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.