By Barry Jeffrey Jr.
Spring Training is finally here, so it is time to break down the 2011 Phillies, Spring Training version.
Additions: LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Eddie Bonine, RHP Brian Bass, LHP Ryan Feierabend, LHP Dan Meyer, LHP Juan Perez, RHP Jason Grilli, OF-1B Brandon Moss, 1B-3B-OF Jeff Larish, 1B-3B-OF Rob Quinlan, 2B-OF-3B Delwyn Young, OF Cory Sullivan, IF-OF Mike Martinez (Rule 5), C Eric Kraatz, OF Mike Miller, RHP Matt Anderson, 3B Coach Juan Samuel
Subtractions: OF Jayson Werth, LHP Jamie Moyer, RHP Chad Durbin, 1B-3B Greg Dobbs, LHP Sergio Escalona, LHP Nate Robertson, 1B Mike Sweeney, C Paul Hoover, 1B Andy Tracy, 1B Coach Davey Lopes
Re-signings: RHP Jose Contreras, LHP J.C. Romero, OF Rich Thompson, OF-1B Tagg Bozied, C Dane Sardinha, RHP Nate Bump, 3B Travis Mattair, OF Jeremy Sladen
The defending NL East Division Champions are looking to rebound from the first season since 2007 where they were not the National League’s representative in the World Series. Despite various offensive and injury woes throughout the 2010 season, the Phillies still finished with the best record in baseball at the end of the regular season. They continued to show why they were the team to beat sweeping the young and up coming New Red Machine. Then they ran into the wall called the Giants pitching staff.
Looking to rebound and knowing that one of their better players was probably leaving the team the Phillies figured they needed to make a splash in the offseason, and that’s exactly what they did.
Let’s look at these 2011 Phillies.
The Phillies much vaunted offense sputtered most of 2010 being shutout 12 times throughout the season. Included in those 12 shutouts were a nightmare 3 straight shutouts to the lowly Mets. Injury was somewhat a factor, but not the only one. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, and Shane Victorino all spent time on the disabled list with various ailments. Injuries not withstanding, Howard and Utley were both having uncharacteristic years. Howard’s power numbers and walks were both down. Chase Utley’s struggled in different facets of his game. Jayson Werth was streaky at times, and with RISP he was downright horrible. Raul Ibanez was looking every bit like his age during the first half of the season. Shane Victorino thought he was a power hitter and while he did contribute more home runs, he also contributed many more pop ups and Rolaids use among fans. Polanco was having a banner season until Tim Hudson hit him with a pitch on his elbow. Greg Dobbs, the team’s top pinch hitter and best bench bat previous years forgot how to hit. Rollins downward offensive spiral continued around his injuries.
From that group, Jayson Werth is now gone, taking the money and running to Washington. The hole in rightfield is going to be filled with one from a group of Top Prospect Domonic Brown, 4th outfielder Ben Francisco, and minor league slugger John Mayberry. Brown will get the longest look and the Phillies and their fans hope he can win the job and develop into the player his rise through the minors says he can be. Brown may be one of the next stars in this league if he overcomes the adversity of his first taste in the big leagues and the lack of use and leg injury that follows. He is a 5 tool player with a lot of raw talent. If he can refine and harness all of that, he will win the rightfield job. The only problem with that is, Brown is left handed.
With Ibanez, Howard, Utley, and Brown all batting from the left side, teams will be stocking up on left handed pitchers (The Braves have already done so) to try and negate their bats. Ben Francisco can help there. The 4th outfielder could have started for a number of other clubs. He hit with a .901 OPS against lefthanded pitchers last year and has a good (not great) power/speed combination. His main problem is impatience as he is a free swinger who doesn’t draw a lot of walks. John Mayberry Jr. is really an afterthought here. He has very good power and decent speed, but has not demonstrated yet that he can hit a major league curveball. The biggest reason he is getting a shot is because he is out of options and the Phillies want to see if they really have anything in him. No one expects any of this group to put up the same type of numbers Werth has over the last few years, but if the other Phillies rebound to have normal seasons for them, the difference in numbers coming from rightfield will not be as noticeable.
That brings us to the real need for this offense. The Phillies need Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins to bounce back and have better and healthier years. Howard needs to be the ferocious slugger he is and not just a singles hitter. Unfortunately without Werth hitting behind him, he may not see a lot of pitches to actually hit. Howard’s power was starting to return last season when his leg injury happened and after that he couldn’t get the normal push he usually has for his swing. One thing to keep in mind, if healthy, Howard always puts up a lot of numbers down the stretch. He is a player you have to have faith in for the entire season and he usually rewards those who do.
Rollins this offseason has taken up yoga to try and improve his flexibility and likewise, remain healthy. Calf and hamstring injuries limited him to 88 games and forced offensive black hole Juan Castro into the starting line up before Wilson Valdez arrived onto the scene to give some stability. His swing wasn’t the same and since his MVP year in 2007 he has turned in two years marred by injury and a third year where he had good extra base hit numbers but his on base percentage was abysmal. One positive from last season is he finally took walks at a higher rate than otherwise in his career. Does this mean he finally gets that getting on base is more important as swinging for the fences, only time will tell.
Chase Utley’s thumb is healed. Hopefully his hip and the other various dings he has had over the last few years are as well. Last year three of the four top all around secondbasemen all were injured, Utley, Ian Kinsler, and Dustin Pedroia all spent time on the disabled list. The funny thing is, all three are back this year, but the only one whose health is being questioned heavily is Utley. Go figure. The Phillies need Utley healthy and he is really their best all around hitter. They need him to rebound and stabilize the line up. While his season was marred with injury and streakiness one positive did emerge last season in that Utley cut down on his strike outs.
If these three rebound to even remotely what they are, the Phillies offense should once again be a top of the league juggernaut. The offense hinges on them, not Dom Brown or Ben Francisco.
Carlos Ruiz blossomed last year and Polanco was in the batting title hunt before his elbow injury. Both of these players should continue to be what they are. Good average hitters, who while they won’t provide a lot of power, will provide a lot of hits, some doubles, and will still knock in some runs. Ruiz also can talk a walk and turn the line up over with the best of them and if Rollins is healthy and getting on base Polanco makes enough contact that the hit and run should be able to be used to full effect.
Shane Victorino can be frustrating to many fans, but he can also be very exciting. Victorino has some power but his best asset is by far his speed. Last season it seemed Victorino tried to take the entire burden of the offensive woes on his shoulders and tried to overcompensate. The results were a career high in homeruns, but a much lower average than normal. Victorino is best hitting line drives and concentrating on getting singles, doubles, and triples. If he is doing that he is much more valuable as his home runs will still come and he will be getting on base more through the higher average. Unfortunately patience does not seem his best virtue.
Raul Ibanez had a great first half in 2009 and a awful second half, he then followed that with a bad first half in 2010 and a good second half. His abdominal injury in 2009 may have had something to do with it and it finally healing may explain his splits last year. The Phillies sure hope so as Ibanez comes into the final season of his three year contract. His power numbers dropped quite a bit and at age 38, going on 39, chances are he is done as a 30+ homer guy. Ibanez still cranked out a good number of doubles and if he can hit at his career average of .284 with 20 homers I think the Phillies will gladly take it. Once again Ben Francisco may come up huge here, as Ibanez didn’t get a lot of breathers last season, being one of the few players who were not on the disabled list for any time. While he is a hard worker and is always in great shape, a rest now and then may be what Ibanez’s old legs need.
The one good thing about this team is if the offense still has some struggles, this team sure has the pitching to fall back on.
Check back in tomorrow when we look at the rotation and pitching in general.
Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.
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