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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

2006 Season In Review: Batting & Conclusions 

First off, congratulations to Ryan Howard for winning the N.L. MVP award, the first Phillie to do that since Mike Schmidt in 1986. While the Phillies may have fallen short in 2006, we can be least content to know that we got the see the full blossoming of Howard’s very, very bright future in Philadelphia this season. Howard has become just the second person to win the MVP the season after being the Rookie of the Year* (Cal Ripken, Jr. is the other in 1982 and 1983).

* Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki in ’75 and ’01 were both in the same year.

Hopefully Ryan Howard is going to get a lot of attention from the pundits and from the endorsing community in ’07 and beyond. This team seems to fly under the radar of most pundits, so I hope Ryan’s success elevates the teams profile.

-With Alfonso Soriano off the block, the Phillies have apparently decided to pursue Carlos Lee the former Brewer and Ranger. Lots of things to like about Carlos Lee: 99 or more Runs Created the last four seasons, hits for power and only struck-out 65 times in 2006, good fielder. Unfortunately the Phillies will have to pay an arm and a leg to get him, so I hope the asking price for Lee’s services doesn’t spiral too much out of control. Back to our regularly scheduled discussion....

Well, I completed Parts I & II dealing with fielding and pitching, so now it is time to move on to the heart of the matter: batting. As some of you may have noticed, I love doing Part I and I didn’t much enjoy Part II. I don’t know why, but my heart just wasn’t into talking about what a hash the Phillies pitching situation is. The position players are much more interesting and multifaceted to me.

The 2006 Phillies were, as usual, an offensive powerhouse. After finishing third in the N.L. in runs scored in 2004 and second last season, the Phillies ranked first in runs scored with 865, 16 more than the Atlanta Braves (849). The Phillies were the most powerful offensive team in baseball, leading the N.L. in Gross Productive Average, and finishing second in the N.L. in OBP and in Slugging Percentage. The Phillies offense was tops in the league in Gross Productive Average (GPA):

Gross Productive Average (GPA):
1. Philadelphia: .268
2. Atlanta: .265
3. Los Angeles: .265
4. New York: .262
5. Colorado: .262
6. St. Louis: .259
7. Cincinnati: .259
8. Florida: .258
9. Washington: .257
10. Arizona: .255
11. San Diego: .253
12. Houston: .252
13. Milwaukee: .252
14. San Francisco: .251
15. Chicago: .249
16. Pittsburgh: .246
League: .257

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Gross Productive Average (GPA): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.

The Phillies power at the plate was evident by the fact that they were third in Isolated Power (ISO):

1. Atlanta: .185
2. New York: .181
3. Philadelphia: .180
4. Cincinnati: .175
5. Florida: .171
6. Colorado: .163
7. San Francisco: .163
8. St. Louis: .162
9. Milwaukee: .162
10. Arizona: .157
11. Los Angeles: .156
12. Washington: .156
13. Houston: .154
14. San Diego: .153
15. Chicago: .153
16. Pittsburgh: .134
League: .162

Unlike the Dodgers, a team built around speed and clutch hitting, the Phillies operated off the three-run home run. They were just eighth in the N.L. in stolen bases, despite having a potent base-stealing threats like Jimmy Rollins (36 steals in 40 attempts in 2006) and Bobby Abreu (20 steals in 24 attempts) on the roster. The Phillies finished third in the N.L. in home runs with 216, just six behind the Atlanta Braves. The Phillies only ranked eleventh in doubles, and the team batting average was sixth, so the team moved the runners with the long ball. While the Dodgers led the N.L. in BA/RISP at .286, the Phillies hit just .255 with runners in scoring position:

1. Los Angeles: .286
2. Atlanta: .275
3. New York: .274
4. San Francisco: .273
5. St. Louis: .271
6. Colorado: .267
7. Pittsburgh: .266
8. San Diego: .265
9. Milwaukee: .263
10. Arizona: .262
11. Chicago: .262
12. Florida: .258
13. Philadelphia: .255
14. Houston: .253
15. Washington: .250
16. Cincinnati: .244
League: .264

The Dodgers relied on clutch hitting, moving the runners over with singles and doubles, while the Phillies relied on titanic blasts from the arms of 2006 N.L. MVP Ryan Howard to move the runners over. How the Phillies would have done without him in 2006 is scary to think of: I bet they would have won just 75 or so games instead of 85.

And yet the Phillies had one of the best offenses in baseball, and the best in the N.L. because it doesn’t matter how you score runs, all that matters is doing it. And the Phillies got the job done.

I am very curious to see how the Park Factors flesh out for 2006 (I guess I’ll find out when I get my copy of the Bill James Handbook). What is interesting to me is the fact that the Colorado Rockies, long a team that fed off Coors Field, had an ISO number on the road (.161) that was nearly as good as their home number (.165). Again the Rockies were much, much better at scoring runs at home than on the road: 456 runs scored and first in the N.L. at home, 357 runs scored and twelfth on the road. The Phillies were much more balanced: 444 runs scored (5.48 runs per game) and second-best in the N.L. at home, 421 runs scored (5.20) and third after the Mets and Braves, on the road. You can’t write-off the Phillies as being a product of Citizens Bank Ballpark. They play great baseball at home or on the road, although they obviously prefer to be at home.

A few general thoughts and observations beginning with … the New Additions.

The Phillies saw a few new veteran faces join the team in 2006. Sal Fasano, Abraham Nunez, David Dellucci, Aaron Rowand and Jeff Conine all joined the team and played various roles during the season. The new additions contributed a lot for the Phillies this season and might do the same in 2007.

First off, Abraham Nunez replaced David Bell at various points in the season before permanently replacing Bell at third base following the deal that sent Bell to the Brewers. As I noted in Part I of the Season in Review, I am not so sure that it was such a hot idea to send David Bell away. A fellow blogger argued that Nunez was a better hitter than Bell because he grounded into fewer double plays and thus, hurt the Phillies far less. Yes, David Bell ground into more double plays (11 in 365 plate appearances with the Phillies, compared to Nunez’s 7 in 369 plate appearances), but that doesn’t excuse Nunez from being an absolute zero at the plate. Let’s break down how bad Abraham Nunez is offensively:

-Nunez hit .211 with Runners in Scoring Position (BA/RISP). Bell hit .247.
-Nunez had 2.75 Runs Created per 27 Outs. Bell had 4.41.
-Nunez basically had no power in his swing, hitting .062 ISO to Bell’s .144.

Mind you, Nunez compares negatively to a player who struggles offensively to begin with. David Bell had 25 extra-base hits in 2006, while Nunez had just 14. Nunez just didn’t advance runners or get on base or really do anything to contribute to the Phillies offense. He was a zero, an automatic out. It is good that the Phillies intend to make Wes Helms their everyday third baseman and not bring Nunez back as anything but a backup because they can kiss any chance of doing anything in 2007 goodbye because the Phillies won’t be able to do much with Nunez and the pitcher making the #8 and #9 slot automatic outs.

Let’s talk about David Dellucci. I am actually a pretty big fan of Dellucci’s and I want to argue that Dellucci’s terrific August was one of the reasons why the Phillies jumped back into the playoff race after dealing Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle. After doing mostly pinch-hitting duties before the All-Star Break, Dellucci got to break into the Phillies lineup and play for Abreu in right and spell Pat Burrell in left. Dellucci hit a .314 GPA in August, with a .260 ISO. Dellucci hit five home runs, drew eleven walks, and scored fifteen runs while hitting fifteen RBIs. Dellucci struggled in September (.240 GPA), mostly because he had just two additional extra-base hits, but played well in 2006. For a guy who pinch-hit for so much of the season (60 ph Ab’s), Dellucci ended up with some decent stats.

Yes, he was atrocious with runners in scoring position (.185), but he supplied some power to the Phillies offense, which is how the Phillies score runs, and always seemed like he was a danger to go yard. He scored 5.98 Runs Created per 27 Outs. I really liked Dellucci’s vigorous play and his energy. I hope the Phillies keep him in their plans for 2006, but that is looking like a forlorn hope.

One interesting fact about David Dellucci: he hit into just one double play in 301 plate appearances.

Jeff Conine joined the Phillies late in the season during the stretch run, trying to provide some protection in the Phillies lineup to shield Ryan Howard from the opposition pitching around him. To the team’s disappointment, he really failed to do so. Conine hit a .245 GPA as a Phillie, about what he was hitting for the Orioles (.247). Conine didn’t supply much power to the Phillies offense with a .110 ISO, hitting just one home run and eight extra-base hits in 107 plate appearances. Aside from hitting well with runners in scoring position (.317), Conine was a major disappointment for the Phillies in 2006.

And so we come to the Aaron Rowand issue. When Aaron Rowand joined the Phillies in the Jim Thome deal in November of 2005, I felt certain that the Phillies might have pulled off a masterstroke, getting a younger and cheaper power hitter in at first while acquiring maybe the best defensive center fielder who swung a decent bat as well. I certainly think the deal was a net positive for the team (Ryan Howard being a nice upgrade from Thome, even with the terrific season Thome had), but Aaron Rowand has been a bust. Defensively, I noted that Rowand was a major disappointment, a below-average center fielder in every respect.

Offensively, Rowand was a disaster. He made 320 outs in just 445 plate appearances. His On-Base Percentage was just .321. He created just 3.88 runs per 27 Outs. David Bell, that much-maligned offensive player, did better than that (4.41). Rowand hit .248 with Runners in Scoring Position. There was no phase of the offensive game that Rowand did well at: he drew just 18 walks in 445 plate appearances, or .040 BB/PA. Other than Mike Lieberthal (.035) and Sal Fasano (.034), nobody on the Phillies was worse at drawing walks:

Abreu: .208
Burrell: .173
Howard: .153
Nunez: .111
Dellucci: .093
Bell: .088
Utley: .085
Rollins: .075
Ruiz: .064
Victorino: .052
Coste: .047
Conine: .047
Rowand: .040
Lieberthal: .035
Fasano: .034
Team: .096

Rowand’s 2006 performance pretty much confirmed that Rowand’s impressive 2004 campaign, when he hit 24 home runs and had 89 Runs Created and hit a .298 GPA, was a fluke, a career-best not to be equaled. Rowand’s ’06 campaign was more comparable to his ’05 campaign, when he hit a .249 GPA (Rowand had a .251 GPA in ’06). Far from being a positive addition to the Phillies lineup, I see him as a major drag. I want to throw out a jarring possibility: maybe the big dead-line deal that sent Bobby Abreu to the Yankees wasn’t the real catalyst for the Phillies re-birth. Maybe the real catalyst was Aaron Rowand’s injury, which removed a player from the Phillies line-up who was both a defensive liability and an offensive nightmare. I doubt that is entirely true – the Phillies were winning before he went down – but it might have a kernel of truth to it. The Phillies did flow down the stretch and I believe his absence was a factor. With Rowand gone, the Phillies dropped Burrell to sixth in the lineup, Rowand’s usual spot, and hit either Jeff Conine or David Dellucci fifth behind Ryan Howard. Combined with the fact that Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz played catcher and hit seventh for much of September, the Phillies were much stronger in the 1-7 slots than they had been and were able to deal with the drag of Abraham Nunez much more effectively. I love Rowand's tough, blue-collar persona. I think he'll play good defense again. But without Rowand they were a better offensive team. ‘Nuff said.

Oh, and I’d note that of the nine Win Shares Rowand had in 2006, four were for fielding and just five for batting, down from 11.4 in 2005 and 17.1 in 2004. I think the Phillies will largely sink or swim based on how Rowand plays in 2007, and I think we can say that they sank thanks to Rowand in ’06.

Sal Fasano didn’t last long in Philly, leaving for the Yankees later in the season. I haven’t a clue why the Yankees wanted Fasano on their roster. He batted .222 OBP and a .171 GPA. He had a .083 BA/RISP. He had 9 Runs Created in 112 Outs, a 2.17 Runs Created per 27 Outs. Seriously, what did this guy accomplish at the plate? He was awful, awful, awful. And he logged three Wins Shares with the Phillies: 3.1 Fielding and -0.5 Batting. ‘Nuff said.

New Addition Win Shares:
Aaron Rowand: 9
David Dellucci: 8
Abraham Nunez: 3
Jeff Conine: 2
Sal Fasano: 3

Moving on to …. The Veterans. The Phillies had a lot of veteran performers come up big in 2006. With all of the talk about Ryan Howard, Chase Utley gets lost in the discussion of the Phillies. After Ryan Howard, Chase is the Phillies MVP and would have been a legit MVP candidate himself. He swings a good bat and plays one of the most challenging defensive positions in baseball.

What did Chase do in 2006? Well, he stole fifteen bases in nineteen attempts, hit 76 extra-base hits, 32 being home runs and 40 being doubles, had a .379 OBP with 63 walks and hit .308 with runners in scoring position. And he should have won the N.L. Gold Glove for second base thanks to his sterling fielding. Chase Utley is clearly the best second baseman in the N.L. He led all N.L. 2B’s in home runs, doubles, RBIs, and OBP.

2006 was a nice follow-up to Utley’s sterling 2005 season when the Phillies finally shipped Placido Polanco to the Tigers and made Utley their everyday regular second-baseman. Utley responded by hitting .376 OBP with 105 RBIs and 28 home runs. Chase’s stats from both seasons are remarkably similar: he averaged 6.87 Runs Created per 27 Outs in 2005 and 6.97 in 2006. I think it suggests a lot of good things about consistency for Chase Utley that the Phillies ought to be very happy with. This is going to be a very good, consistent player for the Phillies now and well into the future. Finding a second baseman as good at defense as Chase and endowed with tremendous power at the plate (.249 ISO in 2005, .218 ISO in 2006) as well as the savvy ness to be selective at the plate … Chase is a rare talent. Without him, the Phillies offense would probably implode.

Let’s talk about Bobby Abreu. All Bobby Abreu did for nine seasons with the Phillies was be one of the most consistent threats in baseball to get on base. Nobody worked a count like Bobby Abreu. Nobody got on base let he did. In the end the Phillies realized that they couldn’t go on paying him $12-15 million bucks a season they were giving him and still managed to compete. So while I understand that people hated the Abreu/Lidle deal initially, I think it was the wisest move that the Phillies could have made. Simply put, with the emergence of Ryan Howard and with the presence of cheaper supporting players on the stage, Bobby Abreu was no longer worth having around. Check it out … as a nice little overview of how the Phillies did individually, I offer Base Runs (BsR) and Base Runs per 27 Outs (BsR27):

Ryan Howard: 151 / 9.89
Chase Utley: 123 / 7.05
Jimmy Rollins: 104 / 5.41
Pat Burrell: 92 / 6.92
Bobby Abreu: 70 / 7.20
Shane Victorino: 57 / 4.91
Aaron Rowand: 53 / 4.50
David Dellucci: 49 / 6.84
David Bell: 43 / 4.61
Chris Coste: 34 / 6.63
Mike Lieberthal: 33 / 5.38
Abraham Nunez: 28 / 2.84
Sal Fasano: 15 / 3.58
Jeff Conine: 12 / 4.56
Carlos Ruiz: 9 / 4.41

First, let me just note that Base Runs actually captures the Phillies offensive output a bit more accurately than Runs Created. According to Base Runs, the Phillies ought to have scored 870 runs. They actually scored 865. According to Runs Created, the Phillies scored 893 runs, which is very wrong, about twenty-eight runs off. I want to suggest that this suggests that while the Phillies maybe have had the best offense in the N.L. it did not quite produce to the fullest extent it could have.

Second, I think it is interesting how over-rated and easily replaceable Bobby Abreu was. He produced 7.20 Base Runs per 27 Outs. Much fewer than Ryan Howard (9.89) and not much better than Chase Utley or the much-maligned Pat Burrell. In fact, David Dellucci, a player who made about 1/12 what Abreu did last season, contributed virtually the same production to the Phillies offense. Chris Coste, in his limited duty, had an equally significant impact. The problem that Bobby Abreu had was that he had lost his power stroke. Oh sure, he’s an OBP machine (.427 with the Phillies, .419 with the Yankees), but he has no power in his stroke at the plate. He hit just 8 home runs with the Phillies and had a .434 slugging percentage. Did winning the Home Run Derby at the ’05 All-Star Game ruin his home run swing? Maybe. Abreu’s slugging percentage declined from .544 in 2004 to .474 in 2005 to .434 in 2006. (Okay, in the interest of full disclosure: Abreu did hit seven home runs with a .507 slugging percentage with the Yankees, so maybe the thrill is back…) Abreu’s power decline became a major issue for the Phillies: if they can’t move batters, what good is Abreu doing sitting in the three or the four slot? When Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins got on they were relying on Ryan Howard blasting a mega-shot to get them home, not on Abreu patiently working the count to draw a walk. He was good at providing opportunities, not at advancing runners, and that is a job that a three/four hitter has. If Abreu wants to be an OBP machine, then he ought to hit first off, something he steadfastly refused to do except in 2003.

Abreu’s power outage this season was so significant he nearly had a higher OBP than slugging percentage. Abreu’s .157 ISO was significantly lower than it had been the last two seasons: .188 in ’05 and .247 in ’04. It rebounded somewhat as a Yankee (.177), but I think Bobby’s days as a power hitter are over.

One area of the game that Bobby is great at is clutch hitting. While the rest of the Phillies hit .255, Bobby Abreu hit .320 with runners in scoring position. And Bobby is still extra-ordinary at drawing walks. His .208 BB/PA average is simply breath-taking. In an age where players are twice as likely to strikeout as walk, Bobby Abreu drew 91 walks and K’d just 86 times as a Phillie. Added with his 33 walks as a Yankee, it was the ninth consecutive season that Bobby Abreu had 100+ walks. I hope his ability to walk and set the table is worth it to the Yankees, because they are now paying him $15 million bucks a season to work the count.

David Bell had his usual season. Six home runs, a .398 slugging percentage, .247 BA/RISP … David Bell is a terrific fielder, but he cannot hit the ball and be the sort of offensive force that the Phillies felt they were getting when they signed him to a four-year, $17 million dollar deal in 2003. What was really stunning about Bell’s performance was how terrible his slugging percentage was: .398, only a few points up from 2005, when he slugged his way to .361 on the strength of ten home runs. Check out how Bell ranked on the team in isolated power:

Ryan Howard: .346
Pat Burrell: .245
David Dellucci: .239
Chase Utley: .219
Jimmy Rollins: .200
Mike Lieberthal: .196
Chris Coste: .177
Carlos Ruiz: .174
Aaron Rowand: .163
Bobby Abreu: .156
Sal Fasano: .143
Shane Victorino: .128
David Bell: .120
Jeff Conine: .110
Abraham Nunez: 063
Team: .180

Hey, when Sal Fasano has more raw power at the plate, you know you are not playing well. Aside from Conine, the only person with a weaker bat was Bell’s replacement, Nunez. I already detailed why Nunez was such a lousy player in 2006 above, but Bell wasn’t that much better. I’ve noted for a while that Bell really struggles to do much of anything at the plate. Only Nunez and Rowand do worse at Runs Created per 27 Outs in 2006. This is a player who regularly posted 50-60 Runs Created a season before he joined the Phillies and tied his career high with 87 in 2004. Bell has never done better than twenty home runs in a season. He’s not a consistent offensive threat. The only thing I can really say about him is that he’s got good bat control: he struck out just 38 times in 365 plate appearances with the Phillies. That’s pretty good.

Now Bell is gone, but the Phillies don't have a massive hole at third base anymore with the capable Helms.

Mike Lieberthal didn’t play much for the Phillies in 2006: just 230 plate appearances after he had 443 in ’05 and 529 in ’04. Catchers can’t play more than 75-80% of the time due to the strain on squatting behind a plate for hours on end, so Mike Lieberthal is never going to have the kinds of opportunities the other regular players will. The catcher’s first job is defensive in nature: catch the ball, hold runners, help the pitcher. Before recently, Mike Lieberthal also did what a catcher should do and still be a good offensive presence at the plate. In 2004, for example, Lieberthal hit 17 home runs and had a .176 ISO. He was a dangerous presence at the bottom of the Phillies lineup.

Not anymore. He’s played a lot less of late and has seen his power decline, as well as his ability to get on base. Lieberthal’s OBP was just .316 in 2006. He walked just eight times last season. After killing the Phillies in 2004 by hitting .142 BA/RISP and grounding into 19 double plays, Lieberthal has improved that to .247 and 6 GIDP’s in ’05 and .269 and five in ’06.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the Phillies ought to being Lieberthal back in 2007: Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste (see, below) both turned in excellent performances in 2006, spelling Lieberthal and Sal Fasano. Lieberthal will be 35 in 2007 and has been on a steady offensive decline for some time. I think ’06 was his swan song as a Phillie.

What to do about Pat Burrell? I believe that this is the Phillies most burning question after what to do about their problems at third base.

I’ve always liked Burrell and I think he became a very, very good player since his slump in 2003. After having success and adulation in 2002, Burrell struggled through a nightmare in 2003, with a .240 GPA. After having 104 Runs Created in 2002, Burrell slumped to 57. He worked hard and rebounded in ’04, with 72 Runs Created and a .278 GPA. The last two seasons Burrell has played very much like he did in 2002:

GPA / ISO / Runs Created / RC27
2005: .301 / .223 / 109 / 6.99
2006: .300 / .244 / 81 / 6.11

I think Burrell has been remarkably consistent and is a dangerous hitter. Since he struggled in 2003, he turned into a real grinder at the plate. The last three seasons Burrell finished just behind Bobby Abreu in terms of pitches per plate appearance. Throw out Abreu and Burrell leads the N.L. in pitches per plate appearance in 2005 and 2006. That’s what kind of a player Pat Burrell turned himself into.

I was tempted to dismiss Pat Burrell’s success as being the product of playing better at home, as he did in 2005 when his home slugging percentage was one hundred and ten points higher (.557 to .447), but that would be wrong. Burrell’s road slugging percentage was higher in 2006: .517 to .487.

The problem with Pat Burrell is twofold. One, Pat Burrell is not a good defensive outfielder any more. He was back in the day, but foot problems limit his range substantially. Two, Pat made a lot of money in 2006 and will make more in 2007. Can the Phillies really afford to pay him eight figures? He should be a DH in the American League, where his foot would get to rest from the strain of playing in the outfield, but the Phillies are stuck with him in left because Pat makes too much money and has a no-trade clause to his contract. The Phillies are going with Aaron Rowand in center field and Shane Victorino in right, but are stuck in a quandary with Burrell. Pat Burrell made $9.75 million dollars in 2006. David Dellucci made about 1/10 that, and posted stats every bit as good as Burrell. Dellucci’s energy and drive suggest to me that he’d be a better left fielder than the increasingly gimpy Burrell. Aside from the fact that the Phillies aren’t paying Pat Burrell eight figures to ride the pine, David Dellucci would be the Phillies regular everyday left fielder. The Phillies frequently sat Burrell for Dellucci several times in 2006. I suspect if you see Dellucci on the team, you can expect to see Burrell in a part-time capacity. If the Phillies sign Carlos Lee, expect to see redouble their efforts to deal Burrell.

One player you won’t see in a part-time capacity in Jimmy Rollins. After his pursuit of Joe DiMaggio came to an end in 2006, J.Roll seemed to slump badly, but then he came on and was a major, major reason why the Phillies jumped back into the playoff chase in August and September.
Gross Productive Average (GPA):
April: .241
May: .234
June: .266
July: .273
August: .327
September: .268

J.Roll had a heck of a month in August, hitting seven home runs, with twenty-four RBIs, thirty Runs Scored, nine stolen bases and thirteen walks. He was pretty good in September too, with six home runs, eight walks, five steals, twenty-three RBIs, and twenty runs scored. If you want to know why the Phillies were so good so late in the season, look no further than J.Roll.

J.Roll is a maddeningly inconsistent player, in my opinion. A lead-off guy ought to have a better OBP than J.Roll’s .334. However, no team has the lead-off threat that the Phillies have with J.Roll. How many team’s lead-off guys have the ability to smash a home run? J.Roll shattered his previous career best of 14 home runs with 25 in 2006. This is also the third consecutive season that J.Roll has posted 100+ Runs Created. His 114 this season was, again, a career-best. What has impressed me is since 2003, he’s cut his strikeouts down. After 108, 103 and 113 times in 2001, 2002 and 2003, J.Roll K’d just 73 times in ’04, 71 times in ’05 and 80 times in ’06.

I think 2006 was a major, major triumph for J.Roll. He really became a threat as a lead-off man and moved closer to being like Rickey Henderson, the dangerous former Oakland A and New York Yankee who opened every game with the danger to clobber a home run and was so much more than a typical lead-off hitter. Rickey Henderson was a threat. So is J.Roll.

Am I missing anyone … Oh yeah, the Phillies have this guy named Ryan Howard … I guess he did pretty good in 2006.

I could talk for hours and hours and still probably only scratch the surface of Ryan Howard’s 2006 campaign. Here are the basic parameters: Ryan Howard hit 58 home runs and 149 RBIs. Howard’s home runs and RBIs led the National League by pretty wide margins (second: Albert Pujols at 49 and 137 respectively). Ryan was also fourth in Runs Created (137) and third in Gross Productive Average (.356). Ryan’s 58 home runs obliterated the Phillies old record of 48, set by Mike Schmidt in 1980. Ryan’s 149 RBIs ranks third on the Phillies all-time list, behind Chuck Klein’s 170 in 1930 and Sam Thompson’s 165 in ’95 … I meant 1895 … No Phillie has had this many RBIs in 76 years. Ryan’s .659 slugging percentage is also second all-time on the list to Chuck Klein’s .687 in 1930 … Ryan Howard followed his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2005 with an MVP performance in 2006. While many people fretted about the decision to deal Jim Thome to the White Sox, especially after the kind of season Thome had in Chicago (42 home runs, 109 RBIs), I don’t think there was any problem whatsoever with what the Phillies did: they got younger and cheaper and better.

Why was Ryan so vital to the Phillies offense? Well, he alone accounted for 18% of the Phillies Runs Created and 17% of their Base Runs, so I don’t think there is any question that the Phillies would have scored far fewer runs without him in the lineup. As I noted above, the Phillies moved runners by the long ball. Ryan Howard hit 27% of those. Without Ryan Howard hitting home runs, the Phillies offense probably fatally stalls out.

The ability to hit the long ball solves a major problem with the Phillies offense: they hit pretty lousy with runners in scoring position. Having the ability to hit solo home runs or home runs with a runner on first, 270 feet from home base, is a major reason why the Phillies scored 865 runs in 2006. In fact, I noticed that the Phillies scored 606 runs with runners in scoring position, so they scored 159 runs without runners on second or third: i.e. almost exclusively via home runs. Without Ryan Howard the Phillies offense would probably have scored about 60-70 fewer runs.

One very interesting fact about Ryan Howard: his exceptional production and success aren’t products of playing at Citizens Bank Ballpark: in 2006 Ryan Howard hit 29 home runs and 75 RBIs at home, and 29 home runs and 74 RBIs on the road in virtually the same number of At-Bats. His slugging percentage was actually a little higher on the road (.662) than at home (.656). Ryan did virtually the same thing in 2005, hitting eleven home runs on the road and at home (although his home slugging percentage was virtually identical).

Are there holes in Ryan’s game? Sure – who is perfect? – but there are few. Ryan strikes out a lot: he came within one of tying the team record of 182 set by Jim Thome in 2003. Bizarrely, Ryan Howard hits badly with runners in scoring position. Check it out:

2006: .256

Compare that to J.Roll (.313 in 2004, .325 in 2005 and .309 in 2006) or Chase Utley (.275, .309 and .308). I’m a little baffled. Why so low? People pitching around him because the Phillies failed to protect him in the lineup?

And for all of the power in his swing, Ryan only got 26 doubles or triples in 2006, an awfully low total. Pujols had 34 and he missed fifteen or so games.

But there you go: Ryan Howard made the Phillies 2006 season.

Veterans Win Shares:
Ryan Howard: 31
Chase Utley: 28
Jimmy Rollins: 26
Pat Burrell: 17
Bobby Abreu: 17
David Bell: 8
Mike Lieberthal: 6

And finally … The Newbies. What really impressed me about the 2006 Phillies was the multitude of contributions from newer ball-players. Sure, rookies have played a big part in the Phillies success in the past (Chase Utley and Ryan Madson in 2004, Ryan Howard last season), but this season the Phillies got contributions from a slew of players like Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels and Chris Coste. Let’s talk about Coste, Ruiz and Victorino:

Prior to 2006, only Shane Victorino had MLB experience and it had been from playing sparingly for the San Diego Padres in 2003 and logging just nineteen plate appearances in 2005 with the Phillies. With injuries to Aaron Rowand and the deal to send Bobby Abreu to the Yankees, Shane Victorino got called into duty and played a lot of outfield in 2006. He ended up playing a full season, logging 462 plate appearances. Victorino’s GPA was .259, a decent number. Shane hit just six home runs in 2006 and had just 33 of his 119 hits go for extra-bases (although impressively, he did hit eight triples). His ISO was just .127, well off the team average of .180, and he hit .267 with runners in scoring position, only a little better than the team average (.266). Shane is a terrific defensive outfielder and a good bat (better than Rowand), but he’s no offensive powerhouse.

It is hard not to be impressed by Chris Coste, the team’s 33-year old rookie who finally got his break in the majors and made the most of it. Coste got 213 plate appearances (over three-quarters of which – 166 – were after the All-Star Break during the team’s run to the playoffs) and hit an impressive .295 GPA with a .177 ISO. He was virtually the only Phillie to hit well with runners in scoring position, hitting .356, ninety points higher than the team average. What impressed me about Coste was that he plays a tough defensive position – catcher – and still managed to enter the Phillies lineup and supply some power. I sincerely hope that Coste figures in the Phillies plans for 2007, because it would be a calamity if he isn’t.

Coste’s fellow backup catcher, Carlos Ruiz, also turned in a nice performance in 2006. Ruiz, who is just 27, came up this season and had fewer plate appearances than Coste – 78 to Cote’s 213 – but he also hit very well: .251 GPA, .174 ISO. Like Coste, Ruiz had some power in his bat despite playing a demanding position. Ruiz was also a little better in drawing walks than Coste: with an .064 BB/PA, compared to Coste’s .047. Again, like with Coste I hope the Phillies plan on utilizing Ruiz in 2007. The Coste / Ruiz platoon at catcher would be dangerous at the plate, solid behind it and cost-efficient (both players made $327,000 in 2006, compared to Mike Lieberthal’s $7.5 million.

Here is a little overview on the Newbies:

Win Shares:
Ruiz: 2
Coste: 8
Victorino: 12

Runs Created / RC27
Ruiz: 10 / 5.4
Coste: 36 / 7.3
Victorino: 58 / 5.3

One interesting fact in Victorino’s favor: he grounded into just five double plays in 2006 in 462 plate appearances. Coste grounded into 6 in 213, and Ruiz grounded into three in 78.

On to the conclusions … I would term the Phillies 2006 campaign a successful failure. Yes, they didn’t make the playoffs again, the thirteenth consecutive year since they went to the World Series in 1993 that they haven’t done so. Yes, they have a moderately large payroll (eighth in the N.L., although if they had spent $500,000 more they would have been sixth). Yes, they won three fewer games in 2006 than they did in 2005. However, I thought the season represented a lot of positive movement. One of the most conservative and staid franchises in baseball dealt its superstar – Jim Thome – and rolled the dice on a guy who was a rookie last year (albeit a very good one). The Phillies shed millions off their payroll by dealing Abreu, enabling the team to lock up its younger superstars – Howard, Utley, Hamels – to deals now and give them the supporting cast to compete. The core of the Phillies team is absurdly young: Ryan was 26, Utley and J.Roll were 27, Shane Victorino was 25. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers? 22 & 25 respectively. They are young and already veterans of several campaigns and playoff chases.

On July 30, 2006, the Phillies waved the white flag on their season by trading Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees. The team didn’t get the message that their season was over. They won 36 of the next 59 games (unfortunately the Dodgers won 38 of 57 and took the Phillies wildcard slot) and very nearly made the playoffs. After stating that the team wouldn’t compete until 2008, the Phillies look primed to make another run at the playoffs again in 2007.

Sure, I thought that the Phillies could compete in 2006 before the season. I picked them to finish second and win 88-90 games. I was basically right*. I thought the 2006 team was good enough and they nearly made it after a bad start. I think the ’07 team can do it. Pat Gillick hasn’t always made the best of decisions – Ryan Franklin? – but he’s shook up the franchise and really got things moving. It is refreshing to see the team, usually one of baseball’s most xenophobic, look to the outside and infuse the team with outsiders, new talent, a new way of thinking. I think Pat Gillick’s stewardship has been good for the Phillies and I am confident that Gillick will be active in the free agency market this season looking for talent.

I think the future is very bright for the Phillies. The Atlanta Braves empire came crashing down around itself in 2006 and left their management scratching their heads. The Mets flamed out in the NLCS and have a major problem if Pedro Martinez decides to up and retire if his arm injury requires too much rehab. These guys look thin on the pitching front and already have the N.L.’s largest payroll at $101 million ($13 mil more than the Phillies). With the reemergence of the Florida Marlins again, the race for the N.L. East title will be hard-fought between four teams, but I fervently believe that the Phillies can do it. If they can improve their defense, add some pitching and get a left fielder, they will be set for the 2007 campaign.

* I went back the other day and scoped out my 2006 Season Preview. I correctly predicted three of the four N.L. playoff teams: the Mets, Cards and Dodgers, but I hilariously predicted the Cubs, the team that lost 96 games in 2006, to win the N.L. Central. Whoops. I did better with the N.L. than the A.L.: I projected the Blue Jays to win the A.L. East … and I picked the Yankees to finish third. Then I predicted the White Sox to win the A.L. Central followed by the Indians in second with the Twins third and the Tigers fourth … Aside from the A’s winning the A.L. West (but not the World Series) I basically had no clue what I was talking about.

A word about what is coming ... I have a few pots on the stove. In the coming weeks expect some pieces on the free agency wars, the Phillies 2007 prospects, etc. Expect to see me throttle back to 2-3 posts a week instead of 4-5 to keep myself fresh and to avoid being burned out for the 2007 season. The next post will be Monday.

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