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.

Trade Analysis: Indians Send Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to Phillies for Four Prospects

Maybe the Blue Jays were asking too much for Roy Halliday…  Philadelphia, already building a comfortable lead in the NL East and still the reigning World Series Champions, dealt away four prospects for last year’s AL Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee.  Along for the ride is a right-handed hitting outfielder, Ben Francisco.  Cleveland gets four ranked prospects, Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, and Jason Donald.

Philadelphia Gets:  A starter who as every bit as good as Roy Halliday, but with a lower price tag.  Lee’s salary is about $6 million per year less than Halliday, and he can stay through 2010 because of a club option…  Don’t look at Lee’s record – the Indians haven’t done diddly when Lee is on the hill.  Check out his control and ERA, which are both solid.  Hamels, Lee, Happ, and Moyer (who has been better), with a dose of Joe Blanton makes for a killer rotation down the stretch, and you have two aces at the top for the playoffs.  The Phillies have to be the favorite to make the 2009 World Series.

The Phillies also get a decent outfielder in Francisco – someone who can play left or right field (he looks more comfortable in left, though), hits with power and still retains a little speed.  He’s certainly an upgrade over John Mayberry, Jr. – who may never be as good as Francisco.  And – none of the prospects that Toronto asked for – Kyle Drabek, J.A. Happ, or outfielder Dominic Brown – were part of the deal.  Happ has been a god send, and Drabek is frequently cited as the best pitching prospect the Phillies have.

Cleveland Gets:  It’s not that Cleveland got NOTHING.  They just didn’t get anyone who might immediately help, the way J.A. Happ could obviously step into the rotation and pitch today (or whatever day he was scheduled to pitch).

Jason Knapp was selected #2 in 2008 out of high school.  He has a tender shoulder right now, which isn’t a positive and may actually hold up the completion of the deal.  As a pitcher, though, Knapp has SERIOUS tools.  He throws high 90s, fanned 111 in 95 innings at Lakewood in the SAL.  When he arrives in 2011, Knapp could be a #2 starter.  Granted, this is early, but this is the kind of prospect you want to see in a trade.  Upside and at least a little proven ability.

Carlos Carrasco is a bit further along – learning a new pitch in AAA.  The good news is he has good control and decent strikeout numbers.  He’s just 22 and yet has had some success in the minors.  Right now, I think he translates out to a #4 starter at best, but he could surprise you.  He may get to make a few starts in September (or sooner) for Cleveland, and prove to be a positive.  The best news is that he has improved his control at each level and that bodes well for him the more he pitches.

Jason Donald is a shortstop who, until this year, had been a decent hitter – mixing a little power with nice patience and a touch of speed.  He suffered a knee injury this year, though, and in AAA has struggled to hit .240.  In time, he might serve as a potential replacement for Jhonny Peralta should he move to third (where Andy Marte has failed to make an impact).  I see Donald as a Rich Aurilia type and could be helpful for a couple of years if he can make one more step up.  Donald might move to second, with Asdrubel Cabrera manning short next year, too.  Either way, it should be a solid infield.

Lou Marson is a catcher with skills – Scott Bradley with more walks.  I thought he might become the Phillies catcher for the next decade.  He’s a good contact hitter, has some patience – and has shown improvement at every level.  And, he’s just 23.  Adding Marson means that Victor Martinez is still (more?) expendable – though you’d like to see someone who can play first base emerge (or, in the case of Travis Hafner, get healthy).

In summary, I like the trade for both teams.  Obviously, Philadelphia could be a solid winner not just for 2009, but 2010, and retains three blue chippers.  If you are a Cleveland fan, though, you have to feel a bit cheated out of what should have been a tiny dynasty over the last three years.  Two aces are gone and a third (Fausto Carmona) fell by the wayside.  The Indians SHOULD have been in the playoffs every year since 2007.  Someone is to blame for that, and I don’t know who.  On the other hand, in the last three days, the Indians have picked up five guys (Jess Todd, in the Mark DeRosa deal) who could be on the major league roster in three years, and four might be on the roster next year.

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.