2009 Philadelphia Phillies: Lightning Doesn't Strike Twice
BaseballEvolution.com 2009 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 12, 2009
Here's a dumb basis for making a preseason prediction - teams don't repeat in the World Series. The Red Sox won it twice in four years despite being excellent every year. The Cardinals went twice in three years despite having roughly the same lineup each year. With the notable exception of the late-1990s Yankees, teams just don't go to the World Series two years in a row.
| Key Transactions |
| Acquired || Pos. |
| Raul Ibanez || LF |
| Gary Majewski || RP |
| Chan Ho Park || SP |
| Ronny Paulino || C |
| Marcus Giles || 2B |
| Miguel Cairo || IF |
| Pablo Ozuna || IF |
| a || |
| Departed || Pos. |
| Pat Burrell || LF |
| Tom Gordon || RP |
| Rudy Seanez || RP |
That said, the Philadelphia Phillies were actually not as good as they should have been in 2008, which makes you think the 2009 rendition of the team should be better than the World Series winning team of last season. We'll see.
If the number one problem for Phillies fans is the fact that teams don't repeat in the World Series, the number two problem for the team is that there is NO WAY that the New York Mets can blow the division three years in a row. Despite the enormous talent of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Mets are a more talented team.
Could the Mets possibly blow it again?
Very few bad offensive players have the fan followings that Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste have developed playing Catcher for the Phillies. Neither player contributes anything,
and yet Ruiz has a following and Coste is afforded cult hero status.
Here is my number one fear for the 2009 Phillies - the combination of Ryan Howard's gaudy homerun and RBI totals and a World Series title has allowed Phillies fans, management, and - most importantly - Ryan Howard to conveniently overlook the fact that Howard declined for the second year in a row, failed to show up for most of the first half of the season, hits significantly worse on the road than at home, and has major holes in his game. Throw the complacency that a new contract can often buy, and Ryan Howard could have a very down season at First Base for the Phillies.
|Projected First Base|
In my opinion, Chase Utley is ten times the player Ryan Howard is, but he is not without issues of his own. An excellent hitter with killer Second Base defense, Utley posted a 1.195 OPS in April but failed to get his OPS over .900 in any other month. By the second half of the season, he looked tired and very likely injured. Utley is one of the rare players who can play lights out offense and defense, and to say he had a "down" year last year is somewhat absurd. Nevertheless, he can do better, which he hopes to prove. It should be reiterated that Chase was rumored to have been hampered by injury last year.
One thing I'd like to see Utley work on in 2009 is NOT getting hit by pitches. He has led the league in that category in each of the last two years despite missing thirty games in 2007 because he - wait for it - broke his arm getting hit by a pitch. Utley is well on pace to break Craig Biggio's record for HBP, but I'd rather have him in the lineup than on base fifteen to twenty more times.
|Projected Second Base|
Marcus Giles is vying for a spot on the Phillies roster as a backup middle infielder. Hard to believe this guy can't find work. He'll only be 31 this season, and as a recently as 2005 he looked like an elite second baseman. It just goes to show you - if you are trying to resurrect your career, don't do it at Petco Park.
I don't know if I've ever put this on paper, but if Pedro Feliz had played shortstop instead of Third Base, his life would have been so much easier. His defense is incredible, and that plus a light bat just doesn't fly
at third base the way it does at shortstop. Feliz had an up and down season; relegated to platoon status, he nevertheless started 129 games at third (platoon what?). He had 14 homeruns, 19 doubles, 43 runs, and 58 RBI, all career lows, but he got his on-base percentage over .300 for the first time since 2004 and for only the second time ever. More importantly, he stabilized the third base position on the field in ways that can't quite be comprehended. Which is what he's always done.
|Projected Third Base|
How ridiculous are Phillies fans? After Jimmy Rollins won the 2007 NL MVP, he was given a grace period of about twenty minutes before Phillies fans started booing him for struggling at the plate as he recovered from an early season injury. How badly did the Phillie Shortstop struggle? Well, he matched the previous year's doubles total and set career highs for walks, stolen
bases, and stolen base percentage despite missing 25 games. In 2009, Rollins will be 30 years old and in his ninth full season - could he be turning the corner to the second half of a Hall of Fame career? Are we speaking too soon?
In 2009, the Phillies' Outfield will be without Pat Burrell for the first time since 1999. As the first overall pick in the 1998 draft, Burrell, along with Donovan McNabb (second overall, 1999) and Allen Iverson (first overall, 1996), make up the Holy Trinity of the city of Philadelphia's highly-touted, highly-drafted, moderately successful players from the late-1990s that Philly fans love to hate.
How bad was it for Pat Burrell? In 2008, he was 31 years old and had 33 homeruns, 21.1 adjusted batting runs, and a 125 OPS+. He is being replaced by Raul
Ibanez, a guy who was 36 years old, had 23 homeruns, 22.5 batting runs, and a 123 OPS+ last year. And the Philly fans are euphoric.
Part of first ever All MVP Double Play Combo?
|I Dare You To Do It Again|
I say, come out and blow your first save so we can move on.
Too be sure, Burrell was no clutch hitter and his defense left a lot to be desired. I just think he and Ibanez are a whole lot closer to each other than Phillies fans think.
good is the Phillies' offense? In 2008 Shane Victorino had a .352 on-base percentage in 146 games and managed to score 102 runs. Meanwhile, in Seattle, Ichiro Suzuki had a .361 on-base percentage in 162 games and scored only 103 runs.
This offense makes ordinary players look like stars.
All kidding aside, Victorino is an absolute sparkplug on offense, and fantastic in the field.
He is one of those blue collar Billy Hatcher/Mark Lemke/Scott Brosius guys that you always see on championship teams and that are always missing on teams that thought they'd be in the World Series but aren't.
Jayson Werth finally gets the look I thought he deserved last year in right field. He hit 24 homeruns in 418 at-bats last year... what's to come if he gets 600? He also hit better on the road than at home, which is an asset when you hit in a hitter's park. Of course, 16 of his homeruns came in his 171 plate appearances against lefties, while only eight came in his 311 plate appearances against righties. we'll have to hope for lefties!
The Phillies' Starting Rotation is a real good news/bad news situation right now. Good news - Cole Hamels has emerged as the staff ace the Phils hoped he become when they drafted him in the first round of the 2002 draft. Additionally, after a bumpy re-entry, Brett Myers seems to have emerged from his experiment as a relief pitcher to become an even better starter than he was before the move (3.06 second half ERA).
Thus, the top two slots in the rotation look pretty good. Unfortunately, after that the Phillies may have to pray for rain.
In Joe Blanton, the Phillies have acquired a guy whose "get guys out on his own" ability is very low. Since his splashy debut in 2005, he has been a league average (or below) pitcher who can't strike guys out, gets hit a lot, and is not such a ground ball pitcher that he can afford to pitch in Citizen's Bank Park.
It is ironic, then,
that the Phils have knocked Kyle Kendrick off the starting staff depth chart, since he and Blanton are clones in those regards.
Chan Ho Park
After Blanton, the Phillies now have Jamie Moyer, the ageless wonder, in the fourth slot. Moyer went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA for the Phils last year, and with their lineup, they probably just need him to eat his standard 190-210 innings again this year. At the same time, he's 46 years old. Eventually, his arm does have to fall off, right?
Which brings us to the number five slot in the rotation. The Phillies are doing something which is probably admirable: letting three guys fight it out for the final spot. The problem is, of these guys, you really don't want two of them in your rotation, so when one of the three has a good spring, and it just so happens to be one of the bad ones, you're screwed.
Phillies Fun Fact|
Phillies' starting pitcher Jamie Moyer made his Major League debut two years before Phillies' ace Cole Hamels' mother was born.
Such is the case with the Phillies. The three players? J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, and none other than Chan Ho freakin' Park.
I must say, I think there are times when you let players duke it out for the starting job and let the best man win, and then there are times to keep your wits about you and play the better player. From 2000 to 2008, Chan Ho Park had a season with a 133 ERA+, a 125 ERA+, a 113 ERA+, and then six seasons of ERA+ under (usually well under) 100. Those three good years? All came in Dodgers Stadium, in 2000, 2001, and 2008. All those other years? Mainly Texas, but also San Diego and New York, homes to two of very friendly pitcher's parks.
And what are the Phillies potentially going to pass on? J.A. Happ is a 26-year old, 6-foot-6, 200-pound lefty with 545 strikeouts and a 3.34 ERA in 528.2 minor league innings. Last season at Triple-A, he went 8-7, 151/48, 3.60 in 135 innings pitched.
If the Phils go with Park over Happ, it will be a sizeable error.
I suppose I should address Kyle Kendrick. He has now made 50 major league starts in two seasons, and he has a 21-13 record. This makes Kendrick Exhibit A in the "How won-loss records can be misleading" presentation. His career strikeout ratios - both per inning and vs walks - are amongst the worst for full time major leaguers in the last two years. He gets less than a strikeout every other inning, and he gets almost as many walks as strikeouts. He is hittable, and he led the National League in hit batsmen in 2008.
In short, Kendrick is not a major league talent, and should not be treated as such. He could be a poor man's Derek Lowe if he worked on his "stuff," but he is not that pitcher yet.
Know what makes the
Brad Lidge trade the Phillies made last off-season so great? The main piece of the deal from the Phillies' side was Michael Bourn, who only would have hurt the Phils had he continued to take up at-bats in the order.
It is tough to get a feel for Brad Lidge and the 2009 Phillies Bullpen. In six major league seasons, Lidge has given us six different looks: 2003's Nice Find; 2004's Utter Dominance; 2005's Excellent but not Dominant; 2006's Houston We Have a Problem; 2007's Back on Track; and 2008's This Guy Really Knows How to Pitch.
My problem with Lidge is that come rain or come shine, he has always walked too many guys; in his bad years, he also gives up homeruns, hits batters, and throws wild pitches. The test of the Lidge is how well he can avoid the mistakes.
I don't know what secret ingredient makes a championship team, but I do know that outstanding middle relief so often appears to be part of the mix. Last season, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey, Rudy Seanez, and Scott Eyre all scored 124 or higher on the ERA+ scale. I am pretty sure that having six relievers pitch on that level is incredibly rare. I am also pretty sure this crew is not bound for a repeat performance. Seanez is gone, Romero starts the year suspended for 50 games, only Madson has truly good stuff, and the rest of these guys are real on again/off again guys who don't quite seem to have what it takes to maintain dominance year in and year out.
Outlook for the Season
I don't anticipate the Braves, Nationals, or Marlins being able to mount much of an attack on the top of the NL East this season. This division will once again come down to the Phillies and the Mets.
Frankly, the time when I supposed the Mets to be more talented than the Phils may be coming to an end. Obviously, the Mets are now ridiculously strong in the bullpen, and still have two of the game's brightest young stars in David Wright and Jose Reyes. But I think these Phillies hitters are younger and more talented overall than the Mets'. The Mets' pitching staff is in disarray, which only Johan Santana having ever put together a consistent season, while the Phils actually look pretty good in that regard (but it has to be Happ).
It is only the unlikelihood of a team winning back-to-back World Series titles combined with the unlikelihood of the New York Mets blowing the NL East down the stretch three years in a row that makes me doubt these Philadelphia Phillies. This is a team that features an excellent mix of young, exciting baseball players coming into their primes, players currently enjoying their primes, and veterans with experience. This is also a team with talent coming out of its ears. There is nothing to dislike. It just doesn't seem likely to happen twice in a row, that's all.
Of course, I think supposing that this team misses the playoffs this year would be absurd.
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