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2008 Philadelphia Phillies
Defending a Title Never Looked so Tough

BaseballEvolution.com 2008 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 9, 2008

Last season, seemingly from the moment spring training began, the Phillies were one of the most enigmatic teams in baseball. Loaded with several young talented stars but absolutely no pitching, the Phillies put themselves on the spot immediately when brash shortstop Jimmy Rollins (somewhat) boldy stated that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East, a statement to which the defending division champion New York Mets took exception. The team would spend most of the season seemingly melting under the pressure of Rollins' words.

The Phillies looked dead from roughly the first month of the season until the last two weeks of it, but ended up winning the division, as the Mets suffered one of the worst collapses in professional sports history, squandering a seven game lead with 15 to play. For Rollins' part, his tough talk, durability, and unbelievable counting stats (trumped in unbelievability only by how moderately valuable they turned out to be) won him a National League MVP in a season in which roughly twenty players had legitimate claims to the award.

2007 Standings - NL East W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA Pyth W Pyth L
Philadelphia Phillies 89 73 0.549 - 47-34 42-39 892 821 87 75
New York Mets 88 74 0.543 1.0 41-40 47-34 804 750 86 76
Atlanta Braves 84 78 0.519 5.0 44-37 40-41 810 733 88 74
Washington Nationals 73 89 0.451 16.0 40-41 33-48 673 783 70 92
Florida Marlins 71 91 0.438 18.0 36-45 35-46 790 891 72 90

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Pedro Feliz 3B
Brad Lidge RP
Geoff Jenkins RP
a
Departed Pos.
Michael Bourn OF
Jose Mesa RP
Antonio Alfonseca 2B
Geoff Geary RP
Jon Lieber RP
Aaron Rowand CF
Unfortunately for the Phillies, this team suffered a pitching double-whammy this off-season. First, the team did very little to improve an already sorry lot of pitchers, and second, the New York Mets acquired what is arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Johan Santana. In a week destined to go down in short-term baseball history, on one day the Philadelphia newspapers lauded the dubious acquisition of defensive whiz/offensive stooge Pedro Feliz, and then the very next day bore the burden of announcing that Santana was a Met. The juxtaposition was palpable.

The Phillies are still a very good team in 2008, and enter the season on the wild card shortlist. To win the division again, however, the Phillies will simply need the Mets to suffer injuries. Nevertheless, with another season of the most offensively talented infield in baseball, which, unlike some other big offense infields, can actually play defense, another season of underrated play by Pat Burrell and the Phillies' outfield, and another season of bend-but-don't-break pitching, the Phillies could easily find themselves in the hunt at the end of the season.

Catcher
2007 Starter    Carlos Ruiz, Rod Barajas, Chris Coste
Projected 2008 Starter   Carlos Ruiz, Chris Coste

Carlos Ruiz has not demonstrated the pop at the plate with the Phillies that he did in the minors, and despite his stealing home last season, his 17 double plays in 374 at bats told a lot about his athleticism (although it may also say a lot about hitting behind Pat Burrell). Ruiz did hit 29 doubles in 115 games, and looks like a solid, veteran catcher behind the plate. Unfortunately for Carlos, Chris Coste had a 65-game debut at the age of 33 two years ago that has convinced Phillies fans that he is Robert Redford from The Natural, and an appearance by Ruiz behind the plate generally results in talk radio call-in shows being overwhelmed with calls supporting Coste.

First Base
2007 Starter   Ryan Howard
Projected 2008 Starter   Ryan Howard

Surprise Player
Pedro Feliz
After player in a pitcher's park his whole career, Pedro gets to play in a band-box. Think he can get his OBP over .300?
Most Valuable Player
Chase Utley
Can they do three MVPs in three years? Only injuries kept him from the award in 2007.
Rookie of the Year in 2005, Most Valuable Player in 2006, Howard experienced a junior year slump in 2007. He battled injuries early in the season and, despite stabilizing around mid-year, he saw a general decline on offense across the board (actually, he one more double than the year before) and set the single season strikeout record, coming one short of 200 in just 144 games.

Howard is a tremendous talent, and even with his "down" year, he managed 47 homeruns, 136 RBI, 107 walks, and an OPS of .976. When he is on, he is one of the most deadly hitters in baseball, which says a lot about a guy entering his third full season.

Second Base
2007 Starter   Chase Utley
Projected 2008 Starter   Chase Utley

If not for a broken hand that cost him 30 games, Chase Utley may have compiled one of the best second base seasons of all-time in 2007. As amazing as Utley was in 2006, his game entered the "elite" hitter level in 2007. His 48 doubles, 22 homeruns, 103 RBI, and 104 runs scored in only 133 games were all remarkable. Plus, unlike some big-hitting second basemen in the league today, Utley can actually play defense with the best of them. Should be the best second baseman in baseball in 2008 and for years to come.

Third Base
2007 Starter   Abraham Nunez, Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs, Russ Branyan
Projected 2008 Starter   Pedro Feliz


Jimmy Rollins
Let me be clear - my issue with Pedro Feliz is not actually with Feliz, but rather with the Phillies' organization. In an off-season in which everyone in baseball knew the Phillies needed to acquire both starting and relief pitching, the team managed a trade for head-case Brad Lidge, and then turned its attention towards Feliz. The level of hype surrounding the signing of Feliz was very high, as though the team wanted to convince fans that it had a acquired an A-lister, when really Feliz is a somewhat valuable commodity one expects to find out about on the back page of the sports section.

That said, Feliz, who has been a regular whipping boy here at BaseballEvolution.com, is one of the premier defensive players in baseball. He also regularly hit 20 homeruns per season in spacious PacBell/AT&T Park, and promises to add a couple more playing in Citizen's Bank Park. At the end of this season, if he has played 155 games, hit 25 homeruns, and managed on OBP around .300 (career OBP: .288), Feliz will have been a major upgrade at third base.

Shortstop
2007 Starter   Jimmy Rollins
Projected 2008 Starter   Jimmy Rollins

Mark Redman Candidate
Kyle Kendrick
A year from now, people will be trying to remember what they liked about this guy.
Disappointing Player Candidate
Brad Lidge
This guy has been inconsistent the last couple of years, and this park is not kind to pitchers.
In many ways, Rollins got very very lucky last season. If the Mets don't completely blow it, they easily win the NL East, the Phillies finish second, and Rollins has to live with his big talk. His incredible season - worthy more for its statistical uniqueness than for its overall value - gets him no higher than third in the MVP voting behind David Wright and Matt Holliday, and the fickle fans of the Philadelphia Phillies end up blaming him for putting pressure on the team.

Instead, Rollins is a hero. In truth, despite the fact that he was not literally the most valuable player in the National League, he was a good pick for all the right subjective reasons. Plus his numbers were just some of the most incredible not-particularly-valuable numbers you'll ever see: he went 30/30, he became the fourth player ever to go 20/20/20/20, he had 212 hits, 139 runs, and he set records for at-bats and plate appearances.

Is he the best shortstop in baseball? No. But he is a pretty great player.

Outfield
2007 Starters   Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth
Projected 2008 Starters   Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Geoff Jenkins, Jayson Werth

For the last two seasons, the Phillies have enjoyed the services of Aaron “Fan Favorite” Rowand, who has always been a terrific defensive centerfielder and last season was aces on offense as well. Nevertheless, the Phillies have been stocked in the outfield for the last two years, and when Rowand’s contract expired, they wisely did not re-sign him.

A big problem for the Phillies’ outfield, at least defensively, during the last few seasons has been Pat Burrell. Burrell is one of the most underrated offensive players in baseball – particularly by his own fans, who simply loathe him – but his defense is atrocious, and if he played in the American League he would absolutely be a designated hitter. Luckily, Shane Victorino will be able to pick up some slack for the lumbering slugger.

Jayson Werth was an absolute revelation last year in his first action with the Phils after missing all of 2006. He posted a .298/.404/.459 in 94 games, displayed very good defense, and didn’t ground into a single double play. His .950 OPS in the second half was a big part of why the Phillies won the NL East. Nevertheless, the Phillies went out and signed the prematurely aging Geoff Jenkins, and will platoon Jenkins with Werth in right field this season. This move might pay off for the Phillies, but Jenkins has been on a two year slide, and would seem to be an imposition to the younger, more promising Werth.
Phillies Fun Fact
Chase Utley became just the 126th player with 48 or more doubles in a season in 2007, and did so in only 132 games.


Bench
2007 Crew Michael Bourn, Greg Dobbs, Tadahito Iguchi, Chris Coste, Wes Helms
Projected 2008 Bench Dobbs, Helms, Coste, Eric Bruntlett, Chris Snelling

This is not an impressive bench, but with a lineup full of offensive and defensive stars, the Phillies hope to not have to turn to their bench very often. Snelling could be a pleasant surprise, as he has shown promise at every level, but will have trouble breaking the lineup in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, there is not much help on the way from the farm, with Double-A third baseman Michael Costanzo representing the brightest offensive star in the organization.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Jon Lieber, Freddy Garcia, Kyle Lohse, J.D. Durbin
Projected 2008 Starters Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, Kyle Kendrick


Cole Hamels
The Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff has been my introduction to life as a Phillies fan. In 2006, the Phillies made a surprise run at the wild card before falling short because of their lack of pitching. But that off-season the team did very little to upgrade their staff, bringing over Freddy Garcia and watching him immediately get hurt. In 2007, the Phillies won the NL East with a miracle finish over the Mets, despite mediocre pitching. But during the off-season, while the Mets were picking up Johan Santana, the Phillies were adding by subtraction, bidding adieu to Jon Lieber and Kyle Lohse, while adding the inconsistent Brad Lidge as closer. True, this move allows Brett Myers to move back into the rotation, but this team needed more moves than this.

Part of the problem with the Phillies’ brass is that they think Kyle Kendrick is the real deal. It is hard to blame them for this – in his first ever major league action, Kendrick went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 121.0 innings, at the age of 22. Nevertheless, professional baseball people should be able to look past win-loss records and recognize warning signs – 49 strikeouts, which amounts to less than half a strikeout per inning, 16 homeruns allowed in 121 innings, over a hit allowed per inning, and K/BB ratio (49/25) which falls short of 2:1. Ten wins in 20 games is impressive, but it does not a sure-thing make.

Another reason the front office may believe Kendrick is legit is because they are comparing him to their other pitchers. Jamie Moyer continued his climb up the career homeruns allowed leaderboard, giving up 30 in just under 200 innings, and also posted a 1.445 WHIP to go with his 5.01 ERA. Moyer’s numbers look Clemens-esque compared to those of Adam Eaton, whose ridiculous credits include a K/BB ratio of 97/71, a WHIP over 1.627, an ERA of 6.29, and 30 homeruns allowed in 161.2 innings. How Eaton got 30 starts in 2007 is baffling; how he is slated to be in the rotation again in 2008 is maddening. Additionally, J.D. Durbin finished the season with only three more strikeouts than walks, and an ERA in the fives.

This team has a legitimate ace in 24-year old Cole Hamels, who has been fantastic in his first two seasons for the team, and they have a legitimate number two in Brett Myers, who makes his return to the rotation after a season as the team’s closer. Nevertheless, this is not a rotation that is built to win, and when the Phillies are sitting at home watching the playoffs come this October, they will know why they are where they are.

Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Brett Myers, Antonio Alfonseca, Tom Gordon, Ryan Madsen, Geoff Geary, Jose Mesa, Clay Condrey, J.C. Romero
Projected 2008 Relievers Brad Lidge, Gordon, Madsen, Romero, Condrey

Last season was turn back the clock year for the Phillies’ bullpen, as the team got to suffer through watching both Antonio Alfonseca and Jose Mesa pitch a decade past each of their primes – each pitcher posted an ERA over 5.40 – and watching Tom Gordon vie for the closer role when everyone within driving distance of Philadelphia knew that Gordon was running on fumes.

In 2008, the Phillies will feature a better, but still not very good, ‘pen. The Phillies did actually learn some lessons from the 2007 season – gone are Alfonseca, Mesa, and Geoff Geary, and Gordon will no longer be called upon to close with the arrival of Brad Lidge from Houston. Lidge, it must be remembered, has his nay-sayers after a poor finish in 2006 which spilled over into the beginning of 2007. But he is a fantastic pitcher when things are going right for him, as he demonstrated in May, June, and July of last season. It remains to be seen if he can put it all together for a full season again, like he did from 2003 to 2005.

After Lidge and Gordon, the Phillies have J.C. Romero and Ryan Madsen, two good pitchers (actually Romero is quite good) who also happen to be walk-a-holics. It is actually shocking that Romero could have posted a 1.24 ERA despite his 31 strikeouts and 25 walks.

If the Phillies are going to succeed in 2008, they will probably need more bullpen help than they have.

Outlook for the Season

Last season was a lot of fun here in Philadelphia – from Jimmy Rollins' bold declaration that the Phillies were the team to beat, to the explosion of radio call-in shows when the Phillies got off to a slow start and the fans were calling for the heads of everyone involved (rarely has a reigning MVP been as sliced and diced by his fans in April of the following year as Ryan Howard in 2007), all the way down to the final miraculous finish on the last weekend of the season.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, winning in 2008 will likely require a similar miracle, as the Mets were – and are – clearly the better team, and only got stronger this off season with the addition of Johan Santana. Frankly, even karma seems to be on the side of the Mets in 2008 – if you don’t think the Baseball Gods would like to see a full season of Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana pitching side-by-side just before Pedro retires, you’re crazy. The odds seem poor for a Phillies repeat in 2008.


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