Philadelphia Phillies - 2007 Team Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 19, 2007
2006 Record: 85-77 (Second Place NL East Division)
2006 Runs Scored: 865
2006 Runs Allowed: 812
Pythagorean 2006 Record: 86-76
Remember this time last year, when the big question around Phillies camp was whether the Phillies had screwed up shipping Jim Thome and committing to Ryan Howard? Oh, what a silly time.
This year, the Phillies really face one big question in camp can their starting pitching come through for them? With the offense seemingly locked in, and the defense looking pretty solid except for a few trouble spots here and there, the Phillies have everything they need to contend for the National League East Division title and perhaps a World Series berth.
2006 Starter - Mike Lieberthal, Chris Coste, Sal Fasano
Projected 2007 Starter - Rod Barajas, Carlos Ruiz
This season will mark the first since 1993 that Mike Lieberthal will not be with the team. Catcher is a position where it is difficult to measure the impact of a player, so it should not be assumed that Lieberthal was ready to go simply because his offensive numbers have declined recently Lieberthal will be missed.
In his place comes Rod Barajas, who two years ago hit 20 homeruns for the Rangers, but for the most part is an offensive liability, and Chris Coste, who last year was pretty fantastic in his 65 game debut with the Phils at the age of 33. Look for both players to see time behind the plate for the Phillies.
2006 Starter - Ryan Howard
Projected 2007 Starter - Ryan Howard
Howard lived up to all the hype in 2006, earning the National League Most Valuable Player by hitting a franchise record 58 homeruns. Howard caught particular fire in August and September, during which he hit over .350 with 21 homeruns and an OPS over 1.250.
Howard spent the season hitting fourth, fifth, or sixth in the Phillies lineup, and unfortunately, as the Phillies made a run at the wild card, it appeared that Howard was effectively neutralized down the stretch as pitchers began to walk Howard, and the Phillies faltered in the last week of the season. Presumably, the Phillies will move Howard to the three spot for the 2007 season, and the measure of their success will be completely contingent upon the protection the Phillies can get for Howard from the rest of the lineup.
2006 Starter - Chase Utley
Projected 2007 Starter - Chase Utley
In his second full season as a regular, Utley continued to blossom into a legitimate major league star. Utley hit over .300, collected 200 hits, 40 doubles, 30 homeruns, 130 runs, and 100 RBI. There are warning signs, however Utley walked 7 fewer times in 13 more games from 2005 to 2006, and his OPS declined slightly over that period. Additionally, Utley hit 40 points better at home than on the road in 2007, and his OPS was 122 points better, indicating a slight inflation of his numbers in Citizens Bank Park. Nevertheless, he remains a second baseman capable of 30 homeruns and a 900 OPS, and that is a valuable asset to any team.
2006 Starter - David Bell, Abraham Nunez
Projected 2007 Starter - Wes Helms
Here is something I bet you didn't know Wes Helms was awesome last year in 140 games for the Florida Marlins. Okay, so by awesome, I mean awesome by Wes Helms standards, and by 140 games, I mean only 240 at-bats. Nevertheless, Helms went 329/390/575 last season, and starts Spring Training atop the Phillies depth chart at third base.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, Helms has only had more than 274 at-bats once in a season, and that was four years ago, and he is a terrible defensive third baseman. On the other hand, his efforts would almost have to be better than the combined efforts of David Bell and Abraham Nunez from last season.
2006 Starter - Jimmy Rollins
Projected 2007 Starter - Jimmy Rollins
Whether Jimmy Rollins is a good player or not depends on who you talk to. Proponents of Rollins will tell you he scores lots of runs, gets 190 hits per year, and showed stunning power last year with 45 doubles and 25 homeruns. Detractors will note that he doesn't hit for a high average despite all of his hits, doesn't put up a very high OPS despite his homeruns, has hurt his team to the tune of collecting 500 outs four times in six years, and he is a leadoff hitter who doesn't get on base very well.
On defense, his range at shortstop has never been particularly impressive, though his fielding percentage is always above average.
Jimmy Rollins is an above average shortstop, and a good offensive weapon. He may not be the best option at leadoff, however, in a lineup that could probably score Royce Clayton 100 times if he was batting leadoff for them. Rollins will be 28 this year it would be nice to see him take 60 walks for the first time in his career.
2006 Starter Pat Burrell
Projected 2007 Starter Pat Burrell
Pat Burrell is an incredibly underrated player, particularly in Philadelphia where the fans tend to loathe him. The guy gets on base - .389 and .388 the last two years and he hits homeruns. What's more, his range factor and fielding percentage are not terrible, and when you play left field on a team with Aaron Rowand and Shane Victorino, the demands on you are not that high.
The problem with Burrell is that Phillies' fans expected more by now. Burrell was the number one overall pick in the 1998 draft. He made it to the majors in 2000, in 2001 he played the full season, and in 2002 he had a big year 282/376/544, 37/116, 96 runs, 39 doubles. Four years later, Burrell is 30 years old and has yet to replicate that success, let alone build upon it.
Phillies' fans are notoriously volatile, and their impatience with Burrell comes as no surprise. In addition to his inability to mature into a superstar, Burrell also proved to not be very clutch last season as the Phillies made a run at the wild card down the stretch. Burrell hit .222 with runners in scoring position, including .240 with the bases loaded. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he hit .167, and in late and close situations, he hit .217. He also failed to bat over .200 in the fifth, sixth, eighth, and ninth innings. Even the casual fan starts to notice that after a while.
Burrell could be a big part of the Phillies success this season. Indeed, their success would almost seem to depend on him taking his game to the next level in 2007. Better late than never.
Center Field and Right Field
Phillies Fun Fact - The Phillies are the only team to have won 80 or more games each of the last six seasons without making the playoffs.
2006 Starters Bobby Abreu, Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino, Dave Dellucci
Projected 2007 Starters Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino
How it is that Aaron Rowand can manage to become a fan favorite everywhere he goes is no mystery he plays hard and with reckless abandonment. Of course, he also missed the last month and a half of the season for that same reason, so what Rowand gives the Phillies, he can also take away.
Rowand is a light offense, strong defense centerfielder who doesnt get on base consistently but can certainly get hot. The Phillies will probably be happy to trade offense for defense at this position, but there are grumblings that Shane Victorino may be an even better defender than Rowand. One wonders whether the Phillies can afford to sacrifice offense at two outfield positions, even with the considerable defensive advantage.
2006 Bench Players Abraham O. Nunez, Dave Dellucci
Projected 2007 Bench Players Nunez, Jayson Werth
Hard to get excited about Abraham O. Nunez. He plays three positions poorly, and last season had an OPS+ of 48 in 322 at-bats. How this guy is a major leaguer is beyond me.
Jayson Werth is going to be a factor in this team, because either a) Aaron Rowand is going to get hurt, b) Shane Victorino is not going to repeat his performance from 2006, his first full season, or c) the Phillies are going to platoon Werth, Rowand, and Victorino in an effort to get some offense out of right field every now and then. The problem is, after a breakout 2004 season with the Dodgers, Werth had a bad 2005 and didn't play a major league game in 2006 due to a wrist injury. If Werth can rebound from his year off, he could see a lot of playing time with the Phils.
Starting Pitching Front Three
2006 Starter Brett Myers, Jon Lieber, Cole Hamels
Projected 2007 Starter Brett Myers, Freddy Garcia, Cole Hamels
Do you know what we have learned this off-season about the state of starting pitching in Major League Baseball? We have learned that an ability to pitch 200 innings in a season is the number one quality teams look for in a starting pitcher. By this standard, the Phillies pitching staff will be nothing but solid in 2007.
By the new major league standard of pitching, the Phillies have acquired a superstar in Freddy Garcia, who has pitched 200 or more innings every season but one in the majors. Garcia is about as a solid a pitcher as there is out there, meaning he is rarely hurt and gives his team a chance to win, but frankly isn't going to wow you with his stats or ability. Garcia has a penchant for giving up the longball, and will again pitch in a homerun park.
Brett Myers was the staff ace last season, even despite getting the Phils in some hot water when they stuck with him after he was charged with domestic abuse. Myers is just as solid as Garcia, but at 26 years old and two years removed from a 208 strikeout campaign Myers has a bigger upside. The Phillies could get a breakout season from Myers in 2007.
Speaking of breakout, Phillies fans will be expecting as much from Cole Hamels. Hamels' pitches certainly have the velocity, though he struggled with his control at times last year. At 22 years old, Hamels averaged over a strikeout per inning and was dominant at times, but he also walked 48 in 132.1 innings and gave up 19 homeruns. Hamels could put up Carlos Zambrano numbers this year meaning lots of innings, strikeouts, and walks, and he could also give up about 30 homeruns.
Rest of the Rotation
2006 Starters Cory Lidle, Randy Wolf, Gavin Floyd
Projected 2007 Starter Adam Eaton, Jamie Moyer, Jon Lieber
The Randy Wolf era is officially over in Philadelphia, and there is a gnawing feeling that oft-injured former All-Star may have left town just in time to get healthy with the Dodgers.
In Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, and Jon Lieber, the Phillies have what can only be referred to as good odds - odds are good that two of these three can pitch 150-200 innings, and odds are good that one of them will be effective.
Moyer should manage 200 innings but might also break Bert Blyleven's record for most homeruns given up.
Eaton has been on the verge of a breakout year for the last seven years. Might this be his year?
Lieber will be 37 years old this season. His innings were limited last season, but his K/BB ratio was over 4:1.
If somehow Eaton, Lieber, and Moyer are all good for 200 innings, the Phillies will be in good shape.
2006 Relievers - Tom Gordon, Geoff Geary, Aaron Fultz, Arthur Rhodes, Ryan Madson
Projected 2007 Relievers - Gordon, Geary, Madson, Antonio Alfonseca, Fabio Castro
Tom Gordon enters his second consecutive season as a team's closer for the first time in his career, and looked pretty solid last season. Whether he can keep it going as age 39 remains to be seen.
Fabio Castro came over from Texas via trade last season. He is a 5'7" 22 year old reliever who struck out over a batter an inning in the minor leagues. He will be an interesting player to watch this season. Castro and Gordon will probably be the shortest combination of relief pitchers in the majors.
I always feel bad for Antonio Alfonseca when I watch him pitch. He always has that "I wish I was anywhere but here" look on his face. He actually walked more guys than he K'ed last season.
Geoff Geary finished with a 2.96 ERA in 81 games, and may be the glue in a bullpen that will be relying on a 39 year old closer and Antonio Alfonseca.
Ryan Madson started 17 games last season, and fared quite poorly. At 27, he returns to the bullpen where he will compete with Alfonseca for innings, which means he could still pitch poorly and have a job anyway. Madson had plenty of success in the minors as a starter, but appears to be returning to the bullpen for at least this season.
Outlook for the Season
The 2007 Phillies have solid pitching, solid defense, and excellent offense. As we all know, in baseball winning is all about pitching and defense, so there is no guarantee that the Phillies can win it all. Nevertheless, they should be able to compete for the division title and probably lock down the wild card.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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