Team to Beat: 2011 Philadelphia Phillies Preview

The Mets series in Philly starts today, and we’ve been previewing all five of the teams in the National League East around here. Right now, the Philadelphia Phillies:

Manager: Charlie Manuel
General Manager: Ruben Amaro Jr.
Projected Finish: 95-67, first place

Lineup:
CF – Shane Victorino
3B – Placido Polanco
SS – Jimmy Rollins
1B – Ryan Howard
LF – Raul Ibanez
RF – Ben Francisco (for Domonic Brown)
C – Carlos Ruiz
2B – Wilson Valdez (for Chase Utley)

Let’s say I told you that this season the Phillies would lose Chase Utley for an extended period of time, Brad Lidge would miss the part of the year, and they would get sub-replacement performances from three of their starting pitchers who combine to make 78 starts. And, just for fun, we’ll say they only get a half-season out of Jimmy Rollins and a down year out of Ryan Howard. Could they still win 97 games?

I’d guess yes, mostly because all those things happened last season, and the Phillies won 97 games anyway. The team is a bit different in 2011, as they lost Jayson Werth over the offseason, but they did gain that Cliff Lee guy and Roy Oswalt for a full season. The Phillies can be hilariously old — Domonic Brown, Cole Hamels, Ben Francisco, and Antonio Bastardo are the only real contributors under 30 — and already have injuries, but they were old and had injuries last year and still won 97 games. It’s easy to focus on their weaknesses – and even underrate the Phillies for them — but only because it becomes so easy to focus on their weaknesses when almost everything else is a strength. For at least one more year, the Philadelphia remain the class of the NL.

Ugh. I’m going to go get sick now.

Shane Victorino – Victorino is 30, which somehow qualifies him as one of the younger Phillies. He’s been reliable for 30 steals, 50 walks, 55 extra base hits, and a good center field every season. He’s not their best player, but he is one of their more consistent (and consistently annoying) contributors.

Placido Polanco – Polanco can still field his position – and as a good defensive club, almost all the Phillies can — but offensively, he’s on his way to being Luis Castillo without the walks.

Jimmy Rollins – With Chase Utley out of the lineup, Charlie Manuel is showing faith in Rollins by hitting him third, as Rollins has been on a steady offensive decline since his MVP peak in 2007. Manuel has demonstrated this sort of trust in his players previously, and it’s proven beneficial when it allowed certain players to work through slumps. On the other hand, as this team starts to get older, Manuel runs the risk of sticking with sharply declining players when better options could be found.

Ryan Howard – 31 home runs counts as a down year for Howard, though he did hit lefties for the first time in three years. His five year, $125 million dollar contract extension doesn’t kick in until next year, so I’ll take a moment to point out that, by Fangraphs’ count, Howard has been never worth $25 million dollars in any season thus far in his career.

Raul Ibanez – Already a poor fielder, at age 39 Ibanez’s only remaining skills are putting up an average OPS and shoving a Wagnerian amount of chaw into his cheek.

Ben Francisco (for Domonic Brown) – Francisco is the place holder for the injured Domonic Brown, as Brown broke his hand in spring training and should be back in May. The twenty-three year old Brown posted a .951 OPS in Triple-A last season and was called up to Philly at the end of July – he is regarded as one of the game’s top prospects. On the other hand, the Phillies let Brown sit on the big league bench all the way through September, he only played nine games in winter ball, and was injured in spring training, meaning he more or less has not played regularly since July of last year. There are all different ways to break prospects in; I’m not sure if that was an ideal one.

Carlos Ruiz – Is it weird that I sort of want a Carlos Ruiz pillow, too?

Wilson Valdez (for Chase Utley) – Valdez is filling in for Chase Utley, who is out with mysterious (and presumably greasy) knee problems. Valdez can field and do nothing else; Utley can field and do everything else. The Phillies will miss their best player while he’s gone.

Rotation:
RHP – Roy Halladay
LHP – Cliff Lee
RHP – Roy Oswalt
LHP – Cole Hamels
RHP – Joe Blanton

Roy Halladay – Best pitcher in baseball, a Hall of Famer in his prime, ect. After spending all of his career in the AL, Halladay did strike out in 42 of his 95 trips to the plate last season — so at least we know he’s semi-mortal.

Cliff Lee – Lee will be 32 this season, Oswalt 33, and Halladay 34. Since 2005 – the post-steroid era, if you will — 25 pitchers, age 33 or older, have pitched 180 innings and posted an ERA+ of 110 or better in a season . . . but just 10 have done it twice, and only 3 have done it thrice. This is more or less the same pattern for pitchers of that age in the 1980s. The Phillies are counting on a combined nine seasons like that from this group, not including option years and Lee’s age 32 season this year. It’s a lot to ask.

Roy Oswalt – On the other hand, the Phillies have assembled a group with relatively clean injury histories. Oswalt has made two trips to the DL since 2003, one of them lasting 15 days, the other 16. Lee has been placed on the DL twice since 2004; Halladay twice since 2005, one trip being made to have his appendix removed. It’s a combined six trips to the DL over the past five years, none of them for arm injuries. I don’t know if that’s meaningful, but it’s certainly not a bad thing . . . I mean, uh, no, Ruben Amaro, it’s totally a bad thing. Preemptive Tommy John surgeries for everyone!

Cole Hamels – Hamels added a cutter last year, threw his curveball a bit less, and struck out 200 batters for the first time in his career. Still carried his dog in a backpack that one time, though.

Joe Blanton – Pete Best? Newman? Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters 2? Devean George? Or, as my buddy suggested, Average Joe? I don’t know if we’ve found a suitable nickname yet, but I like where this is heading.

Bench:
C – Brian Schneider
IF – Pete Orr
OF – John Mayberry
OF/1B – Ross Gload
UT – Michael Martinez

The bench is being tested early by the injuries to Utley and Brown, but this isn’t a great group to begin with; the Phillies don’t have a lot of depth in the high minors, and it shows here. Gload is the primary pinch hitter, and Mayberry serves as the righthanded bench bat until Brown’s return knocks Francisco back into that role. This is a good time to present my theory that the Phillies don’t scout outside of the NL East — directly before joining the Phillies, Schneider was with the Mets, Gload was with the Marlins, Orr and Martinez (a Rule 5 pick) were in the Nationals system, and Wilson Valdez was a Met. The Phillies even tried out Luis Castillo after the Mets cut him this spring — it’s like they just pick things out of their rival teams’ garbage.

Bullpen:
RHP – Jose Contreras
RHP – Ryan Madson
LHP – Antonio Bastardo
RHP – Danys Baez
RHP – Dave Herndon
LHP – J.C. Romero
RHP – Kyle Kendrick
(RHP — Brad Lidge)

A top heavy group, but I’m not sure that matters if the starters are going at least seven innings every night. Contreras is curiously being bumped into the closer role with Lidge’s absence; the Phillies apparently don’t trust their best reliever, Madson, with the saves. Still, either one might represent an upgrade over Lidge, who has been erratic since his dominant 2008 run. Basterdo and Romero are the pair of lefties, while the righties Baez and Herndon are coming off bad years and Kendrick settles in as the long man and spot starter.

Up next . . . the Washington Nationals

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6 Comments

Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

6 responses to “Team to Beat: 2011 Philadelphia Phillies Preview

  1. I can’t stop watching that Roy Halladay commercial. It’s kind of ridiculous.

  2. zzzzz

    97 wins on cruise control.

    Your theory about only scouting NL east teams is silly. Unless you ignore, Lee, Halladay, Ibanez, Polanco, Francisco, Contreras, Herndon, Romero, Baez in which case it makes perfect sense. Add obligatory tongue in cheek comment about mets not needing to scout anyone, cause no free agents want to play at citi field and the mets are all out of money…

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