2010 Philadelphia Phillies: The Team to Beat

BaseballEvolution.com 2010 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 23, 2010

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Placido Polanco 3B
Roy Halladay SP
Jose Contreras RP
Brian Schneider C
Ropss Gload 1B
Departed Pos.
Cliff Lee SP
Pedro Feliz 3B
Brett Myers SP
Pedro Martinez SP
Tyler Walker Rp
Matt Stairs PH
The Philadelphia Phillies enjoyed more success during the first decade of this century than it had during any decade of the previous century. This past decade began with lots of optimism from a franchise loaded with future stars. Ironically, though, it was a second crop of young stars that led the Philadelphia Phillies to only their second World Series championship and a subsequent appearance in the fall classic the following year.

In 2001, the Phillies were coming off of a 65-97 season, but had lots of young talent that looked ready to turn heads: the infield had Travis Lee, Marlon Anderson, Jimmy Rollins, and Scott Rolen; the outfield had Pat Burrell, Doug Glanville, and Bobby Abreu; and the starting rotation featured Robert Person, Omar Daal, and Randy Wolf, with Brandon Duckworth and Vicente Padilla on the rise. This lineup was a far cry from the dominant roster the Phillies would sport by the end of the decade.

Looking forward into this next decade, the Phillies are no longer a young up-and-coming team. This is a team in its prime, looking to extend its dominance for a few more years. Given the weaknesses of the NL East, it is difficult to see how the Phillies could possibly avoid another appearance in the post-season.

Philadelphia Phillies: The Greatest 6-4-3 Combination of All Time?

Assuming that Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard continue to produce at their current rates in 2010, and assuming that the Phillies, at the very least, once again make the playoffs, it is officially time to discuss the question of whether the Phillies have the greatest 6-4-3 combination of all time.

Rollins to Utley to Howard

The trio has been together since 2005, which makes this their sixth year in the league together. Contrary to what one (i.e., me) might think, six seasons together puts the Rollins-Utley-Howard trio in the upper echelon of 6-4-3 longevity; even the archetypal Tinkers to Evers to Chance combination on the early era Chicago Cubs was only a full time combo for six years, from 1903 to 1908. And while several trios have matched these guys in terms of longevity, there are probably only one or two historical 6-4-3 combinations that the Phillies could still be chasing in terms of overall production.

Ironically, both of those trios were together in the 1930s (I mean really, what are the odds of that): the New York Yankees of 1932 to 1938, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Frankie Crosetti; and the Detroit Tigers of 1933 to 1939, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Bill Rogel.

The Yankees squad features the greatest first baseman of all time in Gehrig and one of the all time great at second base in Lazzeri. That squad won four World Series titles and an MVP for Lou Gehrig (1936), and put both Gehrig and Lazzeri into the Hall of Fame. As a caveat, although the squad was together from 1932 to 1938, Crosetti was not a full-timer in 1932 or 1935.

The Tigers squad also featured all-time greats at first and second base in Greenberg and Gehringer, along with a very good shortstop in Rogel. The Tigers went to the World Series twice in this span, winning it all in 1935, and won two AL MVPís (Greenberg in 1935, Gehringer in 1937). Another caveat: during this period, Greenberg missed almost all of 1936 due to injury, and Rogell was not a full-timer in 1939.

A possible third trio in contention would be the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s, which featured Dave Concepcion and Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Tony Perez. That trio was together from 1972, when Morgan joined the Reds, to 1976, Perezís last season before going to the Expos, and produced two MVPís for Morgan and appeared in three World Series, winning two of them.

After those three, that is pretty much it. There were other great trios, to be sure, but those trios paled in both longevity and production: Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, and Pee Wee Reese only served together on the Brooklyn Dodgers for five years, from Hodgesí first year as a first baseman in 1948 to Robinsonís last year as a second baseman in 1952, and neither Hodges nor Reese measures up in this conversation. Mark Belanger, Davey Johnson and Boog Powell were only together from 1968 to 1972, and they had a great run, but they certainly donít measure up to these other teams.

Jimmie Foxx, Bobby Doerr, and Joe Cronin might have been one the greatest 6-4-3 combinations of all time, but they were together only four years, from 1938 to 1941. If I was going to take a 6-4-3 combination for three years, it might possibly be the Indiansí Omar Vizquel to Roberto Alomar to Jim Thome combo from 1999 to 2001, but their success was short-lived.

If I could only have a crew for a single season, that crew would no doubt be the Hall of Fame trio of Travis Jackson to Rogers Hornsby to Bill Terry combination on the 1927 New York Giants, who were together for only that year as Hornsby passed through for a single season.

And just for the Yankees fans (because no one else could ever possibly believe such a thing), Iíll mention the Derek Jeter to Chuck Knoblauch to Tino Martinez combination from 1998 to 2001.

At the end of the day, the Howard-Utley-Rollins trio is two seasons away from matching, at least in terms of longevity, anything any other great 6-4-3 combination has ever done. And once they get to the front of the pack in longevity, it will be hard to make a case that they are behind anyone by the Gehrig-Lazzeri-Crozetti trio. And the thing is, it would appear that these guys have more than just a couple of years remaining.

This is a pretty exciting time to be a Phillies fan.

The Philadelphia Phillies: The Best Starting Pitching in the National League?

The short answer to this question is: No. The title of Best Starting Pitching in the National League, without a doubt, goes to either the San Francisco Giants combination of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito, and Madison Bumgarner; or the St. Louis Cardinals with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny, and whatever over-the-hill, scrap-heap piece Dave Duncan decides to turn into a Cy Young candidate. Or maybe the Atlanta Braves, with Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Kenshin Kawakami.

But the Phillies are a lot closer than it may seem.

Obviously, the addition of Roy Halladay gives the Phils one of the gameís elite pitchers Ė a point that Phillies fans (or at least those who call into sports radio shows) donít seem to get. The complaining about getting rid of Cliff Lee in order to bring in Halladay has reached a fever pitch (to be fair, the complaining is really about getting rid of Lee instead of keeping him and also bringing in Halladay).

Mike Schmidt

On this point, Iíd like to say that I am becoming convinced that Philadelphia Phillies fans arenít just a little bit, how should I say, bitchy. This is the city that hates Donovan McNabb, one of the few quarterbacks in football history to take a team to five NFC Championships, because the Eagles havenít won a Super Bowl during his tenure. This city hates Allen Iverson. This city belittled an injured and slumping Jimmy Rollins in 2008, less than one year after the guy freakiní won the National League MVP. And forget about Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell; this is the city that hated Mike Schmidt.

But it gets worse: Two years ago, the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series on the strength of the heroic performances from several players, chiefly, Brad Lidge (no blown saves all season) and Cole Hamels (NLCS MVP, World Series MVP). One year later, when Lidge and Hamels both struggled with inconsistency, the Phillies fans were ready to fry these guys. And now, some of the Cliff Lee-Roy Halladay fallout has landed squarely on Hamels, whom many fans feel should have been sent to Seattle instead of Lee.

Seriously, folks, lighten up.

Roy Halladay

Anyway, back to Halladay. Last year the Phillies as a team had eight complete games; Halladay had nine. The Phillies as a team had five shutouts; Halladay had four. The Phillies' team leader in strikeouts had 168; Halladay had 208. Despite the fact that he threw 45 more innings than any other Phillie, Halladay had fewer walks (35) than five Phillies pitchers, including Chad Durbin, a reliever. In the last two seasons, Halladayís ERA has been 2.78 and 2.79 while pitching in the AL East. The Phillies havenít had a pitcher finish with an ERA at 2.79 or lower since Curt Schilling finished with a 2.35 in 1992.

The Phillies have acquired a pitcher the likes of whom theyíve never seen.

Combine Halladay with what the Phillies already have, and this could be a more complete team than it was in 2009. It is fair to assume that Hamels will be back to something better than his 2009 form, if not his actual 2008 form. J.A. Happ probably wonít be as awesome as he was in his 166.0 inning, 12-4, 2.93 ERA debut in 2009, but he is a 6-6 lefty who has pitched very well at every stage of the minor and major leagues; having Happ as a third starter is a major positive. Round out the rotation with Joe Blanton, a consistent 200 inning/4.00 ERA guy, and suddenly the Phillies might be able to matchup with the Giants, Cardinals, and Braves.

And for an offense-first team, that is shocking.

Philadelphia Phillies: Can This Offense Keep It Up?

As a measure of value, I think weíve all moved past the RBI. However, as a measure of the number of runs a team is scoring, the RBI has an almost direct correlation, and when a player on your team leads the league in RBI three years out of four, you can be pretty sure your team is scoring a lot of runs.

Three Quick Ryan Howard RBI Fun Facts:

1) Only seven players have ever led their league in RBI three years in a row: Cap Anson, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Medwick, Cecil Fielder, and George Foster. Ryan Howard takes his crack at it this year. Had Howard finished with one more RBI in 2008 to tie Matt Holliday, he would have become the first player ever to lead the league four years in a row.

2) Here is the list of players who, like Ryan Howard, have finished a season with 140 or more RBI three times: Al Simmons, Babe Ruth, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Juan Gonzalez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Lou Gehrig, Manny Ramirez, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Thompson, and Sammy Sosa. The only players ever to accomplish this four times are Ruth, Gehrig, Greenberg, and Foxx.

3) On the list of top ten RBI seasons in Phillies history, Ryan Howard is the only player to make the list after 1932. He is on the list three times.

Ryan Howard

The RBI facts are no doubt a tribute to Howard no matter how much you disregard the RBI as a measure of overall value. More importantly, they are also a tribute to a Phillies offense which has led the National League in runs per game in three out of the last five years and finished second the other two years.

Want another shocking run-scoring statistic? In 2009, four Phillies finished with 100 or more runs scored, which in and of itself would be amazing, but thereís more. Raul Ibanez missed 28 games and finished with 93 runs scored, while Jayson Werth finished just two runs shy of 100. These are boggling numbers Ė that the Phillies finished nine runs away from having six different players score 100 or more runs makes no sense.

Not only are the Phillies a truly dominant offense, but there doesnít appear to be any let up on the horizon. Jimmy Rollins, shockingly, is coming off of the worst year of his career; if he can get his batting average and on-base percentage back to the .275/.330 that he has averaged over his career, the offense will actually improve. Additionally, the Phillies replaced third baseman Pedro Feliz with former Phil Placido Polanco; as valuable as Felizís defense was to the Phillies in their two World Series runs, his offense was simply abysmal and Placido Polanco wonít hurt the lineup the way Feliz did.

The Phillies currently plan to hit Polanco second between Rollins and Utley, and move Shane Victorino down to seventh in the order. Assuming all are healthy, Ryan Howard should have no problem leading the NL in RBI once again.

Outlook on the Season

This will be the fifth year in a row that I have written the Philadelphia Phillies Spring Preview for BaseballEvolution.com, and I have always stopped short of saying that the Phillies were the team to beat. In 2006, I wrote:

Predicted 2006 Record: 86-76

The Phillies are a good team. They will win a lot of games, and if the Mets and Braves falter, they may be able to make a run at the division title. Their pitching is really not strong enough to carry them very far, despite the help their defense will provide, and they will probably need to make a move or two in order to make a serious run.

That year, the Phillies went 87-75 and on the strength of their offense while their pitching gave up the fourth most runs per game in the National League.

In 2007, I predicted that the Phillies would go 91-71 and finish second in the division, and wrote:

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.

The Phillies went 89-73 but managed to win the division after the New York Mets epic collapse.

In 2008, I wrote:

Outlook for the Season

Last season was a lot of fun here in Philadelphia Ė 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 Ė and are Ė 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 Ė if you donít 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, youíre crazy. The odds seem poor for a Phillies repeat in 2008.

The repeat collapse by the Mets that I doubted could happen kind of did happen: the Mets were up by three games on September 3rd, and up by a half game as a late as September 19th before the Mets took their second division title and ended up winning the World Series.

Phillies Team Capsule

So, in 2009, I wrote:

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.

And of course, the Phillies proved me both correct (in that they were clearly the most talented team in the NL East), and incorrect (in that they made it back to the World Series).

The point of all this is that, for my annual Philadelphia Phillies Outlook on the Season, the time for hedging, qualifying, debating, and equivocating is over. Taking a page from Jimmy Rollinsís book, I have only this to say:

The Phillies are the team to beat in 2010. It will take a miracle to keep them out of the playoffs, and only an injury to a key player will keep them out of the World Series.

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