Sunday, July 29, 2012

2013 Phillies: What to expect

The Phillies have been one of the most successful and talked about teams of the last decade.  They've appeared in 2 World Series, winning 1.  They've won their division 5 consecutive years.  They've increased their win total for 5 consecutive seasons.  They've averaged 90 wins per season over the last 10 years and 95 wins per season over the last 5 years.  They've made huge waves on the free agent and trade markets.  The City of Brotherly Love has had ample reason to love their Phillies.

This year has been different.  

Last season ended unceremoniously with the Phillies losing in the NLDS to the Cardinals and Ryan Howard tearing his ACL while making the final out.   

This season picked up as poorly as the last left off.  Howard missed the first 3 months of the season.  Chase Utley missed the same.  Roy Halladay uncharacteristically spent time on the DL and hasn't been himself.  Cliff Lee is 1 - 6 with an ERA closer to 4 than to 2, or even 3.  They are 11 games under .500.  

In short: Disaster.

Many say that the Phillies are finished.  They are old and overpaid.  One of the worst teams in baseball nex year.  Are they right?

Let's break down the Phillies by position.

Position.  2012 Player.  2013 salary

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz.  $5 million team option that is almost certain to be picked up.
Ruiz has been a solid catcher for a good portion of Philly's run.  This year he's been the team MVP.  He's always posted solid OBP numbers, this year he's added about 50 points to his career OBP.  He's also turned into a slugger; 14 home runs and an additional 150 points of slugging percentage.  Ruiz is unlikely to continue at this pace, but he's an excellent player for the Phillies, especially at $5 million.

First base: Ryan Howard.  $20 million in year 2 of a terrible 5 year extension.  
Howard is one of the most overrated players in baseball; also one of the most over paid.  That doesn't make him a bad player.  The Phillies certainly missed his offense early in the season.  He's only played a few games since coming back but he looks like the same Ryan Howard that we've known.

2007-2011: .358/.539 (OBP/SLG) which was 29% better than the league average hitter.
16 2012 games: .344/.500 (OBP/SLG) which is 29% better than the league average hitter.

No reason to think that Howard's injury is causing any decrease in performance.  

Second Base: Chase Utley.  $15 million in the final year of his contract.  
Utley also missed most of 2012.  Unlike Howard, Utley's injuries do seem to be taking a toll on him.  Between 2005 and 2010 Utley was one of the best players in baseball.

2005-2010: .388/.523 (OBP/SLG) which was 38% better than the average hitter.
Then the injuries hit
2011: .344/.425 - 16% better than the average hitter

Thus far in 2012: .340/.481 - 18% better than the average hitter.

Utley is no longer one of the best players in all of baseball.  Now he's one of the best second basemen in baseball, when he's on the field.  How much he'll be on the field in 2013, is a big question.

Third Base: Placido Polanco.  $5.5 million mutual option.
Polanco's signing was met with skepticism by many but it's worked out well for Philadelphia.  Formerly a second baseman, he's played exceptional defense at 3rd.  His bat has been in decline though.  He was a well above hitter from 2003-2008.  In his time with the Phillies his offense has been close enough to average that his defense was able to make him a productive player.  This season, his defense looks to be slipping and his bat is useless at 31% worse than average.   I don't think that Philly will bring Polanco back for another season.  

Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins.  $11 million
The arrival of Rollins began the Phillies ascent to dynasty status.  He's put up 46 WAR in the 11+ seasons since becoming the Phillies' starting SS in 2001.  From 2004-2007 he average over 5 WAR per season.  He's fallen off from those numbers but he's still a solid player and is on pace for about 4 WAR this season.  

Reports of Rollins' demise appear to have been premature.

Left Field:  Juan Pierre.  Free Agent
Left field has been a position of weakness for Philadelphia.  It was manned by Raul Ibanez from 2009-2011.  Ibanez had a surprisingly productive 2009, a poor 2010 and a horrific 2011.  Prospect Domonic Brown was supposed to take over in 2012, but he's shown nothing in 270 major league plate appearances and has struggled in the minors as well.  Juan Pierre played himself into the position with a resurgent year of average offense and below average defense.  He's on pace for less than 2 WAR and Philly should be looking for an upgrade in 2013 as Pierre is unlikely to match this production again.  

Phillies' fans also had high hopes for John Mayberry Jr after a 2011 performance that saw him hit 33% better than the average hitter with a .341/.539 (OBP/SLG) line.  Predictably, he hasn't been able to maintain that pace and has only hit .271/.388 (OBP/SLG) this season, which is 25% worse than the average hitter.  

The Phillies will have opportunity to upgrade this position for 2013.  

Center field: Shane Victorinio.  Free Agent.
The Flyin' Hawaiian has been another core player for Philadelphia.  His .350/.440 (OBP/SLG) offense (12% better than average) and good defense has produced 24 WAR for Philadelphia from 2006 to 2011.  That's 4 WAR per season.  This year he's only hitting .320/.390, which is right at average production, but with league offense down he's still on pace for over 3 wins.  At 32, Philly should probably start to expect some decline and might be wise to look elsewhere for a center fielder for 2013.  

Right Field:  Hunter Pence.  Eligible for arbitration.
Pence came to Philadelphia last year and hit his way into the hearts of the Philly fans.  With Houston, Pence generally hit about 15% better than the league average hitter.  In the final 2 months of 2011, with the Phillies, he hit 58% better than the league.  He, predictably, hasn't been able to sustain that type of performance and is hitting 10% better than the league in 2012.  

Pence made $10.5 million this year and will likely make around $15 million next year.  The Phillies may elect to sign him long-term if they can agree to a good price.  

Philadelphia doesn't have too much in the way of position player prospects waiting in the minors.  Their two top position player prospects were outfielder Domonic Brown and infielder Freddy Galvis.  Brown has played himself out of that status and Galvis is currently serving a 50 game suspension for failing a drug test.  

What should we expect out of the Phillies' starting 8?
Catcher Carlos Ruiz: One of the top players at his position.  3.5 WAR
First baseman Ryan Howard: Should return to average production.  2 WAR
Second baseman Chase Utley: Will produce when he plays.  How much will he play?  1.5 WAR
Third baseman:  Who's on third???
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins: Still a solid contributor.  3 WAR
Leftfielder:  ???
Centerfielder: ???
Rightfielder Hunter Pence:  2.5 WAR

Even with the question marks the Phillies' starting 8 should provide about 13 WAR.  With replacement level being about 43 wins we get up to 56 wins before considering the Phillies' obvious strength, the pitching staff. 

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