lower back pain and a strained glute (are they related?) – and is worried he might not play again in 2009.  [ESPN]

This is what happens when  your team goes from playoff contention to losing twelve of thirteen.  Tampa’s Carl Crawford gave a shout out to Pat Burrell, resulting in a bit of a screaming match requiring Joe Maddon to call both to his office to clear the air.  [ESPN]

Yankee starter Andy Pettitte missed his start yesterday to rest a “tired” shoulder.  Pettitte is now scheduled to pitch against Los Angeles next week.  [FoxSports]

In a classy move, the Tigers invited Ernie Harwell back to Comerica Park and to thank him for his more than 40 years of service to the Tigers community.  Harwell used the opportunity to thank those people in Detroit and all of Michigan for sharing their love and concern for him.  Harwell nears 92 years old and has inoperable cancer.  I listened to him on the radio back in the day – and nobody was better at making a ballgame seem like baseball was a large part of a community’s fabric.  An equally classy move – Tigers Manager Jim Leyland called a team meeting to explain to the younger players just how much Harwell meant to baseball in Detroit and beyond.  When Harwell was brought out, both dugouts watched in awe, many players taking pictures to capture the moment.  [ESPN]

Roy Oswalt’s season come to an end as the Astros ace doesn’t want his back and hip pain (now affecting his shoulder, too) to linger into 2010.  So, Oswalt will begin the rest and rehab process now instead.  Oswalt finishes with eight wins on the season – far below his normal levels of success.  Hurry back, Roy – baseball needs more guys like you.  [ESPN]

Another pitcher who may not pitch again in 2009 is Tiger Jarrod Washburn, whose knee injury isn’t healing very quickly.  Washburn says he’s hurting the team by going out there, and doesn’t know why the team would let him pitch. [FoxSports]

Cleveland centerfielder Grady Sizemore’s second surgery, this to repair a sports hernia, was a success.  Here’s to coming back healthy and strong for 2010 as well.

Not Fun Stat Mark Reynolds may have 42 homers and is hitting .272.  On the other hand, for the second straight year he has 200 strikeouts (!), and should break his record of 204 sometime by the end of the week.  Amazing, really.

Is it Over? The White Sox waived Bartolo Colon.  Colon was signed, got hurt, and would disappear during rehab stints.  I think we’ve seen the last of him.

Welcome Back! Randy Johnson was activated by the Giants.  Greg Dobbs (Philles), Clay Condrey (Phillies), Laynce Nix (Reds), Carlos Silva (Mariners), Alfredo (Marriage of) Figaro (Tigers) all came off the DL.

Hurry Back! Billy Sadler (Astros – Shoulder), Justin Miller (Giants – Elbow), Sean White (Mariners – Shoulder) and Mark DeFelice (Brewers – Shoulder) all head to the DL to start the rehab process and get ready for 2010.

Afterthoughts… Tommy Lasorda’s portrait will be hung in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.  Who doesn’t love the guy, really?  If you don’t love Lasorda, you don’t love baseball.

Interested in Erik Bedard? You’ll Have to Wait…

If Seattle had plans to trade Erik Bedard, those plans were dashed when the lefty hit the DL with shoulder inflammation.  In his last start, Bedard fired 81 pitches in just three innings.  I’ve written about this before – 100 pitches isn’t the problem, a heavy pitch count in an inning or two is much worse.  Returning to the rotation will be Jason Vargas.  [ESPN]

Brett Gardner broke his thumb breaking up a double play, and the Yankees outfielder will miss the next month of the season.  His thumb is in a cast, but fortunately doesn’t need surgery.  [ESPN]

Jim Leyland remains optimistic that Jeremy Bonderman and Joel Zumaya might return this season.  Zumaya hopes cortisone shots will help avoid season ending surgery (an eventuality, really) and Bonderman has been throwing lately without discomfort.  [SI]

Kansas City isn’t giving up on Tony Pena.  It’s just giving up on the idea that he can play shortstop.  Now, the strong armed Pena will be given a shot to pitch.  I like the idea…  [FoxSports]

Texas starter Kevin Millwood left his start against Kansas City after two innings with a pain in his butt.  The strained left glute muscle wouldn’t allow him to extend his front leg when throwing…  Now Texas is waiting to see if this means Millwood might miss a start.  [MLB]

A lot of action on the transaction wire…

Hurry Back!  Cincinnati pitcher Jared Burton heads to the DL with shoulder fatigue.  Brewer pitcher Seth McClung heads to the DL with an elbow strain.  Phillies reliever Clay Condrey heads to the DL with a left oblique strain.

What Gives?  Wladimir Balentien was designated for assignment by Seattle.  The power/speed prospect hasn’t panned out – in 400 major league at bats, he’s hit .209…  Houston did the same with Chad Paronto, who hasn’t stuck with six organizations.  At 33, he’s running out of shots.

Player to be Named Later:  Jess Todd was sent from Memphis to Cleveland to complete the Mark DeRosa trade.  Todd is a reliever with some talent – he was the closer for Memphis, has great strikeout numbers, good control, and a fighting shot to help the Indians as soon as 2010.

Sandberg Speaks Sosa; Cleveland Losing (W)Edge?

Ryne Sandberg says Sammy Sosa won’t be elected to the Hall of Fame because sportswriters are taking a stand against steroids.  Sandberg noted that the description of a Hall of Famer includes the word “integrity” (even in the logo) and people in general seem to be taking the same position on steroids.  Even as he noted that he didn’t think Sosa belonged in the Hall, Sandberg admitted that Sosa did have a great work ethic, and thought that the added muscle was due to offseason workouts when they were teammates from 1993 and 1997.  

Let’s face it; that’s what is problematic about this.  Nobody doubts that Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire weren’t putting in time in the gym.  Ultimately, it’s disappointing that these guys (and many others like them) chose to break federal laws in acquiring substances that otherwise couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be obtained without prescriptions and valid reasons for having them.

Is Wedge Next Manager to Go?

Cleveland manager Eric Wedge is hearing it from Cleveland fans who now wonder aloud if he will be fired.  Meanwhile, Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Plain Dealer thinks that fans calling for the return of Mike Hargrove may wind up equally disappointed

What Should Detroit Do With Magglio Ordonez?

Fox Sports baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal thinks the Tigers should drop Magglio Ordonez before he gets enough plate appearances to vest an $18 million dollar contract extension.

Let’s see if we can’t look at this pragmatically. First, Ordonez is now a year and a half removed from that .363 season which was miles above what he normally hits (and he’s a good hitter).  So, this year’s slump could be, in part, an evening of fortune for hitting so well in 2007.  I mean, Mike Lowell, who always struck me as one of the most consistent players I have ever seen, has had a season where he hit .236 and another where he hit .324. 

Second of all, there has been a consistent decline in Ordonez’s outfield play.  In 2006, he was about 4 plays below average in right field per 800 balls in play, costing his team about 13 runs.  In 2007, it was five plays per 800 balls in play.  Last year, he was – 12, which likely cost his team almost 33 runs because of all those extra hits falling in out there.  When you add up the offensive production (about 101.4 runs) and his lack of defensive range (-32.6 runs), I have him as the 20th best right fielder among those playing at least 80 games there in 2008.  Fourteen were better hitters, and then you have his fielding problems.

Finally, Maggs is 35 – which is young to me, but not in baseball years.  It might be that his legs aren’t beneath him anymore, either. I haven’t gotten to the letter “M” in my player profiles, but having looked at it, Ordonez would have been a serious candidate for a season of decline – probably hitting more like .270 with 15 homers.  Assuming he hits his career norm for the second half of the season (about .310 with 12 homers), he’d finish right about where my prediction hits.  And, he’s really best suited to be a DH at this point in his career.  Is that the type of production you’d want to pay $18 million for?  So, when you do the math, I reach the same conclusion as Rosenthal – but hopefully without any unnecessary meanness of spirit.

On the injury beat… 

Brandon Webb may not pitch for Arizona this year.  Webb is about 35 runs better than the average pitcher over 230 innings – one of the best in the game. To lose him and replace him with someone in AAA, who likely won’t be league average, is probably a 50 run hit to the runs allowed column, turning a team that could have finished with 75 wins into a team that could easily win more like 65 wins – which is what the Diamondbacks are pacing for. Ouch. 

And, Josh Hamilton is less and less likely going to be ready to play by the All-star game.  I remember thinking that when they announced his surgery. 

Let’s get some good news.  Roy Halliday will likely pitch Monday against the Rays in Toronto.  To their credit, the Blue Jays have played well over the last two weeks, given all the injuries to the pitching staff. 

Hurry Back!  Phillies reliever Clay Condrey – 15-day DL with a left oblique strain.  Brad Lidge will get his slot on the roster.  Brewer pitcher Dave Bush gets seven days off in AAA for right arm fatigue.  Cincinnati catcher Wilkin Castillo goes to the DL with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.  And, Arizona loses catcher Chris Snyder to a lower back strain. 

Welcome Back!  Cleveland’s Grady Sizemore, San Diego’s Scott Hairston, and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, who says that depression following the death of his father last August has contributed to serious panic attacks and anxiety.  As someone who deals with anxiety on a regular basis, I can definitely relate to that.  Hang in there, Joey.

Breathless!

Working late, I had the Chicago Cubs – Detroit Tigers game on.  If you want to know why I am a baseball fan, you needed to watch this game.

First, you had two solid starting pitching efforts from Edwin Jackson, who throws HARD, and Carlos Zambrano – one of the truly great horses in baseball.

In the bottom of the seventh, with the Cubs leading 2 – 1, Brandon Inge takes Zambrano deep for a two-run homer to take the lead.  What is especially cool about this is that Inge had spent the day at a local hospital hanging out with kids and signing autographs.  At one point, he’s mingling with a kid named Tommy Schumacher, and Inge tells Tommy that he’s tired of signing autographs; he wants one.  So, Tommy takes a marker and writes his first name on Inge’s right forearm.  When Inge is batting early in the game, you can see Tommy’s autograph clearly and the broadcasters mention it.  Cool stuff!

Not done, though.  In the eighth, in comes Joel Zumaya.  Zumaya is probably the hardest thrower in the game.  Against Milton Bradley, he throws four straight pitches that MLB’s PitchFX data shows ranging from 101 to 103 MPH.  The TV Radar actually read 104 (!) on the gun with the last strike.  Bradley started his swing as the ball was being thrown around the horn.  Anyway, with a runner on, Zumaya tried to sneak a change up past Micah Hoffpauir, but Hoffpauir turned it around for a lead-changing two run homer.

STILL not over.  Kevin Gregg, who had been on a good roll, comes in to close the game out for the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth, but Ryan Rayburn hits a pinch hit two run homer to win it.  It was the first PH game-winning homer by a Detroit batter in the 9th inning since Lou Whitaker did it in 1995!  A BREATHTAKING game!

2009 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies
2008: 90-72 (1st NL East, World Series Champions)

The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies were a very good team that got hot at the right time (September and October) and generally did this because the offense was good, the bench produced, and the pitching staff – especially the bullpen – was flat out impressive.

In the National League, only one team scored more runs (the Chicago Cubs), and only two teams allowed fewer runs (The Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers), which helps to explain why only the Cubs had the better regular season record.  However, the Cubs folded the tent in October while the Phillies were just getting started.  If the Phillies needed to score runs, they could.  If the team needed a solid pitching performance, especially down the stretch, it could get one, and if the bullpen needed to hold a lead, Brad Lidge and company could stop another team cold in its tracks.  It didn’t hurt that down the stretch the Phillies played a lot of games against the weak sisters (Atlanta, Washington, and the folding Mets), but even when faced with a playoff bound Milwaukee in September, the Phillies smoked them in four straight – which should have sounded the alarm that this team was ready for the playoffs.

And they were ready.  They took down the Brewers, they stopped the charging Dodgers, and they blew away a very good Tampa Bay Rays team winning every home game and losing just once on the road in each series.

Looking Back on 2008

As in 2007, the getaway was problematic but not as bad.  For 20 games, Philadelphia would win two and lose two, never falling more than two games under .500, but never getting past it, either.  Then, in game 23, the Phillies got above even and started making progress toward the top of the division.

The reason for this was that half the starting rotation was working, and half the offense was working.  Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer were great, Brett Myers and Adam Eaton were struggling, and Kyle Kendrick was somewhere in the middle.  And, Ryan Howard got off to such a slow start it negated the amazing start of Chase Utley.  Pat Burrell was hitting, but Jimmy Rollins was fighting nagging injuries and not hitting.

In late May, the pieces started coming together.  Over the summer, Charlie Manual and the rest of Phillie management convinced Brett Myers to take a month in the minors to work on a couple of adjustments and see if he couldn’t get things turned around.  Myers, to his credit, did just that and when he came back in August was solid down the stretch.  Then, the Phillies finally gave up on Adam Eaton and traded for Joe Blanton, giving up a couple of minor leaguers.  Blanton, who had struggled some in Oakland, found his stride down the stretch and looked even more confident in the post-season.  So, by the time September rolled around, the rotation featured four solid starters and Kyle Kendrick – who wasn’t pitching well, but still had a winning record.  The Phillies had their best month in September, winning seventeen games while losing just eight.  In October, they were even better.

Tell me about that offense

Believe it or not, as good as the 2008 Phillies line up was, they were almost 100 runs worse than in 2007.

Some of this could have been predicted (and was).  Jimmy Rollins was coming off his best season ever, so to think he would generate 140 runs of offense again would have been extremely optimistic.  Struggling through the year, Rollins still produced, but was 45 runs worse than the previous year.  He missed 35 games, lost 100 points in his slugging percentage, and it showed up on the scoreboard.  His backup, usually Eric Bruntlett, can’t hit like Rollins.  Shane Victorino moved to center to replace Aaron Rowand, who was coming off his career best season.  Victorino was good, but still 25 runs behind what Rowand produced.

Some of the rest was just the give and take of seasons.  Ryan Howard was slow to get rolling and was off slightly from the previous year.  Pedro Feliz looked slow at the plate and was below average in hitting.  Catcher Carlos Ruiz struggled, giving more time to Chris Coste, who hit pretty well.  Chase Utley and Pat Burrell were no better than they had been in 2007 – which is to say they remained potent hitters.

However, top to bottom, this was a solid line up.  You had six above average bats (Rollins, Utley, Howard, Burrell, Victorino, and Werth), and a couple of slower bats – but it worked.  No team is going to complain about finishing in second in runs scored.  The Phillies could hit.

Defensively:

The Phillies were slightly above average in terms of turning balls in play into outs.  The outfield improved in part because Victorino and Werth were an improvement on Rowand in center, Pat Burrell had a slightly better year than in 2007 defensively (still bad though), and the backups in the outfield (Werth when he played in center, Taguchi when he played in left) caught everything.

Jimmy Rollins has below average range (-4.1, the third straight year between -4 and -5), but makes up for it on the double play and avoiding errors.  Chase Utley has above average range and is also good turning two.  The Phillies were slightly above average in the percentage of baserunners removed by double plays.  Howard appears to be losing his mobility.  The few replacements at first base all had better per inning numbers, but nobody is taking Howard off the diamond.  Pedro Feliz was slightly below average but even his replacement was solid (Dobbs).

The outfield was weak.  Victorino and Werth were, on the whole, average.  The now departed Burrell has wrestled with Josh Willingham for two years to see who was the worst defensive left fielder in the National League.  The backups, So Taguchi and Geoff Jenkins, were both solid defensively.

Behind the plate, Ruiz and Coste are tolerable.  Both were below average against the stolen base and the total number of steals allowed was the fifth most in the league.  Coste makes fewer mistakes, but Ruiz appears to be more mobile in that he had 28 more assists that were not people trying to steal bases than Cost in a similar number of innings.

Now Pitching…

Last year I wrote, “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….  Hamels might be able to pick up 40 more innings…”  I’ll just quote that part, since it was right on the money, and not note that I had predicted Jamie Moyer to decline, when Moyer was equally brilliant in 2008.  Hamels saved his team 30 runs over the average pitcher, Moyer another 20.

Blanton was a slightly above average pitcher after his arrival, and Brett Myers was break even – with his second half being as good as his first half was poor.  So, the top four starters, who all return in 2009, were above average.

After that, you have Kyle Kendrick.  In two seasons, Kendrick has had a winning record – but things are going in the wrong direction.  He doesn’t strike anyone out and he doesn’t walk people.  In 2007, the ball stayed in the park.  In 2008, the ball left the yard.  When a pitcher allows too many hitters to put the ball in play, it’s a bad combination that is bound to backfire.  In 2008 it did.  Adam Eaton is still around, but for the third straight year, he posted an ERA over 5.00.  I would be surprised if Eaton is on the roster in 2008.

The bullpen, however, showed incredible improvement.  Brad Lidge didn’t blow a single save and was absolutely amazing all season long.  And – he wasn’t alone.  Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Clay Condrey, and Chad Durbin all were 10 runs allowed better than the average reliever.  Scott Eyre came over from the Cubs and was above average as well.  I mean – every pitcher who played a key role on the team, with the exception of Adam Eaton, was above average.  That’s TEN solid pitchers.

Forecasting 2008:

Conventional wisdom might look at this team and say “wow – look how good they were, this is the team to beat in the NL” – and for the most part conventional wisdom is right.  Unfortunately, there are a few “buts” to consider.

Last year, the team was virtually injury free.  Jimmy Rollins was the only starter to miss any significant time, and he still played in nearly 140 games.  No pitcher went down with a serious injury, except Tom Gordon, who wasn’t needed and was the last active pitcher who played with Frank White.  I’d be hard pressed to believe that the same luck will stay with the Phillies in 2009.  Chase Utley had hip surgery in the offseason and the Phillies are cautiously optimistic that he’ll be back around opening day.  As such, Marcus Giles was given a Non-Roster Invite to spring training – and he hasn’t been good since 2006.

The 2008 Phillies were a veteran team.  Not an old team, but a collection of guys around 29 on offense, and – Moyer not withstanding – generally prime ages for pitchers.  That works in their favor – but they aren’t getting younger either.  Replacing Burrell in left field will be the 37 year-old Raul Ibanez.  Raul’s slightly better in the field than Burrell, and hasn’t missed much time in the last seven years.  But he’s 37 – and guys who are 37 miss games.  They don’t get faster.  Ibanez isn’t likely to be better than Burrell, he’s likely to be worse. 

J.C Romero tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, moving Scott Eyre into a more prominent role, but Romero’s roster spot was claimed by Chan Ho Park.  Park turns 36 in mid-season.  Park won’t be better than Romero, that’s for sure.  And, God help the Phillies if they need him to be a starter – he hasn’t been effective in that role for years.  Outfielder Tai Iguchi is gone; the remaining backup outfielders are Jenkins (34) and Matt Stairs (40).  John Mayberry, Jr., acquired from Texas, hasn’t played in the majors yet and has never hit above .270 in the minors.  And, like a lot of young major leaguers, he strikes out a lot.

Let’s try to do this by runs.  My guess is that Ibanez will be 10 – 15 runs worse than Burrell, Feliz will continue to look older, and Greg Dobbs may not be as consistent.  If it were me, I’d play Dobbs over Feliz, but I don’t think Manual agrees with me.  Anyway – that’s another ten run loss.  Ryan Howard isn’t getting better – just richer.  He could be off five runs from last year.  Utley is a question mark.  I root for the guy, personally, but it could be a 30 – 40 run decline from 2008.  There could be a slight improvement at catcher, Ronnie Paulino was acquired from Pittsburgh as insurance, but he’s not better than either Ruiz or Coste.  There is no position where the Phillies will be BETTER on offense.   More likely, the Phillies will fall from nearly 800 runs to 750 runs offensively.  It could be less than that.

Defensively, the team will likely be flat – depending on how well Utley’s replacement plays.  Giles won’t be better than Utley, though the improvement of not playing Burrell for 1000 innings in the outfield will make up for that in some way.

So that leaves the pitching staff.  Let’s say Hamels remains outstanding, and Blanton and Myers are above average.  It’s equally likely however that whatever benefits Blanton and Myers may add will be negated by a decline by Moyer.  Moyer’s season in 2008 was the lone solid season in the last four – and while he’s one of my favorite pitchers, he’s not going to be better than last year.  I think he could easily be 20 runs worse than last year – which makes Moyer league average.  Moyer’s record will be 10 – 12 if he makes 30 starts again.  He usually does…

If I’m Charlie Manual, I give starts to J.A. Happ.  Happ looks to be an improvement over Kyle Kendrick – he’s been solid in the minors and didn’t disappoint in four starts last year.  That would be his only chance to improve the rotation.  At least Manual has a good sixth option.  Park is not.  Eaton should be released.  A full year of Blanton is an improvement over 13 starts of Blanton and 19 starts by Eaton.

However, so many pitchers were above average in the bullpen, I’d fear for at least one of them (Clay Condrey is my first guess, Park the other) to be league average or worse.  That’s another decline of at least 20 runs.  On the whole, the pitchers are likely to allow 35 more runs than in 2008.  That puts the runs scored/runs allowed numbers at 750/700 – a record of about 87 – 75.  87 wins might be enough to make the playoffs, though – and since this team has two straight years of closing strongly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak in by a nose.  One pitcher injury, however – especially if it’s Hamels – would cost the team five games in the standings, and 82 wins won’t get it done.

Down on the Farm…

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs look to be shy on players who can help.  The best hitter is probably first baseman Adam Tracy – but he isn’t great and Howard isn’t moving.  Mike Cervanek looks like Enos Cabell – might hit .280 with 10 homers and no walks.  Outfielder Brendan Watson isn’t going to help people if he hits .270 with no power and a bad stolen base percentage.  Their catching prospect, Jason Jaramillo was sent to Pittsburgh for Ronny Paulino.  The best pitcher was J.A. Happ, who should be starting for Philadelphia already.  He just needs a chance to pitch 140 innings and show what he can do and learn how to survive at the top level.

The best hitter in Reading (AA) was catcher Lou Marson, who got to play in one September game and homered for the Phillies that day.  I thought he looked good at Clearwater in 2007, so his continued improvement bodes well for his future.  He’ll be starting here by 2010.   Jason Donald looked good at shortstop, hitting for power and showing plate discipline.  He’s blocked at the big league level, though, unless Utley can’t come back.  Jeremy Slayden can hit some, but he’ll be 27 soon and running out of time.  He’s reaching his peak and hasn’t gotten past AA.  No pitchers in AA were that impressive – nobody with stunning strikeout numbers, a low number of hits per nine, or remarkable control.

At the lower levels, Michael Taylor hit a ton at Lakeland and Clearwater, but few others had successful runs.  Taylor comes from Stanford and is built like a tight end (6’ 6”, 250) but needs to move up a couple of levels quickly.  This was his first solid season in the minors.