2012 in review
Record: 81-81 (81-81 Pythagorean)
684 runs scored (8th in NL)
680 runs allowed (8th in NL)
Big Offseason Moves
Traded Vance Worley and Trevor May to Minnesota for Ben Revere. Acquired Michael Young from Texas for Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla. Signed free agents Mike Adams, John Lannan and Delmon Young. Lost Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Ty Wigginton and Nate Schierholtz.
The Phillies entered the offseason with a gaping hole or three in the outfield and many expected them to land one of the big free-agent center fielders, Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton or Michael Bourn. Instead, they played it fiscally conservative and traded for Twins speedster Ben Revere, who brings, well, speed and defense. He has no power and doesn't walk much (29 freebies in 553 plate appearances), so he has to hit close to .300 to have any offensive value. He hit .294 with the Twins and Baseball-Reference.com rated his WAR at 2.4. That looks like a good deal for the Phillies, given May's wildness in the minors.
The other deals are more questionable. Michael Young is coming off an awful season with the Rangers, hitting an empty .277 BA/.312 OBP/.370 SLG. He did hit a fluky .338 two years ago, so maybe there's something left in the bat. His defensive metrics have been awful for years now, so the Phillies will definitely miss Placido Polanco's glove at third.
At least you can see hope in that Young. The other Young is just a bad player. Delmon Young can hit lefties a little, but he's a terrible defender, can't run, doesn't draw walks and doesn't have enough power for a player with his limited skill set. Hard to believe this is the guy who was once considered the top prospect in the game. He cost the Phillies only $750,000 plus incentives, but when those incentives include a weight bonus, it's probably not a good sign.
Lannan got pushed out of the Nationals' rotation a year ago. He's a finesse lefty who needs a good infield defense behind him; he's not going to get that in Young and Ryan Howard, and who knows how much range Chase Utley still has left after all his injuries. Adams had been one of baseball's premier setup guys but had a mediocre year with the Rangers.
In the end, it's a mixed series of moves by Ruben Amaro. I like the Revere trade to bring some young legs to the outfield, but the Youngs are more likely to be a disaster than a positive.
In winning five straight NL East titles, Charlie Manuel had the luxury of running out a lineup that included Howard and Jimmy Rollins, two MVP winners, and Utley, the best player of the three. Now they're all on the wrong side of 30 and not the players they once were.
Let's start with Rollins. At least he played 156 games. He still has good pop -- 23 home runs, 33 doubles -- and stole 30 bases in 35 attempts. Maybe he has lost a step on defense (ignore the Gold Glove he won; he's not the best defensive shortstop in the NL) and he was never a great OBP guy anyway, but he's the best bet of the three to stay healthy and have a good season.
Utley, like Rollins, is 34, but he hasn't played more than 115 games since 2009. He still produces when he's out there -- .256/.365/.429 and good defensive metrics -- if he can just stay healthy.
Howard is the biggest question mark. He has been in slight decline for years now and when he returned from that torn Achilles tendon suffered in the 2011 postseason, he struggled, hitting just .219. The unknown is whether that was residue from rust and the injury, or whether he's going to be a .230 hitter now. Even when healthy in 2011, he created about 97 runs; a decent total but a far cry from the 134 he averaged from 2006 to 2009.
Carlos Ruiz was the guy who carried the Phillies' offense much of the year. He'll miss the first 25 games after being suspended for using the ADHD drug Adderall.
The glass-half-full theory points out the Phillies finished eighth in runs even though Howard and Utley combined to miss more than half their games. Get those back -- even if they're not the Howard and Utley of a few years ago -- and the Phillies should move up in the runs column. The glass-half-empty theory points out that Ruiz is due for a regression, Delmon Young is a big downgrade from Hunter Pence and Michael Young may not provide any more offense than Polanco gave last year.
I am worried about the defense. The Phillies will be dreadful at four positions -- first, third, left and right. The Phillies were 19th in defensive runs saved a year ago with minus-8. I'll be surprised if they fare that well again.
Overall, I can't give this group anything better than a C. Too many age and health issues and too many Youngs.
Luckily the Phillies still have three guys named Hamels, Lee and Halladay.
Cole Hamels has a big new contract and essentially now carries the title of staff ace after Halladay's 4.49 ERA season. Hamels owns a 2.95 ERA over the past three seasons -- 11th among all pitchers with at least 500 innings. But the gap from No. 4 -- teammate Cliff Lee at 2.89 -- to Hamels is insignificant. He has made 30-plus starts the past five seasons and he should once again be a Cy Young contender.
Lee had one of the strangest seasons a starter has ever had, winning just six games despite making 30 starts and posting a 3.16 ERA. We hopped into the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index to see how many pitchers had pitched at least 200 innings, had an ERA under 3.25 and won six or fewer games. There were 11 guys, but eight from 1917 or earlier. Besides Lee, the other two were Bob Knepper of the 1983 Astros (6-13, 3.19) and Joey Hamilton of the 1995 Padres (6-9, 3.08). Anyway, Lee is still a phenomenal pitcher, leading the NL in fewest walks per nine and strikeout/walk ratio. Expect a lot more than six wins this year.
The key to the rotation -- and perhaps the Phillies' season -- is Halladay. After finishing in the top five of the Cy Young voting the previous six seasons, he made just 25 starts while battling nagging injuries. As Jayson Stark wrote on Wednesday, it's a defining season in his Hall of Fame career. His peripherals last year were still excellent. Yes, he turns 36 in May. Too old for another big season? I don't think so.
Lannan and Kyle Kendrick are decent 4-5 types (especially when your top three are Hamels, Lee and Halladay), and while you don't expect big things from them, I do expect big things from a bullpen that could be one of the best in the league. The 'pen was a disaster early on for Philly, in part because of some blowups, in part because of Manuel's poor use of his resources. But the bullpen was much better in the second half as guys like Jeremy Horst (1.15 ERA, 40 K's in 31.1 innings) and Jacob Diekman (3.95 ERA, 35 K's in 27.1 innings) showed promise. In the end, the 'pen finished with the best strikeout rate in the NL. Add in a solid closer in Papelbon, Adams, Antonio Bastardo, Raul Valdes (35/5 strikeout/walk ratio) and some other intriguing arms and the bullpen should be a big positive.
Overall, I'm knocking the staff down half a grade only because of concern about Halladay's return to supreme form. But it's a staff that could make the Phillies contenders.
Heat Map to Watch
Every hitter knows Hamels has one of the best changeups around. They still have trouble hitting it. It's his big strikeout pitch against right-handers and you can see he puts it low and away. Righties hit .236 with 76 strikeouts in 221 PAs ending with the changeup. It's the pitch that got Hamels a $144 million contract.
After they watched their team drop from 102 wins to 81 and then saw an uninspiring offseason, there seems to be a bit of angst in the air around Phillies fans. Like Red Sox fans, they've learned that once you've won you expect to win every year.
It's not that easy, of course. There certainly is upside here with the starting pitching trio, but even an improved Halladay won't be worth 10 wins by himself. The Phillies will need to get better production from several other players to get to 90 wins. It could happen; maybe Utley plays 140 games and maybe Howard slams 35 home runs and maybe Michael Young hits .300. I'm not sure I see it. I think the Phillies win 85 to 87 games, leaving them trailing the Nationals and Braves in the NL East.