2012 Record: 81-81, 3rd NL East
2012 Pythagorean Record: 81-81
Impact Player: 2B Chase Utley
Impact Pitcher: LHP Cliff Lee
Top Prospect: LHP Jesse Biddle
Significant Acquisitions: CF Ben Revere, 3B Michael Young, RF Delmon Young, RHP Mike Adams, LHP John Lannan, RHP Chad Durbin, C Humberto Quintero, OF Ender Inciarte, RHP Aaron Cook, CP Joe Mather
Significant Departures: 3B Placido Polanco, RHP Vance Worley, CP Ty Wigginton, RHP Michael Schwimer, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Josh Lindblom
“All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.” – Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Despite their complete disdain for analytics, the Philadelphia Phillies string of success over the past ten years or so has been impressive. From 2007-2011, the Phillies won five straight division titles, two National League pennants and a World Series in 2008. Under former successive GMs Pat Gillick and Ed Wade, the Phillies drafted as well as any team in baseball and loaded the roster with high-upside talent like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels. They also made savvy trades and free agent signings, acquiring the likes of Placido Polanco, Shane Victorino, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay.
But over the last few years, that core has crumbled with age and the once invincible Phillies have fallen hard. Current GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has tried to hang on too long and has made a number of questionable moves. There was the Ryan Howard extension, the Jonathan Papelbon contract and of course, the acquisitions of Delmon Young and Michael Young.
Suddenly, the once insuperable Roy Halladay is throwing 87 MPH, the back end of the rotation includes John Lannan, and the lineup features Michael Young as the projected number-three hitter. The idealistic among you might suggest that the inevitable decline is merely a symptom of a decade of sustained success, but the more realistic can look at Amaro and cast some of the blame his way for the state the Phillies currently find themselves.
It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. The Phillies still have arguably the best one-two punch in baseball at the top of their rotation in Lee and Hamels. I shouldn’t have to tell you to pay no attention to Lee’s paltry win total from last season, but a lot of people seem focused on the fact that he won only six games a year ago. Throwing that on its rightful place upon the garbage heap, you’ll notice that Lee still threw the highest percentage of strikes in baseball last year, struck out almost a better-per-inning and led the NL in walk-rate. According to Baseball Prospectus, he was the fifth-most valuable pitcher in baseball—even marginally more valuable than Cole Hamels. Hamels, meanwhile, was also excellent and is now signed for the next six seasons. The Phillies have named him the Opening Day starter after posting a 3.05 ERA and a 4.16 K/BB ratio.
The slow demise of Halladay has been a sad thing to watch. He spent last year battling a shoulder problem and made only 25 starts as a result—his lowest total since 2005—and had a 4.49 ERA, although his peripherals suggest he was actually much better. Reports are, however, that his fastball velocity is down in the mid-80s and his mechanics are out of whack. If he can’t regain some semblance of his former self, the Phillies could be in big trouble.
The back half of the rotation will be Kyle Kendrick and Lannan, neither of whom are particularly good. This team will live and die by its top three pitchers. Should any of them get hurt or suddenly become ineffective, things could get messy in a hurry.
The Phillies bullpen suffers from a similar affliction as the starting rotation. The top three pitchers are very good, but after that, things get thin quickly. Papelbon’s contract is one of the more foolish in baseball, but there’s no denying his track record as one of the very best relievers in the game. Last year was more of the same as he posted excellent peripherals and a 2.44 ERA in 70 innings. Setting him up will be free agent signing Mike Adams and dominating lefty Antonio Bastardo. Adams showed some signs of decline last year with Texas but was rewarded by Amaro with a two-year contract. Bastardo’s strikeout-rate, meanwhile, was third among NL relievers behind only Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman.
Left-hander Jeremy Horst should get his first chance at a full season in the Phillies bullpen in 2013. The 27-year-old posted a 1.15 ERA and decent peripherals in 31 1/3 innings last year, although he’ll need to lower his walk-rate. Right-handers Michael Stutes and Chad Durbin will join lefty Raul Valdes in rounding out the ‘pen. J.C. Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, Joe Savery, and B.J. Rosenberg could all see time in the Phillies relief corps this year but all of them have options and will likely start the year in AAA.
Somehow, the Phillies finished eighth in runs scored in the NL last season, but this year’s lineup is not nearly as talented. In 2012, Philadelphia had more than half a year from Victorino and Hunter Pence and they’ve ostensibly been replaced by rightfielder Delmon Young and centerfielder Ben Revere. Young will start the year on the DL after offseason ankle surgery and although he’s in on a cheap contract, his ceiling is a below average hitter who has no business holding a glove. Revere, meanwhile, derives almost all of his substantive value from his defense—he has almost no power to speak of.
Domonic Brown may finally get his chance at everyday at-bats and has had a terrific spring. If he can finally live up to his ceiling it will go a long way to making the Phillies respectable, but if he doesn’t, Laynce Nix and John Mayberry Jr ma get more at-bats than they warrant.
In the infield, Howard at first, Utley at second and Rollins at short have all been staples of the team for a long time, but are all either in sharp decline or injury plagued or both. Rollins is still a very valuable player who has probably become underrated, but he’s not what he used to be and a .316 on-base percentage from a leadoff hitter is nobody’s idea of good. Howard was awful after returning from his Achilles injury last season but he still hits for power. Unfortunately, he does nothing else well at this point. Utley is still an excellent hitter, but he can’t seem to stay on the field for more than half a year.
At third will be Michael Young who spent the better part of last year in the middle of a very good order in Texas—Ron Washington, y’all—but he’s a well-below average player at this point who should never be playing third base. For all the heart and soul he brings, Young is probably best suited as a pinch hitter at this point in his career.
Catcher Carlos Ruiz was tremendous last year, compiling a .325/.394/.540 slash line, but he’ll start the year suspended after being caught taking a banned substance found in ADD medication. Many players receive exemptions from the league to take this drug, but Ruiz never did and was caught twice. Instead of serving the standard 50-game suspension, he’ll only serve 25 games and should be back by mid-May. Veteran Humberto Quintero will take his spot on the roster and backup Erik Kratz will be the starter in the meantime.
Revere is an excellent defensive centerfielder which is good, because his expected corner outfielders are Young and Brown who are both terrible defensively. Both Nix and Mayberry are solid in the corners which will warrant them at least some playing time even if both Young and Brown somehow miraculously hit well. The best defender on the team is Freddy Galvis who will get his fair share of playing time spelling Utley and Young. There was a time when Utley and Rollins were good defensively and neither are awful, but age has begun to show. Ruiz is considered a good defender behind the plate.
The Phillies were a .500 team last season, their worst showing since 2002 and with the steady decline of Howard, Halladay, Utley and Rollins, things don’t look to be getting better. There’s also not much help on the way in the farm system since Amaro dealt away most of the talent to acquire the cornerstones of their former contendership. If the Phils fall out of contention early in the year, the only question will be, how long do they wait to trade Cliff Lee?
2013 Prediction: 75-87, 3rd NL East