In 2007, the Phillies won the NL East for the first of four consecutive years. Besides Cole Hamels and a couple relievers, they really couldn’t pitch at all. They won with their offense, more specifically by hitting a ton of home runs. They were second in the league in home runs in 2007 and 2008, third in 2009, ninth in 2010, and this season they’re fighting to stay in the upper half of the league. In 2010 and especially 2011, the balance has shifted. They now win with strong starting pitching and just hope the offense can be adequate.
What happened? It’s been a mix of personnel change and core players aging. From 2007-2009, Phillies left fielders, mainly Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez, hit 101 home runs. In 2010, they got 21 home runs from left fielders, and they’re on pace for about the same this season, a clear decline in power. Right field is on pace for about 21 home runs too, and the Phillies are used to getting much more power from that position too. From 2007 to 2010, Phillies right fielders, Shane Victorino for one year and mostly Jayson Werth since, hit 107 home runs. The corner outfielders are traditionally power positions, and they’ve been lacking in both spots this season.
In their recent run of success, the Phillies have enjoyed well above average production from the middle infield, typically seen as defensive positions. In 2007, Jimmy Rollins hit 30 home runs and won NL MVP. In the three and a half years since then, Rollins has only hit 47 home runs, and his replacements while he’s been on the DL haven’t added much either. His double play partner never won an MVP, but Chase Utley put up MVP-caliber numbers while playing great defense from 2005-2009. In 2007, he hit 22 home runs in just 132 games, and he combined for 64 home runs the next two seasons. Over the past year in a half, whether it’s the injuries he’s battled or just a player that plays the game extremely hard wearing down, his power has declined. In 152 games between 2010 and 2011, Utley has just 20 home runs.
With decreasing power up and down the lineup, a team that has relied on the home run to score runs for so long has struggled in recent times. It’s important to keep in mind that offense and power are down across the league since 2010, but it’s still clear the Phillies could stand to improve the lineup to increase their chances of winning a World Series this year and extending their window to contend. Since this is supposed to focus on the minor leagues, this will be less about the present and more on the long term outlook on power hitting in the organization. Note: All home run totals and class rankings were current as of 7/4 when I originally totaled everything. Individual stats are current as of 7/6.
Lehigh Valley HR Leaders
Brandon Moss, 14 in 293 PA
Jeff Larish, 13 in 275 PA
Erik Kratz, 11 in 223 PA
Tagg Bozied, 9 in 147 PA
In terms of long term future, that’s not a promising group. Brandon Moss is the youngest on that list at 27 years old, and his greatest career accomplishment to date is being involved in the Manny Ramirez trade in 2008. He has a .688 OPS in 743 ML PA with Boston and Pittsburgh, and his slugging continuously dropped in the majors since he was first called up in 2007. That’s not acceptable for a major league corner outfielder, so at this point, his ceiling is probably an occasional player that comes off an ML bench. Larish and Kratz probably offer the same potential. Larish has 276 career ML PA’s, and Kratz had 36 last year as a 30 year old rookie.
In terms of prospects, the IronPigs roster doesn’t have much to look forward to. We’ve all seen what John Mayberry can do at this point, and he’s clearly not an everyday player. His speed, defense and occasional power can be useful off the bench, but he gets exposed if he starts too often. A slightly younger player recently promoted to AAA also has ML bench potential, and that’s Cody Overbeck. He hasn’t gotten off to a good start with the IronPigs, but he has never gotten off to good starts after promotions. He can hit fastballs and not much else, but that can still get players to the majors. His flexibility to play (and I use the term play loosely) all four corner positions gives him an edge over someone like Matt Rizzotti at AA.
Reading HR Leaders
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