With the Phillies roster filling up and Spring Training around the corner, it seemed like a nice time to evaluate the Phillies offseason. After wowing us with one big move after another since taking over for Pat Gillick, Ruben Amaro does not appear to be hiding any more tricks up his sleeve. He may not have performed major offseason surgery, but Ruben conducted a few minor cosmetic procedures. Let’s go through the Phillies’ offseason moves.
The Phillies had no choice but to decline the $12.5 million option on Brad Lidge (with a $1.5 million buyout) and $16 million option on Roy Oswalt (with a $2 million buyout). Price tags, health, age, and declining stuff made for easy decisions. The Phillies starting rotation will be fine, as they still have three aces and Vance Worley, Joe Blanton, and Kyle Kendrick. And a bullpen full of young, cheap, talent and a quality closer in Papelbon made Lidge expendable. Which brings us to the biggest move of the offseason…
Barely a day after they reportedly made an offer to Ryan Madson, the Phillies signed free agent Jonathan Papelbon for $6 million more than what they offered to Madson, showing exactly how they felt. The Phillies may regret taking Papelbon over Madson in three or four years when Papelbon’s arm falls off and he’s still making $12.5 million per year (like Brad Lidge). Not that Madson was high on other teams' lists, either, considering he went from a possible 4 year/$44 million deal with the Phils to a 1 year/$8.5 million deal with Reds. Bottom line for now is this: we had a good closer last year and have a good closer this year.
Thome was one of those “low risk, high reward” decisions. For $1.25 million, Thome essentially replaces Ross Gload. Thome has only dusted off his first baseman’s glove four times since 2005, so don’t expect to see him wearing leather much with the Phillies. What Thome represents is the power threat off the bench they’ve been lacking since Matt Stairs. Thome hit 15 home runs in 93 games in 2011 and managed a somewhat respectable .256 average. Not bad for the money.
With all of Placido Polanco’s injury problems, the Phillies needed a utility player who could play third. The Phillies eyed Michael Cuddyer as their first choice, but his asking price was too steep (he eventually signed with Colorado for 3 years/$31.5 million). So, they went with Ty Wigginton for $8 million over two years. His power (15 HR in 2011) and versatility (150+ games at three different positions) is nice, but Ruben admitted himself that the Phillies needed better approaches at the plate and Wigginton’s high strikeout/walk rate does not fit the bill. Which leads us into Ruben’s next move…
Laynce Nix signifies a complete 180 from Amaro’s talk of better approaches in October, since roughly a month later he signed three “all or nothing” guys. It may be a slight change in philosophy, but Nix is still only a bench piece, and in that regard he offers an upgrade over Ben Francisco. Overall, the Phillies bench is improved with Wigginton, Thome, and Nix essentially replacing Wilson Valdez, Ross Gload, and Ben Francisco. Speaking of Benny Fresh…
With the emergence of John Mayberry and signings of two outfielders in Wigginton and Nix, the Phillies didn’t cause much of a stir when they traded Ben Francisco for a minor league reliever. Pretty easy move considering Francisco was due to receive a raise over his $1.5 million salary in arbitration.
After hitting just .245 in 2011, there was no way the Phillies were going to keep Ibanez around. Oddly enough, the Phillies still offered arbitration to Ibanez with the understanding that he would not accept (how the Phillies worked that deal is beyond me). Anyway, with a young option available in left field with Mayberry, Ibanez has no place on an aging Phillies roster.
The fact that it isn’t big news that Domonic Brown will likely spend the year at Lehigh Valley says it all. The Dom Brown experiment at this point has failed. The former “untouchable” draft pick had a tough 2011. Not only did he hit just .245 with the Phillies, but he was caught not running out a ball, forgot to touch second base, and played the outfield like a blind newborn giraffe. Then he returned to the minors and hit .261 with zero homers in 41 games. Maybe it was just too much, too quickly for Dom. Grabbing Hunter Pence hopefully takes the pressure off and Brown can get some necessary work done in the shop.
The Phils decided not to take a player in the Rule 5 Draft for the first time since 2005. I think this is a mistake. It only costs $50,000 to grab a Rule 5 player, and if you return him you get half the money back. A payroll approaching $200 million and they don’t want to risk 50 grand? The Rule 5 Draft is filled with Victorinos and Werths waiting to make an impact in the majors. They may have missed out on a better version of Michael Martinez or a lefty reliever. Why not give a guy a shot and see what happens?
After filling a valuable bench role and playing 210 games for the Phillies over the last two seasons, the Phils decided to part ways with Wilson Valdez. It was most likely a cost saving measure since Michael Martinez can fill the same role for half the price, but that price becomes much higher if history repeats itself with more injuries to Rollins, Utley, and Polanco.
Having just saved about $500,000 by moving Valdez, the Phillies soon spent it when they acquired reliever Chad Qualls for $1.15 million. With plenty of veteran and young arms in the bullpen and several more quality pitchers in the minors, it seems to me that using that money on Valdez was the wiser choice.
This was a really nice move for the Phillies. Juan Pierre provides a jolt of speed to a team lacking in that area. Pierre won’t steal 68 bags like he did in 2010, but he offers some late inning speed and another option in left field if the John Mayberry experiment fails.
And finally there is Dontrelle Willis. Dontrelle’s career took a nosedive after a couple great seasons with the Marlins, but his funky delivery keeps teams like the Phillies hoping he can find that magic once again. For a million bucks, the former Marlins star is a good investment. Rather than try Dontrelle as a starter where he has a 5.65 ERA since 2006, the Phillies will take Dontrelle’s .127 average against lefties in 2011 and throw him in the bullpen. If pitching doesn’t work out, the Phillies can always use him as another bat off the bench. The other perk? He’s good friends with Rollins, so maybe he can keep Jimmy in line.
How does the 2012 Phillies roster compare to last season? On paper, are the Phillies better, worse, or about the same as last year? To find our answer, I removed the stats of the players who left and replaced them with the new players. Lets line up the rosters side by side and see how the numbers compare.
For the starting rotation, all we need to do is remove Roy Oswalt and replace his spot with Joe Blanton. Since Blanton was injured most of the season, I used his 2010 stats rather than last season. In the chart below, the first line shows the actual totals from 2011 and the second line shows the totals when we replace Oswalt with Blanton.
|Starting pitching comparison|
As you can see, without Oswalt the overall starters' ERA increases only slightly from 2.89 to 3.10.
This offseason, the Phillies lost Madson, Lidge, Romero, and Baez (remember him?) and added Papelbon, Qualls, Willis, and Contreras hopefully for a full season. For the most part I just plugged in their actual stats, but I prorated their numbers in cases like Dontrelle Willis, since he is moving from the starting rotation to the bullpen.
The Phillies bullpen looks about the same, with the ERA increasing just a few points, from 3.43 to 3.58.
Here's what we get when we combing the bullpen and the starters.
|Phillies overall pitching comparison|
We can see that on paper the Phillies pitching staff is slightly worse than last season, with an ERA increase of 17 points. As a point of reference, that would have dropped the Phillies to first in the NL to a close second to the Giants.
Since we are really only evaluating the offseason changes, I ignored any of the post ions that haven't changed. Obviously injuries to Utley, Howard, and Polanco will have an effect on the team, but that's a discussion for another day. In this case, the only positions with significant changes are left field and right field.
In left field, John Mayberry and Laynce Nix are expected to replace Raul Ibanez. Since they will mostly split the time, I gave half the at-bats to Mayberry, half to Nix, and prorated for Ibanez's number of plate appearances.
Right field was filled last season with a combination of Mayberry, Brown, Francisco, and Pence, so I prorated their totals based on Hunter Pence's total number of at-bats last season. For 2012, I just plugged in Pence's total stats from last season.
Here's how the numbers compare for left and right field:
|LF & RF Comparison|
The numbers in left and right are closer than you might think. The average is 15 points higher and they have 8 more homers, but the RBI totals are basically the same.
The Phillies bench will look drastically different in 2012, as they replaced Francisco, Gload, and Valdez with Wigginton, Nix, and Thome. In order to compare benches, I prorated their statistics according to an estimated number of plate appearances to equal the PA's last season.
The bench was a big focus over the offseason and it shows, with 7 more HR, 11 more RBI, and a 17 point higher batting average.
|Overall hitting comparison|
When we look at the effect on the entire offense, it equates to an upgrade of 13 HR, 19 RBIs, and 28 more points in average. Just how much is that? It would improve the Phillies from 9th to 5th in the NL in batting average and 8th to 5th in home runs. And get this: On paper it would move the Phillies from 5th in RBIs to 2nd.
What can we learn from all of this? What we learn is that on paper, the Phillies upgraded slightly in their offense and downgraded slightly in their pitching. Last season the Phillies ranked first in team ERA and 5th in RBI. This year, they would rank second in pitching and second in hitting. All in all, I consider that an upgrade.
2012 Cy Young winner Cole Hamels? Why not? In 2011, his 2.79 ERA ranked sixth in the NL, his WHIP ranked second at 0.99, and he finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting.
I looked like a true genius for a while when I picked Hamels to win the Cy Young award in 2011. But when he came up a little short, I received no praise and my brilliance went unnoticed. I bet he wins it this year just to take my credit. Maybe I’ll have to pick Vance Worley this year…
Obviously Hamels is my pick again this year, but is he really a Cy Young candidate? He’s been a good pitcher, but does Hamels really rank up there with Halladay, Lee, or even Kershaw? He’s not there yet, but there are plenty of reasons to believe Hamels will have a monster 2012 season and can win the Cy Young award. Before we look at his stats on paper, we would be remiss if we ignored his obvious maturity.
Hamels was born with a good fastball and one of the best changeups in the game, but in my mind the biggest reason to believe Hamels is a Cy Young candidate is that he is finally ready mentally. Cole proved in the 2008 postseason that he is not afraid of a little pressure, but according to a line in The Mental ABC’s of Pitching, "if you want to know who I am, watch me when things aren't going my way."
Things were not going Cole's way in 2009. Hamels experience failure for the first time in his entire life that season and had no clue to handle it. His body language was terrible, he constantly complained to umpires, and in some cases he even showed up his teammates. Hamels was a textbook case of what not to do.
So, like any good pitcher, Hamels worked on his mental game. Even though his pitching was poor in April of 2010 and he received visits from boo birds, Hamels hung in there. His body language was good, he did not complain to the umps, and never even once lashed out at the fans who booed him despite almost single handedly ending their championship drought two years earlier. Hamels stated in his recent press conference that "it really made me discover who I was. That was the best stepping stone I could ever have in my career to really dig down deep and work harder."
2010 provided more examples. When the Phillies brought Cliff Lee back to town, Hamels was now considered the fourth best starter on his own team. That might have bothered the old Cole Hamels, but the new one barely noticed. And he didn’t whine a bit when his team gave him no run support for the second straight season.
But the best example of his growth in came in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Cardinals. In that game, the umpire was squeezing him, the Cardinals were fouling off every pitch within a yard of the plate, and his pitch count rose exponentially. While I threw stuff at the TV, Hamels tuned out the frustration and maintained his cool in six of the toughest innings I can remember. As Hamels himself said, "I knew that every pitch mattered. Every inning mattered. We're not in our home park anymore. You definitely focus and try to dig deep."
A 10-11 record and 4.32 ERA in 2009 forced Hamels to add another pitch, a cutter, to his arsenal. After some early struggles in 2010 and a 4.08 ERA through June, he boasted a 2.28 ERA in the last three months. Last season, Hamels set season career best marks in ERA, CG, WHIP, H/9, HR/9, BB/9, and SO/BB ratio. Hamels has an ERA of 2.61 in the year and a half since “mastering” the cutter. That mark alone is better than the ERA's 4 of the last 8 Cy Young winners.
But the question remains, is Hamels ready to take the next step towards becoming an elite pitcher? The numbers say Hamels is plenty capable of doing just that.
First of all, Hamels was consistent in 2011. Comparing his averages each month, his WHIP ranged from 0.80 to 1.11, his walks/9 from 1.3 to 2.1, and his hits/9 from 5.9 to 7.6. He was not just lucky.
His overall improvement compared to his career averages is also encouraging. His HR/9 improved from 1.09 to 0.79, his HR/FB from 11.5% to 9.9%, his extra base hit percentage from 8.1% to 6.2%, and his line drive percentage from 18.7% to 15%. Those increases suggest that hitters made weaker contact. Less line drives meant less quality hits and subsequently less extra base hits. Less home runs per fly balls meant he was likely jamming hitters more frequently and keep them off-balance more often.
His walks/9 also improved from 2.26 in his career to 1.83 in 2011, both well in line with Halladay's 1.35 and Lee's 1.62.
Bottom line: Cole Hamels has improved in nearly every facet of his game and that increase has been consistent.
Hamels admitted himself during his recent press conference that his sports hernia and loose bodies in his elbow were "both uncomfortable." Common sense tells you that Hamels should pitch even better with those problems resolved.
Finally, how better might Hamels be if got a little run support?
When I picked Hamels to win the Cy Young last year, it was little more than blind faith and hope since he had never performed at quite that level before. But there now exists a year and a half of statistics to back up a Cy Young prediction. I just hope he wins the award after the Phillies lock him up long term and not before the Yankees steal him in free agency.
The entire Phillies squad is down in sunny Clearwater (those jerks), meaning baseball season has arrived. We know the names and the faces, but now we need to find them places. Let’s try to figure out who will make the Phillies 25 man roster.
Most teams go with a staff of 12 pitchers (5 starters and 7 relievers) and 13 position players, but with inning eaters like Halladay, Lee, and Hamels in the rotation, it’s quite possible the Phillies only bring 6 relievers north in exchange for an extra bench spot. We’ll examine both possibilities.
The only question with the starters is whether or not Blanton gets traded, in which case Kendrick is your #5.
If the Phillies carry 7 relievers, it’s pretty straight forward who they will take.
Jonathan Papelbon (closer)
Chad Qualls (middle relief)
Kyle Kendrick (long relief)
Jose Contreras (setup man)
Dontrelle Willis (lefty specialist)
Antonio Bastardo (lefty specialist/set up man)
Michael Stutes (middle relief)
It’s not such an easy decision for Charlie Manuel if he elects to take only 6 relievers. They fill the first 4 spots with the guys making the most money: Papelbon, Qualls, Kendrick, and Contreras. Barring a terrible spring, Dontrelle Willis will take one of the final two spots, which leaves either Antonio Bastardo or Michael Stutes.
Bastardo will probably get the nod over Stutes since he has more experience (2 full seasons vs. 1), pitched more in 2011 (64 games vs. 57), pitched better last season (2.64 ERA vs. 3.63), and offers another lefty in the bullpen. If it’s not Bastardo or Stutes, don’t be surprised if a great spring wins the job for David Herndon, Michael Schwimer, or even Justin De Fratus.
We know who will fill 11 spots:
Carlos Ruiz (C)
Chase Utley (2B)
Jimmy Rollins (SS)
Placido Polanco (3B)
John Mayberry (LF)
Shane Victorino (CF)
Hunter Pence (RF)
Brian Schneider (C)
Ty Wigginton (1B/3B)
Laynce Nix (LF/1B)
Jim Thome (PH/1B)
Michael Martinez will likely take one of the remaining spots. Despite hitting .196 last year with no power and average speed, the Phillies like Martinez for his defense. If the Phillies carry a 13 man bench, the real battle for the one remaining spot is between Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednick.
Juan Pierre has the odds on his side since he is two years younger, has a more accomplished career, and was healthy last year. Podsednick was injured all of last season, but he hit .300 combined over the previous two campaigns and hit nearly as many homers in his last two years (13) as Pierre has in his entire career (16). They both offer speed, but have poor stealing percentages and combined to lead the league in caught stealing 9 times.
Freddy Galvis and Domonic Brown are both long shots. The Phillies just re-signed Jimmy Rollins, so the only way Galvis makes the team right now is if Rollins gets injured. Brown has a slightly better chance if he tears it up in spring training, but the Phillies feel he needs more experience in the minors.
It's not likely the Phillies would keep Pierre and Podsednick even if they carry an extended bench. In that case, we may see Galvis or Brown because they are cheaper and can be optioned to Lehigh Valley if necessary. I doubt they would keep an extra bench man, but that would make for an intriguing storyline.