03 March 2008

2008 Philadelphia Phillies Preview

But first, a recap of 2007...

What went right?


They won the NL East and therefore got into the playoffs for the first time since 1993!

Jimmy Rollins won the NL MVP Award that should have gone to Hanley Ramirez or David Wright. Ryan Howard followed up his 2006 MVP award nicely, and might have netted another one if he'd been healthy all year. Chase Utley finished 8th in the voting, and was better than either of them, though he missed 30 games with an injury.

Pat Burrell heald (almost perfectly) steady from his solid 2006 campaign. Aaron Rowand set career personal highs in Games, At-Bats, Runs, Hits, Doubles, Homers, Walks RBIs, OBP, Total Bases (and strikeouts). The bench was mostly solid, with Greg Dobbs, Jayson Werth and Tadahito Iguchi, who were all picked up for nothing or something very close to that, being particularly good.

Youngsters Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick combined to go 25-9.

What went wrong?

Pretty much everything to do with the pitching, and anyone who had anything to do with third base.

Brett Myers adapted well to closing after struggling through a few rough starts in April, but his work in that role was forced when Tom Gordon got injured and everyone else in the bullpen forgot how to get guys out. Taking the guy who should have been your best starter and turning him into a reliever cannot be considered a victory in any sense.

Jamie Moyer won 14 games, but he also lost 12 and had an ERA of 5.01. Adam Eaton "won" 10 games, but his 6.29 ERA and 30 homers allowed in 161 innings are much more telling of his season. By the end of June, both Freddy Garcia and Jon Leiber were gone for good, and by the end of July, so was Ryan Madson.

Third base was a revolving door, through which Charlie Manuel deperately sent various players to their doom. Abraham Nunez was almost comically bad (.234/.318/.282 with zero homers in 252 at-bats) and Wes Helms was not much better (.246/.297/.368 in 280 at-bats). Dobbs was decent, but didn't get enough playing time.

Ryan Howard, though he adapted well to Jan's old job, set a new MLB record by striking out 199 times.

The team, as a whole, spent it's whole stash trying to get into the playoffs and then had nothing left, and got swept out by the red-hot Rockies.

Looking ahead...

There have been some significant turnovers for the Phillies in the 2007-08 offseason.

The Offense:
...will be hampered both by its losses and its acquisitions, but the Phils probably will still be one of the top 5 hitting teams in all of MLB.

Rowand's big year netted him a 5-year, $60 million contract from the Giants, which was WAY more than Philly (or anyone else) was willing to pay. Rowand's departure, however, doesn't hurt nearly as much as the arrival of thirdbaseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz got a 2-year, $8.5M contract and, it is hoped he will provide "stability" to the third base situation. "Stability" being a euphemism for "mediocrity" in this case. He offers no more quality than incumbent Greg Dobbs did, but he comes with ten times the pricetag.

Another new acquisition, Geoff Jenkins, has a little power but not much else to offer. He can be decent as the lefty-hitting half of a platoon with Werth in RF, but probably isn't worth the $13 million they've promised him for 2008-09.

Carlos Ruiz, after a solid 2/3 of a season in 2007, should have a stranglehold on the starting catcher's job, and while he's not likely to be confused with Mike Piazza or even Joe Mauer, he should do well enough. Baseball prospectus has him projected to hit .270/.341/.413 in 389 at-bats, and that sounds about right, though I would give him a little more playing time, now that Rod barajas is out of the picture.

The rest of the offese, assuming everyone's healthy, should be great. Howard and Utley and Rollins are all MVP-type players, and more than make up for OM/3B Feliz. Burrell is as solid a left fielder as any in baseball, and Shane Victorino's proved that he can play every day. His modest offensive skills and exceptional speed will play better in CF than they did in right anyway.

The bench, while not spectacular on offense, has some worth (and one Werth!). Chris Coste can hit a little as he backs up Ruiz. Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs can play either corner once in a while, though hopefully neither will start in Howard's place unless they need a DH. Werth showed that he's healthy for once, and So Taguchi can be a useful pinch hitter or defensive replacement for any of the corner outfielders.


The Phillies will do well to let Brett Myers start and only start this year. The rotation is thin enough without turning a 200-inning pitcher into a 59-inning pitcher. Hopefully he bounces back and wins 15 games with a 3.85-ish ERA. Cole Hamels did exactly that last year but still needs to prove he's able to stay healthy if he wants the team to give him the kind of respect (read: money) he thinks he deserves.

Kyle Kendrick impressed a lot of people last year, but he'll need to prove his performance wasn't a fluke. Last year was the first of his 5-year pro career higher than A-Ball. he was doing well enough in AA that the desperate Phils gave him a shot in the majors, and he managed to stick, but the smart guys over at Baseball Prosectus have him projected for a 9-11 record and a 5.35 ERA this year.

The rest of the rotation should be just that: rotating. The nominal 4th and 5th starters are 45-year old Jamie Moyer and (God help them) Adam Eaton. Moyer was at least durable, if not "good" last year, and the Phillies could do worse than to have a guy like him as their #5 starter, someone who can keep the team in games and let the mashers win it against the soft underbelly of the opposition's rotation.

But Eaton? He was dreadful last season, and the Phillies are stuck with him for two more. I can't see him pitching like he did last year and staying employed for the whole year. They'd be better served giving someone from their AAA team a long look, someone like John Ennis or J.A. Happ. Even the Dust-Bin Durbins (J.D. and Chad, no relation) might be better than Eaton, who keeps trying to prove he can't pitch, but nobody wants to believe him. In any case, the Phillies have no shot at repeating as the Wild Card if they don't do something to shore up the pitching rotation.

The Bullpen should be better than the rotation, but until they get Brad Lidge back healthy, the whole group is weakened. Lidge's knee surgery makes Tom Gordon the closer again, temporarily, which makes Ryan Madson the primary right-handed setup man instead of the long-man. That, in turn, forces them to use the likes of Clay Condrey, Scott Matthieson, and the Dust-Bin Durbins more often. At least they've got J.C. Romero, one of the more consistent lefty relievers in the majors.


I have a hard time imagining that the Phillies offense can compensate for their lack of pitching. If the chances of Cole Hamels staying healthy enough to pitch 200+ innings and win 15+ games are slim, then the chances of Brett Myers rebounding to again be one of the 10 or 15 best starters in the NL are all but nonexistent. A dozen wins and an ERA around 4.25 might be more realistic, and that just won't be enough. Kendrick's future is anybody's guess, and the rest of the rotation is likely to be a revolving door of guys with ERAs on the wrong side of 5.00, as they were last year. The bullpen can't make up for that, and they don't have the minor league talent to either plug in or trade for another solid starter.

My best guess is something like 84-78, no playoffs.

The Wild Card will come out of the NL West.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Anonymous said...

The boys of summer must be from new york, because you boys certantly look at the Phillies through blue and orange lenses. If Feliz hits with half the power that he did last season, that is an upgrade at third base. Jenkins has a career average of .277, not far off Rowands .286, and should hit 20 HRs in bandbox CBP. The Phillies will have as as, if not better offense than it did last year, especially if Pat Burell can continue his resurgence as of the second half of last season. The 1-2 punch at top of the Phillies rotation is clearly the best in the Division, and Moyer is not the question mark he is made out to be, he will give the team 200 innings and a chance to win each game he starts.

Travis M. Nelson said...

Well, yes, I grew up near New York, but I'm a Yankee fan, not a Mets fan. I live near Philly now, but I don't give a damn whether the Phillies win or not, I just don't think they're going to.

Feliz is a lousy hitter who never walks. His power is his only asset, and they already had it in Dobbs. The defensive improvement isn't worth $4 million. Jenkins is decent, but old, and only useful against righties.

Myers and Hamels the best 1-2 in the NL East? Would you take them over Smoltz and Hudson this year? Over Johan Santana and John Maine? More important, would you take the rest of the Phillies rotation over Pedro Martinez, Orlando Hernandez and Oliver Perez? I sure as hell wouldn't.

Anonymous said...

It's hard for me to imagine how the phillies would be a worse team than last season. Rowand had a good season, leading NL CFs in OPS, but I think production from feliz+ platoon in rf+ 6 extra weeks from utley and howard should realistically make up for gap in offense provided by rowand over Victorino in CF.

Pitching-wise, its obvious that phillies are the weakest of the 3 nl east contenders. But they did win the division last season with the same broken staff and pen. And I believe that both have improved dramatically. The rotation is much better with myers in it. Kendrick is a crap shoot, but i think hamels and myers winning 27 games as you suggest is overly conservative. Eaton won 10 games, I think myers is good for more than 12 if he is healthy all season.

Pen-wise, the phillies are weak but still improved a lot over the course of the season. The phillies used over 20 different relievers during the season. Most were career minor leaguers who came up, got beat bad, and then disappeared. Do I feel completely secure handing the ball to gordon and lidge every night? of course not. But i think it is clear that this year's pen is both better and will benefit from better reserves, including most of the phillies top pitching prospects who are only a phone call away. Mathieson, Outman, Carassco, Bisenius...last year, these prospects were still in single A.

Anonymous said...

I'd take a good turkey club sandwich over Pedro, El Duque, and Oliver Perez down the stretch run.

Pedro and El Duque are both strictly five or six-inning pitchers at this point in their careers, much like Moyer. Meanwhile, people seem to forget that Oliver Perez was salvaged from obscurity in Pittsburgh in 2006. His bad mechanics and wildness give him a 50/50 shot of repeating 2006 rather than 2007.

Santana will no doubt make them better, but now that they sold the farm for him, who do they hand the ball off to in August when at least two of their starters are down? There's a reason they collapsed last September, and adding Johan changes a fifth of that equation.

And finally, there's the lingering thought that strikes fear into the hearts of all Mets' fans: What if Johan pulls a Randy Johnson in New York? Remember, he's not in Kans...er...Minnesota anymore. It wouldn't be the first time a pitcher bombed in the Big Apple.

Travis M. Nelson said...

I think it's dangerous to think of "stability" and "quality" as the same thing. Just because you'll have the same guy playing 3B all year doesn't mean you've improved. Philly 3Bs last year combined to "hit" .255/.321/.368 while Feliz, if you adjust for the change in parks, would have hit(according to baseballreference.com) .258/.296/.430 in Philly last year. That's basically a wash, maybe 5 runs over the course of the year, half a win.

As for Utley, sure, hopefully they have him for a full season, but is it really reasonable to expect him to hit .332 again? Really, there's nowhere to go but down from there. He should still be the best second baseman in the NL, just not quite as good, because almost nobody ever does that two years in a row. And Howard only missed 18 games last year. At best you'll get two more weeks with his bat, not 6.

The rotation is a big question mark, because there's nobody in it that is a "sure thing" even granting that sch a thing doesn't really exist anyway. Hamels is the closest, but he's had an injury history that should make you nervous. Myers should be very good again, but coming back and trying to pitch a full season, and do it well, after spending a year in the pen is no easy task.

And after that, who knows? Even if they can get 30 wins from Myers and Hamels, they'll be lucky to get 25 more out of the rest of the rotation comnbined.

Kendrick pitched way over his head last year. Jamie Moyer's 45 and not going to last forever, even in the minimally useful role he's played recently.

Eaton "won" 10 games in spite of himself last year. Look at his game log:
He had three "wins" in which he allowed 4 earned runs in 6 innings (for a 6.00 ERA), another one in which he allwed 3 ER in 5 innings (with 5 walks!) and another in which he allowed 6 Earned Runs in 5 innings. That basically means that he owes half of those ten wins to the offense and the bullpen more than he does anything he did himself. Not to mention that he had aonother 10 games with a combined 5.64 ERA in which he did not get a decision, but could easily have garnered a loss. (And for the record, only one of those Losses was a Quality Start).

And the names of the minor leaguers you mention don't seem to me like they'll be much better. Most of them are projected to post an ERA around 6 this year, and the ones that aren't can't make up for the fact that 60% of the starting rotation won't make it past the 5th inning most nights.

Anonymous said...

I tend to mostly agree with your assessment Travis, however, I disagree with you when you say that the 3-4-5 of the rotation will be lucky to win 25 games. I think the 3-4-5 are a shoe in to win 30 with 35 wins being easily within reach. Those pitchers are bad, however, they were also bad last year and look at the win totals. This has more to do with our offense then it does with the quality of our pitching. Eaton won 10 games last year! If Eaton can do it, three random guys can certainly do it this year...

Travis M. Nelson said...

Since the end of WWII, there have been 15 pitchers who "won" 10 games or more with an ERA over 6.00. Nobody has done it twice. Among the 15...

...two o fthem did it last year, Eaton and Byung Hyun Kim, so we don't know how they're going to turn out.

...another one, Jason Marquis, did it in 2006. He won 12 games last year but we don't know what he's going to do after this.

...and another one, LaTroy hawkins, was turned exclusively into a reliever (and not a bad one at that).

That means that there were 11 others who remained at least part-time starters. Those 11 pitchers averaged 5.5 Wins in the year after they won 10 with a 6+ ERA.

These included Rockies Pedro Astacio and Brian Bohannon. The former won 17 games the next year, again with a high ERA, but tha's the exception. Bohannon won 12 games the following year but was out of baseball the next season.

...Chris Carpenter won 11 games the next year and eventuially got himself a Cy Young Award, though he's hurt right now.

...and nobody from the rest (Dave Burba, Darren Oliver, Ryan Drese, Dave Mlicki, Ramon Martinez, Colby Lewis, Mike Morgan, Jason Dickson) wom\n more thn 5 games the following season, or averaged more than 7 wins per season for the rest of their careers. Most were out of MLB within two or three seasons.

I'd say the chances of Eaton turning into the second-coming of Chris Carpenter, or for that matter, Brian Bohannon, are pretty slim.