I hate to say 'I told you so', but...
Oh, who am I kidding? I love to say I told you so.
There are few experiences which so excite and gratify an engineer or a baseball writer, and I fancy myself a bit of both, as being correct about something. Excepting perhaps getting to rub everyone else's noses in it later, when the truth of it is demonstrated.
And so, with the Phillies at long last in the playoffs, I get a chance to gloat, just a bit, as I look back on my 2007 Philadelphia season preview and see how smart I really was.
I suggested that the Phillies hoped-for regular lineup would be:
Rod Barajas, C
Ryan Howard, 1B
Chase Utley, 2B
Wes Helms, 3B
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Pat Burrell, LF
Aaron Rowand, CF
Shane Victorino, RF
I suggested, however, my skepticism at Helms keeping the 3B job, and in fact he lost it to Dobbs by mid-season, though he started only four fewer games there than Dobbs, and only one more than Abraham Nunez. I also suggested that, "Carlos’ [Ruiz'] minor league numbers...suggest that he can be a contributor at this level, if he gets a chance to play" and "I expect that it’s just a matter of time before Ruiz supplants Barajas in the starter’s role", which he did, and he did.
In reality, the most common lineup used was this one, though it only happened 15 times:
Though I did not project any numbers for Ruiz, if I had, I would have guessed that he would hit in the .280ish range, when in reality he hit only .259, but with doubles power and decent patiance, but few homers.
Ryan Howard, I suggested, was, "...a virtual lock to hit 40+ homers, 25 doubles and drive in 110 runs or more." Howard actually hit 47 homers, 26 doubles and drove in 136 runs, though he also set a new record by striking out 199 times.
I also said that, "...there’s no reason to think [Chase Utley] can’t do it again" in reference to his impressive 2006 campaign. In reality, he improved upon his 2006 numbers substantially, raising his batting average by about 20 points, his OBP by about 30 points and his slugging percentage by almost 40 points. A broken bone in his hand robbed him of a month's worth of games (and probably an MVP Award), so his counting stats did not notably increase, but he was a much better player this year when healthy, which is no small accomplishment. I did not foresee this drastic improvement, I will admit.
I had pencilled Wes Helms into the 3B spot in the lineup, suggesting that his true ability is "probably hitting about .270/.340/.450 and playing ugly defense at third base." In reality, he hit only .246/.297/.368 and lost his regular job by mid-May. He did, however, make 9 errors and start only 3 double plays in 68 games at the hot corner, and a .932 fielding percentage that would have roughly approximated the second worst mark in the majors if he'd had enough playing time to qualify for the list, so i was right about that much. With that said, it should be noted that Brewers' Rookie of the Year candidate Ryan Braun gave renewed meaning to the phrase "ugly defense". He made 26 errors and a had a .895 fielding percentage, the worst in MLB since 1984, when Joel Youngblood had an .887 mark in 117 games at third, the first and last time in his 14-year career in which he was used as a regular third-sacker.
Helms' replacement, Greg Dobbs, I thought could hit ".290/.330/.450", and he actually hit .272/.330/.451, so I'd have to call that a minor victory.
I did not expect Jimmy Rollins to continue to develop, expecially his power, as he did, and I had hoped that if he continued to smack the longball as he had, that they would put him lower in the lineup to help drive in more runs. He did bat 3rd 23 times, especially when Utley was on the DL, but this did not stick, as the Phillies ended up with lots of power hitters, and wanted to keep their speed at the top of the lineup. Chalk that up to thewhims of narrow minded "baseball men" like Charlie Manuel or the lack of a viable alternative, your pick.
In any case, Rollins nearly matched his career best with a .344 OBP, and did set career highs with a .296 batting average, .531 slugging percentage, .875 OPS, 94 RBIs, 30 homers, 212 hits (2nd in the NL), 139 runs and 20 triples, both of which led the NL. He also stole 41 bases and got caught only 6 times, hit 38 doubles. He joined a handful of other players (Willie Mays in 1957, Frank Schulte in 1911, and Curtis Granderson this year) as the only ones in history with 20 each of homers, doubles, steals and triples. Rollins is the third of Philadelphia's viable MVP candidates, and would be the best choice of the three, though not as good a choice as Hanley Ramirez, or Matt Holliday or Prince Fielder or David Wright, all of whom created more runs than J-Roll.
Getting back to gloating...I had said about Pat Burrell, "...if you just let him play every day, he’ll hit .260 with patience and power, and will easily be one of the five most valuable left fielders in major league baseball." Burrell in fact hit .256/.400/.502 with 30 homers,97 RBIs, a career high 113 walks and according to Baseball Prospectus, was the 9th most valuable LF in MLB, by VORP. If Carl Crawford, Alfonso Soriano and Eric Byrnes had been centerfielders instead of left fielders, as I had expected, Burrell would have ranked 6th. Thank you, thankyouverymuch.
I said of Aaron Rowand, "it’s unreasonable to think that he’ll do much more than .275/.335/.450." Well, he actually hit .311/.376/.518 with 27 homers, 45 doubles, 105 runs and 89 RBIs. I missed that one. BIG time.
Regarding Shane Victorino, I warned fans not to, "be surprised if he manages to hit .310+ with 15 homers, 30 doubles and 25 steals, and if he can make some highlight-reel plays in center or right, maybe even winning a Gold Glove." In fact, Victorino hit .281 with 12 homers, 23 doubles sand 37 steals, closer to Baseball Prospectus' projection for him (.293, 13 homers, 24 doubles, but only 9 steals). Having not heard anything about him on highlight reels or in conversations around water coolers, I'm guessing that he'll have to wait at least anothe ryear for that Gold Glove.
As far as the Phillies pitching staff, I don't think anybody accurately predicted everything that went wrong there. How could you? How could you guess that Brett Myers, the team's ace in 2005-06, with no notable injury history, would spend most of the year in the bullpen as a closer, and the rest of it on the DL? That the newly acquired Freddy Garcia, who had averaged 220 innings and 15 wins per season for the last six years, would win one game, pitching only 58 innings with a 5.90 ERA and spend almost 2/3 of the year on the DL? That the Phillies would use 13 different starting pitchers? You couldn't.
But some things were fairly predictable.
I expected Jamie Moyer to "implode" though I did not define this. In fact, while his ERA shot up to 5.01, about 9% worse than the NL average, he did make 33 starts, win 14 games and keep the team in contention with a few decent starts in September, including 5.1 shutout innings yesterday in the game that clinched the NL East Division title for them. I expected him to retire by mid season, so I'm eating cro on this one as well, I must admit.
Cole Hamels, I had said, "could win 15 games and strikeout 200 batters if he stays healthy all year," though I admittedly thought this unlikely. In fact, hamels did win 15 games, but struck out only 177 batters, owing to the fact that he missed a month due to injury between mid-August and mid-September, and got only 28 starts and 183 innings.
Adam Eaton, I expected, would pitch horrendously and would lose his job inside of a month or two, but the Fates, the injuries, and the $25 million contract he signed conspired to make a fool of me once again (as though I needed the help!). As bad as Eaton was, and he was really, really bad (6.29 ERA in 161.2 innings), they simply could not afford to bench him. Garcia was injured, Myers was injured, and Jon Lieber didn't pitch after June 20th. There literally was nobody else to pitch on those days, as they had already bled their farm system dry of anyone who was likely to help, not to mention several who were (and did) not. Four rookies started one (and only one) game, none of whom got the win).
Without even an assortment of crummy re-treads in AAA from which to choose, the Phillies had to resort to trading for other teams' crummy re-treads, hence J.D. Durbin and Kyle Lohse. They dipped down to AA and brought up the surprisingly helpful Kyle Kendrick, who won 10 games but could be a flash in the pan, given his low strikeout rate. they enter the playoffs with Moyer, Hamels, Kendrick and Lohse, with (God help them) Eaton waiting in the wings in case anyone gets hurt and needs someone to come in and give up their runs for them.
As for the bullpen, this too was something of a mess. Tom Gordon got hurt, as I expected, and is the primary setup man for Myers. Geoff Geary came back to earth, but was still a useful pitcher, as I expected, and Ryan madson, left alone to pitch in relief, was the best pitcher in the bullpen for the first half of the year before getting hurt. Clay Condrey pitched exactly like you'd expect for a 30-something retread with lackluster careers in both the majors and the minors. He helped out where he could, which wasn't much.
Matt Smith, whom I had expected to be the #1 LOOGy, pitched badly and then went back to AAA, where he got hurt, too. Antonio Alfonseca, about whom I had said, "Unfortunately, neither his elbow, nor his body (all 250+ pounds of it) are in very good shape, and I’ll be very surprised if he can hang on for more than a month or two," is somehow still on the Phillies roster, despite his 5.44 ERA and 1.85 WHIP. I was right: I am surprised.
I estimated that the Phillies were, "a good shot at 90+ wins and a Wild Card, maybe even a division title," and specifically said that they would win 91 games, the Wild Card, and lose to Chicago in the NLDS. In actuality, of course, they won 89 games and the division (who knew that the Mets would tank so badly?) and are playing either the Padres or Rockies in the NLDS, not the Cubs, depending on whomever wins tonight's game.
So I'm picking the Cubs to beat them in the NL Championship Series.