This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Phillies, who are suffering from the worst of playoff hangovers—the kind that you still feel seven years after winning, as a result of overpaying all the aging stars that got you there.
Projected Lineup: CF Ben Revere, C Carlos Ruiz, 2B Chase Utley, 1B Ryan Howard, LF Domonic Brown, RF Grady Sizemore, 3B Cody Asche, SS Freddy Galvis
Projected Rotation: LHP Cole Hamels, LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Aaron Harang*, RHP David Buchanan, RHP Jerome Williams
* new additions
The Phillies are stuck in the past, like that one guy we all went to college with, who never put away his record player and forced us to listen to that James Gang album every time we came over, claiming it to be “the best thing you’ve ever heard, man”.
The Phillies are convinced it is still 2008, which is why in addition to fielding the same aging team every year, they’ve also added Grady Sizemore, whom they think they got for a huge bargain because he’s still the player he was seven years ago. It’s this blatant disregard for the human aging process that continues to be the club’s downfall.
This is no more apparent than in the starting lineup, where Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are still penciled in as the heavy hitters. In reality, they each posted career lows in OPS last year, with Howard in particular dropping to below replacement level. Howard’s WAR last season was a negative 1.1, meaning that a hypothetical minor league player playing in Howard’s spot for the entire year could’ve won the Phillies about 1.1 more games.
Another thing costing the Phillies is their strange penchant for left-handed hitters. Almost literally their entire starting lineup bats left-handed. It’s so extreme that it’s more of a disadvantage than anything, because all opposing teams need to do is to schedule their big lefty starters to pitch when the Phils come to town. It’s almost too easy.
Darin Ruf might be the one saving grace the Phillies have, because although he’ll never hit well enough overall to be an everyday player, he did manage a .916 OPS against lefties last season.
For more right-handed help, the team might look to Maikel Franco, one of the club’s top prospects. A third baseman with power, he is ultimately in line to replace the utterly disappointing Cody Asche, who I’m sure is a great guy, but never does much in the way of offense at a position where offense is expected.
In the rotation, Cole Hamels is the one holdover from the ’08 team still worth watching. Partly because he’s still only 31 years old, but also because he still seems to be maturing as a pitcher. Last season he posted a career-low 2.46 ERA and surprisingly, a career high fastball velocity of 92.3 MPH. It’s strange, but it’s almost as if he’s getting stronger, maybe due to the lack of wear from not pitching in October.
Cliff Lee is the biggest question mark on the team. The main question is whether he’ll be able to pitch at all, after the torn tendon in his elbow refused to heal over the winter. If he pitches, it’ll be through pain, so if you’re wondering how effective he’ll be this season, you can bet there aren’t many optimistic projections out there.
The rest of the rotation is made up of stopgap guys like Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams, the type of pitchers you sign when you know you’re going to be bad, but you still need to field a team, so you offer up one-year contracts to whomever bites. This group also includes Chad Billingsley, fresh off of Tommy John surgery and a dark horse candidate to have a good comeback season.
If I had to pinpoint one bright spot on the team, it would be the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon remains one of the premier closers in the game, and holds down the ninth inning. But the real rising star is a guy you’ve never heard of: Ken Giles. He’s coming off a rookie campaign in which he posted some otherworldly numbers, including a 1.18 ERA and 0.79 WHIP. He now owns the set-up role for the Phillies, effectively shortening the game while allowing the Phils to mix and match more with spot relievers in the earlier innings.
Two things are certain in life: taxes, and great ballplayers eventually succumbing to old age. The Phillies have fallen victim to the latter, and actually the former as well, with the exorbitant amounts of money they’re paying to their over-the-hill stars. Eventually the cycle starts over, and the Phillies will be on the winning side again, infused with young talent. But that’s a story for another day.
Projected Finish: 65-97, Fifth place in NL East