Tuesday, March 25, 2008
This will be an interesting season to watch: will the Phillies build on their division title in 2007? Or will last season prove to be a fluke? This will be an important year for the team, but not pivotal. The ’08 Phillies are a young team and will contend in 2009, in 2010 and 2011. The future is bright. Brighter, certainly, then the aging Mets.
The ’08 Phillies look like a team that will win 88-93 or so games, which will put them into the mix for the post-season. The D-Backs boasted the best record in the N.L. last season and that was just 90-72, only a game better than the Phillies. Even with Johan Santana hurling fastballs for the Mets the Phillies have a very good opportunity to make the playoffs this season. With the core of their ’08 team returning, the Phillies remain the team to beat in the N.L. East. Let’s start with the bats:
First off, here are some terms so that you are not totally confused about what I’m talking about. 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). Walks per plate appearance (BB/PA): BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg. 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). RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
Ordinarily I like to post a massive piece taking everything together, but I’ve found myself deluged at work and desperately trying to finish this project. I’m going to post my thoughts on batting first, then try and finish pitching and fielding later this week. Back to the Phillies …
The 2008 Phillies will have no problem scoring runs. The Phillies 892 runs scored in 2007 led the National league by a margin of 32 over the Colorado Rockies. The Phillies also led the N.L. in On-Base Percentage (.354), in Slugging Percentage (.458), and in triples (41). They finished second in home runs (213), in stolen bases (138). The Phillies lineup is only slightly changed from last season. Gone is Centerfielder Aaron Rowand and his surprisingly productive bat. Rowand hit 27 Home Runs, 45 Doubles, 89 RBI and scored 105 runs in 2007. His 100 Runs Created were a career high for Rowand, a talented hitter who doesn’t draw walks much (just 18 in 2006, 47 last season) and tends to see inconsistent results. In his place the Phillies intend to shift Shane Victorino over the centerfield (more on that later), and platoon Jayson Werth and Geoff Jenkins in rightfield. Werth and Jenkins will slide into Rowand’s slot and platoon as the #6 hitter. Pedro Feliz replaces the ineffectual trio of Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez and Greg Dobbs as the Phillies everyday third baseman, while Carlos Ruiz takes the reins as the regular catcher, a job he’s had off-and-on for the last two seasons.
SS – Jimmy Rollins
CF – Shane Victorino
2B – Chase Utley
1B – Ryan Howard
LF – Pat Burrell
RF – Jayson Werth / Geoff Jenkins
3B – Pedro Feliz
C – Carlos Ruiz
P – Pitcher
Jimmy Rollins, the 2007 N.L. MVP, leads off for the Phillies in 2008. Rollins was spectacular in 2007, posting a career-high 124 Runs Created, and leading the league in triples for the fourth time in his career. Rollins batted .296 (.345 OBP), hit 30 home runs, 20 triples, 38 doubles, scored 139 runs, batted in 94, and stole 41 of the 47 bases he tried to steal. Simply put, Rollins was the catalyst for the Phillies N.L.-best offense. When Rollins first joined the Phillies he was primarily there for his speed. In his first season he stole 46 bases in 54 tries. Rollins still retained his speed: his 20 triples was a career high, and the 41 steals were fifth-best in the N.L. Rollins is also a superb baserunner: he didn’t make a single baserunning out last season and gained an extra 32 bases with his savvy running, according to the 2008 Bill James Handbook … 2007 was the culmination of a long maturation in Rollins game that began in 2004 when he underwent the tutelage of Tony Gwynn, the legendary contact hitter, prior to the 2004 season. After striking out 108, 103 and 113 times during his first three MLB seasons, Rollins has lowered that to 73, 71, 80 and 85 in ‘07, becoming a much better contact hitter. In addition to making contact, Rollins has also refined his power stroke. Prior to 2006, Rollins career-high for home runs had been 14. He hit 25 in 2006 and 30 last season, major increases in his raw power at the plate:
Having a guy at the top of the order with so much speed and power at the plate is a rare combination and remind many of Rickey Henderson when he helped the Oakland A’s and Toronto Blue Jays to World Series titles in 1989 and 1993 respectively … as an aside, Rickey Henderson’s MVP campaign in 1990 – 28 home runs, 119 runs scored, 65 steals in 75 tries, a .439 OBP – compares very much to J.Roll’s ’07 campaign … Much was made about the fact that Rollins led the N.L. in outs last year with 527, but much less was made over the fact that Rollins also led the N.L. in plate appearances with 778. Rollins gained nearly as many bases as MVP-runner up Matt Holliday (386 to 380), and played a more-challenging defensive position well. Holliday also plays in a much more offensive-friendly park … Without Rollins exceptional production, the Phillies would have been sunk in 2007. How will J.Roll perform in 2008? Well, the 2008 Bill James Handbook projects a decline for Jimmy Rollins in 2008: 21 Home Runs, 10 triples, 41 doubles, 120 runs scored, 76 RBI, .339 OBP, 35 steals in 45 tries, and 108 Runs Created. No doubt that Rollins won’t quite achieve what he did last season, but I think he’ll hit more like 12-15 triples, and 22-25 home runs. He’ll still be a major threat and a major reason why the Phillies are a playoff contender … Next is Shane Victorino, a talent the Phillies stole from the San Diego Padres in the Rule 5 Draft in 2004. After playing most of the season in a part-time role in ‘06 (injuries to Aaron Rowand got him into centerfield for some time, then Victorino got some playing time after Bobby Abreu was dealt to the Yankees), Victorino got to become the Phillies everyday rightfielder in 2007 but missed about a month of the season with injuries. The Flyin’ Hawaiian (Victorino grew up on Maui) is a superb defensive outfielder (more on that later) and a speed demon. Victorino hit eight triples in 2006, a taste for the Phillies of what he would accomplish in 2007. Victorino hit another three triples and stole 37 of the 41 bases he tried to steal. Victorino does have to become a smarter player on the basepaths, however: he made four baserunning outs in 2007 and gained just seven extra bases with his running. Victorino also doesn’t have Rollins power at the plate: he hit just twelve home runs in 2007. His isolated power at the plate was just .142. He gives the Phillies exactly what they need in the two slot: a fast guy who gets on base (.347 OBP) and has a little power. The 2008 Bill James Handbook, by the way, projects Victorino to pretty much repeat his performance last season: 20 doubles, 5 triples, 12 home runs, 25 steals in 32 tries, a .336 OBP and 64 Runs Created … Consistency thy name is Chase Utley. I have a feeling that I’ll be writing a lot about Mr. Utley in the coming weeks for the 2008 season because he is my odds-on favorite to be the Phillies candidate for the MVP award, and if the Phillies are in the 2008 playoff hunt, he WILL be one of the top candidates. Had Utley not have missed a month of the season last year with a broken hand I think he might have actually beaten J.Roll out for the award. Chase Utley is a nearly perfect player: he’s a power hitter with speed who gets on base, hits well in the clutch and is the best fielder at a challenging defensive position. Last season Utley was third in the N.L. in batting average (.332), fifth in On-Base Percentage (.410), seventh in slugging percentage (.566), first in Hit By Pitches (25), first in Runs Created per 27 Outs (8.1), and he finished third in doubles (48, but he almost certainly would have bested Matt Holiday’s 50 had he not been injured). Simply put, Utley’s MVP candidacy died when he lost a month of the season after being hit by a pitch on July 26th against the Nationals. Had he not he probably would have edged Rollins out based on the fact that Utley’s adjusted OPS was better than his – 145 to 118 – and was even better than Ryan Howard’s 144 … Since taking the second base job in 2005 when Placido Polanco was dealt to the Tigers, Utley has been astonishingly consistent. Look at his three-year totals for Home Runs (28, 32, 22), for Doubles (39, 40, 48), for RBI (105, 102, 103) and OBP (.376, .379, .410). When the stakes are high Utley shines. Look at Utley’s BA/RISP:
I think 2008 will be Utley’s season to shine. He consistently plays a tough defensive position well, hits for power and average and runs the bases well. If Utley manages the feat he’d be the third Phillie to win the MVP award in three years, feat a trio of teammates haven’t done in the National League since Mort Cooper, Stan Musial and Marty Marion did it in ’42 – ’44 … I should note that Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard did it from ’61 – ’63 in the American League … I think Utley’s chances are good … Here’s a fun fact: in 2007 Chase Utley finished eighth in OPS (On-Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) in the National League against sliders (1.086), against changeups (1.067), and against fastballs (.977). That’s consistency … Well, we’ve discussed one MVP and a potential MVP, so let’s discuss the other MVP on the Phillies roster: Ryan Howard. The $10 Million dollar man had failed to add an award to his mantle for the first time last season after being named the 2005 Rookie of the Year and 2006 National League MVP, but he still powered the Phillies with 47 home runs and 136 RBI. Off to a terrific start this spring it will be interesting to see if the Phillies and Howard can kiss and make up, or is the split between the two irreconcilable? If Howard were to flee the Phillies as a free agent and leave for Los Angeles or New York, the calamity the Phillies would be faced with would be awful. In the here and now, Howard powers the Phillies attack with his big bat. Last season Howard was second in the N.L. in home runs (three behind Prince Fielder), second in RBI (one behind Matt Holliday), fourth in walks (107), fifth in slugging percentage (.584), and first in strikeouts … In the last three seasons Ryan Howard has struck out 380 times in 1,700 plate appearances, meaning that he strikes-out 28.2% of the time. I personally think the strikeout is over-rated. An out is an out is an out. What is the big deal if the scorers card reads “K” or “F-7”? Arguably a strikeout is better than a walk: it takes a minimum of three pitches but usually five or six to actually strikeout. A pop-fly could be one pitch or two. What’s better: an out that uses up the pitchers arm? Or a quick out on a contact play? I’ll take the strikeout. The criticism that Howard strikes out too much is nonsense, I believe. Howard’s 4.20 pitches per plate appearance were third-best in the N.L. after Pat Burrell and Todd Helton … Howard plays a vital role in the Phillies offense because he ability to bash the 400-foot home run clears the bases and gives the Phillies the big innings that power them to 7-4 victories. I look for Howard to top 50+ home runs again this season and to hit 140-150 RBI. Is a second MVP award out of reach? Not really. Ryan Howard has the ability to build on his MVP campaign in 2006 with an even better one in 2008. He also has, according to the 2008 Bill James Handbook, an 11% chance of hitting 700 or home runs, which means that he could challenge Barry Bonds 762 home runs one day in the future. At 129 in just two and a half MLB seasons, he’s well on his way … Pat Burrell enters the sixth and final year of a deal that he signed in the wake of his spectacular 2002 season, when he seemed to step into Scott Rolen’s shoes and become the focal point of the franchise. Burrell hit 37 home runs, 39 doubles and 116 RBI with a .376 OBP that season, a real breakthrough for the first overall pick in the 1998 Draft, and numbers that seemed to cement the powerful, athletic Burrell as the face of the franchise. He was going to do what Scott Rolen couldn’t or wouldn’t: become the greatest Phillie since Mike Schmidt. With the announcement that the Phillies had acquired Jim Thome heading into the ’03 season, the sky seemed the limit for Burrell. Schmidt, as I recall, predicted the duo would hit 100+ home runs together … Instead, Burrell’s horrific 2003 campaign, where he hit just 21 home runs and 64 RBI, and saw his adjusted OPS fall from 146 to 90, destroyed his promising future … Burrell’s Win Shares plunged from 25 to 9 … It was a terrible decline for a player who had once seemed like the next superstar on a team that hadn’t had one in twenty years. He spent nearly all season in 2004 regaining his stroke. Burrell’s OBP rebounded to .365, but his raw power at the plate remained flat: .195 ISO in 2003, .198 ISO in 2004. Burrell had 117 RBI in 2005, a career-high, but his production wasn’t quite the same. He still put up great numbers in ’05 – ’07, but he became a different player statistically – more of an OBP threat, more of a defensive liability – and the trauma of ’03 – ’04 remained in the minds of Phillies fans ... The shame of it is that while Pat Burrell isn’t the same player that he was in 2002, he’s a critical cog in the Phillies offense. In 2007 Pat Burrell hit 30 home runs, had 97 RBI, drew a whopping 114 walks and posted an OBP of .400 … Burrell was third in the N.L. in walks and ninth in On-Base Percentage. His 4.22 pitches per plate appearance were second to just the Rockies Todd Helton at 4.36. Burrell is no-longer an aggressive free-swinger at the plate. He’s a cautious, meticulous player. Unfortunately people buy into the image of the swaggering free swinger, so Burrell’s contributions go entirely unnoticed. The fact that he takes 63.8% of the pitches he sees – fourth in the N.L. – means that Burrell isn’t up there hacking away heroically. Interestingly, 40% of Burrell’s plate appearances ended in walks or strikeouts: outcomes where the ball was never put into play. The fact that he is often removed for a defensive substitution now is another blow to his image as the swaggering heir to Mike Schmidt. The fact is that after Ryan Howard, Burrell might be the most powerful bat the Phillies have in their lineup:
After Howard, whose bat moves runners off the bases more efficiently? No, Phillies fans don’t trust Pat Burrell because he isn’t the heroic leader of the team anymore. Nobody who draws a walk 20% of the time he goes to the plate can be a leader, can he? … What can Burrell do in 2008? I see another 110-120 walk season with 30-35 home runs, 95-105 RBI and little respect in store for Burrell this season. I also think he’ll get off to a nice start too, because his OPS in the second half of the season last years was 1.010, seventh-best in the N.L. … The Phillies plan to platoon Jayson Weth and Geoff Jenkins in rightfield in 2008. Werth, the former Dodger, joined the Phillies last season enjoyed impressive success as the Phillies fourth outfielder, hitting 8 home runs with 49 RBI and 43 runs scored in limited action (just 304 plate appearances). Werth’s 55 Runs Created in 183 Outs meant that Werth had 8.11 Runs Created per 27 Outs, one of the best percentages in all of baseball, had he earned enough plate appearances to qualify. What was impressive about Werth’s performance was how he consistently got hits when he put the ball into play (.386 BA/BIP), worked counts to draw walks (.145 walks per plate appearance, which helped his OBP to a staggering .404) and the fact that he didn’t ground into a single double play last season. That’s right. Not a one. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Werth also hit an astonishing .379 with runners in scoring position. Naturally, I don’t expect Werth to entirely replicate his impressive .298 batting average in 2008, but his OBP ought to be in that .360 - .370 range again. Not just an OBP machine, Werth has impressive skill at the plate in terms of power: his 22 extra-base hits might not sound impressive, but given his limited action they were impressive. Werth;s Isolated Power at the plate was an impressive .161 … Jenkins, a left-handed hitter, will join the right-handed Werth in the outfield platoon. Geoff Jenkins was a long-time member of the Milwaukee Brewers and no longer fit into their plans. Might Jenkins acquisition, like Werth’s and Greg Dobbs and Chris Coste’s and David Dellucci’s, be another savvy move made by the Phillies high-command to rescue a seemingly washed up player from the slag heap and find a useful role? Jenkins isn’t the solid get-on-base with some power guy that Werth is. Jenkins is a slugger: his 32 walks in 464 plate appearances gave him an average .069 BB/PA. Jenkins hit 21 home runs and 24 doubles for the Brewers and posted a .216 isolated power last season. I hope, in comparing Werth and Jenkins, that the Phillies give more playing time to Werth and utilize Jenkins in later innings as a pinch-hitter when his capacity to stroke 400-foot home runs might be more useful. Jenkins and Werth give the Phillies a flexible platoon to replace Rowand, who used to hit in the sixth slot. I know there was much hand-wringing from Phillies fans over Rowand’s departure in the off-season, but it is silly. The Phillies could never have offered Rowand the money that the Giants, so desperate to move out of the Barry Bonds era, could have. Inking Rowand, an over-rated defensive outfielder who enjoyed a career year at the plate last season to a long-term deal would have been foolish. Check out the numbers the Bill James Handbook projects Jenkins, Werth and Rowand to post this season:
Runs Created / 27 Outs (Projected):
Jayson Werth: 6.12
Aaron Rowand: 5.63
Geoff Jenkins: 5.29
Rowand was a free-swinger who surprised everyone with an impressive .345 BA/BIP last season. Werth, and to a lesser-extent Jenkins, are savvier hitters at the plate than Rowand. Hard as it may be for Phillies fans to accept, the Phillies will hit better with Werth and Jenkins than Rowand … Moving along to the seventh slot in the Phillies lineup we encounter Pedro Feliz. The Phillies got awful production out of their third basemen in 2007, a sad fact for a team that featured the greatest third baseman of all-time just a quarter century ago. Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms and Abraham Nunez all played significant time and all, to varying degrees, failed to deliver consistent production. Helms, acquired from the Florida Marlins, was a flop, hitting .198 with runners in scoring position, just 24 extra-base hits (and just five of those were home runs), a horrible .297 OBP and an OPS+ of 88. Nunez had an OBP of .318 and an OPS of 79. Dobbs hit better last season (see below) but remains more of a pinch-hitter type of player than an every day player. The Phillies hope all of that changes with Feliz, a former San Francisco Giant. I’m frankly not impressed by the move, despite Feliz’s hot start in spring training. Perhaps Feliz will post better numbers playing in a cozy park like Citizens Bank, but some of the numbers suggest that Feliz will have issues. Let’s start with the fact that Feliz has had a sub-.300 OBP each of the last three seasons: .290 in ’07, .282 in ’06, and .295 in ’05. So the Phillies didn’t acquire Feliz for his capacity to get on base – his .049 BB/PA was the third-worst in the National League last season – can Feliz hit the ball? Well, Feliz has hit 84 home runs over the last four seasons, but that isn’t that impressive in this modern age. Disturbingly, Feliz’s isolated power has been on a trend downwards: .209 in 2004, .172 in 2005, .184 in 2006, and .165 last season. Feliz hit well with runners in scoring position last season – .310 – but in every other respect, his performance last season ought not to fill Phillies fans with hope. It should fill them with dread … Finally we get down to the catchers slot. With Rod Barajas gone the catchers slot firmly belongs to Carlos Ruiz. After being over-shadowed by Chris Coste, the thirty-something minor-leaguer (whose book I am busy reading and will shortly post a review of) who burst onto the scene in 2006, Ruiz got a lot of playing time last year and made the most of it. He hit just six home runs, but hit an impressive 29 doubles and two triples in 429 plate appearances. Surprisingly for a catcher, he was successful in six of his seven stolen base attempts. Ruiz displayed a good eye at the plate, drawing 42 walks against 49 strikeouts. His .280 batting average with runners in scoring position was pretty good. The only real surprise when looking at Ruiz’s stats was that he grounded into 17 double plays, an awfully high percentage for a guy who doesn’t play more than 70-80% of the time … That’s the Phillies starting lineup, a fearsome collection of bats that will score 850-to-900 runs next season. Here is what the Phillies bench will probably look like:
OF – So Taguchi
IF/ OF – Greg Dobbs
IF – Wes Helms
IF – Eric Buntlett
IF / C- Chris Coste
Of the Phillies bench players, the first bat off the bench (after Jenkins or Werth) will be Greg Dobbs, who hit ten home runs and 55 RBI in 2007 in very limited action. Dobbs, who never got to play much in Seattle, finally got a chance to show what he can do. The Phillies like Dobbs a lot because he can play first base, he can play third, and he can play in the outfield. He’s the sort of versatile guy you want on your team … Chris Coste is a great story – give me a few days and I’ll finally get finished typing my review of his book, The 33-Year old Rookie – a career Minor Leaguer who jumped around in the Red Sox, Pirates and Indians systems before finding his way to Philadelphia in 2006. Pressed into duty with the injuries to Mike Lieberthal and Sal Fasano, Coste stunned observers by hitting .328 (.376 OBP) along with 7 home runs and 32 RBI in just 213 plate appearances. Coste played more sparingly in 2007, getting about 80 fewer turns at the plate and hitting .279. Coste’s OPS fell from .881 to .730 last season. The only thing I don’t like about Coste is his refusal to draw walks. He drew just four last season in 137 plate appearances and ten in 213 in 2006. Usually, I think an inability to draw walks is fatal to a player’s performance, but I still like seeing Chris Coste’s #27 on the Phillies roster. His defense improved last year (more on that later) and he became a more rounded player. He seems fated to be the Phillies backup catcher and a dangerous bat off the bench … Eric Bruntlett was a throw-in piece to the Brad Lidge deal and he seems fated to play the role of the new Abraham Nunez: the light-hitting defensive player you never want to see holding a bat at the plate in the bottom of the ninth. Bruntlett played sparingly with the Astros over the last few years and when he did he contributed little to the team’s offense. Bruntlett’s OPS for the last several years has been .705 in 2005, .695 in 2006, and .629 last season … So Taguchi joins the Phillies after spending the last several years with the St. Louis Cardinals as their reserve outfielder / pinch-hitter / pinch-runner. Taguchi is this year’s Michael Bourn, the speedy outfielder who stole 18 of 19 bases in a largely pinch-runner / defensive replacement role in 2007 for the Phillies. Taguchi has hit just 19 home runs in his MLB career, but has stolen 36 of 48 bases. Disturbingly, in exceedingly limited play last year Taguchi grounded into ten double plays … Securing the Phillies final roster slot will be Wes Helms. Based on comments from General Manager Pat Gillick the Phillies seem likely to bring 14 position players and 11 pitchers north with them, but the Phillies might go with 12 pitchers and 13 position players if they feel that they need a deeper bullpen. If they go with 12 pitchers then Helms won’t have a job anymore. (That’s good news for Clay Condrey, who seems likely to make the team only if Helms doesn’t.) I personally would prefer to see Condrey make the team over Helms. Helms was awful in 2007, hitting just five home runs and 39 RBI (and 24 Runs Created). The Phillies brought him onto the team after his strong part-time performance with the Marlins in 2006, when he posted a .390 OBP and 45 Runs Created in just 240 At-Bats. Helms OBP collapsed almost 100 points to .297 last year and he didn’t hit for power at all. The consequence was the Phillies had a light-hitting power hitter who grounded into a lot of double plays: ten. Perhaps 2007 was a fluke, but I am skeptical. Helms will have to do a lot better in ’08 to justify a roster spot, especially since the Phillies have a third baseman – Pedro Feliz – and a capable backup – Greg Dobbs – already.
What kind of a performance will the Phillies turn in this season? I’m going to project them to hit about 200 home runs, to steal 100-110 bases, to hit 320-330 doubles, and to score 900 runs. Ryan Howard will top 50 home runs and Chase Utley will make a powerful statement to MVP voters with an OBP over .400, a .300+ Batting Average, 110 RBI, 25 or so Home Runs, and 50 Doubles. If you are looking for a player to surprise you, I’d take a look at Shane Victorino. I think he’ll improve his OBP this season and will steal 45 to 50 bases, as well as hit 7 to 10 triples.
So those are the hitters. I ought to post the pitchers on Thursday and the Fielders on Friday or Saturday. No guarantees.
Monday, March 24, 2008
In the meanwhile, check out this article from The Hardball Times talking about the Bobby Abreu deal. If you want to skip to the conclusions: the Phillies got nothing for Abreu but got to dump his salary on the only team in the MLB that could take it.
Also, apparently Adam Eaton has won the #5 starter job from Chad Durbin and Travis Blackley, apparently pitching well enough to take the job. Count on Durbin, who will move to the bullpen, to get some starts if / when Eaton and Kyle Kendrick struggle.