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Phillies Blog Articles - March 2010

Phillies 2009 year in review: Bullpen
by Scott Butler 3/1/10

We have finally wrapped up our reviews of the Phillies main contributors in 2009. In our final two articles, we will review the other role players in the bullpen and on the bench. First, the guys who have to run the furthest in a brawl: the bullpen.

The Phillies bullpen performed better in the show, "The Pen," than they did on the field. The Phillies' bullpen in 2009 ranked pretty much in the middle of the pack. They had a 3.93 ERA, which ranked 14th in the majors, and 9th in the National League. That certainly is not terrible, but the bullpen was a major strength of the 2008 championship team with a bullpen ERA of 3.21, which was second best in MLB.

As with all teams, the Phillies used many different people in their bullpen. Other contributors to the Phillies' bullpen included Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Clay Condrey, Jack Taschner, Tyler Walker, Kyle Kendrick, Sergio Escalona, and Antonio Bastardo.

Brett Myers
Myers began the season as a starting pitcher and was the Opening Day starter for the second year in a row. But he suffered a hip injury on May 28 that would require surgery. He was mediocre in his starts to that point with a 4-3 record and a 4.72 ERA. It was expected to be a season ending surgery, but Myers was able to return to the team by the beginning of September. He had a 5.79 ERA in his 5 games since returning from the DL. It was fairly evident that he wasn't ready for prime time at that point and only appeared in 2 postseason games. Ruben Amaro told the public that Brett Myers would not return to the Phillies in 2010. After spending his first 8 seasons with the Phillies, he will not be wearing Phillies pinstripes and will instead play for our buddy Ed Wade and the Houston Astros.

Tyler Walker
The Phillies recalled Tyler Walker from Triple-A Lehigh Valley on June 14. Walker was a veteran pitcher with closing experience with the Giants and Rays. Walker was a positive addition to a bullpen plagued with injuries at the time. He pitched 35.1 innings and had a 3.06 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP.  He was actually a consideration to close games down the stretch when Lidge struggled.

Sergio Escalona
Escalona, a rookie lefty, pitched 14 games for the Phillies in several different trips to the big club. He did fine, sporting a 4.61 ERA. None of his stats were especially good or bad, but it gave him some big league experience. With a lot of shuffling with relievers in the off-season, he might play a regular role in the bullpen in 2010.

Antonio Bastardo
After pitching well in the minors, Antonio Bastardo was called up in June as a starter, where he had an overall ERA of 6.46. He pitched well in his first two outings, but struggled in his next three before being placed on the disabled list. Despite his struggles and lack of experience, Bastardo was curiously added to the postseason roster. Even more surprising was when Charlie Manuel gave Bastardo his first taste of the postseason in a bases-loaded two-out situation in the eigth inning to face Jason Giambi. It was a crucial moment in Game 2 of the division series against Colorado, and Bastardo struck out Giambi swinging. Although he only pitched 0.1 innings, it no doubt gave him some valuable experience.

Jack Taschner
With a need for a left-handed arm in the bullpen, the Phillies picked up Jack Taschner in a trade for Ronnie Paulino. With a career ERA over 5 in his four years with the San Francisco Giants, this was simply a move out of necessity. Taschner lived up to his expectations, posting a 4.91 ERA in 29 innings, which was enough to send him packing to Lehigh Valley in early July.

Kyle Kendrick
After pitching remarkably well in his rookie season with the Phillies, Kendrick was roughed up in 2008 and was not added to the postseason roster that year. The Phillies made it clear to Kendrick that his only ticket back was to develop a new pitch. He worked on a changeup, but it was not enough for him to win a place on the Phillies to start the season. He eventually started two games and pitched a few in relief. He only pitched 26.1 total innings and had a 3.42 ERA. With a full year under his belt with the changeup, Kendrick will compete for the final starter's role in 2010.

Overall Bullpen Grade: C
What was a real strength of the team in 2008, the 2009 bullpen was average at best. The problems with Brad Lidge had a lot to do with it, but the rest of the guys failed to step up behind Lidge.

Phillies offseason Q&A report
by Scott Butler 3/2/10

Phillies baseball is finally upon us. The Phillies play their first unofficial spring training game tomorrow against Florida State before taking on the Yankees on Thursday. With the offseason coming to a close, we decided to answer a few questions about the Phillies as they stand now. We will have our official Phils Baseball Phillies preview in a couple weeks, so this is just a little teaser until then.

1) How was the off-season? What kind of grade would you give it?

The Phillies' off-season has been anything but boring, and fans are still talking about the trade that shipped Cliff Lee to Seattle and brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia. I will begrudgingly say it was a good move because Halladay is a slight upgrade and they retain prospects, but it was extremely painful to watch Lee go. The Cliff Lee discussion is too long to describe here, so suffice it to say that the Phillies could have kept Cliff Lee (who was scheduled to make $9 million in 2010) and tried to sign him long term. Ruben Amaro made several other changes this off-season. He replaced relievers Scott Eyre, Chan Ho Park, and Clay Condrey with Danys Baez, Jose Contreras, and possibly Antonio Bastardo. You never know with relievers, but the new guys would appear to be a downgrade. He improved the bench slightly by replacing Eric Bruntlett, Matt Stairs, and Paul Bako with Juan Castro, Ross Gload, and Brian Schneider. They give up some of Stairs' power, but give Charlie Manuel many more options with the bench. Finally, Placido Polanco will replace Pedro Feliz at third. Defense could be an issue at third, since Polanco last played third in 2005 and he is replacing the sure-handed Pedro Feliz. But Feliz was a terrible hitter to watch and Polanco will be a nice contact hitter to accompany the power in the lineup. Overall, I would consider this a slight upgrade to the team. Grade: B

2) What is the key to success for 2010?

Three things: Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge, and the bullpen. Cole Hamels went from World Series and NLCS MVP to a slightly above average pitcher last year. A huge question for the Phillies is: which Cole Hamels shows up in 2010? He has been developing a new pitch (cut fastball or slider) over the winter to offset a sub par curveball, but will it be enough? Brad Lidge was perfect in 2008, but ranked as the worst reliever in 2009. With such polar opposite years, determining which version of Lidge we will see in 2010 is a real mystery. After undergoing elbow and knee surgeries, Lidge may not even be ready for opening day. But the Phillies are counting on Lidge to resemble the dominant 2008 guy and not the repulsive 2009 pitcher. The bullpen is generally a question mark for any team, and the Phillies are no different. They said goodbye to some pretty effective relievers in Scott Eyre and Chan Ho Park and replaced them with some marginally good guys. And with the questions surrounding Brad Lidge and a lot of new faces, the Phils might need a few of those complete game efforts from Roy Halladay.

3) What will be the team's strength?

Offense. The only change to the Phillies everyday lineup has been the signing of Placido Polanco at third base. He could be a great addition, because the Phillies have a ton of power and some speed, but they strike out way too much. Polanco is an extreme contact hitter and will provide some real stability to that lineup. With good hitters like Rollins and Victorino, as well as 30+ homer guys like Utley, Howard, Werth, and Ibanez, the Phillies should lead the league in runs once again.

4) What could be their Achilles' heel?

The closer position. How effective will Brad Lidge be and will he be healthy? Ryan Madson showed last year that he is not a closer, and the prospect of counting on guys like Baez, Contreras, or Durbin is a little scary.

5) Who will be the team's MVP?

Ryan Howard. Howard has been amazingly consistent with four straight seasons of 40-plus homers and 135-plus RBIs. Although the prospect of Jayson Werth as the team MVP is enticing, it is tough to ignore Howard. As great as he has been, I think he might even be better in 2010.

6) Will a rookie make a significant impact on the team in 2010, and if so, who?

No. The Phillies will not have a rookie in the everyday lineup or on the starting pitching staff. A rookie might make an impact in the bullpen or possibly as the fifth starter, but it won't be significant.

7) Who will be the breakout player for the team?

Kyle Kendrick. After working hard last season to develop a changeup, Kendrick is poised to make another run with the Phillies this year. He will win the fifth starter's spot with his new bag of tricks and show everyone that he is here to stay.

8) Which player will drop off the most from 2009?

J.A. Happ. As much as I like Happ, I think he pitched way over his head last year and this year he will come back to earth. A big part of his success last season was a low opponent average with runners in scoring position, but with one year of film for hitters to look at, he might not be able to count on that in 2010. I love his demeanor and composure, but he may not have the stuff to be a consistently good pitcher.

9) Who is the most likely player to be dangled as trade bait?

Jayson Werth. I don't think Werth will be traded, but there is nobody noteworthy the Phillies would dangle in my mind. Werth will be a free agent after this year and will command big money, so I could see Ruben Amaro getting creative with Jayson Werth.

10) What will be the team's final record and divisional standing?

95-67, 1st in the NL East. This Phillies team is slightly better than last year, but so is the rest of the division. How far they go in the playoffs might depend on the success of Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge.

Phillies 2009 year in review blog: Chan Ho Park
by Chester Snipes 3/3/10

Phils Baseball has been taking a look at each player on the Phillies 2009 roster and giving a review of their 2009 season. And for the heck of it, we're giving them a grade, too. Chan Ho Park has finished his warm up tosses and is ready to go.

Chan Ho Park was an intriguing story for the 2009 Phillies. Park is a veteran pitcher and had been a starter for most of his career until 2008, where he pitched effectively in relief for the Dodgers. Although the Phillies wanted him to pitch in relief, Chan Ho wanted to be a starter and only came to the Phillies because they said they would let him compete as a starter. He pitched well in spring training and the Phillies stayed true to their word and awarded him the fifth starter’s spot.

It did not work out. In seven starts, he posted a 7.29 ERA and averaged 1.74 baserunners per inning. The Phillies then decided to move him to the bullpen and bring in J.A. Happ as the fifth starter. We all know how well that turned out for Happ, but it worked nearly as well for Chan Ho Park. He was excellent as a reliever, posting a 2.52 ERA with 9.4 K's per nine and a walk/strikeout ratio of 16/52.

It could be tough to figure out Chan Ho Park. He threw hard and had terrific movement on most of his pitches. He looked pretty dominant and made hitters look silly at times. But he did not have great command of his pitches and oftentimes threw them in bad locations. Even though he did not walk too many batters, he gave them good pitches to hit. But his stuff was so good that he won most of the battles.

Park did well despite having a role that was undefined. In many cases, he would eat two or three innings. In other situations, he would pitch in more a set-up man role. In the playoffs, Charlie Manuel counted on Park to pitch in some important situations. He did alright in the playoffs, giving up 3 runs in 6.2 innings.

2009 stats: 3-3, 45 games, 7 starts, 83.1 IP, 4.43 ERA, 9.4 K's per nine

Overall Grade: B-
A B- might sound generous with a 4.43 ERA, but to drop a 7.29 ERA to 4.43 like he did is pretty impressive. He ended up being one of the guys that Charlie could rely on out of the bullpen. It's tough to see him go, but he was such an enigma, who knows what he will bring next year anyway?

Wiffle Ball: The Perfect Game
by Scott Butler 3/3/10

With Spring Training officially underway and the regular season of baseball right around the corner, I thought this was the perfect time to discuss one of the best games in the entire world: Wiffle ball. It has been a long, long winter for most of us, but just thinking about Wiffle ball gets me ready for the spring.

Wiffle ball has been around since 1953, and many of us will find it hard to believe life existed without it. Wiffle ball takes us back to a simpler time as children when we played for the love of the game and didn't take score. It reminds us of what it is like to have pure, childish fun and one of the very few things in this world that unites us all.

I can still remember the very first time I picked up a Wiffle bat. I was six years old when my father first placed the plastic bat and ball in my hands. Barely able to hold the bat, my father taught me how to swing and I instantly fell in love with the game of baseball.

Few things have brought a smile to my face quicker than when I watched a child playing wiffle ball with his grandparents on the beach. This little guy was full of energy and didn't have a care in the world. And to see his grandmother chasing down balls like she was in her 30's and grabbing her grandson as he ran the bases was quite a site to see. It was a small reminder about what life is all about.

Wiffle ball has created many stories and images just like that one for over 50 years. One of the beauties of Wiffle ball is that it excludes no one. Anyone can play it, from age 5 to 105, black or white, male or female, no matter how athletic or skilled you are. Most of our best memories of Wiffle ball occurred when we were kids, but kids aren't the only ones who enjoy the game. You can find adult Wiffle ball leagues and tournaments in towns all across America. Whether in a competitive league or a friendly game in the backyard with friends, nobody outgrows Wiffle Ball.

A nice perk to Wiffle ball is that it can literally be played anywhere. In fact, the instructions on the box actually tell you it is "safe anywhere." That means you can play it on a field, you can play it at the beach, you can play it in the street, and heck, you can even play it indoors. And Wiffle balls and bats are designed so that people are unable to hit them very far, so there is little chasing and even a Major League hitter does not stand at too much of an advantage.

There are no official rules to playing Wiffle ball, and there are an infinite number of ways you can play it. Slow pitch, fast pitch, calling balls and strikes, foul limit or unlimited fouls, one strike and you're out, home run derby, the list goes on and on. Part of what makes it fun is that the rules in your backyard are almost certainly different from the ones next door.

And don't overlook another important aspect of Wiffle ball, at least for cheapskates like myself, is that it costs next to nothing to play. The standard Wiffle ball bat costs around five bucks and you can buy wiffle balls for around a dollar each. So for ten bucks you can buy a bat and enough balls to last you for years.

As childish as it might sound, one of things I look forward too the most when Spring approaches is having the chance to play Wiffle Ball. And I'm not alone. Millions of Wiffle balls are sold every year for a reason. I haven't met a single person yet who does not enjoy Wiffle ball, and I don't expect that to change in the near future. Wiffle ball might just be our national pastime.

You can read a nice article here on the evolution of Wiffle Ball.

If you have the itch to play like I do and don't have the "Wiffle supplies," you can order them using the Amazon links below. Enjoy!

 

Phillies 2009 year in review blog: Bench
by Scott Butler 3/4/10

We finally reached the finish line. In our last review of the 2009 Phillies, we will take a look at the guys who might get one at-bat per game on a good night. We wrap things up with the Phillies bench.

There is not much good to say about the Phillies' bench in 2009. They just weren't very good. The main bench crew consisted of Eric Bruntlett, Matt Stairs, Greg Dobbs, Chris Coste/Paul Bako, John Mayberry Jr., Miguel Cairo, and Ben Francisco.

Greg Dobbs
Dobbs was probably the best bench player for the Phillies in his first two seasons with the Phillies. He hit .271 in 2007 and .301 in 2008, where he set the team record for pinch hits in a season (22). But you can blame his lack of success in 2009 on injuries. He was injured pretty much all season and finished with a .247 average and just five homers. And what hurt the most was that he hit .167 in 67 at-bats as a pinch-hitter.

Matt Stairs
Fans will never forget Matt Stairs' mammoth home run in Game 2 of the the NLCS against the Dodgers in '08. But he didn't offer much to remember in 2009. Stairs hit .167 in 2009 with just 5 home runs and 17 RBI. He just was not a threat at the plate. But he did work quite a few walks (23) to give him a decent OBP of .357. That is pretty remarkable considering the guy went through an 0-for-30 streak from mid-July to mid-September. As bad as Stairs was (and he was bad), Jonathan Broxton was still afraid of him in Game 4 of the NLCS. Clearly remembering his home run in the 2008 NLCS, Broxton walked Stairs and helped pave the way for Rollins' game winner.

Paul Bako
After the Phillies shipped off Chris Coste (who they never seemed to like), they brought in veteran Paul Bako to replace him as backup catcher. The best thing to say about Bako is that the pitchers seemed to love him. In fact, he was Cliff Lee's "personal catcher" of sorts. Bako hit .224 with 3 HR and 9 RBI in 44 games for the Phillies and was an automatic out for the most part.

Eric Bruntlett
Speaking of automatic outs, there is Eric Bruntlett. It is not fair to overly criticize Bruntlett, because he is simply not a major league baseball player. Ruben Amaro should take the blame for letting Bruntlett return to begin with. Bruntlett hit .171 in 72 games with the Phillies and had 7, yes just 7 RBIs for the year. Outside of his unassisted triple play, Bruntlett was completely forgettable.

John Mayberry Jr.
A bright spot at times for the Phillies, John Mayberry made a name for himself immediately by hitting a home run and three RBI in his first game of the season against the New York Yankees. He showed some promise as a solid left-fielder with power and speed, but was nothing special offensively, hitting .211 with 4 homers and 8 RBI in 57 at-bats. When the Phillies brought in Ben Francisco, Mayberry went down to the minors and was barely seen after July. Hopefully he was able to work on some things and can be more of a presence in 2010.

Miguel Cairo
We didn't see much of Miguel Cairo this season, but he did a decent job for the Phillies where he hit .267. Cairo helped out when he could, and despite his limited playing time during the season, he was added to the playoff roster. He was just a better option than Bruntlett.

Ben Francisco
One nice little perk to the Cliff Lee deal was Ben Francisco. He had a chance to play a fair amount as a replacement for Raul Ibanez in left field. He hit .257 for the Phillies in 37 games and hit a total of 15 home runs with the Phils and Indians. He wasn't particularly effective off the bench, hitting .200 in 15 at-bats. He is a nice option in the outfield and we should see him some more next year.

Bench Grade: D
There was not a single bench player who had a good season, just a few OK players and a bunch of terrible ones. Their futility looked especially bad in the World Series where we had nobody decent to use as a DH. Hopefully a healthy Dobbs and no Bruntlett should help next year.

Wiffle ball is all about the right bat
by Scott Butler 3/4/10

I wrote an article yesterday about the beauty of Wiffle ball, but I ignored a very important point in my discussion. In fact, it is such an important point that it deserves its own article. I would like to talk about a very special bat.

I am 31-years-old and play Wiffle ball nearly every day in the summertime with my brother. Pathetic, I know, but that surely would not be the case if it weren't for a certain bat. Wiffle ball (and my life, as it turns out) changed forever the day my brother bought a plastic Louisville Slugger bat. A 34 inch black bat that had the shape and look of a real baseball bat.

This bat entirely changed the way we played Wiffle ball.

The bat itself is no miracle product, but with it you can launch Wiffle balls like you never have before. One of the biggest drawbacks with the standard yellow bat is that the ball doesn't travel very far no matter how hard you swing. But you certainly can give the ball a ride with the Louisville Slugger bat. Simple physics can explain why this is the case. First, the bat is wider. It is simply easier to hit a ball with a wider bat. Secondly, just like any regular baseball bat, the wider end of the bat has a "sweet spot" that produces more power.

This bat changes Wiffle ball from a casual game to a close simulation of a real baseball game. Casting aside the few individuals with real baseball talent, most of our baseball careers end after Little League or High School. Other than playing American Legion, the closest you will get to actual baseball beyond High School is to join a slow pitch softball league.

That said, most of us will never know what it is like to step in the batter's box to face a curveball or a slider. We don't know the feeling of watching as a breaking ball starts at our ears and drops over the plate. But with a plastic ball and bat, we can get pretty darn close. Sure, you can have that experience with the old yellow bat, but there is something quite different when you are holding a "real" bat in your hands.

Hold that thought for a minute, because I want to first take a step back and tell you how much fun it can be to just play for fun and "whack away." It may just be Wiffle ball, but it is amazing how good you can feel about yourself by launching pitch after pitch in your backyard. If you hit it right, the ball can sail 150 feet - you can't tell me that isn't fun. As long as your pitcher can get the ball anywhere near the plate, you can put together some pretty impressive homers. And since balls don't travel that far, you don't have to chase all that much.

Most of the time that is all there is to it. Just two or three guys throwing slow tosses and hammering away. We don't keep score. We don't have rules. We just play for fun.

But when you have a pitcher throwing hard and using a variety of different pitches, it is a pretty unique experience. And it is not difficult at all to create the illusion of facing a 90 mph fastball. All you need to do is move the pitcher closer to the batter, and all of a sudden 60 mph feels more like 90. The only difference between 60 and 90 is reaction time, so by cutting down on the reaction time you can simulate the feel of 90 mph. It is just like when they show the Major League equivalent speed during the Little League World Series.

Couple high speeds with the ability to throw any number of different pitches, and you can gain a real appreciation for just how difficult it is to be a Major League hitter. If you've never thrown a Wiffle ball before, they have holes on one side and are designed to curve, break, and do all sorts of weird things. Using just a couple of different grips with the Wiffle ball, anybody can throw a wicked breaking pitch with barely any practice. And despite very little reaction time, the Louisville Slugger bat is just light enough that you can catch up to most pitches.

This is when it gets really fun if you ask me, because you can now enter into a real battle with the pitcher. Now try to imagine standing at the plate knowing that the pitcher can throw five different pitches: fastball, curveball, slider, sinker, and riser (which actually goes up as you throw it). Try it and you will quickly understand why batters can look extremely foolish on pitches. In order to not look foolish yourself enlists skills you've never used. All of a sudden you need to look at the spin, watch the delivery, and occasionally hold your ground during a curveball that appears destined for your forehead.

That brings up two final aspects: danger and fear. I wouldn't suggest bringing a 10-year-old to the ballpark to face Nolan Ryan in his prime because a baseball at those speeds can kill someone. That's too dangerous. Don't get me wrong, it can hurt getting smacked in the face by a Wiffle ball thrown at full speed. But it won't cause any major damage and almost certainly will not kill you, so there is no real danger. But having the knowledge that you can get hit in the face evokes just enough fear that a brushback pitch might actually move you off the plate.

Wiffle ball is such a great game on its own, but using the Louisville Slugger bat makes it infinitely more fun. I guarantee that once you try this bat once, you will never go back.

I've included a link below where you can order the bat through Amazon, or I believe they also sell them at Modell's (but they don't appear to sell it online).

 

Phillies 2009 year in review blog: Chase Utley
by Scott Butler 3/5/10

And then there were two. Phils Baseball has been taking a look at each player on the Phillies 2009 roster and giving a review of their 2009 season. And for the heck of it, we've been giving them a grade, too. Now looming in the on-deck circle is our second to last player, Chase Utley.

If someone told you ten years ago that you would have a second baseman that hit .282 with 31 home runs and 93 RBIs in 2009, you would probably think they were crazy. But Phils fans today would consider Chase Utley's 2009 season to be a bit of a "down year." Pretty much all of Utley's numbers were slightly down from the year before, but don't forget that Utley had hip surgery in the offseason. Utley wasn't expected to return from the surgery until May or June. He made it back in time for opening day.

Even with a sub par season for Utley, among all major league second basemen Utley ranked 2nd in homers and OPS (on-base + slugging percentage), 3rd in slugging percentage, 4th in RBIs, 15th in batting average, and even 5th in stolen bases. After 5 full seasons with the Phillies, we are used to this type of production from Utley by now.

What really hurt Chase's overall numbers was a terrible September/October where he hit .204 with just 2 homers and 9 RBI. August and September are Utley's worst months, and it seems pretty clear that he plays so hard that he burns himself out by the end of the season. One of the reasons the Phillies improved their bench and added versatility was so that they could give Utley a breather every now and then, although Charlie Manuel might be a bit frightened to actually tell Utley he won't play.

Utley's defense has really improved over time, but he is only a slightly above average fielder. That is actually a compliment, because he doesn't appear to have a ton of natural fielding talent and his success is a result of a whole lot of hard work. I haven't been able to prove it yet, but I would bet Utley was born as a left-handed thrower (let us know if you can find proof either way). If that's the case, it is miraculous what he is able to do.

Utley had a very productive postseason where he hit .296 with 6 homers, 10 RBIs, a .424 on-base percentage, and scored 15 runs. His postseason was hot and cold, evidenced by a .211 average in the NLCS, but a .429 average in the NLDS and .289 in the World Series. His five home runs in the World Series tied Reggie Jackson’s record.

2009 stats: 156 G, .282 AVG, 31 HR, 112 R, 93 RBI, 23 SB

You can view all of Chase Utley's 2009 and career stats here.

Overall Grade: A
For an "off year" where he tired at the end, Chase Utley did pretty darn good. I think with a full winter of rest and a more reliable bench, 2010 might be his best yet.

Phillies 2009 year in review blog: Cliff Lee
by Scott Butler 3/6/10

We finally reached the finish line. Phils Baseball has been taking a look at each player on the Phillies 2009 roster and giving a review of their 2009 season. And for the heck of it, we've been giving them a grade, too. In our last review of the 2009 Phillies, it is time to reflect on the Phillies best rental player ever: Cliff Lee.

The date was July 29, 2009. On that date, Ruben Amaro somewhat disappointed fans when he was unable to trade for Roy Halladay and instead settled for Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians. Three months and 2 World Series wins later, Cliff Lee owned the city of Philadelphia.

Cliff Lee made his mark on Philadelphia by pitching a complete-game four-hitter in his debut against the San Francisco Giants. That began a truly amazing stretch in his first five games in a Phillies uniform. Lee went 5-0 in those five games with an ERA of 0.68. He struggled in his next few games, but ended up with a 7-4 record with the Phillies and a 3.39 ERA in 79.2 innings. He had a brilliant strikeout/walk ratio of 10/74, pitched 3 complete games, and averaged 6.64 innings per start.

Philadelphia fans loved Cliff Lee as much for the other intangibles he had to offer. First, he was a good hitter and actually loved to hit. He threw strikes and worked quickly. He was an athlete and could field his position. And he ran on and off the field like a Little Leaguer.

Then came the playoffs. As good as Hamels was in 2008, Cliff Lee might have been better in 2009. What would he do in his first postseason start? He pitched a complete-game, one-run game, of course. And then he pitched a complete-game shutout against the Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series. Lee finished with a 4-0 postseason record with a 1.56 ERA and two complete games, almost single-handedly winning the World Series for the Phils.

Cliff Lee owned this town, yet Ruben Amaro decided to ship him off to Seattle in order to get Roy Halladay and recoup some draft picks. You can read here for our thoughts on the Cliff Lee trade. Most people assumed Cliff Lee was going to test free agency, which is why it really hurt to hear him say that he loved Philadelphia and wanted to remain with the Phillies.

Regardless of the way it ended, Cliff Lee was a real treat to watch in 2009 and gave us a reason to believe we could repeat as World Champions. He was everything you could hope for in a ball player, and what he accomplished in three months will be a legend for years to come.

2009 stats: 7-4, 3.39 ERA, 79.2 IP, 74 K, 10 BB, 3 CG, 1 Shutout

You can view all of Cliff Lee's 2009 and career stats here.

Overall Grade: A+
Cliff Lee left a mark on the city of Philadelphia and captured the hearts of millions of fans like few ever have. He was a brilliant pitcher and everything that is right with the game of baseball on the field. Thanks for the memories, Cliff.

The Phillies have a pretty threatening lineup in 2010
by Scott Butler 3/10/10

Expect big things from the Phillies lineup in 2010. The only change to the Phils' lineup from last year has been the signing of Placido Polanco to play third base. That could be a very significant change. The one clear weakness of the Phillies has been too many strikeouts and not enough contact hitters, but Polanco is the definition of a contact hitter. In fact, Polanco was the second hardest batter to strikeout in Major League Baseball last year, averaging a strikeout once every 14.7 plate appearances in 2009.

The addition of Polanco gives Charlie Manuel the chance to actually play a little hit-and-run at the top of the lineup. Instead of simply relying on the long ball, the Phillies should be able to create more rallies and play a little more "small ball."

And moving Victorino down to the seventh spot in the lineup could payoff more than you think. Victorino does not have a particularly high on-base percentage but hits for a fairly high average. So hitting seventh might actually suit his style of hitting better than when he batted second for a couple of reasons. Batting second in front of big RBI guys like Utley, Howard, Werth, and Ibanez, it was more important to simply be on base so that the guys behind him could knock him in. But the role is reversed in the seventh spot where the key is to knock in the guys in front of him rather than get on base for Ruiz and the pitcher.

One other advantage of hitting Victorino seventh is that he should get a lot more steals. He had to be more hesitant to steal bases because last year because if he was thrown out, it took RBI's away from Utley and Howard. But he can be more aggressive in the seven spot. Victorino averaged almost 33 steals over the last three seasons, but I would expect 40 or possibly 50 steals from Victorino this year.

If you look at this year's lineup, there is really only one hole (Carlos Ruiz) aside from the pitcher spot. A lineup in which Victorino hits seventh is an awfully scary idea if you are the opposing pitcher.

Here is the anticipated lineup for the Phillies. Werth and Ibanez might flip-flop, but the rest of the lineup should remain basically the same.

1. Jimmy Rollins (SS)
2. Placido Polanco (3B)
3. Chase Utley (2B)
4. Ryan Howard (1B)
5. Jayson Werth (RF)
6. Raul Ibanez (LF)
7. Shane Victorino (CF)
8. Carlos Ruiz (C)
9. Pitcher

Are the Phillies really considering trading Howard for Pujols?
by Scott Butler 3/15/10

I feel a bit embarrassed to comment on ridiculous reports, but the Howard for Pujols trade rumors are too big to ignore and too intriguing to consider. Buster Olney of ESPN is floating out a report that the Phillies have been having internal discussion about a possible trade of Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols.

"Lies" is what Ruben Amaro said about it. "That's a lie. I don't know who you're talking to, but that's a lie."

I'm sure Buster didn't completely make this story up, but there is just NO WAY THIS IS A SERIOUS TRADE DISCUSSION. Here's probably what happened. A bunch of Phillies guys were sitting around the table and somebody asked, "Do you think we could get Albert Pujols if we traded Ryan Howard?" Then they had a "what if" discussion. Who knows, maybe Ruben Amaro even contacted the Cardinals about the idea.

But there is a big difference between throwing around an idea and actually getting a deal done.

It is weak, pathetic, unprofessional, etc. for Buster Olney to report on this. He knows there is nothing to this yet, but he wants to be the one who said it first and get people to read his page on the internet. I would expect nothing else from ESPN.

But it is not the craziest trade I've heard of. Pujols becomes a free agent after the 2011 season and he might be looking for an A-Rod type contract that the Cards may not be able to afford. Couple that with the fact that Howard grew up in St. Louis and you might have something.

But you don't get rid of a guy like Pujols for nothing. In addition to giving up Howard, the Phillies would have to part ways with another big piece of the puzzle. Don't forget that Howard is going to look for a historic contract of his own, so the Cards may not even be able to afford Howard. It's just too many obstacles for a deal like this to happen.

If you look at their career numbers, you can see why the Cards (and Phillies) would rather have Pujols. Below are both of their career numbers (home runs, RBI's, walks, and strikeout numbers are their average per season numbers). They have very similar HR and RBI totals, but Pujols' average is 55 points higher, his slugging is 42 points higher, and he averages 9 more walks and 110 less strikeouts. And that's no knock to Howard. Pujols is just that good.

  Avg. OBS HR RBI SLG BB SO
Howard .279 .376 44 127 .586 81 173
Pujols .334 .427 41 124 .628 90 63

 

 

2010 Phillies Prediction blog: Outfield and Catchers
by Scott Butler 3/18/10

It's Phillies prediction time! Once again, Phils Baseball is ready to introduce our Phillies predictions, this time for the Phils 2010 season. We will go through, position by position, comparing this Phillies team to last year's squad. We all put our heads together and gave ratings of Much Better, Better, Slightly Better, Same, Slightly Worse, Worse, and Much Worse. We also decided to break up this year into the infield, outfield & catcher, starting pitching, bullpen, and defense and bench. We will finish as we always do with an overall team prediction and team awards. Let's get started!

Outfield

Left Field - Better
We predict that the end results for Raul Ibanez in 2010 will be roughly the same as last year, but in a very different way. This might be the hardest position to predict, since Ibanez had such drastic extremes during the season that we still don't really know who the "real" Raul Ibanez is.

Ibanez was a freak during the first half last year, hitting .309 with 22 HR, 60 RBI, a .367 On-base percentage, and .649 slugging percentage. It's hard to decide if he was on a hot streak, because he played hurt and was not even close to the same player when he returned from the DL on July 10. He batted .232 after the all-star break with 12 HR and 33 RBI. He finished the season with a .272 avg., .552 slugging percentage, 34 HR, 93 RBI, 119 K, and 56 BB.

We don't feel that Ibanez is quite as good as his first half numbers, but he is not far off. His average should remain close to .300 and his strikeouts and walks should also be similar. We figured his second half numbers were irrelevant since he was playing in significant pain, so we based our assumptions on his first half numbers. Ibanez will not put up the same MVP type numbers he did through the All-Star break, but he should not be drastically worse, either. Let's say he performs at 75% of that level over the entire season. That would give him roughly 40 home runs and 100+ RBI's, and he should be able to meet and exceed those numbers. We expect to see over 40 homers and 110 RBI's.

Click here to view all of the career stats for Raul Ibanez.

Center Field - SAME
Last year, many of us at Phils Baseball were not completely sold on Shane Victorino as an everyday player, but not any more. Victorino earned the right to be named an all-star. The Flyin Hawaiian finished 2009 with a .292 average,10 homers, 62 RBIs, 102 runs scored, 25 stolen bases, and led the majors with 13 triples. We feel that Shane's 2009 numbers are a perfect representation of his talent. Victorino has been remarkably consistent throughout his Phillies career, with a batting average been between .281 and .293 in all four seasons. His walks, RBIs, on-base percentage, hits, and doubles have all risen each year, and they will mostly plateau this season.

Expect all of his numbers to be very close to last year, and although he will not be a "better" player in 2010, his numbers might look better now that he hits seventh in the lineup. Due to hitting 7th, Victorino will swipe 40-50 bags, have more RBI's, and fewer runs scored. Other than that, no change from last year.

Click here to view all of the career stats for Shane Victorino.

Right Field - Slightly Better
We were way off in our predictions for Jayson Werth last year. We thought he would be worse. Well, he wasn't. In fact, he changed from just another player to becoming a legitimate all-star and a likely big time free agent after this season. Werth finally "figured out" how to hit (especially in regards to right-handed pitching) and the scaring thing is that he still has a lot to learn. Werth finished with a .268 average, .373 on-base percentage, 36 HR, 99 RBI, 20 SB, and 156 K.

In the past, Werth always killed lefties but was pretty bad against righties. But after a full year of playing everyday, he finally learned how to hit right-handers. Werth will improve even more against righties and catapult himself into near "superstar" status. He will hit 40-45 homers and 115+ RBIs.

Click here to view all of the career stats for Jayson Werth.

Catcher - Better
Carlos Ruiz had a better season in 2009 than the year before, but it was still not a particularly good offensive season for Ruiz. He batted .255 with a .355 on-base percentage and .425 slugging percentage. He reached career highs with 9 home runs, 43 RBIs, and a .780 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). Ruiz still grounded into a lot of double plays (8), but only struck out only 39 times in 322 at-bats.

Although his regular season stats were lacking, Ruiz has been clutch in the playoffs. We all know how good he is defensively and at calling games. But this year, Ruiz will translate his postseason success into the regular season. Ruiz will hit .270 or higher, and with Victorino ahead of him he will generate career high RBI totals.

Brian Schneider replaced Coste/Bako as the Phillies' backup catcher. He doesn't have big shoes to fill since Bako and Coste had poor offensive seasons for the Phillies. Schneider is a veteran catcher with a .251career average, and is a definite upgrade to the position.

Check out the career stats for Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider.

2010 Phillies Prediction blog: Infield
by Scott Butler 3/23/10

In our second group of predictions, we will now compare the Phillies' 2010 infield to last year's squad. We gave ratings of Much Better, Better, Slightly Better, Same, Slightly Worse, Worse, and Much Worse. We also decided to break up this year into the infield, outfield & catcher, starting pitching, bullpen, and defense and bench. We will finish as we always do with an overall team prediction and team awards. Let's get started!

Infield

First Base - SAME
We have the same exact prediction for Ryan Howard as we did last year: just more of the same. That is very good news because Howard now has four straight seasons of 40-plus homers and 135-plus RBIs. If he produces numbers like that again in 2010, and we expect he will, that bodes well for the Phils.

In 2009, Howard had an "average" year with a .279 average with 45 HR and 141 RBI. He struck out 13 less times than the year before (186 strikeouts), and he will cut down on that number even further in 2010. Expect very similar numbers this season with a couple less homers, a .290 or higher average, and comparable RBI totals. His defense will even improve from a solid season last year.

Click here to view all of the career stats for Ryan Howard.

Second Base - BETTER
2010 will be Chase Utley's best season yet. In case you forgot, Utley looked like another likely candidate to win MVP in 2007 before he broke his wrist. Utley had a decent year in 2008 despite playing most of the season with a hip injury. He wasn't supposed to return from his offseason hip surgery until May or June, yet he was ready by opening day and clearly exhausted by the end of the season. This could be his first season where he is well rested and completely healthy. That is why we feel he will have a career year and win his first League MVP award.

2009 was a sub par year for Utley, yet among all major league second basemen Utley ranked 2nd in homers and OPS (on-base + slugging percentage), 3rd in slugging percentage, 4th in RBIs, 15th in batting average, and even 5th in stolen bases without getting caught once.

Our prediction is that in 2010 Utley will hit above .300 with 30+ homers, 100+ RBIs, and 100+ runs scored. Mark it down, this is Utley's year to follow Rollins and Howard as the Most Valuable Player.

Click here to view all of the career stats for Chase Utley.

Shortstop - Slightly Better
Jimmy Rollins was not very good last year. I hate to break it to you, but we do not predict much of an improvement from Jimmy in 2010. Rollins had a horrific first half and just an average second half, finishing with a .250 average, .296 OBP, 21 HR, 77 RBI, and 31 SB.

Rollins is not over the hill at 32 years old, but his best offensive years are behind him. Hopefully we are wrong, but we don't expect Rollins to have a particularly good offensive year. Rollins will be a .270 hitter with roughly the same numbers in the other offensive categories. Rollins predicts 50 stolen bases in 2010, and he will hit that mark this season. Other than that, expect Rollins to have very similar numbers to 2008. One thing that can't improve is his defense. Rollins once again had the top fielding percentage among shortstops. He actually slightly improved his career defense, which is THE SECOND BEST IN MAJOR LEAGUE HISTORY.

Click here to view all of the career stats for Jimmy Rollins.

Third Base - Much Better
Getting rid of Pedro Feliz might quietly be the best move Ruben Amaro has made. As much as Feliz killed the Phillies last year, Placido Polanco will do the complete opposite.

Feliz was a gaping hole in the Phillies lineup last season. Feliz finished the season with a .266 avg., 12 HR, and 82 RBI. That may not sound terrible, but without runners in scoring position he hit .243, his overall on-base percentage was .308, and he grounded into the second most double plays on the team (12). Feliz averaged 3.29 pitches per plate appearance, which is a terrible number, especially in comparison to Jayson Werth's number of 4.51.

Polanco may not be an offensive juggernaut, but he is exactly what this team needs. Polanco hit .285 last season with 10 homers and 72 RBIs, and those numbers will improve in a good Phillies lineup. As we've mentioned many times on Phils Baseball, Polanco's greatest effect is his ability to make contact. He struck out once every 14.7 plate appearances in 2009, making him the second hardest batter to strikeout in the Majors. That gives the Phillies flexibility to utilize more hit-and-runs and the ability to put together more rallies. Not only that, but it allows Charlie Manuel to hit Victorino in the 7 spot in the lineup.

Click here to view all of the career stats for Placido Polanco.

2010 Phillies Prediction blog: Starting Pitching
by Scott Butler 3/26/10

In our 2010 Phillies predictions, we move to the starting pitching. To review, we have been giving ratings of Much Better, Better, Slightly Better, Same, Slightly Worse, Worse, and Much Worse. We also decided to break up this year into the infield, outfield & catcher, starting pitching, bullpen, and defense and bench. We will finish as we always do with an overall team prediction and team awards.

Since all but one of the Phillies starting pitchers were in the rotation last season, we compared each player to himself and other pitchers who were in the same role. It doesn't make for a perfect system, but hey, this is just for fun anyway. OK, let's go.

Starting Pitchers

1) Roy Halladay vs. Cliff Lee/Cole Hamels

Since Cole Hamels is now our number 2 pitcher, let's compare Roy Halladay to last year's number one "spot," which we will consider to be Cole Hamels in the beginning and Cliff Lee when he arrived. There is no discussion here. Roy Halladay is a serious upgrade and our first true ace to start the season since Curt Schilling. Roy Halladay can't be much better than Cliff Lee, but Lee was only here for a couple months. Halladay is very good, and we have no reason to believe that will change. The best we can do is give you his numbers from last season: 17-10, 2.79 ERA, 239 innings, 35 walks, 208 strikeouts, 9 complete games, and 4 shutouts. And that was in the American League East!

2. Cole Hamels vs. Cole Hamels - BETTER

Pretty much everyone agrees that Cole Hamels is an enormous key to the success of the Phillies this season. For a variety of reasons, Hamels was no better than average last year. It seemed like Hamels got off to a bad start and just wasn't able to get back on track. Due to constant appearances on the World Series "Circuit" and maybe a little cockiness from a dominating post-season where he earned NLCS and World Series MVP honors, Hamels was not in good shape entering Spring Training. For the first time in his entire life, Hamels had to deal with failure. Throughout the season, he seemed to be battling himself and did not demonstrate much composure on the mound. The end result was a season in which he had a 4.32 ERA and a 10-11 record.

Don't worry, folks, Hamels not only will be better, but he will have a career year. Like it or not, we've learned over the years that Hamels is a creature of habit, so the whole MVP tour last year must have screwed with his head. He knew he needed to be in better shape this year and therefore had a pretty tough offseason routine. For the first time in his career, Hamels has full velocity already. He also developed a cutter and has been working on his curveball. Hamels cannot simply rely on his fastball and crazy changeup anymore, so the success of his curve and cutter may decide his fate.

People like to joke about the way Cole looks and talks, but he is a tough competitor and will not allow last year to repeat itself. He knows the team and the city is counting on him, and he is up for the challenge. Hamels will finish this year with an ERA under 3.00, over 200 innings, over 200 K's, and 20 Wins. How does that sound?

3. Joe Blanton vs. Joe Blanton- Slightly Worse

Joe Blanton is a solid middle of the rotation pitcher. He's not great, he's not bad, he's just consistent. Blanton had a slow start last season, but once he got started he was very effective. He finished with a 12-8 record and a 4.05 ERA. He came close to 200 innings (195.1) and had a walk/strikeout ratio of 59/163. We don't see any indications that he move significantly up or down in 2010, but we had the general inclination that this will be a down year for Blanton with an ERA in the range of 4.25. With this offense, that is just fine with us.

4. JA Happ vs. JA Happ/Chan Ho Park- Worse

One of the big questions with this Phillies team is this: Will JA Happ suffer from the sophomore slump? We say yes. JA Happ has a wonderful temperament and is certainly up to the challenge of proving he belongs in the big leagues. But it's hard to win on guts alone, and his stuff doesn't seem to be good enough for a repeat performance of last season.

Happ had a 12-4 record with 2.93 ERA last season. Do you really think he is that good? That is 16 points better than Hamels' best season. JA Happ is a good pitcher, but he's not nearly that good. Happ will succeed by mixing speeds, hitting his spots, and hiding the ball well, but the fact remains that he has a very flat fastball and only throws in the mid to upper 80's.Happ will finish 2010 with an ERA right around 4.00. That is nothing to sneeze at. Happ is not a top the rotation type of pitcher, but this will be his year to prove that he was no fluke. We think he will.

5. Jamie Moyer vs. Jamie Moyer- Same

It looks like Jamie Moyer will win the final spot in the pitching rotation, although it is very likely Kyle Kendrick will pitch in that role at some point. I have said for two years now that Jamie Moyer's mark is 5.00. Everyone remembers how remarkable Moyer pitched in 2008, but that was mixed between a 5.01 ERA in 2007 and a 4.94 ERA last season. We know what we have in Jamie Moyer. He is a smart pitcher with excellent control who moves the ball in and out. He has to be perfect, cannot make mistakes, and he knows it. If Moyer is even a tick away from perfect, he can and will get destroyed. But if he has his control, he can baffle even the best of hitters. At the end of the season, Moyer will once again be right around that 5.00 ERA, which is perfectly acceptable as the #5 pitcher. If he pitches better than that, great. If he pitches worse we will see Kyle Kendrick, which is a a whole other story.

2010 Phillies Prediction blog: Bullpen
by Scott Butler 3/29/10

Before we unveil our overall team predictions, we wind down our 2010 Phillies predictions and focus on the bullpen. The Phils added several new faces to the pen, but most of the key pieces still remain. For these predictions, we focused on the main guys. We compared Lidge, Madson, Romero, and Durbin against themselves and grouped Baez and Contreras against Eyre and Park. Again, we gave ratings of Much Better, Better, Slightly Better, Same, Slightly Worse, Worse, and Much Worse. We will finish as we always do with an overall team prediction and team awards.

Bullpen

Brad Lidge vs. Brad Lidge - MUCH BETTER

Lidge will be better this season because he HAS to be. We discovered recently that Lidge's injuries last season affected him more than most of us thought. That is a comforting thought in a way since that hopefully means Lidge did not just suddenly lose his mojo. Now is not the time to dwell on 2009 Lidge other than to say that he had an 0-8 record with a 7.21 ERA and 11 blown saves. As we described in a previous blog, Lidge revealed specifically the affect his knee had last season. Lidge has something to prove, and he will prove that 2008 was no fluke. If Lidge is healthy this year, there is no reason to believe he won't bounce back in 2010. But that is a big IF since he has had two separate surgeries in the offseason...

Ryan Madson vs. Ryan Madson - BETTER

Ryan Madson finished 2009 with a 3.26 ERA in 77.1 innings. Not bad at all. Most people will remember that Madson was pretty weak as a closer, but how quickly we forget just how good he was as a set up man. Ryan Madson is entering his seventh full season in the majors, and he has proven by now that he is a bullpen stud. I personally always had questions about Madson's attitude, but the way he handled the whole closer thing was darn impressive. Let's not ignore the fact that he was not a good closer and blew six saves. But rather than hang his head, Madson continued to dominate as a set up man and actually pitched a couple good games as a closer at the end of the season. Madson learned a lot about himself last season, and as he returns to his normal role with a healthy Lidge (we hope) as a closer, Madson will have his best season in relief, finishing with an ERA under 3 for the first time in his career.

Chad Durbin vs. Chad Durbin - SAME

In our mind, Chad Durbin is nothing more or less than a solid reliever. He may not win a Cy Young award, but you can count on Durbin to always give your team a chance. After having a career year in 2008 in which he had a 2.87 ERA in 71 innings, Durbin came back to Earth last year with a 4.39 ERA. An ERA hovering around 4.50 is about where Durbin belongs and what you can expect to see in 2010.

J.C. Romero vs. J.C. Romero - SLIGHTLY WORSE

A suspension and injuries rendered 2009 to be basically a non-year for J.C. Romero (he only pitched 21 innings), so we compared Romero to his 2008 season. He pitched a whopping 81 innings in '08 with a 2.75 ERA. Our consensus is that he will not be able to live up to those numbers. Our gut feeling is that he simply exceeded expectations, but we aren't totally convinced that he wasn't helped a bit by "prescription drugs," but that's another story altogether. Romero will once again be a major force in the Phillies' bullpen, but just a tick worse than what he showed 2 years ago.

Danyz Baez & Jose Contreras vs. Chan Ho Park & Scott Eyre - WORSE

We will admit that we don't know exactly what to expect from the two new guys in the Phillies pen: Danyz Baez and Jose Contreras. We will therefore mainly rely on their career numbers to form our predictions. Baez has a career ERA of 4.04 with 114 career saves. That is a decent ERA for the American League and he provides a definite veteran presence in the pen. He is by no means a premier pitcher, but his experience as a closer could come in handy if Lidge misses some time at the start of the season. Jose Conteras has spent 8 of his 9 seasons in the American League with a 71-63 record and a 4.61 ERA, primarily as a starter. Those are pretty solid numbers, but only time will tell how that translates as he transitions to relief role. Charlie Manuel seems to really like Contreras, but we aren't completely convinced.

Baez and Contreras have some big shoes to fill, since Chan Ho Park had a 4.43 ERA in relief despite a horrific stint as a starter. All Scott Eyre did was compiled a 1.50 ERA and pitched in key situations in the last two playoffs. Baez and Contreras are no slackers, but they can't compare to what we received from Park and Eyre.

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