<![CDATA[NBC 10 Philadelphia - Philthy Stuff | Phillies News and Analysis]]>Copyright 2017https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/blogs/philthy-stuff http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/NBC10_40x125.png NBC 10 Philadelphia https://www.nbcphiladelphia.comen-usTue, 21 Nov 2017 01:38:11 -0500Tue, 21 Nov 2017 01:38:11 -0500NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Jonathan Papelbon's Dip in Velocity]]> Wed, 23 Oct 2013 21:16:45 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Papelbon-Chicago-Phillies-Radio.jpg

When the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon before the 2012 season, he was pretty clearly one of the best relievers in the game. From 2007-2011, he led all relievers (even Mariano Rivera) in WAR, struck out just over 11 batters per nine, and saved a whole mess of games (184). He was pretty good, so you can understand why (even if it was a dumb thing to do) Ruben Amaro decided to pay him over $10 million per season to pitch in relief.

In his first year with the Phillies, Papelbon lived up to expectations. He had a 2.44 ERA, saved 38 games, and struck out 11.8 batters per nine. His 70 innings pitched was a career high, and he was one of the few sure-things for the Phillies in 2012.

A quick look at Papelbon's 2013 stat line tells a very similar story, at least on the surface. For all intents and purposes, it looked like he had a pretty good year, and one that most fans would be pretty happy with out of their favorite team's closing pitcher. In 54 games, Papelbon tossed 61.2 innings, had an ERA of 2.92, with 29 saves, and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings, to go along with 1.6 walks per nine innings. Not too shabby, at all.

But as we've come to find out in the wake of the statistical revolution, the numbers that we traditionally associate with success can only tell you so much. A bit more digging is needed to unearth the actual story. And for Papelbon, the story is that he had one of the worst years of his career. What's more concerning, however, is the trend that appears to be emerging.

When you look at numbers, everything seems to be pretty good. He saved a bunch of games, had a good ERA, and struck out a solid amount of hitters while not walking many. Without context, those numbers are good. But when you go deeper, you realize that Papelbon was worse than you'd think. Observe.

His 8.3 K/9 was the worst of his career, and is over two strikeouts lower than his career average (10.8) coming into the season. His previous career low was 9.0 in 2005, which was his first year in the league. It's also the second straight season that his K/9 has declined, which would be a whole lot less alarming if it wasn't also the second straight season that he saw a decline in velocity. For the bulk of his career, Papelbon had a four-seam fastball that averaged around 94-95 MPH. It was at its fastest in 2011, when he averaged 94.8 MPH on the gun. It dipped in 2012, to 93.8, and again in 2013, to 92. While 92 is still plenty fast, a drop in velocity makes his secondary pitches less effective, and it means less swings-and-misses on his primary pitch. Papelbon induced fewer swings in misses in 2013 than any other season in his career.

That dip in velocity led to fewer strikeouts, and at times, perhaps more flukey hits (Papelbon was no more or less unlucky in 2013 than what you'd expect from a pitcher, however) that resulted in seven blown saves for the closing pitcher. When Amaro brought him on board after the 2011 season, he was one of the premier relievers in the game, but he certainly did not exhibit that trait this season. His ERA wasn't among the 30 best in the majors. Neither was his FIP (43rd best, at 3.05), or his xFIP (45th best, at 3.51). Among his fellow relievers, it can be argued that Papelbon was less effective than Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo.

Now, that's not to say that Papelbon had a bad year. Not at all. Like I said, 2013 on its own merits was a fine campaign, despite seven blown saves. But in the grand scheme of things, it was clearly a step in the wrong direction for the 32-year-old reliever.

The good news about this is that, at the very least, Papelbon is still an effective reliever. He clearly wasn't the reliever whom Amaro saw fit to give $50 million, but as long as he can continue to strike a decent number of batters out, he will have value at the back end of the bullpen.


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[World Series Preview]]> Tue, 22 Oct 2013 23:22:46 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/185384903.jpg

The home stretch of baseball season is finally here, and after eight and a half months of spring training, regular season, and playoff games, the end is finally in sight. And on Wednesday night, we begin the process of crowning a new champion of baseball, when the Boston Red Sox (97-65) face off against the St. Louis Cardinals (97-65) in Fenway Park.

It's one of the few times that the two best teams are actually facing off in the World Series. The baseball playoff system – or any playoff system, really – is a cruel and unfair one, and the team that is truly the best and most talented doesn't always advance. It's the reason that the Phillies won it all in 2008, and why they lost in the first round in 2011. The playoffs aren't a democracy. Chaos rules supreme in October, and rarely does the World Series consist of two number one seeds.

That said, both teams are due a great deal of admiration. Like I've written before, the Cardinals are annoying in how well-run they are as an organization. They draft and scout better than anyone to the point where you wouldn't be surprised if they had an assembly line of baseball players somewhere inside Busch Stadium. Whether it's second baseman Matt Carpenter, Ace Adam Wainwright, or catcher Yadier Molina, it's a beautiful example of what happens when an organization is solid from head to toe.

Boston is similarly adept at running their organization, but that didn't preclude them from having one of the worst teams in the game in 2012, thanks in part to some bad signings and underwhelming performance from darn near their entire roster. Thanks to a bailout from the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox were able to shed some dead weight, re-load, and storm back into baseball relevancy in 2013. They did so with some key signings that they absolutely bulls-eyed, including first baseman Mike Napoli (.842 OPS, 23 homers) and right fielder Shane Victorino (.801 OPS, 15 homers). They were key additions to a roster that already included David Ortiz (.959 OPS), Dustin Pedroia (.372 OBP), and Jacoby Ellsbury (53 SB). Their payroll is among the highest in the game, but the roster is no less well constructed. They are like the Oakland Athletics, if only Billy Beane had a payroll.

So, here we are, and we are looking at one of the most uninteresting World Series matchups in a while. That's not meant to be pejorative, at all. It's just a fact, thanks to both the Cardinals and Red Sox both being well-run organizations that are always competitive. The success of either of these teams is not a surprise, and since about the middle of the season, it was pretty obvious that they both had great odds to play in the Fall Classic. Watching the Red Sox and Cardinals in the World Series is like watching a master chef prepare the perfect steak. Sure, it looks effortless and it comes out great, but sometimes, you want someone to chuck a pie, just because they can.

In the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox dispatched the Detroit Tigers in six games, which is actually pretty impressive considering the series was pretty much over after the seventh inning in game two. After taking the first game, the Tigers had a four-run lead with six outs to go, but their bullpen could not contain the Red Sox, who came storming back in grand fashion on a game-tying slam from David Ortiz. That four-run inning from the Sox turned the series on its ear, and instead of being down two games to none heading into Detroit, Boston found themselves heads-up with the AL Central champs.

Boston took two of the next three, and game back to Boston needing to win one of the next two games to advance to their third world series in the last decade. Down a run in the seventh inning, the Sox battled back and took the lead thanks to another grand slam – this time from former Phillie Shane Victorino – to give them all the offense they would need.

St. Louis, meanwhile, did not have nearly as dramatic a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They took a 2-0 lead in the series, and were never really in danger of not advancing to their fourth World Series since 2004. They dispatched the Dodgers with young pitching, a dominant bullpen, and Carlos Beltran, who continues to add to his legacy as one of the greatest post-season performers of this – or any – era. Beltran has always been a tremendous presence on the field, but he's one of the more interesting players to watch when the playoffs roll around. Whether or not you ascribe to the “clutch exists” line of thinking, it's hard to deny the fact that Beltran elevates his game in October. In 45 post season games, he's got 16 homers, and a .337/.449/.724 line. Pretty good, even if it is a very small sample size.

It's a re-match of the 2004 World Series – the one where the Sox reversed that silly curse and swept the Cardinals – but features hardly any of the same faces. For St. Louis, only manager Mike Matheny (who was the catcher in 2004) and catcher Yadier Molina were around in 2004. On the other side, only David Ortiz was in uniform for the Sox during that series.

As for this series, it's pretty evenly matched. Both teams can slug, though Boston has a considerable advantage on offense. On the mound, the Cardinals feature a deeper and more talented starting rotation. And while Boston possesses perhaps the best closer in the game right now (Koji Uehara), the Cardinals feature some high-octane relievers in the late innings.

They say that pitching wins championships, and the Cardinals certainly have the advantage on the mound. However, the Red Sox know how to work a pitcher, and they should prove to be a foil for the St. Louis arms. Either way, it should be one heckuva series, even if it's boring as all get-out.

Red Sox in seven.

Photo Credit: Boston Globe via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Leave Dom Brown Alone]]> Tue, 22 Oct 2013 07:12:43 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/238*120/domonic-brown1.jpg

Domonic Brown caused quite a stir on Twitter on Sunday, and it had nothing to do with his performance on the baseball field. While the 26-year-old outfielder was the target of much adoration from fans during the summer, thanks in part to his 28 home runs during his breakout season, he was the cause of much derision on Sunday, when he innocently made this tweet.

The nerve of that guy, eh? Rooting for his favorite football team!

Naturally, Twitter responded exactly how you'd expect when a local athlete shows up wearing the jersey of a rival team. The reactions were varied, with some applauding Brown's troll-job of the fans, while others called for him to be traded for being disloyal to the city. A quick search of Brown on Twitter will give you a decent cross-section of the responses, with the lion's share (unfortunately) taking him to task for having the audacity to root for his favorite football team.

While I could really care less about who Domonic Brown supports on the grid iron, it did allow us to get some insight into how sports fans are wired when it comes to their favorite teams. Sometimes, what happens on the field means more to the fans than it does to the players. It's the sort of irrational love for a game that makes it simultaneously a rewarding and heartbreaking experience.

You have to take the bad with the good, otherwise, what's the point? Experiencing the joy of the 2008 World Series championship also means having to experience the soul crushing defeat during the 2009 World Series. Enjoying one without the other ultimately cheapens the experience, which is why the 2004 World Series was such a great experience for Boston Red Sox fans. That's what being a sports fan is (unless you are a front runner, I guess). It's more than just something you do every Sunday, or during the summer, because it becomes part of who you are, and what you do. You rearrange your life to watch the game. You put things off because you can't miss some big event in the sporting world. Getting married in October? No can do, that's when the playoffs start!

And to that end, I understand why the reaction to Domonic Brown was so visceral. It's hard to separate your sports identity (the irrational part) from your non-sports identity (the rational part). The reasonable person who goes to the office every day is not the guy who puts on his jersey when game time rolls around.

Sometimes it's hard to remember that, before they were baseball players, they were baseball fans. And to some degree, that might still be the case. Chase Utley grew up a Dodgers fan, so even though he wears red pinstripes, he was probably cheering on Yaisel Puig during the NLCS. His employment with the Phillies doesn't (nor should it) preclude him from having a "favorite" baseball team, and it doesn't change anything about who he grew up watching during his formative years. How many of us would betray our Phillies fandom if we were lucky enough to make it to The Show with the New York Mets? Sure, you get paid by the Mets to play baseball, but deep down you love the Phillies. The difference is that it's your job; a means to an end.

Whether it's Domonic Brown, or Larry Bird, or Wayne Gretzky, if you are being paid money in exchange for services, you are an employee, first and foremost. That contract doesn't buy loyalty (as free agency has proven), especially not when it comes to another sport altogether. When a player signs a contract with a team, he isn't forfeiting his rooting interest in other sports.

So when Domonic Brown shows up at the Eagles game in Philly wearing his favorite team's colors, that doesn't mean that he dislikes Philly, or that he doesn't want to play for the Phillies, or that he is giving a middle finger to the fans. It just means that he is there to watch a football game and cheer on his favorite team. In this case, the team just so happens to be one that has a sort of rivalry with the Eagles, making it that much more egregious to the fans. If Brown was a St. Louis Rams fan, would anyone care? Not likely.

It's interesting, the sort of angry reaction that many had to Brown on Twitter, simply because he made an innocent tweet about rooting for the Cowboys, as if that was some unforgivable sin. Who cares? Does him rooting for a rival of the Eagles make him any less a talented baseball player? Does it take away his breakout season? Does it make him any less fun to cheer for? Of course not. Those same fans cursing him out on Twitter will be cheering him on in May when he belts a 400-foot homer to put the Phillies ahead in the eighth inning.

So before you start tweeting to Dom (or any player) that you think he is a traitor (frequently spelled 'trader," I came to find out) to the city, remember that he's a fan. Just like you.

Photo Credit: CSN]]>
<![CDATA[Did the Phillies Re-Sign Michael Martinez? ]]> Sat, 19 Oct 2013 15:23:34 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/209*120/Michael_Martinez_Phillies.jpg

The Phillies re-signed free agent utility player Michael Martinez on Friday. Or they didn't. If there is one thing that we are certain of, it's that the utility player may or may not currently be under a contract with the organization. The confusion unfolded on Friday morning, when conflicting reports emerged regarding the apparent first move of the organization following the 2013 season.

Initially, MLB Daily Dish reported on Thursday evening that the 31-year-old was re-signed to a minor league deal with the Phillies, only a few days after electing free agency. The reaction from the fans was one of anger and disgust, and for good reason, as Martinez has been a waste of a roster spot since he was acquired in the Rule V draft from the Washington Nationals prior to the 2010 season.

In three seasons and exactly 162 games with the Phillies, the switch-hitting Martinez has a line of .187/.234/.261, with five homers in 396 at-bats. His OPS+, which measures a player's offensive value relative to the other players in the game (100 is league average), is 35. In 29 games with the Phillies in 2013, he had an OPS of -3 - that's negative three. He was somehow less valuable on offense than a player who never once stepped into the batter's box, which is nothing if not impressive, in a terrible sort of way.

But Martinez wasn't really brought on board because of his bat (at least, I certainly hope the front office didn't look at his minor league stat line prior to 2010 and decide that they must have this bat in the lineup), but ostensibly because of his versatility on defense. Martinez, for his shortcomings with the bat, can play just about every position on the field. In his tenure with the big club, he's played every position but catcher, first base, and pitcher. There is some value in having a super utility guy on your roster, because defense - as it turns out - is actually pretty important. Even if Martinez wasn't a great defender, at least he gives the Phillies some options late in the game.

Defensive utility aside, he's just not a good player, so there wasn't much reason to have him around, even if it was just on a minor league deal. Especially when there are players in the system who are more deserving of a roster spot. Like Jermaine Mitchell, for instance. The 28-year-old outfielder, who was drafted in the 5th round by the Oakland Athletics in 2006, has never played an inning above AAA. That, despite having a solid OBP in the minors (.376), a bit of power, and good speed. His skill set provides infinitely more value to the Phillies than Martinez's, who wasn't half the player Mitchell was in the minors.

Fast forward to Friday morning, when Phillies beat writer Kevin Cooney tweeted that the Phillies did not re-sign Martinez, and that the earlier report is false, effectively pulling many a fan back from the proverbial ledge. Good thing, too, because if the Phillies really are evolving into an organization that is going to take a more analytical approach to their roster, then they really shouldn't even considering signing someone like Martinez.

So, for now, it appears that Martinez is not back with the Phillies. Or maybe he is. Ruben Amaro has not commented on the matter, but given his history of misdirection, this might just be the world's worst attempt to drive up the value of a player who, by rights, should never see another inning above AAA. You can never really tell with Ruben. At any rate, the Michael Martinez watch is in full effect, which is pretty much exactly how you'd expect this off-season to go for the Phillies.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Darin Ruf's Power Display]]> Sun, 20 Oct 2013 22:29:57 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Phillies+Darin+Ruf.jpg

In 2013, the Phillies outfield was, at times, a mish-mash of bodies who were often out of place. Whether it was Cesar Hernandez playing center, or Delmon Young playing right, there were plenty of fishes out of water for the Phillies in 2013. Including Darin Ruf, who spent his fair share of time roaming the outfield this season.

Ruf made his debut in 2012, and did so to slight acclaim. In 12 games at the end of the season, Ruf had an OPS of 1.079 and three homers. It wasn't an awful debut by any stretch, and Ruf put on display the one thing that caught everyone's attention in the minor leagues: his power.

Power, perhaps more than any other attribute, is the one thing that every team wants in spades. For better or worse, acquiring home run hitters – even at the cost of batting average – is a risk worth taking for many teams. After all, it's hard to defend against balls that are hit over the fence. If not for that, no one would have thought twice about Darin Ruf, who appeared on everyone's radar following a tremendous 2012 season at AA Reading, where he clubbed 38 homers in 139 games.

That power alone is the reason that Ruf found himself on the roster in 2013. A first baseman by trade, Ruf was moved to the outfield during training in an attempt to find room for him in the lineup. With Ryan Howard cemented at first base, and no DH in the National League, Ruf would have to sink or swim in the outfield.

Surprisingly enough, Ruf equipped himself nicely in his new position. He's not fast, he doesn't have a great arm, and his range is so-so, but he didn't outright embarrass himself out there. For the most part, he did a decent enough job corralling the balls that he was able to get to. While he didn't commit any errors in left or right field, most fielding metrics didn't give him much praise. It's one thing not to commit an error, but quite another to successfully turn most fly balls into outs.

In short, Darin Ruf is not an outfielder, and he likely will never be. However, that doesn't mean he wasn't useful to the Phillies in some capacity this season. In 73 games, he had 11 doubles, 14 homers, a .348 OBP and an .806 OPS. He wasn't Miguel Cabrera, but there is some utility there on offense. While he mashed against left-handed pitchers in his rookie season, he wasn't quite so lucky in 2013. In 69 at bats, he had a .656 OPS, with only three homers.

Although Ruf will only be 27 next season, his fate is still probably that of a bench or platoon player. He has enough power to make himself useful, but there is very little chance he will be a starter unless the Phillies are able to move Ryan Howard. But that's not a bad thing, because having someone like Ruf on the bench is certainly an advantage over the course of a season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Phillippe Aumont's Lack of Control]]> Wed, 16 Oct 2013 22:05:40 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/178*120/167505621.jpg

Coming into the 2013 season, there was a decent amount of optimism regarding the Phillies bullpen. One of the worst 'pens in the National League a year earlier, the Phillies leaned on their younger relievers to augment the veteran presence of Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams. Among those relievers was Phillippe Aumont, a tall right-handed flame-thrower who was acquired from Seattle as part of the Cliff Lee trade.

You can count on multiple hands the number of references I made to Aumont becoming a legitimate late-inning relief threat for the Phillies, with his ultimate destination as the ninth inning. I – as well as others – made such claims based on the skill set that he possessed, and on the array of pitches that was quite often on display during the 2012 season.

Not only did he look the part, but he performed as such, too. In 14.2 innings of work (a very small sample size, I know), Aumont had a 3.68 ERA and 8.6 K/9. To be fair, he also walked over five batters per nine innings, but his ability to strike everyone out would theoretically neutralize his lack of control. Besides, it's not like a mechanical adjustment couldn't be made to sharpen his command, so there was little reason that the 23-year-old wouldn't adjust.

After a solid spring, Aumont broke camp with the Phillies, and soon found himself getting work with some frequency as a middle reliever. He was the losing pitcher in three of the games, and ended up with as many walks (7) as strikeouts in 7.2 innings of work. The results (3.52 ERA) were better than the process, but it was less than ten innings, so there was no need to overreact.

But things didn't get better for Aumont, who continued to struggle with his command in his appearances, leading to fewer and fewer appearances. He was demoted to AAA Lehigh Valley in late May, where he somehow managed to lose whatever control he had remaining. In 10.2 innings of work, for the IrongPigs, he walked 15 batters. He was recalled for another brief stint with the Phils, but was soon sent back down to AAA. His poor command persisted, and he walked 23 batters in 25 innings of work in his return to Lehigh Valley.

At the end of the season, his stat line looked like this:
MLB: 1-3, 4.19 ERA, 19.1 IP, 8.8 K/9, 6.1 BB/9
AAA:  0-2, 4.04 ERA, 35.2 IP, 10.6 K/9, 9.6 BB/9

Typically, the minor leagues serve as a bit of a reprieve for struggling players, who oftentimes excel against younger and less talented competition. That was not the case for Aumont, who failed in spectacular fashion. His performance with the IronPigs was downright Ankielian, and it severely called into question whether or not he has the chops to pitch with any level of success in the majors.

To make things worse, Aumont appeared to have had a disagreement with the organization about how he should be handled after being shuffled back and forth between the Phillies and the IronPigs. Based on his performance between both levels, it's hard not to see where there may have been a difference in philosophy as it pertains to the reliever. Either way, 2013 was a season to forget for Aumont, who was once ranked as one of the better pitching prospects in the game.

The bright side to all of this is that Aumont is still young enough and talented enough to turn it around. He's got the size, the strength, and the repertoire, but that doesn't mean much if he can't put it all together. But in light of the Phillies not bringing back pitching coach Rich Dubee, it could be the perfect opportunity for Aumont to start fresh with some new guidance at the Major League level.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jimmy's Rough Year]]> Tue, 15 Oct 2013 22:51:12 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/181*120/170142114.jpg

For the longest time, Jimmy Rollins has been one of my absolute favorite players to watch. Despite some of his bad habits at the plate, he's been a decent enough hitter for a shortstop, and when he was healthy and in his prime, there were few players more exciting than the 2007 National League MVP. Whether it was on the field or in the box, J'Roll was always worth the price of admission. But he was not without his fair share of problems in 2013.

The shortstop, who is the longest tenured Phillie on the roster, had the worst season of his career in 2013, when he had a .252/.318/.348 line to go along with six homers and 22 stolen bases. His six bombs are the fewest he's hit in his career, second to 2003 and 2010, when he hit eight.

Similarly, his 22 stolen bases would be the second fewest of his career, if not for an injury-shortened 2010 season that saw him swipe only 17 bags. Both his OPS (.667) and OPS+ (85) are also career lows.

Despite his traditionally poor plate approach, Rollins has typically been good for above-average power for his position. With the exception of the aforementioned 2010 season, the last time Rollins didn't have a double digit homer total was in in 2003. Even if he didn't get on base as much as we'd all have liked, he was still good for some decent power for a shortstop. But that was not the case this year, and he instead went from 23 homers in 2012 to six in 2013.

All in all, it was a pretty miserable season at the dish for Jimmy. Thanks to Ben Revere's presence, he was moved down in the order at times, and spent all of 63 games hitting out of the leadoff spot. That's not necessarily a bad thing based on the results, as his performance leading off his year was considerably worse than when he hit second or third in the order.

Defensively, it wasn't Rollins' finest season. While the jury is still out on the efficacy of defensive metrics, Fangraphs rates Rollins as the 16th best fielding shortstop in the big leagues. His 11 errors were near the  bottom of the list, but that only tells a small part of the story. And this season, that story appears to be that Jimmy has lost a step or two on defense. That makes sense, as Rollins is 34, and is one of the elder statesmen of Major League shortstops.

The silver lining to all of this is that it would be tough for Rollins to perform much worse than he did this season. Maybe that's more wishful thinking than anything else, because if he were to play worse than he did in 2013, that would essentially make him an $11 million version of Wilson Valdez.

Rollins does have one more year left on the contract extension that he signed prior to the 2012 season, plus a vesting option that will kick in if he exceeds more than 600 plate appearances in 2014. Considering that he averaged 665 plate appearances per season since 2011, it's a safe bet that he'll hit that number again next season. And depending on how motivated the Phillies are to have him back in 2015, it will be interesting to see if his playing time is impacted next season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Kyle Kendrick's So-So Season]]> Mon, 14 Oct 2013 23:23:01 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Kyle_Kendrick_Phillies_Rotation_2013.jpg

When Kyle Kendrick was given a two-year contract worth over $7 million after the 2011 season, many wondered if General Manager Ruben Amaro was spinning his wheels on a pitcher whose contributions were easily found elsewhere. After all, why pay that kind of money for a pitcher of his ilk when it can be had on the open market at a lower cost?

The start of the 2012 season didn't convince anyone that the two-year-deal was a wise investment, as the right-handed pitcher's performance didn't do much to convince anyone that he was a useful starter or bullpen piece.

But it was Kendrick's strong finish to the 2012 season that gave many hope for the his future. In the final two months, he proved to be among the team's most consistent pitchers, as he finished the year with a 3.20 ERA in 70.1 innings over his final 12 starts. It was quite the turnaround for the right-hander, whose ERA exceeded four as he see-sawed between the rotation and the bullpen through the end of July.

And as the 2012 season was a tale of two pitchers for Kendrick, so too was 2013. Through the end of June, Kendrick owned a 3.59 ERA in 112.2 innings in 17 starts. He held opposing hitters to a .678 OPS, and allowed ten homers. He proved himself to be a solid starter, and offered the Phillies a fighting chance every time he took the hill. He pitched six or more innings in 14 of his starts, and allowed three or fewer runs 12 times. All in all, it was a good start.

From July onward, however, it was a different story. In his final 13 starts, he had a 6.49 ERA in 69.1 innings. He allowed eight homers in forty fewer innings, and opposing hitters were OPSing to the tune of .859. He had a slightly better strikeout rate, but his control suffered. He pitched six innings only seven times, and allowed three or fewer runs five times. He was the polar opposite of the pitcher who a few months earlier could be counted on for solid innings when he took the mound.

In the end, Kendrick's 4.70 ERA in 182 innings would be the second worst of his career. While his FIP (a statistic which attempts to normalize performance by focusing only on the things that a pitcher can control) of 4.01 proved to be his best since 2009. Still, he was clearly not the same pitcher during the second half of the season.

While bad luck did conspire against Kendrick in the second half of the season, it appears that a late-season shoulder injury may have been the culprit for his second-half struggles. While there is no definitive time-table for when his right shoulder began to act up, it appeared to have started – at the very latest – sometime in mid-August, which was in the teeth of his slide.

Regardless, Kendrick's late-season struggles do not appear to be a deterrent for Ruben Amaro, who has been very open about the fact that he is planning to offer the 29-year-old pitcher a contract in the off-season. In light of that, it appears that a return to the Phillies is a distinct possibility. He will be eligible for arbitration, and could earn as much as $8 million for one-year. With pitching at a premium, and without a great amount of depth in the minor league system, that isn't necessarily an awful investment for the Phillies, especially if Kendrick's shoulder proves to be healthy. If he does return, the only question is which version the Phillies will be sending to the mound every five days.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rooting Interest: ALCS]]> Sat, 12 Oct 2013 17:08:25 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/167*120/183187187.jpg

With the opener of the National League Championship Series in the books (and continuing on Saturday afternoon), it's time to turn our eyes upon the Junior Circuit to see which team will be representing the American League in the World Series.

The Matchup: Boston Red Sox versus Detroit Tigers

Like their National League counterparts, both franchises have a fair bit of history associated with them, and are no strangers to having Hall of Fame players in their ranks. The Red Sox, most notably, are the franchise of Babe Ruth before he was Babe Ruth, as well as Ted Williams (perhaps the greatest hitter of all time), Carl Yastrzemski, and Carlton Fisk. They own seven World Series titles, with two coming in the past decade after a drought that you may have heard of.

Detroit, meanwhile, called Ty Cobb their own, as well as legendary announcer Ernie Harwell, and Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, who skippered the 1984 squad to the World Championship. Their franchise gets less ink than Boston's, but they are no less an important part of the fabric of baseball. While they haven't won a World Series title in nearly 30 years, they've won the American League pennant twice in the last decade (including last season), but came up short in both instances.

The Red Sox, who are perhaps the most hirsuite team in all of baseball, are an organization that is run in very much the same manner of the Oakland Athletics or Tampa Bay Rays, in that they seek value in areas where other teams might not. The big difference, though, is that they have the fourth largest payroll in the game, which gives them a distinct advantage over the smaller market teams. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that they are one of the most well-run organizations in baseball when it comes to front office management. Their first place finish in 2013 led to their first playoff berth since 2009, and is one year removed from a hilarious season where they hired Bobby Valentine, and two years removed from one of the most notable last-season collapses in recent memory.

That is in the past, and this 97-win team has proven to be among the best in the game, thanks in part to the best offense in the American League. Their lineup is head and shoulders above the rest of the league in most offensive categories, due to their ability to get on base and hit for power. On offense, they are lead by the ageless David Ortiz, who clubbed 30 homers and led the team with a .959 OPS. Behind him are first baseman Mike Napoli, outfielders Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, and Jacoby Ellsbury, along with second baseman Dustin Pedroia. It's a relentless lineup that gives opposing pitchers fits.

On the mound, they've been less successful, but still possess enough pitching acumen to keep things within striking distance for the offense. Their starting corps of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, and Clay Buchholz is solid, but their bullpen is where they really get things done, with a stable that consists of closer Koji Uehara, as well as relievers Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow.

While the Tigers cannot match the Red Sox in offensive firepower, they sure do come close. Their offense ranked second in the American League in OPS, OPS+, OBP, and SLG. A lot of the credit for that goes to Miguel Cabrera, who is on the cusp of winning his second straight MVP award. Behind him are Prince Fielder, veteran Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, and Jhonny Peralta. It is worth noting that Cabrera has been nursing a groin injury throughout the playoffs, which significantly lessens his impact in the lineup.

On the hill, the Tigers have a distinct advantage. Their pitching staff was among the best in the league this season, thanks to a rotation that consisted of Justin Verlander, Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer, as well as 29-year-olds Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez.

When it comes to hitting, the Red Sox have an advantage, while the Tigers have the edge when it comes to pitching. They say that pitching wins championships, but it's hard to slow down an offense like the one that the Sox possess.

As for former Phillies, the Red Sox currently employ Shane Victorino, who is enjoying a very nice season in his first year with Boston. A switch-hitter for his entire career, Victorino has started to hit exclusively from the right side due to an injury suffered earlier this season. That has resulted in one of the best season's of the outfielder's career. Victorino, always a fan favorite in Philly, makes the Red Sox very easy to root for.

If you're not a fan of teams buying their championships, then this matchup might not be for you, as both teams spend a boatload of money on talent. But, they are not without a great deal of talent that is fun to watch. If you enjoy a more statistical approach to building a team, then the Sox are for you, ditto if you like cheering for former Phillies. But, if you want the success to be more spread around, then put your money on Detroit, who has gone nearly 30 years without a World Series title.

Game one starts on Saturday night, with first pitch slated for 8:07.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rooting Interest: NLCS]]> Sat, 12 Oct 2013 11:27:42 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/173*120/game+1+homer.jpg

The National League Championship Series is upon us, and like last season, the Phillies are noticeably absent from the proceedings. If you can't stomach watching baseball without the presence of the red pinstripes, then the playoffs this year aren't for you. But if you're like me, then you'll be stuck in front of a television set for the next two weeks, eagerly anticipating the coronation of the new World Series champs.

And if you're the latter, then you'll need to know who to root for. This year, the answer is pretty obvious, but I've put together a guide on which team you should be pulling for in the NLCS.

The Matchup: St. Louis Cardinals versus the Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers and Cardinals are among two of baseball's more storied franchises, with a host of Hall of Famers and World Series titles between them. The Dodgers of Los Angeles via Brooklyn, are the franchise of Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Vin Scully, and arguably the greatest postseason home run ever hit. They own six World Series titles, the last of which came in 1988.

The Cardinals are not without their fair share of success, thanks to a pair of championships in the last decade, making it 11 total for the franchise. They, too, have a slew of renowned Hall of Famers to call their own, including Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Rogers Horsnby, and Bob Gibson. Behind the mic for so many years was Jack Buck, who, along with Vin Scully, occupies the rarified air of great broadcasters.

As far as franchises go, it's hard to get a better matchup than St. Louis and Los Angeles. But this is not about a franchise, it's about the 2013 team, and how their current rosters shake out.

The Dodgers, who underwent a drastic ownership change in the last year, are in part owned by Magic Johnson, who – I believe – dabbled in athletics earlier in his career. Maybe football? I can't quite remember. Anyhow, he's a magician who is now running a baseball team. Neat! Sometimes I wish David Copperfield would buy the Phillies, just so he could make Ryan Howard's contract disappear.

Anyhow, the Dodgers are flush with cash, and they had no trouble demonstrating that last season, when they acquired Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez from the Boston Red Sox for James Loney and a handful of minor leaguers. They continued their spending spree in the off-season, when they signed free agent pitcher Zack Greinke and Korean pitcher Hyun-jun Ryu.

That didn't to them a lot of good early on, as they found themselves nearly ten games out in the middle of June. They turned their season around, however, in part thanks to the emergence of rookie Yaisel Puig, who showed up and hit .391 with 19 homers the rest of the way, and – to the ire of many – appeared to have fun doing so.

On the hill, they have likely Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who might just be the greatest pitcher on the planet right now. Behind him is Greinke, Ryu, and closer Kenley Jansen.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, are the organization that you love to hate, mostly because they are so good at being an organization whose job it is to win baseball games. They churn out players like some kind of talent mill, and it seems like they have a fresh batch of young arms at their disposal every season. It's irritating how good they are at scouting and drafting and Molinaing.

Unlike the Dodgers, the Cardinals have been in the thick of it from the jump, and finally made their move in late September to secure their third straight playoff berth. While they lack the starpower of the Dodgers, they have a solid offense consisting of Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and Matt Carpenter, to go along with a young pitching staff anchored by Ace Adam Wainwright.

From a statistical standpoint, the teams are pretty evenly matched. Their offenses are very similar, as they have a handful of power hitters and a lineup of talent that is able to work a count when they need to. The Dodgers performed better this season on the mound, but the Cardinals have a stable of young starters and relievers that is hard to top.

As for former Phillies, the Cardinals used to employ Ty Wigginton, while the Dodgers currently call Michael Young their own. Advantage Dodgers, who most certainly have used Young's leadership to cruise to a National  League west title.

It's a pretty evenly matched contest, both at the plate and on the mound. But, you should really be rooting for the Dodgers. Why? Despite being a premier Major League franchise with deep pockets, there is enough talent on this big-market team to make them downright likable, and with a World Series drought over two decades, it's safe to say that they're due. More importantly: they aren't the St. Louis Cardinals.

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jake Diekman's Impressive Season]]> Fri, 11 Oct 2013 18:09:10 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/148638976.jpg

Prior to the 2013 season kick off for the Phillies, much of the talk surrounded the bullpen, and how the group of young relievers was aligning to be a strength for the club. It was supposed to be a turnaround season for the relief corp, who only a year earlier struggled, despite the addition of closer Jonathan Papelbon.

As it turns out, the bullpen was one of the low points for the 2013 Phillies, as they allowed more runs per game than all but one National League team. It was a frustrating spectacle, to say the least, and it was chief among the reasons the Phillies finished well under .500 for the first time in a decade.

The 'pen was not without it's bright spots, however, as anyone who watched Jake Diekman this year can attest. After a decent rookie season in 2012 where the lefty demonstrated an ability to strikeout hitters as much as walk them, he took a huge step forward in 2013 and emerged as a dominant Southpaw in the bullpen alongside Antonio Bastardo.

In 38.1 innings of work (a reduced Major League workload due to starting the season with Lehigh Valley), Diekman had a 2.58 ERA with 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings, as well as much improved BB/9 of 3.8 (down from 6.6 in the previous season). As a reliever, the ability to limit the walks is a crucial one, and Diekman did so by spotting his fastball, which allowed him to turn his slider into a dominating out-pitch.

Diekman has been particularly effective against left-handed hitters, whom he held to a .368 OPS in 61 at-bats this season. 23 of those at bats resulted in strikeouts, while only six of them resulted in walks. He wasn't as successful against right-handed hitters (they got on base against him at a .372 pace), which is why Diekman's lot in life may very well be as a left-handed specialist who only occasionally faces righties.

The thing about Diekman is that he is all of 26-years-old, so he figures to only get better over the next few years if he can continue to keep his control in check. As I see it, the greater responsibility lies in Ryne Sandberg's management, and how he decides to use his pitcher. If he is used exclusively against lefties, then he very well may be one of the most effective relievers in the game in 2014.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ben Revere's Fine Phillies Debut]]> Wed, 09 Oct 2013 21:46:48 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/173149793.jpg

Last winter, Ruben Amaro was tasked with having to rebuild the team's outfield in the light of losing both Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. It would be a tall order, thanks to a lack of Major League-ready talent at the minor league levels and a payroll without room to spare.

And as easy as it would have been to sign some of the available free agent outfielders (Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton), Amaro went in another direction (thank goodness, because B.J. Upton was ghastly) and traded for Ben Revere, a 25-year-old outfielder from the Minnesota Twins.

The bounty for Revere – RHP Vance Worley and minor league RHP Trevor May – was not a costly one, and by most accounts, the Phillies got the most out of the trade, despite Revere having zero career homers. Given his age, cost, and the notion that he should only get better, the Revere trade was one of the better moves on Amaro's resume.

Unfortunately, Revere got off to a rough start with the Phillies, thanks to a month of April that saw him hit .200 with one extra base hit and all of four walks. Call it a bad plate approach, call it nerves, or call it bad luck, but it was pretty much the worst start imaginable for a hitter than many believed could supplant Jimmy Rollins at the top of the order.

But that was the worst of it for Revere, as he managed to put together a respectable season despite losing playing time following his early-season slump. He hit .347 the rest of the way, with a .312 average in May, a .354 average in June, and a .388 average in July. If not for Domonic Brown's video game-like tear through opposing pitchers, Revere might have been the most entertaining hitter over the course of the summer.

That is a big “might,” though, because while Revere did offer plenty of singles and a handful of doubles, he was pretty much useless when it came to power. His .352 slugging percentage ranked 231st in the Majors among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances. Not for nothing, it's still six better than Jimmy Rollins.

But power has never been, nor will it ever be, Revere's game. His value in the lineup is hinged almost entirely on his speed. It's his greatest asset, and it's why he can turn a bunt or a ball deep in the hole at shortstop into a hit more than anyone else. He'll get his doubles and his triples, but he's a speedster first, and always.

On defense, Revere was a bit of a mixed bag. He's got a bad arm, but he's fast enough to track down most balls hit out near him. He wasn't considered one of the better defenders this season by the advanced defensive metrics, but he's no slouch in center, and he figures to only get better the more he plays the position.

Unfortunately, Revere's season was cut short thanks to a broken foot suffered during an at-bat in July. It was a tragic fate for the outfielder, who had just got his average above .300 following his slow start. The good news is that Revere should be good to go come Spring Training.

While not without it's shortcomings, Revere's first season in Philadelphia was a good one, and should provide a healthy amount of positivity for 2014.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Chase Utley's Rebound]]> Tue, 08 Oct 2013 21:05:50 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/171*120/168833657.jpg

One of the bigger question marks facing the Phillies in 2013 was that of the status of their second baseman. Chase Utley, who for so long was among the best players in the game, was beset by a pair of knee injuries in 2011 and 2012 that cost him a great deal of offensive value. Those injuries caused – rightfully so – many to wonder just how much Utley had left in the tank, and if his time on the Phillies was coming to an end.

That worry was perhaps premature, because as it happened, Chase Utley rewarded the Phillies – and the fans – with his best all-around season since 2010. It was in 2010 that he last had an OPS over .800, where he last hit over 15 homers, where he last had a respectable slugging percentage, and where he last didn't start the season on the disabled list thanks to a pair of knee injuries.

That last part is of particular importance, because it was those knee injuries that, only last season, were thought of as a potential career-ender for the veteran second baseman. In his two seasons dealing with said injuries, Utley netted a .258/.353/.426 line in 186 games. Among second basemen, that's actually a bit above average, but for Utley, it was well below what we have come to expect from the infielder.

But thanks to the new treatment to his knee, Utley appeared to be a brand new man in 2013. He came out swinging, with an .870 OPS and five homers in the first month of the season. He wouldn't be without struggles during the season – thanks in part to an oblique injury – but he finished the year with a very respectable .284/.348/.475 line, and his 18 homers were fourth in the game among second baseman.

While his resurgence in the batting order was a sight for sore eyes, perhaps the most important takeaway from his season was that he managed to stay (relatively) healthy for the duration. Aside from the aforementioned oblique injury, his knees did not appear to be an issue over the course of the year. He was with the team at the start of the season, and his 131 games played were the most since he played 156 in 2009.

And as Utley rewarded the team with a very solid season, Ruben Amaro rewarded the second baseman with a contract extension that will keep him in red pinstripes through at least 2015, with options that could make him a fixture in Philadelphia through 2018. Of course, a lot of that relies upon Utley being healthy during the next few years, but it's nice knowing that perhaps the greatest Phillies hitter of this generation will be around for the long haul. And with no obvious heir to second base (with apologies to Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez) on the roster, Utley's continued presence in Philly is an important one.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cole's Great Season]]> Mon, 07 Oct 2013 19:44:21 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Cole-Hamels929.jpg

One week ago, Cole Hamels made his last start in 2013, when he tossed six solid innings in Miami, where he allowed a pair of runs against the Marlins. He wouldn't figure in the decision, but the Phillies would go on to lose by a score of 3-2.

His final start of the season went as so many others this year had gone, with Cole dealing, but having little to show for it due to poor run support from the offense. He finishes the season with an 8-14 record, which would belie the fact that he has been one of the better pitchers in the National League. His eight wins this season are the fewest of his career, and it's the first time since his debut season that he didn't finish the year with double digit wins.

Early on in the season, that might not have been a surprise, simply because Cole looked pretty awful in his first couple starts. He allowed 13 runs in 10.2 innings over his first two starts, and he looked nothing like the Ace that was re-signed to a six-year extension last season. But two games does not a season make, and Hamels shook off his early troubles and proceeded to pitch like his old self. If you take away those two nightmarish starts at the beginning of the year, then his ERA drops to 3.22, which would be good enough for 16th in the National League.

But ERA is just a number, and it in no way takes away from the fact that Hamels was really, really good this season. He struck out 8.3 per nine, and his 2.0 BB/9 is the second best of his career. He also allowed 0.9 home runs per nine, which goes down as the second best of his career.

The real issue for Hamels, this season, was the rest of the team. The offense provided Hamels with just 3.36 runs per game, which is sixth worst in the National League. That explains how Hamels manged to lose five of the 12 games in which he allowed just two runs.

At the end of the day, Hamels had a great season, even if the stats on the back of his baseball card won't show that. Every five days, he took the mound and gave the Phillies a good chance to win, which is more than you can say for just about anyone else in the rotation.

The good news is that it really can't get much worse for Cole, who will turn 30 before the start of the next season. With any luck, the Phillies will have added more offense, and Cole will be able to get his first win (which will be his 100th) before the sixth start of the season.

With Cliff Lee's time with the Phillies winding down, the stage is set for Hamels to become the new face of the rotation.

Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[The American League Playoff Picture]]> Wed, 02 Oct 2013 18:16:54 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/182057025_8.jpg

The MLB playoffs are here, which means time for poorly thought out predictions based on my own personal preferences and biases. My National League dance card is already ruined, thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates downing the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night. Let's check out the American League.

Wild Card Game: Cleveland Indians (92-70) versus Tampa Bay Rays (92-71)
. The Rays already have already had a taste of the one-game playoff, thanks to their win over the Texas Rangers on Monday night.

Time and time again, the Rays have proven to be the little team that could, in part because of their shoe string budget and small market appeal. But here they are, once again, proving they can play with the big boys. It helps when they have the likes of Evan Longoria (32 homers) and rookie phenom Wil Myers (.831 OPS). Their strength lies in their rotation, where David Price (3.33 ERA), Matt Moore (3.29), Alex Cobb (2.76) and Chris Archer (3.22) hang out. Opposing hitters certainly have their work cut out for themselves.

That brings us to the Indians, who didn't excel at any one thing this season. They were in the middle of the pack in both pitching and hitting. They aren't without talent, as their rotation is led by Ubaldo Jimenez (3.30 ERA), and Justin Masterson (3.45). On the other side of the ball, catcher Carlos Santana leads the team with an .832 OPS. He is joined by upstart second baseman Jason Kipnis (17 homers), and OF/1B Nick Swisher (team-leading 22 homers).

And the rest...

Boston Red Sox (97-65, A.L. East Champions)
: The resurgent Sox, who only two years ago were victimized by a historic collapse, have perhaps the best offense in the league (they led the A.L. In runs, OBP, and slugging), thanks to the likes of David Ortiz (.959 OPS, 30 homers), Mike Napoli (23 homers), Dustin Pedroia (.301 batting average), and Shane Victorino (.801 OPS, 15 homers). In true Red Sox fashion, they wear down opposing pitchers with tremendous plate discipline and power.

They aren't as talented on the mound, but are not without solid options. Veterans Jon Lester (3.75 ERA) and John Lackey (3.52) have led the way, while mid-season acquisition Jake Peavy (4.04 ERA) and recently off-the-DL Clay Buchholz (1.74) provide Boston with plenty of depth. Their bullpen has proven to be a great strength this season, thanks to closer Koji Uehara (1.09 ERA), and relievers Junichi Tazawa (3.16), and Craig Breslow (1.81).

Interesting sidenote: Former Phillie Shane Victorino, who signed a three-year deal with the Sox, has taken to hitting exclusively from the right side as of late, thanks to an injury that makes it difficult to switch hit. The result has been eye-opening, as Victorino has an .874 OPS from the right side of the plate. Which makes you wonder: What has he been doing trying to hit lefty all those years?

Detroit Tigers (93-69, A.L. Central Champions): The reigning American League Champions won the division handily, with a balanced attack of hitting and pitching.

Their offense begins and ends with Miguel Cabrera, the 2012 (and likely the 2013) A.L. MVP, who hit .348 with 44 homers this season. He is a one man wrecking crew, but it never hurts to have help like Prince Fielder (25 homers), Torii Hunter (17 homers) or Victor Martinez (14 homers).

On the mound, though, is where the Tigers are relentless. They can start Justin Verlander (3.46 ERA), Max Scherzr (2.90), Doug Fister (3.67), or Anibal Sanchez (2.57). There is really no weak spot in their rotation, which boasts high-powered arms that have proven to be among the best in the league in 2013.

Oakland Athletics (96-66, A.L. West Champions): Billy Beane went and did it again, and was rewarded with the second best record in the American League. Without a ton of money to play with, the A's fielded one of the best offenses and pitching staffs in the league, and on the division without too much difficulty.

They are led by third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 24 bombs to go along with a .301/.384/.499 line. He is joined by first baseman Brandon Moss, who led the team with 30 homers and a .522 slugging percentage. Not to be overlooked is shortstop Jed Lowrie (.290 batting average), or outfielders Coco Crisp (22 HR) and Yeonis Cespedes (26 HR). What they lack in flash, they make up for with consistency, which has led them to the third best OPS in the A.L. In 203.

Similarly, their pitching staff has been unconventional, in that they are not the overpowering. They are led by Bartolo Colon, who has a 2.65 ERA in 190.1 innings pitched. Joining him are A.J. Griffin (3.83), Jarrod Parker (3.97) and Sonny Gray (2.67). They possess an equally talented bullpen, anchored by closer Grant Balfour (38 saves, 2.59 ERA) and fellow relievers Sean Doolittle (3.13) and Ryan Cook (2.54).

My Picks:

Tampa Bay over Cleveland
Oakland over Detroit
Boston over Tampa Bay
Oakland over Boston

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The National League Playoff Picture]]> Tue, 01 Oct 2013 18:29:10 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/182057736.jpg

The MLB playoffs are here, which means it's time for poorly thought out predictions based on my own personal preferences and biases. But whose counting! Let's get to it. Today, the National League. 

Wild Card Game: Cincinnati Reds (90-72) versus Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68): If one Wild Card team was fun, then how about a second? It's the second season of the expanded playoffs, and the National League is in for a doozy, thanks mostly to the fact that the Pirates finished with a record over .500 AND managed to make the playoffs. The last time either of these things occurred was in 1992, when the Pirates were in the National League East and Barry Bonds was a scant 185 pounds.

The unfortunate thing about this play-in game is that both the Reds and Pirates are both immensely fun teams to watch play baseball, and it's a darn shame that they'll only face each other once. The Reds have the likes of Joey Votto, Shin Soo-Choo, and pinch-runner extraordinaire Billy Hamilton. They can score runs by the bushel, and they've got enough bullpen arms to turn late leads into wins, thanks in part to the flame throwing Aroldis Chapman.

The Pirates are no strangers to great pitching, thanks to the veteran A.J. Burnett (3.30 ERA), as well as the resurgent Francisco Liriano (3.02), and the rookie Gerrit Cole (3.22). Their bullpen is not to be overlooked, as the late-inning combo of Jason Grilli (33 saves, 2.70 ERA) and Mark Melancon (16 saves, 1.39) has been murder on opposing hitters. While they don't have the offensive firepower of the Reds, they do have MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen (.911 OPS, 21 HR) and Pedro Alvarez, whose 36 homers led the N.L. this season.

And the rest...

Atlanta Braves (96-66, N.L. East Champions): The Braves started the season with a 12-1 record, and that was pretty much all she wrote. They've had their fair share of losing streaks, but the last time the Braves didn't have sole possession of first place was on April 6th. Partially because the rest of the division was garbage, and partially because Justin Upton was inhuman during the month of April (12 homers!), but mostly because the Braves hit more home runs and had a better pitching staff than any other team in the National League.

Top to bottom, the Braves can mash, even if they do strike out an awful lot. While it hasn't all been roses for the Braves hitters – both Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton finished south of the Mendoza Line – there is enough firepower in that lineup to make up for it.

Oh, and they can pitch. Mike Minor (3.21 ERA), Kris Medlen (3.11), and Julio Teheran (3.20) are going to be tough customers in a short series, and the bullpen (anchored by Craig Kimbrel and his 1.21 ERA and 50 saves) is as good as it's ever been.

St. Louis Cardinals (97-65, N.L. Central Champions): The St. Louis Cardinals have proven, time and time again, that they are among the premier franchises in the game, thanks in part to their ability to constantly churn out contending teams. This year is no exception, as they've played themselves into the best record in the National League.

They've done so behind perhaps the best all-around offensive unit in the N.L., with catcher Yadier Molina (.319 AVG, 12 HR), second baseman Matt Carpenter (.873 OPS), and outfielders Matt Holliday (22 HR, 879 OPS) and Carlos Beltran (24 HR, 830 OPS). They are first in the league in runs per game, second in batting average, first in on-base percentage, and third in slugging.

On the other side of the ball, they've got veteran Adam Wainwright, who had a 2.94 ERA in 241.2 innings of work this season. He leads a staff that includes youngsters Shelby Miller (3.06 ERA), Lance Lynn (3.97), and  veteran Jake Westbrook (4.63). Their bullpen is sold, with closer Edward Mujica (2.78 ERA, 37 saves), and the young arms of Trevor Rosenthal (2.63), Seth Maness (2.32), and Kevin Seigrist (0.45).

Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70, N.L. West Champions): Perhaps no other team had a more interesting path to the playoffs than the Dodgers, who were 9.5 games out of first place on June 22 and in danger of losing their manager if they didn't right the ship.

And right the ship they did, thanks in part to rookie phenom Yaisel Puig, who hit .319 with 19 homers in 104 games to help spark the resurgent Dodgers. He couldn't do it by himself, as he was aided in part by Adrian Gonzalez (22 homers) and Hanley Ramirez (1.040 OPS). By the end of July, they were in first place, and were in the process of building what would become a double digit lead in the division.

While their offense was good, their true strength is starting pitching. Their 3.25 team ERA was second in the league this season, thanks to Clayton Kershaw's 1.83 ERA in 236 innings of work. Not to be outdone is Hyun-jin Ryu (3.00 ERA), Zack Greinke (2.63), and Ricky Nolasco (3.52). Their bullpen is led by Kenley Jansen, who had a terrific season, with a 1.88 ERA and 28 saves.

It's not all good news for the Dodgers, who will likely be without Matt Kemp for the entirely of the playoffs, thanks to an ankle injury. Kemp, who is a difference maker with the bat, will be sorely missed by the Dodgers.

My Picks:

Cincinnati over Pittsburgh
Dodgers over Atlanta
Cincinnati over St. Louis
Cincinnati over Dodgers

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The Phillies' Off-Season Plan]]> Mon, 30 Sep 2013 20:21:00 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/csb+ruben+amaro+11262012.jpg

On the eve of the 2013 playoffs (unless you're a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays or Texas Rangers on Monday night), the Phillies – once again – sit at home, making reservations for the front nine, thanks to a disappointing regular season campaign. To be fair, things went downhill from the jump, thanks mostly to injuries, Roy Halladay's right shoulder falling to pieces, a lack of consistent offensive firepower, and a bullpen that couldn't get the job done. In short, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. It was a complete and utter mess from the get-go, save for a few spurts of promise here and there that gave fans the false impression that this team might have a shot.

And, here we are. The playoffs are a day away, and for the second straight season, they don't involve the Phillies. It'd be a bitter pill to swallow if things weren't slowly turning that way since the 2010 season, when Ruben Amaro began the journey that would irrevocably lead the team to where they are: bloated, old, expensive, and injured.

So, now what?

The Phillies re-arm. Hopefully, they are taking a long, hard look at the organization and taking stock of exactly what they have, and what they need. It's not an easy task, as the Atlanta Braves figure to be competitive for a while, and the Washington Nationals – despite missing the playoffs thanks to an oddity of a season – aren't going to be pushovers. And then you have the New York Mets and Miami Marlins, who aren't without their share of promising talent. The Phillies have their work cutout for them.

On the bright side, that work got a bit easier thanks to the Phillies owning the seventh worst record in baseball, leaving them with a protected draft pick, which means they can sign a big-name free agent (like Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin Soo-Choo) without forfeiting that precious first-round pick. It's a huge off-season advantage afforded to the Phillies, who possess not only a big market, but the funds to lure top talent, unlike, say, the Houston Astros.

While the free agent signing period is a month away, the Phillies have already gotten to work on re-organizing for 2013, starting with news that they are not bringing pitching coach Rich Dubee back for the 2014 season. It makes sense, especially with new manager Ryne Sandberg at the helm. While Dubee was fine at what he did, sometimes a change is needed when the organization is undergoing some rather drastic turnover in the dugout.

But more important than the pitching coach next season is Ruben Amaro's fresh take on player evaluation. While he's never been one for utilizing advanced statistics and more stat-oriented player evaluation tools in the past, Todd Zolecki wrote on Monday about Amaro's evolving stance when it comes to player evaluation.

“We’re going to make some changes,” Amaro said. “I think we’re doing some stuff analytically to change the way do some evaluations. Look, we are going to continue to be a scouting organization. That said, I think we owe it to ourselves to look at some other ways to evaluate. We’re going to build more analytics into it. Is it going to change dramatically the way we go about our business? No, but we owe it to ourselves to at least explore other avenues. We may bring someone in from the outside, but we have not decided that yet.”

For the fans who love sabermetrics and a more analytical approach to running a front office, it's great news. Amaro, who has made plenty of great moves in the past, has also committed a great deal of money to players in the face of obvious statistical trends and analysis. While teams like the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, and Boston Red Sox have embraced this methodology, the Phillies have been slow to adjust. Hopefully, this will lead to a more thought-out game plan, better player evaluation, and a better constructed roster going forward.

It won't be an easy task, but Amaro is a smart enough guy, and the Phillies have enough talent at present that a few extra pieces could go a long way. While the season may be over for the fans, the next few months are arguably as important as the previous six. If Amaro and company can right the ship this off-season, then it might be the Phillies who are gearing up for a run at October in a year from now.


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Relief Ace for the Phils]]> Wed, 25 Sep 2013 21:00:08 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/ETAN+MARTIN1.jpg

When Ethan Martin made his Major League debut last month, it wasn't anything special. He allowed six runs in 4.1 innings of work against the Atlanta Braves on eight hits, three walks, and a pair of home runs. Perhaps it was jitters, or too much adrenaline, but he looked like a guy who got lost on the way to the ballpark, as he was handed a loss in the first start of his career.

But if there is one thing that stuck out in that otherwise forgettable start, it's that Martin sure did know how to strike out Major League batters. He earned six on the day, which is impressive, even if it was against the strikeout heavy Braves lineup. Striking out big league hitters is no easy task, after all. “Mostly forgettable, but punctuated with a bunch of strikeouts” was a common theme during most of Martin's seven starts, which usually never lasted past the fifth inning.

So, it was no surprise when Martin was pulled from the rotation and moved into the bullpen. His inability to go deep into games made him a liability in the rotation, especially when it became more and more clear how worn down he became as the innings wore on. However, his ability to strike out opposing hitters made him an ideal candidate for the bullpen. And here we are.

It's been over two weeks since Martin has made the transition from starter to reliever, and by all accounts, it has been a good one. In six appearances out of the bullpen, Martin has a 3.00 ERA, with nine strikeouts in six innings of work. He's allowed fewer than two base runners in five of his six appearances, and he's kept opposing teams off of the scoreboard in five of them.

Of course, we are dealing with a very small sample size here, and his opponents haven't been anything worth writing home about. He's faced the San Diego Padres twice, the Miami Marlins three times, and the New York Mets once. It's not exactly a murderer's row. Had he done the same against the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Red Sox, then that's another story.

Needless to say, it's been (so far) a very good transition to the bullpen for the young hurler. He's holding opposing hitters to a .614 OPS (as compared to the .908 OPS they tallied against him when he was a starter), and his walks aren't nearly an issue when he is tossing all of one inning.

With any luck, Martin's success in the late innings will continue in 2014, making him one of the better arms in the bullpen. Along with Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, and  B.J. Rosenberg, the Phillies might have themselves a very young, and very talented relief corps.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Roy Halladay's Future]]> Tue, 24 Sep 2013 22:07:10 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Halladay922.jpg

As the season winds down, there are a lot of questions that the Phillies need to answer, as it pertains to pending free agents and roster spots for next season. On Monday night, we spoke about Carlos Ruiz's value to the team in 2014, we'll do the same with Roy Halladay.

At the end of the 2011 season, if you would have asked if Halladay returning to the Phillies in 2014 was a sure thing, the answer would have likely resulted in a resounding “yes.” The Ace had just put together his second dominant season in as many years with the Phillies, where he had a 2.40 ERA and 8.2 K/9 in 484 innings of work. He was as good as anyone in the game, and there appeared to be no end in sight, so his vesting option for 2014 (based on innings pitched) was all but a formality.

But then, 2012 happened, and Halladay appeared – for the first time in over a decade – to be human. A series of injuries, perhaps brought on by too much wear and tear over the course of his career, had resulted in a suddenly ineffective Doc, who lost his stamina along with his velocity and pinpoint control.

Those struggles carried over into 2013, where he looked every bit like a nervous rookie, and not at all like the veteran pitcher who only two years earlier was at the top of his game. His struggles were explained, at least in part, to a shoulder injury that required mid-season surgery. That offered some explanation – and perhaps more consolation – to those wondering where the Ace had gone, but his return to the Phillies has, sadly, not offered the same comfort. Since returning near the end of August, Halladay has a 4.55 ERA in 27.2 innings over six starts, including an outing on Monday night, where he faced all of three batters due to arm fatigue. In the same city where he was perfect in 2010, Halladay potentially threw the last pitch of his career.

I say “potentially” of course, because no one really knows if Doc is hanging up the cleats after a Hall of Fame career of 16 years. If his last two seasons are any indication, then it appears that he is cooked, but allowing for recovery time from shoulder surgery, it's possible that Halladay might still have something in the tank.

The question, then, is whether or not the Phillies want to bring the 36-year-old starter back for another season. If healthy, then he's certainly a valuable asset, but that's also a very big “if.” There is no telling whether or not he can rebound from this season, or if he will be able to provide quality innings in 2014. He's at times looked indestructible during his career, but it very well may be the end of his career.

If his option would have kicked in, he'd have been owed $20 million in 2014. Thanks to his injuries and the fact that he barely broke 200 innings between this and last season, Halladay will become a free agent at the end of the season. And as a result, will cost far, far less than the salary he would have earned had he been healthy.

Aside from Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the 2014 rotation still has plenty of questions. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is pretty much guaranteed a spot, leaving the final two spots for some combination of Kyle Kendrick (if he is re-signed), Tyler Cloyd, Jonathan Pettibone, and whatever free agent arms they can add to the roster. A healthy Halladay will go a long way in solidifying the pitching staff, but his performance cannot be guaranteed, and you have to wonder if he is even worth considering, even at a discounted rate.

If it sounds bleak, that's because it is. The truth is that Halladay, who was once as reliable as anyone, can no longer be counted upon. While I suspect most fans would be open to the notion of bringing him back, the honest truth is that it just might not be worth it.

Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Ruiz Should Return]]> Mon, 23 Sep 2013 22:39:59 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/152662937.jpg

Until Chase Utley signed an extension with the Phillies in the middle of the season, Carlos Ruiz was perhaps the most interesting free-agent-to-be on the roster. Sure, you could argue that Roy Halladay should be at the top of that list, but his health concerns and inability to provide quality innings have made him less of an intriguing free agent and more and more of what is a foregone conclusion that he won't return.

Chooch, whose contract expires at the end of this season, presents the Phillies with a bit of a quandary when it comes to potentially re-signing him, due to a combination of his age, talent, potential, and the void he could potentially leave in the organization.

First, his age. He'll be 35-years-old at the start of next season, which means he'll fit right in with the team. It's not that his age is an indicator of anything, but catchers tend to wear down pretty early, so a long-term deal certainly is out of the question for the backstop.

Second, his talent. It goes without saying that Ruiz has been one of the more productive catchers in the game over the past few years, thanks largely to his ability to get on base. From 2009 to 2012, Chooch has a .292/.380/.448 line. He had the second highest OBP among all catchers in that span, and his 14.7 WAR is good enough for third in all of baseball, tied with Brian McCann and behind only Joe Mauer and Yadier Molina. His offensive skillset would be fine for most positions, but it makes him that much more valuable behind the dish. The high-water mark was in 2012, when he clubbed a career high 16 homers to go along with a .935 OPS in ultimately what would be a PED-tainted season. We'll never know if that had any impact on that, but it can't be ignored, either. Regardless, his 25-game suspension, coupled with a series of injuries, have limited his playing time in 2013, and he's managed only a .708 OPS and five homers in 89 games. He's played much better as of late, with a .308/.361/.476 line since the beginning of August, so it's difficult to say which Ruiz we can expect next season. Even so, his ability to get on base, coupled with some power, make him a solid offensive option going forward.

Third, the Phillies are left with a considerable hole behind the plate if he doesn't return. It's a hole that is not easily filled, unless Ruben Amaro decides to pony up big bucks for Brian McCann, who is perhaps the best power-hitting catcher on the market. Alternatively, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who will be 29) could be a good option, but figures to command a long-term deal due to his age. Aside from that, the free agent market is pretty messy.

Of course, the Phillies could look internally to replace Chooch, but again, it's a mixed bag. Erik Kratz doesn't figure to be a long term solution, and it's far too early to look to 24-year-old Cameron Rupp to take over as starter next season. Although they did trade for the young Tommy Joseph last season, a concussion suffered earlier this season has put his future behind the plate in jeopardy.

On top of that, Ruiz knows the position better than anyone in the organization. He can handle the pitchers, he is familiar with their strengths and weaknesses, and he could prove to be an invaluable asset to the younger catchers. You can replace his bat, but you might not be able to replace the rapport that he has with the pitchers.

When you consider all the factors, including the likelihood that Chooch will demand a long-term deal, it really makes the most sense to have him back behind the plate next season. While re-signing a soon-to-be-35-year-old might not sound like a great idea, it's likely the best option for Ruben Amaro and the rest of the front office.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cesar's Success]]> Thu, 19 Sep 2013 19:15:13 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/cesar+hernandez.jpg

When Cesar Hernandez was called up at the beginning of September, I honestly don't think that anyone had any expectations or allusions as to what was to come from the 23-year-old infielder. After a brief stint with the Phillies earlier this year, where he hit .250 with a double in nine games, Hernandez was sent back down to AAA Lehigh Valley, where he would continue to ply his trade until he was once again called on to fill out the roster after there was an injury to a starter.

That's not to suggest that Hernandez isn't a good enough player to warrant getting called up based on merit, but if his lot in life was to be a perpetual bench player slash defensive replacement, no one would really be surprised. After all, a hitter with a .739 OPS and very little power in the minor leagues doesn't have a promising career as a Major Leaguer.

However, Hernadez's fortune may have changed a bit when the Phillies asked him to transition from the infield – where he has spent the bulk of his career – to center field. This was a move of necessity, as the Phillies found themselves without a suitable backup to Ben Revere. Although John Mayberry has proven he can play the position with enough competence, the Phillies are not likely going to offer him a contract at the end of the season. Enter Hernadez, whose only experience in center was back in 2007, when he was a 17-year-old playing in the Venezuelan Summer League.

Hernandez moved to center following his demotion in June, and for all intents and purposes, has flourished in his new role. He is still learning the position, but in watching him in person, and on television, he clearly has a sense for how to cover the outfield. He gets good breaks on balls, has enough foot speed to chase them down, and most importantly, he looks to be very comfortable. If you didn't know Hernandez was an infielder two months ago, you might think he's been playing the outfield his whole life.

What at first was an experiment has in fact turned out to be a viable option in center, and thanks to a .329/.398/.380 line in 88 games, Hernandez might just have played himself into a role on the big club next season. While it would take a lot to unseat Ben Revere from the everyday lineup, Hernandez has proved to be a solid enough defender and hitter (albeit thanks to a heaping spoonful of luck). Of course, we are still in very small sample size territory, but that doesn't take anything away from Hernandez's success this season as he transitioned to a new position.

While Hernandez is unlikely to start next season, it's quite likely that he will continue to get looks in the outfield for the final two weeks of the season, as well as during the off-season and in Spring Training. If he can continue to develop as an outfielder, that makes him a very valuable backup utility player in 2014.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Revisiting the Wilson Valdez Trade]]> Wed, 18 Sep 2013 20:58:44 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Wilson+Valdez+Throws.jpg

On Tuesday, we talked a bit about Cliff Lee's career, specifically the part where he was traded four times for (mostly) a crazy handful of nothing. It struck me as interesting that someone of Lee's ilk could get moved on four different occasions for so little, but then I realized that this is baseball, and things rarely work out the way you expect them to.

After I wrote that piece, I started to think about another trade that the Phillies made that turned out far better than anyone could have expected, considering the player that Amaro happened to move. While nothing really ever matches the first Cliff Lee trade (the one that cost the Phillies Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, and Jason Knapp), I found one that exceeds it for no other reason that it was hilarious.

In 2010, the Phillies signed a journeyman-ish utility infielder by the name of Wilson Valdez, who, after five years in the big leagues, had an OPS+ of 51. Given that an OPS+ of 100 is equal to league-average production, it can therefore be assumed that Wilson Valdez was worth just slightly more than Jeremy Hermida, if Hermida was only a torso.

In other words, he was pretty bad. And he continued to be pretty bad in two years with the Phillies, where he accumulated an on-base percentage of .300 to go along with five home runs. But, Valdez really wasn't there for his bat. He was there because he could make it look like he could play the infield when Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Placido Polanco were unable to take the field. Which was often, as it turned out. He wasn't a great defender, but he got the job done, largely in part due to a good throwing arm that served him well from the left side. He was no Freddy Galvis, but he had some pretty rad facial hair, and that was good enough.

But without question, Valdez's greatest moment in a Phillies uniform came not in the batter's box or at the hot corner, but on the pitcher's mound, when he was called on to pitch in an epic 19 inning game against the Cincinnati Reds on May 25, 2011. Valdez, who had a decent fastball, pitched a scoreless frame despite having to face Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. He would go on to get the win, and instantly became a sort of folk hero in Philly. On a side note, my friend (and writer extraordinaire) Michael Baumann has a great first-person account from that game. You should read it.

Anyhow, the moral of the story is that Wilson Valdez was more known for a scoreless inning in May than literally anything else he did while with the Phillies. Which says a lot. So, then, how is it possible that Valdez was used to acquire a not useless member of the bullpen? Because it happened. Following that season, the Reds – clearly keen to take advantage of Valdez's skill as a swing-man, traded for the then 33-year-old. In return, the Phillies received LHP Jeremy Horst, a 25-year-old reliever who had an even 3.00 ERA in 470.1 minor league innings to go along with an 8.4 K/9.

It was a weird trade, because utility infielders are a dime a dozen. And I suppose the same can be said about young relief pitchers, but it's still bizarre that a piece that had some value would be given up for one that has none. The trade began to pay dividends for the Phillies almost immediately, as Horst would reel off a 1.15 ERA with 11.5 K/9 (he also held LHB to a .441 OPS) in 31.1 innings, and would prove to be one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lousy bullpen in 2012.

Although Horst has fallen on significantly harder times in 2013, thanks to an injury and some bad luck (.378 BABIP) that has resulted in the reliever having a 6.23 ERA in 26 innings of work, he still figures to be a decent bullpen piece going forward. And like we mentioned about Cliff Lee, Horst has proven to be more valuable in under three seasons (0.1 WAR) than Valdez has over his entire career (-0.5). Funny, eh?

Only time will tell if Horst will continue to be useful, but it's still pretty hilarious to think that trading Wilson Valdez might just net more than what the Phillies got when they traded Cliff Lee. But that's baseball.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cliff Lee's Wild Ride]]> Tue, 17 Sep 2013 22:26:17 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Cliff+Lee+Pitches+NAts.jpg

Hindsight can be a really funny thing. What is not obvious at one time is crystal clear given the passing of enough time, hence the expression, “hindsight is 20/20.” Obviously, if you know the outcome of something, it makes it a lot easier to second guess the decision.

In sports, there is a fair bit of second guessing, or Monday morning quarterbacking, or what-have-you. It's what sports fans do, long after the game has ended, because that's all you have left. “He shouldn't have left him in that long!” “They should have gone for it on fourth down!” And so on, and so on. Heck, if not for second guessing, blogging wouldn't even exist.

That sort of post-hoc analysis is not left for just the events that occur on the field, either. Organizational moves, like free agent signings and trades, are similarly subject to the same level of critiquing. And that brings us to today's topic: Cliff Lee, and why he is perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time to have been traded not once, not twice, not three times, but FOUR times over the course of his major league career.

Lee, who was drafted in 2000 by the Montreal Expos, spent two years with the organization before being shipped out of town to the Cleveland Indians in what would be Omar Minaya's last stand along with Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips for RHP Bartolo Colon and RHP Tim Drew.

Fast forward seven years, and he's traded again – this time one year removed from a brilliant Cy Young season with the Tribe – to the Phillies, for Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, and Lou Marson.

That tour with the Phillies lasted all of five months, and Lee was on the move again, this time to Seattle, where he was swapped for OF Tyson Gillies, RHP Phillippe Aumont, and RHP J.C. Ramirez.

Seven months later, he was traded – yet again – to the Texas Rangers, for Matthew Lawson, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Justin Smoak.

But the interesting thing is not that Lee has been traded four times, but that he's been traded for mostly garbage. Of the players he was traded four, only ten of them have made the big leagues. Of those ten, only one (Colon) has had any decent level of success. While the jury is still out on some of the rest, odds are none of them will have the level of success that Lee has achieved.

For those statistically inclined folks, the ten players have been worth 44.2 wins above replacement (WAR). But Lee? By himself, Cliff Lee has been worth 41.4 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Although WAR is not the be all/end all stat, it's pretty telling that ten players have barely been more. And if you take away Colon, then those players have been worth 0.2 WAR. It's pretty incredible, really.

In that regard, I guess we can count ourselves lucky that we ended up with Lee, even if it did come after a 2010-less season where he spent his time plying his trade in the American League. And while we will still scratch our heads and wonder just what Ruben Amaro was thinking when Phillippe Aumont takes the hill, you can take some solace in knowing that somehow, three other General Managers manged to mess up trading Cliff Lee.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Easy Finish for the Phils]]> Mon, 16 Sep 2013 22:07:27 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Easy-Finish-a-Bad-Thing.jpg

Under normal circumstances, this is the time of year when we'd be counting down things – like magic numbers – as a way to pass the time before the Phillies inevitably clinch another trip to October. But, like last season, these are not normal circumstances, and we are, in fact, on an inexorable trip to a second straighten October where the Phillies will be playing golf instead of baseball. Such is life.

But, that doesn't mean that we still can't pay attention to some other magic numbers, specifically a worse enough record that will get the Phillies a protected pick in next year's draft. While it certainly doesn't have as nice of a ring to it, considering the circumstances, it's about the best – or, perhaps worse - that the Phillies could hope for as they play out the string.

As per Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, the teams with the nine worst records will be granted a protected draft pick in the following year's draft, meaning that they can sign a big-time free agent without forfeiting a first-round pick. It's similar to the previous system, where signing certain free agent players would result in that team having fewer picks in the draft. It's why the Phillies didn't have a first round draft pick in the year after they signed Raul Ibanez or Cliff Lee.

Sometimes, the loss of a draft pick is worth it, because the immediate benefit of a great free agent is greater than the potential future benefit of the 26th pick in the first round. However, when a team is amid a sort of a rebuild (like the Phillies are), then hanging onto those high draft picks is crucial, as it helps to create a more robust farm system that will eventually be called upon to replace the current roster.

And with the Phillies potentially a few good moves away from competing in 2014, then it might make sense for them to sign a big-name free agent, like Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo. However, such a move might end up costing them a draft pick unless they have one of the nine worst records in the game. Which brings us to my point: it would be in the best interest of the organization if the Phillies would start losing more games.

I'm not one to root against the Phillies, and I'm pretty pleased that they look like a better team under new manager Ryne Sandberg, but there is little benefit to them going on a winning streak to end the season, especially when they are so close to having a protected pick. To wit!

Coming into Monday night, the Phillies have the 13th worst winning percentage in baseball - .463. Among the teams ahead of them are the San Francisco Giants, the San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, and Minnesota Twins. The Twins, with a .432 winning percentage and 64-84 record, are the worst of the bunch with the 5th worst winning percentage.

Just like in years past, the Phillies are going to need to “catch” one of these teams, but in the exact opposite manner that we are used to: they are going to have to lose more than those teams. By doing so, they get a protected pick in the draft, and can have their pick of the free agent litter. So, how likely is that to happen? If the remaining schedule is any indication, then it doesn't look good.

Not counting Monday's game, they have five games remaining against the Marlins (.369 winning percentage), three against the Mets (.450), and four against the Atlanta Braves (.597). Typically, a team would be thrilled to play eight of their last 12 games against the likes of the Mets or Marlins, but if the end goal is a protected draft pick, then it's about as bad a finale to a season as one could ask for.

In reality, there is nothing stopping this team from going 2-10 in their final games, – so I wouldn't write it off entirely. But with Ryne Sandberg – and others – gunning for jobs next season, you can be sure they are going to play hard every time they take the field. And I'd never ask (nor expect) for fans to root against their favorite team, but if there was every a time to not get upset over a losing streak, this would be it.

Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Ruben Amaro's Fate]]> Thu, 12 Sep 2013 20:00:37 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/csb+ruben+amaro+11262012.jpg

Since Charlie Manuel was fired last month, it made sense to wonder about the future of General Manager Ruben Amaro, and whether or not his job is long for this world. While there has been no indication that he was on the chopping block, especially with the Phillies heading for their first losing season in over a decade, his dismissal wouldn't have been a surprise.

But Amaro's tenure with the Phillies is going to continue, at least according to team president Davind Montgomery, who had some comments for The Inquirer's Matt Gelb.

INQ: Given that chain of command, Ruben is under contract next year, but will he be back?
DM: Oh, Ruben is our general manager.


One of the things Ruben has done well is, we make decisions. That's a good thing. Where you get in trouble in life is if you start to think you should make decisions and the people working for you should support your decision. We listen to the opinions of others and then we make decisions together, that's a good thing. It's probably one of the best lessons Ruben learned from Pat. One of Pat's strongest attributes as a general manager was he was a good listener. He wanted to make sure everybody expressed their opinion on a potential deal or talent evaluation or projection. Ruben has done well with that.

Before I get into my thoughts on Amaro sticking around for another season, I just want to point out that David Montgomery, the president of the team, said that one of Amaro's better attributes is his ability to make a decision. Even when some of them have turned out to be absolutely horrifying. I suppose there is some value in pulling the trigger – especially when the entire organization is riding on those decisions – but one's ability to simply make a decision shouldn't automatically be listed as an attribute. Unless, of course, Montgomery simply had nothing nice to say about Amaro, and that the first thing that came to mind was “the guy sure knows how to make a decision.” It's like asking if a rock band is any good and all you can muster up is “gee, the front-man sure can yell real loud.”

At any rate, it's not a surprising turn of events, because anything short of a season worse than what the Houston Astros are currently having would pretty much guarantee that Ruben Amaro would have a job next year. While the last 18 month have been pretty rough on Phillies fans, Amaro does deserve some credit for being the architect behind some of the greatest teams in the history of the franchise.

That's not to suggest that he isn't without fault, because as much as he had to do with those teams, he equally shares the blame. For every good move, there's been a bad move. He traded for and signed Roy Halladay, but he handed Ryan Howard a costly contract extension when it was almost totally unnecessary. He traded for Cliff Lee, but he also traded him six months later and got practically nothing in return. He signed Cole Hamels to a long-term contract in his prime, but he gave Jonathan Papelbon $13 million a season to pitch 60 innings. He turned J.A. Happ into Roy Oswalt, but he also traded away a small army of prospects for a season's worth of Hunter Pence.

All of that to say that Amaro is guy who was handed his father's sports car and was given one very important direction: don't wrap it around a tree. Well, here we are, and the Phillies team that won five straight division titles is limping along for the second straight season, thanks to an aging (and expensive core) and a farm system that would bear fruit had it not been pillaged in the name of acquiring top talent along the way.

I'm about as big a detractor of Amaro as anyone, but if a season as bad as this one is what it takes for him to change the way he does things, then it's worth it. The odds of Amaro being fired this season were pretty remote, anyway, so the only thing we can hope for is that he comes around and figures out a new way of doing things (signing guys like Delmon Young is not it) in order to get the Phillies back into the thick of things. Focusing on international free agents, like Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, and admitting that they need to be more analytical in how they manage the team is a step in the right direction.

When Charlie Manuel was relieved of his duties last month, it took the heat off interim manager Ryne Sandberg, and put it squarely onto Amaro. Firing the GM is the next logical step once you fire the manager, and Amaro is smart enough to realize that. Let's hope he acts on it.


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rising Hitters]]> Wed, 11 Sep 2013 20:50:59 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/domonic-brown.gif

As the Phillies speed towards a playoff-less October and their first losing season since 2002, it can be easy to lose sight of some of the more enjoyable times had by the team this season. While they were  few and far between, they were nonetheless there. And just like there are a handful of young pitchers that the Phillies have on the up-and-up, the same can be said for those on the opposite sides of the ball.

Until prospect Mikael Franco conquers AA (he has 15 homers and a .339/.363/.563 line in 69 games with the Reading Fightins this season), Cody Asche is going to be holding down the hot corner. After a breakout 2012 season, Asche impressed the brass enough this season to warrant a call to The Show in late July.

In 33 games entering Wednesday, the 23-year-old has a .268/.322/.473 line with five homers and 20 RBIs. It's not Rookie of the Year-level offense, but he's proven that he can hold his own in his first tour with the team. To boot, he's had very little trouble handling left-handed pitchers, as he has an .887 OPS and one homer in 21 at-bats (versus a .775 OPS in 91 at-bats).

We are still in very small sample size territory for Asche, so anything he does this year has to be taken with a grain of salt, but he's been one of the brighter spots for the Phillies so far this season.

Speaking of small sample sizes, let's talk about Darin Ruf. The 27-year-old first-baseman-turned-outfielder is in his second season with the Phillies after a mid-season call up, and like in 2012, he has  no issues displaying his power. In 56 games, he's got 13 homers to go along with an .845 OPS. Like last season, he's displaying an ability to work a count and to get on base (his .350 on-base percentage would lead the team if he had enough at-bats to qualify), which is an under-appreciated skill for a hitter.

But while his .495 slugging is nice to look at, the fact remains that Ruf still has less than a season's worth of experience, as he has appeared in all of 68 games with the Phillies. While there is no doubt that Ruf has power, the fact is that pitchers are starting to exploit his weaknesses (like his inability to hit breaking balls), and he has to prove that he can adjust and overcome.

But the most curious thing about Ruf's season are his bizarre platoon splits. In 2012, Ruf had 21 homers and an impressive .388/.469/.848 line in 165 at-bats against left-handed hitters in the minors. He had similar success against LHP after he was called up (1.326 OPS in 16 ABs), but that success has not carried over to this season. Not only did he struggle against LHP in the minors (.715 OPS), but also in the Majors (.641 OPS). It's a strange reversal of fortune for Ruf, who currently boasts a .923 OPS in 139 ABs against right-handed pitchers. It could be just lousy luck against lefties, but more than anything, it's a matter of southpaws simply adjusting how they attack him in the batter's box.

All of that to say that, as far as Ruf goes, the jury is still out. You can't discount his success, but you also cannot bank on it. He's too much of a wild card at this point, and the only thing that the Phillies can do is give him at-bats to see if he is the real deal or not. But with Ryan Howard locked in for three more seasons, that is going to be much easier said than done.

Then you have Cesar Hernandez, who has been impressive in very little time so far this season with the Phillies. While he does own a career .295 average in the minors (and a .280 average in 16 games with the Phillies this year), the really impressive thing about the 23-year-old switch-hitter is that his conversion to center field (in light of Ben Revere's injury) has been a (so far) successful one, considering that he has spent much of his career playing second base. He's not been perfect, but the fact that he has managed to not embarrass himself out there (in all of five games) is something. If Hernandez can successfully transition to the outfield, he may very likely find himself providing some much-needed depth on the big league roster next season.

Of course, I'd be remiss if – in the course of talking about young hitters – I didn't mention Domonic Brown. The 26-year-old, in his first full season with the Phillies, broke out in a big way, starting with a dominating performance (12 home runs) in the month of May. In 123 games with the Phillies this season, the outfielder has 27 homers, with 81 RBIs and a .274/.320/.513 line.

Although injuries have limited Brown's time on the field, the former top prospect has finally earned his stripes as a legitimate big-league power threat. With the rest of the core fading, Brown is poised to be the face of the team for the foreseeable future.

So while the Phillies flounder and head (likely) towards an under .500 season, there have been some mildly bright spots on offense throughout the season. With any luck, they'll grow brighter in 2014.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Eye on Relief]]> Mon, 09 Sep 2013 22:55:30 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/148638976.jpg

September has been the most exciting month in baseball for the city of Philadelphia, but such is not the case in 2013, as the Phillies are once again heading towards their second straight playoff-less season. And with football back in full, there isn't much worth watching for Phillies fans – at least, not on Sundays. But even as they flounder below .500, that doesn't mean that there aren't some exciting takeaways from the final stretch of games to wrap up the regular season. Just because there won't be an exciting September run at the playoffs doesn't mean the games aren't worth watching.

Over the next few days, we'll forget the ultimately lost season and take a look at some of the things you should keep your eyes on as the season winds down. Some are obvious, and some are not, but most importantly, they all have implications for the 2014 season.

Today, let's take a look at the bullpen.

Earlier this year, I raved about how the Phillies bullpen – unlike in 2012 – was going to be a strength. Gone are Chad Qualls, Michael Schwimmer, and Josh Lindblom. In there place the Phillies had Phillippe Aumont, Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman, and Justin De Fratus. It was a youth movement of power arms to go along with bullpen mainstays Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon. With veteran setup man Mike Adams and durable – if not overwhelming – middle reliever Chad Durbin back in the fold, the bullpen was mulch-dimensional, and if everything went right, potentially unbeatable.

Well, things didn't work out so well for the 'pen. Durbin, who was supposed to be a stabilizing presence in the middle innings, turned out to be an unmitigated disaster with a 9.00 ERA in 16 innings of work. Adams, who was to take over the coveted eighth inning, fell victim to an injury that set him down for the season. Aumont, who was supposed to be the closer of the future, walked 6.1 batters per nine, and was demoted to AAA Lehigh Valley, where he somehow managed to pitch worse. Then you have Bastardo, who was suspended 50 games for his involvement in the Biogeneis scandal. And Papelbon? The closer who was so brilliant a year ago has blown a career-high seven saves.

In short, things really couldn't be worse for the Phillies bullpen, who allowed a National League-leading 4.59 runs per game. But, things are looking up, believe it or not. Aside from Papelbon's struggles and Bastardo's suspension, the Phillies do have some intriguing bullpen arms that are going to be auditioning for larger roles next season.

The most intriguing is Ethan Martin, a starter-turned-reliever who came to the Phillies last season when they sent Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The right-hander, who was rated the 80th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America at the start of the season, has a 6.90 ERA, 34 Ks, and 21 BBs in 30 innings. It's about as bad as a line as a pitcher can have, but the thing about Martin is that the bulk of the damage has occurred the longer he's been in the game. In innings 1-3, Martin has held hitters to a .730 OPS, to go along with a 4.50 K/BB. In innings 4-6, opposing hitters are OPSing over 1.000, and Martin's K/BB drops to 0.54. Similarly, opposing hitters have a .363 OPS against Martin on his first 25 pitches. Things only get worse for Ethan from there, as his OPS against balloons to .961 on pitches 26-50, and to over 1.000 after 51 pitches.

In short, Martin is best when his exposure to opposing hitters is limited, which is why he is an ideal candidate for the bullpen. He has a live arm and the ability to strike out batters by the bushel, and he could be a difference-maker in the late innings for the Phillies. His move to the bullpen was official as of last week, and it hopefully won't be too long before we see what the youngster can do in relief.

Then we have Jake Diekman, a 26-year-old lefty who is in his second season with the Phillies. He had a decent, but uneven 2012, thanks to a 3.95 ERA but a ghastly 6.6 BB/9 in 27.1 innings of work. In 32.2 innings of work this season, he's cut down the walks considerably (3.9 BB/9), and is still striking out batters at a good clip, with a K/9 just under 10. He's been especially tough on left-handed hitters, and has held them to a .400 OPS in 54 at-bats this season. A big reason for that has been an improved fastball that averages just under 95 MPH, as well as a very good slider. In the absence of Antonio Bastardo, Diekman appears to be manager Ryne Sandberg's lefty of choice.

Finally, you have B.J. Rosenberg, who is awfully impressive (albeit in limited time) this season. The 27-year-old, who has been very good in AA and AAA over the last few seasons, appears to be impressing the Phillies brass in 2013. In 12.2 innings, the right-hander has a 2.84 ERA and an 8.5 K/9. To boot, Rosenberg notched his first career save on Sunday, when Sandberg tabbed him for the ninth inning in lieu of Jonathan Papelbon. That's not to suggest that he is the future ninth-inning guy for the Phillies, but he must be doing something right to get the call for the save opportunity over more established guys like Justin De Fratus and Diekman. While he doesn't have an impressive pedigree, and his 2012 campaign was nothing worth talking about (6.12 ERA in 25 innings), Rosenberg has done everything right so far this season.

Ultimately, what this trio does in the final weeks of the season doesn't mean a lick if they are unable to perform in 2014. But with a bullpen that currently boasts young and talented arms like Bastardo and De Fratus – not to mention the lottery ticket arms acquired in the Michael Young and John McDonald trades – next year's relief corps could be something very special.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Golf Tournament Raises Money for Daulton's Recovery]]> Tue, 10 Sep 2013 15:17:50 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Darren-Daulton.jpg

Two months after undergoing surgery for brain cancer, beloved former Phillie Darren Daulton gathered with friends and family on Monday to raise money for his foundation.

“It’s like family,” Daulton said. “It really is. Whenever I’m part of one of these things, it’s like family.”

Daulton was joined by several Phillies players from the 1993 World Series team for a golf outing at the LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Pennsylvania. In July, two tumors were removed from Daulton’s brain. He is still undergoing treatment for glioblastoma in Tampa, Florida.

“I've got two more weeks left and then they’ll get another treatment,” Daulton said.

The golf outing raised about $50,000, all of which will go towards Daulton’s medical and living expenses.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Phillies run to the World Series in 1993. Daulton’s teammate, John Kruk as well as Tommy Greene, Mitch Williams, Milt Thompson, Danny Jackson and Pat Burrell attended Monday’s fundraiser.

While Daulton’s recovery is far from over, the legendary Phillies catcher says he’s grateful to be alive.

“I’ve seen the script and it’s not always great,” Daulton said. “But I’m recognizing this as one that is and I’m loving it.”

Photo Credit: NBC10.com]]>
<![CDATA[Phillies Sweep Braves]]> Mon, 09 Sep 2013 03:50:17 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Phils-Sweep-Braves.jpg

Facing a 15.5 game deficit in the Wild Card, and a 21.5 game deficit in the division, there isn't much to look forward to over the month of September, as it would take nothing short of a miracle for the Phillies to make the playoffs. As a result, fans should really be hoping that the Phillies lose as many games as possible, as they will be jockeying for a better position in the 2014 draft.

That said, that doesn't mean that it isn't awfully fun when the Phillies put together a winning streak, especially if it's against the division rival Atlanta Braves. And that's exactly what the Phillies did this weekend, when they swept the Braves in a three-game set in Philadelphia, where they utilized many of the tools that will (hopefully) make them contenders in 2014.

First, the pitching. The Braves had the misfortune of drawing both Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the three-game set, which is bad news for any team during a short series. Predictably, both Aces did a number on the Braves, as Lee struck out ten and allowed a run over eight innings, while Hamels allowed two runs over eight in a nine strikeout performance. For good measure, Kyle Kendrick struck out eight and allowed three runs in his six innings of work on Saturday.

While the starting pitching was a strength for the Phillies over the weekend, I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on the bang-up job by the bullpen. Aside from a blown save by Jonathan Papelbon on Saturday (the Phillies would win in the bottom half of the inning), the bullpen was sound as ever, as youngsters Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, and BJ Rosenberg (who earned his first career save on Sunday) combined for three scoreless innings of work to go along with five strikeouts. The trio will more than likely play a big factor in the 2014 bullpen, so their performance over the weekend may very well be a peek at things to come.

From the offensive side of things, the younger Phillies took care of business against the Braves. On Friday night, Cody Asche's seventh inning home run was the difference in the game. It was his fourth home run of the season, and through 31 games, the 23-year-old has a .276/.327/.467 line.

On Saturday night, veteran Carlos Ruiz led the way early on, but it was Freddy Galvis' walk-off home run (his fifth homer of the season) that led the Phillies to the win.

On Sunday afternoon, the offense didn't need to do too much to support Cole Hamels, but Darin Ruf's eight-inning home run (his 13th of the season) was the difference maker in the 3-2 win to complete the sweep over the Braves.

Ultimately, this weekend doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things this season, but looking forward, it's nice to see the young Phillies coming through in the clutch.

Photo Credit: CSNPhilly.com]]>
<![CDATA[Halladay Allows One Run in Loss]]> Wed, 04 Sep 2013 21:21:01 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Roy-Halladay825.jpg

Roy Halladay took the hill on Wednesday night for the third time since returning from mid-season shoulder surgery, in what would go down as a 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals. The veteran allowed one run over six innings, and did not factor in the decision.

Earned-run wise, it was his best start since returning from mid-season shoulder surgery just over a week ago. It's just the third time that he's allowed one or fewer earned runs in ten starts this season. For comparison's sake, Halladay allowed one of fewer 14 times over his 32 starts in 2011.

Other than that, it was a so-so outing for the 36-year-old. He walked five batters, including three in the first inning. The last time Halladay walked that many was in 2007, when he walked six batters in a complete game loss to the Oakland Athletics. It's his highest walk total of the season, and he's not had one start in 2012 where he hasn't walked at least one batter (he's done that once).

Velocity-wise, Halladay sat around the upper 80s for most of the night, and appeared to focus heavily on his off-speed repertoire. Ultimately, the end result was pretty positive, but considering the Nationals are one of the worst-hitting clubs in baseball, it's hard to judge just how good Doc actually was, or is.

He was in trouble from the get-go, as he allowed six of the first 11 batters to reach base. He settled down in the third, where he proceeded to set down nine of the next ten batters. He allowed a pair of hits and an intentional walk in the top of the sixth, but escaped without any further damage to end his third start.

While it appears that Halladay appears to be much like the pitcher who was getting crushed by opposing hitters to the tune of a 7.00+ ERA earlier this season (he has allowed eight runs in his three post-DL starts), the one thing that he hasn't had the luxury of is time. It's going to take him time to rebuild shoulder strength and to find his form, so we mustn't make snap judgments based on a few starts.

Conservatively, Doc figures to have at least four more starts in the regular season, so there will be plenty more chances for him to demonstrate that he's progressing and getting stronger as he looks to rebound from his shoulder injury. Ultimately, the month of September is akin to Spring Training from him, so we won't truly know if he is back to his old self until 2014. Whether he is in a Phillies uniform is another question altogether.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Minor League Lineup]]> Tue, 03 Sep 2013 22:25:07 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/183*120/170579714.jpg

If you thought you looking at a Spring Training lineup when you watched the Phillies on Tuesday night, that's because it's not that far from the truth. A day after they expanded their roster as a way to let some of their minor leaguers showcase their talent at the big league level, the Phillies trotted out this lineup:

Cesar Hernandez, 2B
Freddy Galvis, SS
Kevin Frandsen, 1B
Carlos Ruiz, C
Darin Ruf, LF
Cody Asche. 3B
John Mayberry, RF
Michael Martinez, CF
Ethan Martin, P

Of the eight position players, only one (Ruiz) would be a bonafide starter on another Major League team right now. You might one day be able to say the same about Ruf and Asche, but the rest of the lineup would be hard pressed to crack the lineup of any team currently in contention.

Aside from Ruiz, Ruf, and Asche, you have young infielders who might have a role as super utility players (Hernandez, Galvis), a bench bat who is at best a platoon player (Frandsen), and a pair of players who somehow are still under the employ of a Major League team (Mayberry, Martinez).

To be fair to Sandberg, it's not like he has a ton of options. Domonic Brown (whose 27 homers exceed the total of Tuesday's starting outfield) is banged up, and shouldn't be risking further injury if he's not 100%. As far as Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are concerned, don't be surprised if the infield duo sits quite a bit more this month. Not only does Sandberg want to make sure his veterans aren't getting worn down needlessly, but it also allows him to see what Hernandez and Galvis can do up the middle, according to Ryan Lawrence of The Daily News.

To be honest, the youngsters are one of the only reasons to watch the Phillies at this point in the season. They have no shot to make the playoffs, so there is no reason to keep trotting out the same lineup night in and night out. We know what Utley and Rollins can do, but what about Cody Asche? Or Cesar Hernandez? Or Cameron Rupp?

As much as Ryne Sandberg is auditioning for the manager's job next season (one that he almost assuredly has already won), the same can be said for the younger players. Maybe Freddy Galvis won't be a starter on the Phillies next season, but he could prove to be a useful bench player with a strong September.

An ancillary benefit of playing the youngsters is the likelihood that the Phillies will, in fact, lose. I'm not one to root against the Phillies, but when a worse record means a better draft pick in 2014 – especially a protected pick in the top ten – there are worse things than losing.

The Phillies aren't likely to trot out this lineup on a nightly basis in September, but expect to see it more often than not, as Sandberg and company begin to prepare for next season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Phillies Expand Roster]]> Mon, 02 Sep 2013 23:18:27 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Phillies+Freddy+Galvis.jpg

The Phillies have made a flurry of roster moves over the last few days, starting with the trades of infielders John McDonald and Michael Young, and ending with the addition of several minor leaguers as the Major League roster has expanded to 40.

According to Matt Gelb of The Inquirer, the Phillies have called up catcher Cameron Rupp, infielder Freddy Galvis, and pitchers Tyler Cloyd, Luis Garcia, Mauricio Robles and Joe Savery.

While the names and talent levels of most of the players on that list are known to most, there are a pair of players who will be receiving their first cup of coffee with the Phillies this month, and as such, can go a long way in attempting to secure a roster spot for 2014.

Robles, a left-handed reliever, was acquired off waivers last December from the Seattle Mariners. Originally a starter, Robles has been a full-time relief pitcher with the Phillies this season, and has posted a 1.97 ERA in 64 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, with a 6.2 BB/9 and a 8.9 K/9. At 24, he's logged eight seasons in the minor leagues, with a 3.92 ERA in 207 games.

He's the type of pitcher that the Phillies have stocked up on lately – a reliever with the ability to get strikeouts, but at the cost of control. Like Phillippe Aumont, he looks to be a potentially valuable piece to to the bullpen, but poor control ultimately will be his undoing unless he can make a significant change at the Major League level. With the Phillies out of the playoff race, manager Ryne Sandberg would be wise to give Robles quite a few looks, perhaps as a left-handed specialist. Although, interestingly enough, Robles allowed a higher OPS to left-handed hitters this season (.653) than right-handers (.486).

Rupp, however, is the more interesting of the two call-ups. A 24-year-old catcher who was drafted by the Phillies in 2010. While he doesn't have a tremendous offensive skill set (he owns a .741 OPS in four minor league seasons), he has impressed the organization enough to have warranted a mid-season promotion from Double-A to Triple-A. In 93 games this season, Rupp has a .260/.320/.440 line, with 14 homers and 16 doubles. It's the third straight season that Rupp has increases his slugging and OPS.

While Carlos Ruiz is the likely starter next season (pending how Ruben Amaro handles the contract of the free agent in the off-season), Rupp may very well earn himself a back-up role if he can make the most of his time with the Phillies this month.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ethan Martin's Future]]> Thu, 29 Aug 2013 22:27:24 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/ETAN+MARTIN1.jpg

One of the benefits of being a fan of a Major League baseball team who isn't faring particularly well in the standings is that it sometimes gives you a chance to see a lot of young talent in action. If the team doesn't have a shot at the playoffs, then it makes sense to call up some of the minor leaguers to see if they can contribute at the big league level.

One such player is Ethan Martin, a right-handed pitcher who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers last season in the Shane Victorino trade. He wasn't a can't-miss pitching prospect, but he struck out enough hitters in the minors to be an intriguing prospect for the Phillies. Coming into the season, Martin was ranked the 80th best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America.

Following a series of injuries that resulted in a thinning out of the pitching staff, Martin was summoned from Triple-A to make his first Major League start against the Atlanta Braves on August 2. Through six starts, Martin has a 2-3 record, and a 6.39 ERA. Things aren't exactly going as planned for the young hurler, despite a semi-impressive start on Thursday, where he struck out nine batters in four innings of work against the New York Mets.

And so far in his young Major League career, it is wildly evident that Martin excels at two things: striking guys out, and not going deep into games. In his six starts with the Phillies, Martin has pitched into or past the sixth inning just once – it was on August 19, when he pitched 6.1 innings against the Colorado Rockies. His other five starts go like so: 4.1, 5, 5, 0.2, and 4. Roy Halladay, he is not. This isn't exactly a new development, either, as Martin has averaged just over 5.1 innings per start in 21 games this season with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. If you need a starter to go deep into a game, then look elsewhere.

On the flip side, Martin has no problem getting strikeouts. The K has been his chief export in his five year professional career, with a K/9 rate in the 582 minor league innings of 9.0, thanks in part to a mid-90s fastball and some decent breaking and off-speed pitches. That ability has followed him down the turnpike to Philadelphia (so far), where his K/9 is exceeding 10.0 through six games. In fact, watching him strike guys out has been one of the only reasons to watch his starts, as he unfortunately brings to the table an inability to limit the free passes.

It's way too early to really know for sure what Martin is going to be, because six games is a very small sample size from which to judge a pitcher. However, the fact that Martin has displayed – throughout his minor league career- an inability to go deep into games, it's not unrealistic to think that he is destined for the bullpen. Which is precisely where the Phillies should put him.

One of the reasons the Phillies had such a good team in 2008 was because they didn't give up leads late in the game. Between Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon, and Scott Eyre, they had in their possession several arms who possessed the ability to strike batters out. It's the greatest weapon in the arsenal of a pitcher, because it takes defense and bad luck completely out of the equation. If there is a runner on third base with nobody out, a strikeout won't bring him home.

And that's why Martin is an ideal candidate for the 2014 bullpen. He can miss bats better than a lot of the pitchers on the roster, and if the season ended today, he'd have the second-highest K/9 on the team. Even though he has control issues, his stuff would play a lot better in the late innings of a close game because he can erase his mistakes with strikeouts. Martin, combined with Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, and Justin DeFratus, could give opposing hitters fits in the late innings with their high-powered arsenal.

It's a big if, and Martin may very well find his way back to the rotation next season depending on how good a job Ruben Amaro does in bringing in additional starters, but such a move could cost the bullpen an impact arm. So far in his young career, Martin has been somewhat impressive. He's only 24, and he figures to only get better as he ages, but for now, his skill set will better serve him – and the Phillies – in the bullpen.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Former Phillies Prospect on the Rise]]> Thu, 29 Aug 2013 04:31:26 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/172*120/178232643.jpg

If you're still watching the Phillies, you might have noticed a somewhat familiar name during this week's series with the Mets, specifically on the back of the jersey of the New York catcher. His name is Travis d'Arnaud, and if his name rings a bell, it's because he used to be one of the best position player prospects in the Phillies farm system before a series of trades took him to the Mets system, where he made his Major League debut on August 17.

D'Arnaud, who was drafted out of high school by the Phillies with the 37th pick of the 2007 draft, rose up the ranks of the organization, and found himself as a 20-year-old with the Single-A Lakewood Blue Claws in 2009, where he hit 13 homers in 126 games.

That would be the last season d'Arnaud would spend in a Phillies uniform, as he was part of the trade package that brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia prior to the 2010 season. It was then that his stock really began to rise, as he was named Baseball America's the 81st best prospect in the game. He would jump up that list over the next two seasons, landing at number 36 prior to 2011, and number 17 prior to 2012, following a season in AA where he hit 21 homers to go along with a .914 OPS.

While it looked more and more like d'Arnaud would be the catcher of the future for the Blue Jays, he was once again traded for a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher, this time R.A. Dickey, who was to solidify the Toronto rotation.

After a foot injury sidelined him for much of the season, d'Arnaud was called up to the Mets on August 17th, and has received the lion's share of the catching duties since making his Major League debut. In nine games coming into Wednesday night, d'Arnaud has a .125/.290/.292 line, with a homer and three RBIs in 24 at-bats. His first homer came on Sunday afternoon, in an 11-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

The Phillies have made quite a few trades over the past few years, and d'Arnaud was part of perhaps the best one, as it brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia, where he proceeded to own opposing hitters before falling prey to a series of injuries in 2012. What's interesting is that d'Arnaud is the last player in that trade to make the Majors, as both RHP Kyle Drabek and OF Micheal Taylor have both spent time on big league rosters.

Although d'Arnaud was mostly quiet during the series against the Phillies – he went 1-for-11 – he figures to have an awfully bright future of terrorizing the Phillies 19 times a season with his bat, while receiving for one of the better rotations in the National League in the coming years.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Amaro's New Philosophy]]> Tue, 27 Aug 2013 21:16:35 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/PHI+ruben+amaro+072611.jpg

There was an interesting article published this weekend in the New York Times, where baseball writer Tyler Kepner spoke a bit about the Phillies, Ryne Sandberg, and Ruben Amaro's decision to dismiss Charlie Manuel. The most interesting part of the piece, though, was the revelation that the Phillies are going to be taking a more analytical approach in the front office.

The Phillies have been slow to adapt to the analytics revolution in baseball, seeming to overvalue statistics like saves and runs batted in. Now is the time to learn.

“We may be looking to fortify some of our information with some more statistical analysis,” Amaro said. “We have to look at the way we do things and try to improve. That’s our job, to try to get better every year. I’m not so stubborn that we can’t try to do things a little bit different, or think that we can’t make better decisions. That’s what I’ll challenge our people to do, and I think they understand that. That’s part of what I expect of my staff, and of myself.”

It's not exactly a philosophy that the Phillies, specifically General Manager Ruben Amaro, have kept hidden. While several of the team's moves in the past (the Ryan Howard extension, the Raul Ibanez signing, the Jonathan Papelbon signing, the Delmon Young signing, the Michael Young trade) obviously fly in the face of a team that is going with the flow of evolving the way they do business and build their roster, Amaro himself has declared a stance against joining the statistical revolution.

For Phillies fans, it's akin to being a parent trying to teach a child how to do basic addition and subtraction. It's a frustrating process, because it makes so much sense to you, but to the child, it's an entirely new and different concept, so watching them struggle with the fundamentals of such a thing is an unpleasant process. After all, you can't do the work for them - they have to learn it themselves.

And now, it appears that maybe Amaro and company are finally starting to learn. Maybe the last season and a half of struggling, coupled with the fact that the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals have bright futures, might have forced the Phillies to adjust their way of thinking. And with Charlie Manuel having taken the bullet for this season, Amaro is clearly in management's cross hairs.

If there is one silver lining to the Phillies missing the playoffs last year and (likely) this year, it's that an organizational shift could occur as the team works to dig itself out of a hole that it created. While some look at 2013 as a lost season fraught with disappointment, I look at it as an opportunity. An opportunity for the Phillies to be completely honest with themselves and change the way things get done.

Kepner didn't go into detail about Amaro's new approach, or if he even has a strategy, so that might just be lip service to appease his bosses. However, it certainly sounds like they are more open to jumping on board with the organizational philosophy that has allowed teams like the Oakland A's and the Tampa Bay Rays to continue to be competitive despite not having a lot of money to play with.

The one thing the Phillies have going for them is that they have a ton of money at their disposal, something that is not likely to change, especially if they are on the cusp of getting a new television deal. That, alone, gives them a significant advantage over the smaller market teams as far as luring in new players goes, but what money can't buy is smart management and the willingness to change the way you do business.

The statistical revolution isn't going away. What started with Moneyball a decade ago is evolving more and more every day as front offices scramble to find an edge in player development and evaluation. And as a fan of more in-depth statistics that better illustrate what value is, it's very nice to see that the Phillies front office might be coming around.

Also on NBC10.com:

Lee: "We're Grinding it Out More Under Sandberg

Chip Kelly Has Final Say on Eagles' Cuts


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Halladay Returns to the Hill]]> Sun, 25 Aug 2013 20:42:11 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/177642810.jpg

Roy Halladay earned a win in his return to Major League action against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday, his first action in four months following mid-season shoulder surgery. His post-surgery debut was a matter of necessity more so than a matter of rehab, thanks entirely to the 18 inning game on Saturday night that required the Phillies to call upon Sunday's regularly scheduled starter, Tyler Cloyd, to threw five innings of scoreless relief. As a result, Halladay - who was supposed to make his third rehab start in Reading - was activated for his first start in a Phillies uniform since May.

Prior to his start on Sunday, Doc had previously made starts for the Gulf Coast League Phillies (6 IP, 3 ER, 4 K) and the Lakewood Blue Claws (6 IP, 1 ER, 4K).

The verdict was a good one, as Doc allowed two runs over six innings, where he walked two and allowed four hits. He also struck out two batters. He threw 94 pitches, 55 of them for strikes. He never really found himself in too much trouble, and he kept the Diamondbacks off the board for the final four innings of his starter. His velocity, which was a concern earlier this year, hung around the high-80s, but he occasionally touched the low 90s according to the radar gun at Citizens Bank Park.

It will take some time before we know if Halladay's surgery will be able to allow him to return to the same dominating form that made him such a valued asset with the Phillies in 2010 and 2011, but Sunday's impromptu outing certainly was a bit encouraging. If there is a catch, it's that the Diamondbacks lineup isn't particularly challenging. Their .717 OPS is good enough for sixth in the National League, but aside from first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, there are no other real offensive threats. The only other D'Back with double digit home runs is Martin Prado (13), who also sports a .756 OPS.

Suffice it to say, the jury is still out on Doc. He looked good enough on Sunday afternoon, but I suppose the most encouraging thing about his outing is that he was even able to return to the mound this season following shoulder surgery. Only time will tell what the future holds for the veteran right-hander, who still needs to build up arm strength, much like he does during Spring Training.

As far as 2014 goes, Halladay's vesting option for $20 million is not going to kick in, which means he will be a free agent unless the Phillies opt to re-sign the right-hander to a short term, low-cost deal for one season, which makes his performance over the final month of the season all the more crucial.

Despite a late-inning rally for the Diamondbacks, the bullpen was able to preserve the 9-5 lead, as well as Halladay's third win of the season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ryno's Message to Jimmy]]> Wed, 21 Aug 2013 05:14:29 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Jimmy+Rollins+Oh.jpg

It's been less than a week since Ryne Sandberg has taken the helm from deposed manager Charlie Manuel, and so far, he seems intent on making changes to a team that has spent much of this and last season under the .500 mark.

First, he seems to have installed Carlos Ruiz as the number two hitter, thanks in part to the catcher's ability to get on base better than most over the past few seasons. While he has struggled to repeat that success this year, it's not the worst idea from the new skipper. Second, Sandberg addressed Jimmy Rollins' struggles on Tuesday, and spoke publicly about the adjustments needed for the shortstop to become more of an impact player. Courtesy of Ryan Lawrence from The Daily News.

I would like him not to focus on hitting home runs. Anytime that I hit a home run, it was an accident. It was a perfect swing that I caught out in front, square up and was just underneath just a little bit. What I think for Jimmy at the top of the lineup with his speed and his baserunning and as good as he is as a baserunner, he’s got to get on base. I don’t think him focusing on hitting 15 to 20 home runs in the right approach for him. If he wants to score 100 runs per year, I think that’s the proper approach — not hitting solo home runs. That’s any guy at the top of the order- that’s making the pitcher come to him and if you get your walks, battle in your at-bats and try to get on base. He has enough pop to hit the ball in the gaps and get his doubles, so I think for me and keeping a line drive stroke and improving the on-base percentage. That’s what the team needs.

This, right here, is where Ryne Sandberg can really, truly make a difference with this ball club. The talent, at least for right now, isn't going to get any better. Some pieces, like Ben Revere, will get healthier, but the Phillies don't have a glut of can't-miss prospects ready to take the field in 2014. The 25-man roster in 2013 is going to look awfully similar to the 25-man roster in 2014, barring some incredible turnover in the front office sometime between now and then.

And Sandberg knows this. It doesn't take a fortune teller to realize that the future might be bleak, so he ought to start making the best with what he has. While some players might not need much guidance, others are going to need an awful lot. Still, then, there will be players occupying some middle ground of a varying level of utility. These are the players that can go either way during a season, and they are the ones that can help to revitalize the club. One of them is Ryan Howard, who would be wise to follow in the footsteps of Adam Dunn by adjusting his approach to counter the defensive alignment that has made him largely impotent as an offensive threat.

With Rollins, Sandberg hit the nail on the head. The best way that he can provide value to the team, at his age, is by getting on base. He's not a power threat any more, and if he wants to continue to be a mainstay at the top of the order, then he needs to have a much better plate approach, even if that means trading long balls for long at-bats.

What I am most impressed with is that Sandberg is putting an emphasis on the team's on-base percentage. Say what you want about power, or about batting average, but having a roster full of players who can work the count and draw a walk and consistently get on base is what is going to win baseball games. Ruben Amaro has been pretty clear on what he thinks about on-base percentage, and it is awfully refreshing to have a manager who seems to think a little bit differently on the subject.


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ryan Howard Versus The Shift]]> Mon, 19 Aug 2013 21:11:08 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/160*120/167723652.jpg

For the last handful of years, one of the players I enjoyed watching more than most was Adam Dunn. That enjoyment, of course, was derived from his time in the batter's box, for his defense was most atrocious. But when he was in the box, he was always a blast, because odds are he was going to hit the ball clear over the fence, or he was going to strike out trying. And in 13 seasons, nearly half of his at-bats have ended with either outcome.

The recent years have not been kind to the slugger, who has a .201 batting average dating back to the start of 2011, which makes his 80 home runs seem a lot less impressive. After hitting .204 last season with the Chicago White Sox, thanks largely to opposing teams shifting their infield to the right side,  it was pretty clear that he needed to change things if he wanted to be considered a useful hitter.

Dunn proceeded to make an adjustment, and this piece by CSN Chicacgo's Dan Hayes goes into some detail about the why, the what, and ultimately, the reason Dunn is now looking like a totally different hitter.

I bring up Adam Dunn because the Phillies have in their possession a similar hitter. One that, if not for the shift, would put up numbers more befitting a player at that position earning a good amount of money to play baseball for a living. Of course, the player I am referring to is Ryan Howard, who frequently is a victim of the shift, thanks to his tendency to pull the ball to the right side of the field.

It's a pretty diabolical piece of defensive positioning by opposing managers, who have scouted Howard enough to know that, he is more likely to pull the ball than go hit it anywhere else. Take one look at his spray chart from 2011 (his last full, mostly healthy season) for visual evidence of this. When he elevates the ball and is able to hit line drives, he is able to go the other way more, but he absolutely peppers the right side with hard hit grounders and line drives.

In a perfect world, opposing fielders would be barred from moving the shortstop or third baseman to the right side of second base, but this is America, and opposing teams have every right to position their defense as they see fit. As such, Ryan Howard is going to lose a lot of hits thanks to some well-positioned defenders. In the past, there has been chatter about Howard simply laying a bunt down the third base line to take advantage of the wide open left side, but since they've never tried this, we can assume that Howard either can't bunt, or that the Phillies don't want him to give up his power for a bunt single. Whatever the case may be, we can all agree that Howard is going to have to adjust if he wants to return to the form that made him one of the greatest power hitters in the game.

If Ryne Sandberg wants to make his mark on the organization, then Ryan Howard has to be a priority. He's under contract for three more seasons, and at more than $20 million per, they're going to have to do whatever they can to make sure he offers as much value as possible while he is wearing the red pinstripes. Sandberg spoke on Monday about wanting Jimmy Rollins to walk more, so he definitely seems willing to get to work on his team.

If Adam Dunn – a veteran player who is probably as stuck in his ways as anyone – is able to adjust his swing in his age 33 season, then there is no reason that Howard can't follow suit. The only question, then, is whether or not he is willing.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Lineup Deconstruction]]> Sun, 18 Aug 2013 17:55:00 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/119607326.jpg

It took three days, but new Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg finally has his first win as a Major League skipper. After being blanked in his first two games since Charlie Manuel's dismissal, the Hall of Fame second baseman eked out a victory on Sunday, thanks in part to an impressive outing from Cole Hamels and some defensive miscues from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

First, the good stuff: Cole Hamels, who has been dominant over the last few months, delivered another great performance on Sunday, when he held the blistering-hot Dodgers to a pair of runs over seven innings of work. He struck out eight and didn't walk a batter, while allowing seven hits. Of his last nine starts, he has allowed two or fewer runs in eight of them. For his effort, Hamels received the all-too familiar no-decision, thanks in part to the offense's in ability to score runs.

As far as the offense goes, it was provided by Darin Ruf, whose fourth inning homer was the first run the Phillies have scored since the 9th inning on Wednesday evening. It was his eighth longball of the season. Two innings later, the Phillies would load the bases against Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco, and with one out, Cody Asche grounded into a fielders choice that scored Chase Utley from third to tie the game. They would score their third and final run of the game in the ninth inning, when Hanley Ramirez botched an easy bases loaded double play ball off the bat of Michael Young that resulted in Casper Wells scoring the game-winning run from third.

It wasn't a pretty win, but it go the job done – not that it even matters at this point. For Ryne Sandberg, he got into the win column as a big league manager, in a sort of proverbial monkey-off-the-back tossing. And despite the fact that the Phillies will likely have more losses and wins the rest of the way, it's nice to see them get into the win column every now and again during what is sure to be a very tumultuous August and September.

On that note, I want to talk a bit about today's lineup. There have been plenty of words written about how batting orders don't really make too much of a difference in terms of total runs scored over the course of a game and season (for example, the 2007 Phillies would more than likely have lead the National League in offense if the lineup was picked out of a hat every day). That's not to say that you can't make little tweaks here and there to optimize, but by and large, a lineup is going to produce based on the talent, and not necessarily the batting order.

However, very few could argue that Sunday's lineup  - which consisted of Michael Martinez leading off – was anything close to ideal. Even when you factor in the overall mediocrity of the entire Phillies roster, the fact that Martinez was Sandberg's best choice to bat first is, for lack of a better word, disconcerting.

Notwithstanding the fact that Sandberg decided to give Jimmy Rollins a day off, there was little reason that Martinez should have taken his spot in the lineup. Just because a guy inhabits Rollins' position on the field doesn't mean he should inhabit his spot in the lineup, especially when said hitter has a career batting average of .189 and a career on-base percentage of .237. He's a lousy hitter, and by inserting him into the leadoff spot, you are potentially giving him more at-bats over the course of the game than anyone else in the lineup. And even though this lineup isn't packed with sluggers, there is literally not one starter on Sunday that is a worse candidate for the leadoff spot than Martinez. Even Casper Wells, who is by no means a good hitter, has a better-than 200 point advantage in OPS for his career.

In a perfect world, you want someone with a good OBP hitting leadoff, which then gives way to the power hitters in the middle of the lineup. Now, the catch is that the Phillies are largely devoid of those types of hitters, but that shouldn't prevent Sandberg from getting creative with the lineup and inserting, say, Chase Utley or Domonic Brown into the leadoff spot. Yes, you want their power in the middle of the lineup, but at least they aren't going to waste an at-bat like Martinez, who was 0-for-4 on the day with a pair of strikeouts and a pair of groundouts.

To be fair, Sandberg doesn't have a lot to work with, and it speaks more to the fact that General Manager Ruben Amaro has given him very little to work with. He's been handed the keys to a broken down car, and he has to somehow get it across the country without it falling apart somewhere in Nebraska. In light of that, we can't be too critical of him, I suppose. But that also doesn't mean that he shouldn't be willing to mix things up a bit and think outside the box over the final month of games. Given the expectations (or lack thereof), now is the perfect time for the newly minted skipper to experiment.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Charlie's Departure]]> Sat, 17 Aug 2013 14:03:47 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/charlie_manuel_out23.jpg

On Friday afternoon, the Charlie Manuel era in Philadelphia ended. It was at a press conference in Citizens Bank Park where Ruben Amaro tearfully announced that Manuel would no longer be managing the Philadelphia Phillies, thanks in part to a lot of things, not the least of which was a disappointing season that sees the Phillies closer to last place in the division than first place. After a time, Amaro turned it over to Manuel, who spoke and reflected on his time with the Phillies, saying – among other things - “I never quit nothing and I did not resign.”

Whether or not Charlie was fired, or relieved, or dismissed, one thing remains clear: Friday was a pretty lousy day for Phillies fans, whose feelings on the firing ranged from sad to angry to indifferent.

For a lot of fans, Charlie Manuel is the only manager that many of them have ever known. I don't mean that in the sense that many only started following the Phillies during his tenure, but in the sense that the advent of social media and the 24-hour news cycle and cable channels dedicated to nothing but the Phillies have allowed a level of access not seen in the days of Larry Bowa or Terry Francona. Sure, Jim Fregosi led the 1993 team to the World Series, but his presence was not felt nearly as much as Charlie's.

The fact that the Phillies won a World Series under Manuel's tenure certainly helped endear him to many of the fans that wanted him gone less than two years into what would become a nine-year run of managing many of the best teams in franchise history. His “aw shucks” demeanor and slow drawl didn't do much to change the impression (in large part thanks to the media) that he wasn't a smart guy, nor a good manager. But like anything else, preconceived notions go out the window once you start to perform, and once the Phillies won division title after division title, people started to care less and less about Manuel's ability as a manager, no matter how inaccurate those notions were to start.

But no matter what you think about Charlie as a manager, a clubhouse presence, or a person, his severance from the organization on Friday was not only not a surprise, but almost an expected next move in a series of moves that has led the team to where they currently are: near the bottom of the division and near the bottom of the league, in a sort of free fall that has more to do with the failings of Ruben Amaro as a General Manager than Charlie, who was nothing more than a victim of circumstances that were totally beyond his control.

His dismissal, or his firing, or the parting of ways between himself and the organization was inevitable. When the Phillies hired Ryne Sandberg to man the helm of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs prior to the 2011 season, it was only a matter of time before he would replace Manuel. After all, you don't pry someone like Sandberg away from the Chicago Cubs organization (where he was passed over for the big league job) unless there are certain expectations about when he might get to manage at the Major League level. And with Charlie Manuel just shy of 70 years of age, and with his contract set to expire at the end of this season, it seemed like Sandberg was going to take over at the start of the 2014 season, anyway.

The question is, then, if Charlie deserved a better ending to what has been a great career as the skipper of the Phillies. He oversaw the team during it's greatest era of success, which included two National League pennants, and only the second World Series title in the organization's history. He played a vital role in the development and subsequent success of some of the greatest Phillies of all time, including Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels. And despite the failures of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, that should in no way lessen the impact that Charlie Manuel has had on the organization, the team, the players, and the city. So, then, why was he unceremoniously showed the door on a Friday afternoon, only a few hours before the first pitch of that night's game?

To that, there is no easy answer. Charlie knew full well that Wednesday's loss against the Atlanta Braves was the last game he would manage in a Phillies uniform, just two days after he won the 1,000th game of his career. That, surely, is no coincidence. I've made no secret about my feelings regarding Ruben Amaro's ability as a General Manager, but he was faced with an impossible situation regarding cutting ties with Manuel. If he lets him finish out a lost season, then Charlie is a lame duck manager who is merely going through the motions knowing that it literally doesn't matter what the team does over the final month plus of the season, while his replacement stands along the third base line collecting dust.

In my opinion, Amaro did what he thought was the best for Charlie, the best for Sandberg, and the best for the team. And I don't think that's a bad thing, at all. At the very least, this lets Sandberg get his feet wet as a manager, while allowing the players to adjust to what is sure to be a new style. It's the start of a new era for the Phillies, one that will be ushered in by the likes of young players like Domonic Brown and Cody Asche, along with veterans like Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. Making a change in the manager's seat makes sense.

Now, the downside to this is that Sandberg is being handed a team that isn't particularly good. There are some bright spots, and a good off-season and a little bit of luck can turn the Phillies into a competitor as early as 2014, but it's important to realize that a new manager isn't a cure-all. That burden is on the upper management, and it requires Ruben Amaro and company to take a  long look in the mirror and realize that they need a much greater change than just the guy filling out the lineup card every night. But that is another post for another day.

I enjoyed Charlie Manuel a great deal, even while I never thought he was a great in-game tactician. And in my opinion, managers have a largely insignificant role on the overall success of a team, as they are not responsible for any of the on-the-field action, provided that they are putting out the best possible lineup on a daily basis. Whatever your thoughts are on Manuel, you can't take away from his accomplishments in Philadelphia, the greatest of which came on a blustery Wednesday night in October of 2008, when he stood triumphantly in Citizens Bank Park, and proudly shouted to the fans “This is for Philadelphia!”

Photo Credit: MLB Photos via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Doc's Rehab]]> Thu, 15 Aug 2013 19:18:15 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Roy-Halladay825.jpg

Phillies Ace Roy Halladay took his first steps toward returning to the mound on Thursday, when he allowed three runs on six hits and three walks. He struck out four, and needed 87 pitches. That news comes courtesy of MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.

To start, that's great news. Earlier this year, Halladay was a shell of himself, and it was, at times, very painful to watch him labor through starts where he didn't have any control of where the ball was going. Finding out that he had an injury was actually kind of a relief, because it at least there was a reason for why he was struggling a year or so removed from dominating National League hitters.

And say what you want about the merits of a rehab start against a bunch of minor leaguers who aren't old enough to legally buy alcohol in the state of Pennsylvania, but my enthusiasm in the wake of hearing about how Halladay performed vacillated between pure indifference and “meh.” Maybe it's the fact that the season is lost, and that not even the great Doc can save the Phillies from one of the worst records in baseball, but I just can't find a reason to get excited about him rehabbing in the middle of August.

Now, that's not to suggest that it isn't a good thing that he seems to be recovering nicely from shoulder surgery. Of course, that's awesome. Considering the amount of miles on his right shoulder, it's nothing short of amazing that he should be able to continue his career, and I want nothing more than for Halladay to don the red pinstripes in 2014 and pick up where he left off when 2011 ended. Even if his rehab start line wasn't that impressive, the fact that he was able to return to the hill this season is something of an encouragement.

That said, count me among those who won't lose any sleep if Doc doesn't throw another pitch for the Phillies in 2013. If he is 100% healthy and showing no ill effects or lingering injury issues, then there should be nothing preventing him for toeing the rubber at Citizens Bank Park at least one more time before the season is out. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb went ahead and tweeted about how Halladay will make “at least one more rehab start.” That bit of information came, of course, from General Manage Ruben Amaro.

I should hope so. In fact, I would expect Halladay to not only make at least one more rehab start, but several. It's the first time he's had live game action since May 5, so it's almost as if they should treat his rehab like a sort of Spring Training. By his own admission, Halladay wasn't crisp, and his velocity (which is reported to have topped out at 91 MPH), wasn't where he ideally needs it to be if he wants to return to the same form that he had in 2010 and 2011.

And to be completely honest, there is no reason for Roy Halladay to return this season if he is just going to pitch like he did before he went on the DL. The fact that he had his shoulder surgically repaired ought to go a long way in that regard, but what difference does it make, really, if Doc doesn't return this year? The focus should be on his rehab, the off-season, next year's Spring Training, and finally, the 2014 regular season.

Part of my resistance to Doc coming back is based in the fact that the Phillies don't have a great track record when it comes to the health of their players. There seems to be a definite disconnect between the front office and the coaches, and the coaches and the players, so much so that you never can tell what the actual story is. Plus, this is the same team that didn't think it was necessary for relief pitcher Mike Adams to make a rehab start before returning to big league action this year after missing time with an injury.

And when it comes to Halladay, the volume is turned up to 11, so they need to be excruciatingly careful with him, lest they bring him back too early and send him out there when he has only average stuff. I would love it if Doc could dominate opposing hitters again this season, but the Phillies should make his health, and 2014, the priority.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[So Long, Delmon]]> Thu, 15 Aug 2013 10:35:14 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Delmon-Young-Lead.jpg

The Phillies ended a rather inauspicious era on Wednesday, when Delmon Young was released after being designated for assignment last week. Corey Seidman has the details over at CSN Philly.

Despite the fact that he was a cheap acquisition, despite the fact that he spent less than a full season on the Phillies, and despite the fact that he ultimately had very little to do with the Phillies being among the worst teams in the National League (he was bad, no doubt, but he was pretty far down on the list of problems for this club), he will go down as one of the worst moves of Ruben Amaro's tenure. And given the laundry list of bad moves made by Amaro, that's not an easy task.

To wit!

He was signed to be a right-fielder, even though he barely qualifies as a guy who can play defense. While the back of his baseball card might indeed say “outfielder,” it's pretty evident that Young doesn't have much business patrolling the manicured grass beyond the infield. He doesn't run well, he gets bad breaks on balls, and he lacks the ability to play the position on a daily basis without costing the team a bushel of runs. To boot, Amaro saw fit to stick him in right field, despite the fact that he's had over twice as many reps (544 vs 227) in left field over the course of his career, and that he hasn't played the position since he was a 21-year-old in 2007. His only redeeming quality as an outfielder was his arm. It was an absolute joy to watch him break out when someone tried to run on him. Just watch this. Or this. Or this. He could have stood in right field without a glove while wearing flip flops, but I'd still enjoy watching him throw guys out at second base from the warning track.

He took away playing time from more deserving players. When he made the team, it meant that there was another, perhaps better player, who would get fewer at bats due to his presence on the team. The Phillies finally had the sense to promote Darin Ruf, who most assuredly lost some time because Delmon was on the team. Now, Ruf's ability in right field is another topic for another day, but the point is that whether it was Ruf, or Freddy Galvis, or some minor league journey man, the Phillies potentially missed a chance to see what they had in someone else.

Someone like Nate Schierholtz, perhaps. This has little to do with Delmon, but the fact that he essentially replaced a guy who was pretty much jettisoned for no reason is laughable. Even before Nate began to tear it up with the Chicago Cubs this season (.835 OPS with 16 homers in 100 games), he was a far better option than Young. Not only does he have a higher OPS for his career, but he is a very solid outfielder who won't cost the Phillies any games with his defense. On top of that, Schierholtz is all of 29-years-old, and at $2.25 million, isn't breaking the bank.

He wasn't a good player. For all his talents that made the Tampa Bay Rays want to use the first overall pick on him in the 2003 draft, Young hasn't come close to living up to expectations. Maybe that's the more about the nature of expectations and the perception of talent, but there wasn't much reason to expect him to be anything more than the player he has been his entire career: a below average hitter who isn't fit to play the outfield on a nightly basis.

To be fair to Amaro, signing a former first round draft pick to a one-year deal before his 28th birthday isn't the worst idea, because you never really know if you might catch lighting in a bottle. But that only really happens when you've never actually seen the lightning before. In the case of Delmon, who has been in baseball for some eight years now, there wasn't much else to know. His inability to get on base and to hit for a decent average have been well documented, and even if they weren't, he doesn't hit for enough power to warrant getting at-bats on a regular basis. If the Phillies were getting the 24-year-old Young who hit for 21 homers and an .826 OPS in 2010, then that would be an acceptable outcome. But the evidence was so far stacked in the opposite direction, that his signing was doomed to fail from day one.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cole's Return to Form]]> Tue, 13 Aug 2013 22:30:16 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/170711699.jpg

One of the early storylines in 2013 season for the Philadelphia Phillies pertained to Cole Hamels, who was the subject of much talk (and some ire) during the first month or two of the season, when he appeared to be getting off to a rough start in the first year of his new deal with the Phillies, when he got knocked around in his first two starts of the season.

It was about as bad a start to the season as a staff ace could have, and as a result, Hamels dealt with an inflated ERA for much of the season, which created some naysayers among the fanbase, who proceeded to decry Hamels and wonder if he fleeced the Phillies out of $144 million dollars.

But Hamels, who is every bit as good as any pitcher in the league, shook off his early season slump, reeled in his control problems, and proceeded to pitch like everyone has come to expect over the last few months. And despite an ERA that is still hovering in the mid-threes, Hamels is still every bit as good as the guy who dominated hitters over the last few years.

He made perhaps his best start of the season on Monday night, when he dominated the Atlanta Braves to the tune of one run over nine innings of work. It was the first complete game of the season for Cole, who struck out nine, walked one, and allowed six hits to one of the better offenses in the National League. Following Monday night's outing, Hamels saw his ERA drop to a season-low 3.65.

Despite a rough start to the season, Hamels has been as good as ever since he made his third start on April 13. Following a pair of starts that saw him allow 13 runs in 10.2 innings, Cole has been among the best starters in the National League. He's had his iffy performances since then, but that's normal, and not at all unique to Hamels. And while he did display some command issues early on, Hamels has walked more than three batters in a start dating back to May.

Since he took the hill on April 13 (in what would be a 2-1 loss at the hands of the Miami Marlins), Hamels has allowed three or fewer runs in 18 of his 23 starts. In 14 of those starts, he's allowed two or fewer.

And since his third start of the season, Hamels owns a 3.15 ERA in 154.1 innings over 23 starts, which would rank him 18th in the National League, and just ahead of teammate Cliff Lee, who sports a very tidy 3.18 ERA in 155.2 innings of work.

The real issue with Cole, as I see it, is perception. Following those first two starts, where he was clearly not himself, a sort of narrative emerged where it seemed like he got soft after signing his contract extension, or that he is giving up because he has the money to go along with his World Series ring. That narrative certainly wasn't helped by the fact that he started the season with a 2-11 record, which is almost entirely the product of the offense being unable to offer any sort of support when he toes the rubber. This season, Hamels has received all of 3.24 runs of support during his starts. It's fourth worth in the National League among qualified starters, and he once again sits just ahead of Lee, who is getting 3.27 runs of support per game. Pitching against professional hitters is a tall enough order before you factor in the toll it takes on a starter when he realizes that he has to be darn-near perfect if he wants to get a win.

Remember that stat from a moment ago, about how Hamels has allowed two or fewer runs in 14 starts this season? The Phillies are 6-9 in those games, and Hamels himself has a record of 5-5. I've talked about it before, but win-loss records, as it pertains to pitchers, are for the birds.

Long story short, Hamels is about as good as he's ever been. He's striking out batters at a rate lower than his career average, but he isn't walking any more hitters, nor is he giving up any more home runs than usual. With the exception of a pair of bad starts to the season, Hamels has been right on point this year, and you can expect him to continue to be among the elite starters in the game for the foreseeable future.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Assessing Amaro]]> Mon, 12 Aug 2013 22:57:59 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/csn+ruben+amaro+11202012.jpg

When news broke that the Phillies designated right-fielder Delmon Young for assignment last week, there was a sort of audible sigh of relief from the fanbase, who finally got a chance to say “I told you so.” Young, who was a value-buy at less than a million dollars for the season, just isn't a good player, and it took way too long for the Phillies to realize that. David Murphy of the Daily News broke down the Young signing in some detail on Monday, and how that line of thinking is causing the Phillies to go down a very, very bad path.

And that should honestly concern any Phillies fan who thinks that the last 2 years will prove to be a minor smudge on the otherwise storied career of one of baseball's great organizational architects. Because the only evidence that Delmon Young is a better offensive performer than he performed for the Phillies are the 7-year-old scouting reports that the club included as part of its consideration before signing the former top prospect. Rational thought suggests that the 7 years of results that the player had compiled since the writing of those reports should have taken precedence. If they had, the Phillies would have been well aware that they were signing a player who hits for average power, who plays below-average defense, and who does not reach base nearly enough to make tenable his abilities in the first two departments.

Murphy, who for my money is one of the best beat writers covering the Phillies, hit the nail on the head when it came to breaking down the issues that face the Ruben Amaro-designed Phillies. It's not just that they've had a series of bad signings and trades since Amaro took the job following the 2008 season, it's that the process is a broken one. It's not as if they ran into bad luck for players that should have ordinarily performed well, they simply signed plenty of bad players who performed exactly how you'd expect them to. Delmon Young was simply the most recent in a series of misfires for the Phillies.

And it's for that reason that the Phillies face an uphill battle over the foreseeable future, as nothing less than a complete philosophical overhaul is likely to succeed when it comes to building a team. The Phillies are an old and bloated ballclub, and there is no end in sight if they don't make some serious adjustments.

There are some bright spots on the horizon, namely the performance of youngsters Cody Asche, Jonathan Pettibone, and Ethan Martin – not to mention first round draft pick J.P. Crawford, who owns a .977 OPS in 33 games in the Rookie League as an 18 year old – but it's going to take more than that for this team to be a contender in the near future.

A quick look back at the team that won the 2008 World Series tells you everything that you need to know when it comes to constructing a winner: it takes talented, home-grown players, good pitching, and the right free agent moves to get over the top. Having a big payroll doesn't hurt, but the Phillies need to rely more on a potential television deal and a large payroll to compete in the division and in the National League.

Murphy's piece takes Amaro to task, and he doesn't pull any punches when it comes to assessing his performance as a General Manager over the past few seasons. It's a good read, and if it doesn't scare you a little bit when you think about the future of the Phillies organization.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Utley's Extension]]> Thu, 08 Aug 2013 21:27:26 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Chase2BUtley2BReturns26.jpg

The 2013 season got a little bit brighter on Wednesday, when news broke that Chase Utley and the Phillies agreed to a contract extension worth at least two years and $27 million, according to CSN's Jim Salisbury. With rumors abounding around Utley possibly being on the trade block, plus health concerns looming during the final year of his contract, an extension seemed a longshot a few months ago.

Utley proceeded to celebrate his new contract in the bottom of the seventh inning on Wednesday by throwing himself at Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro, in what turned out to be a slide that turned into a human cannonball mid flight that resulted in an out at the plate. Most folks would have celebrated a two-year contract worth nearly $30 million with a steak and a good bottle of scotch, but who am I to judge?

At any rate, this extension evidently been brewing since July, when Utley appeared to be – for the first time since 2010 – completely devoid of any of the knee injury issues that kept him off the field and, at times, ineffective, during the last two seasons. On top of that, he has been wildly productive, posting an .842 OPS and 15 home runs through Thursday. Not bad for a 34-year-old second baseman with bad knees and a reputation for playing so hard that it has worn his body down to the point where his career might be cut tragically short. While that is a possibility given the aforementioned knee problems, they chose to reward Utley with at least two more years in red pinstripes.

It's funny, because two years ago you would have been a crazy person for suggesting that Utley was deserving of a two-year deal, given that it was the first year he was dealing with what turn out to be chronically injured knees. And with the wound of the Ryan Howard extension still fresh in our mind's, giving an injury-laden player in his mid-30s that kind of money for maybe 100 games a season is a fool's errand.

But here we are, and Utley is set to continue his baseball career with the team that drafted him out of UCLA in the first round of the 2000 draft. The team that traded one second baseman (and a darn good one named Placido Polanco) to ensure Utley had enough playing time. A team that knew what they had in 2007 when they offered him a seven-year extension at age 28 worth $85 million. A contract which, when you look back on it, is still an absolute coup for then-GM Pat Gillick.

From a pure baseball strategy standpoint, it was a good deal. It's no more money than what he is making now, and any risk in the dollars is mitigated by the length. He gets injured halfway through? No worries, it's only a two year commitment. He struggles? No worries, it's only a two year commitment. Thanks to the vesting options after the second year, Utley's time in Philadelphia correlates with his health, which is about as smart a move as Amaro and company could make.

From a fan perspective, it's an even better deal. Arguably the team's best offensive weapon since this core came together in the mid-2000s, Utley is still quite possibly criminally underrated. While Jimmy Rollins was the de facto leader and mouthpiece that began the run of playoff appearances, and while Ryan Howard blasted tape measure shots with aplomb, and while Cole Hamels ushered in a new era of pitching dominance in Philly, Utley was the silent motor that made everything go. He could hit for average, he could hit for power, he could get on base, and he was among the best defenders in the game. Quietly – perhaps almost too quietly – Utley went about his business of being among the best in the game.

When news of the extension broke on Wednesday, one of the first thoughts I had was that the engraving on his plaque in Cooperstown would speak to the fact that he spent his entire career with one organization. It's rare for a player to spend his entire career with one team, and even rarer still when said player gets achieves baseball immortality with a statue in Cooperstown. While the Hall of Fame is by no means a lock for Chase, the fact remains that he is quite possibly one of the ten greatest ever to play the position. Not that it means anything in the grand scheme of things, but there is just something about a player sticking with a team for his entire career that just makes it a little bit sweeter in the end.

This is all to suggest that he'll continue to hit like the dickens, and that he can stay healthy, and that he won't wind up elsewhere when his contract is over. There are still a lot of ifs, but that shouldn't prevent any Phillies fans from taking joy in the fact that Utley is going to be around for a little while longer.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The Papelbon Experience]]> Wed, 07 Aug 2013 20:08:19 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/175709489.jpg

When Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies prior to the 2012 season, it appeared to be the next logical step in Ruben Amaro's master plan of acquiring as many elite pitchers as possible. After all, when you have three marquee starting pitchers and are riding a streak of five consecutive National League east titles, you need to make a big splash if you want to get the job done, even if it flies in the face of any sort of logic, at least from a cost and personnel standpoint.

The signing had plenty of critics early on, mostly because Papelbon, for all his talent, is a relief pitcher who isn't likely to see more than 70 innings of work over a given season. Despite his pedigree of success with the Boston Red Sox, paying $13 million a season for a closer was not a prudent investment, especially when there were other areas in need of improvement.

Bad signing or not, Papelbon was aces in his first season with the Phillies, when he made 70 appearances and logged 38 saves to go along with a 2.44 ERA and 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He was as advertised, and despite a disappointing season from the Phils, Papelbon stood out as one of the few bright spots on the roster. He chased that success with with 13 straight saves to kick off this season, a span where he had a 1.46 ERA in and 23 strikeouts in 24.2 innings. He was about as good as a closer could be.

And then, inexplicably, the wheels started to fall off. He blew his first save on June 17. Then another on June 19. Then another on June 22. Again, on June 24. Four blown saves in a matter of a week. And while some of them can be written off as bad luck, it was tough to ignore, especially when he blew another save on July 14, and then another on August 1. And despite the Phillies walking away with the win on Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs, Papelbon entered the game with a four run cushion, and just barely escaped with the 9-8 win. He allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits and a walk in what was nothing short of a nerve-wracking outing from the 32-year-old closer.

Diagnosing a player's performance from your couch is never a wise, or easy, thing to do, but in Papelbon's case, there are a few obvious things at play.

Bad Luck – I've talked about this before, but sometimes, a pitcher's (or hitter's) success is a product of luck. Typically, this is measured by BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, with the logic being that most pitcher's will have a BABIP of around .300, regardless of their skill level. To wit, Phillies Ace Roy Halladay (.295) and former Phillie Adam Eaton (.301) have a BABIP within splitting of each other, despite being wildly different pitchers in terms of success.

For Papelbon, in the 24 games prior to his first blown save, he had a BABIP of .197, which is well below the average for pitchers, and almost 100 points lower than Papelbon's career BABIP of .281. In the 20 games since, he has a .354 BABIP (19 K in 20 innings). That swing, which has resulted in more balls finding the holes and dropping for hits, has – among other things – resulted in a 4.50 ERA over his last 20 games.

Ks Go Away – When you're a relief pitcher, your best weapon is likely the ability to strike out opposing hitters. That is especially true when a reliever is called in from the bullpen with a runner on third and nobody out, because the best way to prevent that run from scoring is making sure the batter doesn't put the ball in play. Despite Crash Davis' objections to the strikeout in “Bull Durham,” it's the best weapon in a pitcher's disposal, because it takes bad luck and bad defense completely out of the equation.

For much of his career, Papelbon has been an exceptional strikeout pitcher, with an 11.2 K/9 in six seasons between 2005 and 2012. While he is still able to get set hitters down via the K, his strikeout rates have dropped in 2013, where he sits with a K/9 of 8.5. It's a pretty steep drop from the 11.8 mark of 2012, and would be the lowest of his career if the season ended today. While it's not a bad number, the fact that he is striking out fewer hitters this season than literally any other season in his career is certainly not doing himself any favors. In his most recent blown save, which occurred against the San Francisco Giants, he failed to retire three hitters that he had buried in 0-2 counts, before giving up a pair of hits and a walk. That sort of thing is bound to happen eventually, but you have to be able to put away hitters when you have them buried in the count, something that it seems Papelbon has been able to do less and less this season.

Speed Matters – Speaking of strikeouts, it helps if a pitcher has the ability to hump that fastball and blow it by the hitter. Speed isn't everything – just ask Greg Maddux – but it helps. And although he's never been known for his velocity like Justin Verlander or Aroldis Chapman, he's always had the ability to deliver his fastball in the high 90s. Since 2007, he's been about as consistent as all get-out with his fastball, averaging 94 MPH on that pitch from 2007 to 2011. He lost a bit on it in 2012, with an average velocity of 93.8, but the most concerning number is 92.2, which is his average fastball velocity in 2013. That's a long way to fall, especially when you use your fastball to set up your other pitches. If you want to strike fewer guys out, I can think of no better way to accomplish that than losing more than a mile per hour on your fastball.

He Doesn't Want to Be Here – For all his faults, Papelbon is a competitor. More often than not, he'll get the job done, and over the course of his career, he's been one of the better relievers in the game. But following 2012's disappointing finish for the Phillies, combined with 2013's struggles, it's entirely possible that he simply doesn't want to play in Philly anymore, which would make sense in light of his “I didn't come here for this” comment a few weeks back. I can't say that I blame him, because no one wants to play for a bad team, but given how far the Phillies have fallen in the last two weeks, you have to wonder if perhaps he is mailing it in as they head for another playoff-less October.
At any rate, Papelbon is on the low end of the scale when it comes to fixing this Phillies team. Sure, he's paid way too much for a reliever, and appears to be losing a bit as he ages, but he's certainly not the reason the Phillies are in this predicament. That said, come this off-season, it wouldn't surprise me in the least bit to find that he has been traded elsewhere, in Ruben Amaro's attempt to right a sinking ship.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Darin Ruf: Right Fielder]]> Tue, 06 Aug 2013 22:01:35 -0500 https://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/180*120/173411086.jpg

On Tuesday afternoon, the Phillies announced their lineup for that evening's baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, as they often do during the baseball season. Despite the game not starting for a few hours, the manager posts the lineup in the dugout, and through the magical power of the internet, they are provided to the unwashed masses in the form of tweets and blog posts.

Related: Ruf to RF, Manuel Hints More Moves to Come

While that, in and of itself, is not interesting, the fact that Darin Ruf would be batting fifth and playing right field was. Ruf, the 26-year-old power hitter who came up last year, has spent time at both first base and left field in his limited MLB career, but he has yet to play (or even be considered an option for) right field. It's not hard to see why, given that Ruf is a well-built guy who lacks the obvious physicality of a corner outfielder, who are typically leaner, faster-looking guys. It's not the rule, of course, but Ruf certainly doesn't look the part, and up until now, has never played the part.

In light of Ruf's move to right field, and the potential for disaster therein, that, I thought I'd make a list of some things that could possibly offer better defense in right field than Darin Ruf:

Those otters that hold hands.

Roy Oswalt.

A crater.

The stand-up bass from The Decemberists.

One of those stick figures that you see on the back of minivans.

Steve Susdorf.

I kid, I kid, but all that to say that Darin Ruf probably isn't all that great a right fielder. He is a lumbering first baseman by trade, and his transition to left field was the result of necessity, thanks to the Phillies having an unmovable first baseman in their possession by the name of Ryan Howard. And with Howard under contract for three more years (hence the 'unmovable' part), it behooves the Phillies to see if Ruf has the ability to play anywhere else without embarrassing himself or costing the team runs at the most inopportune time.

And to be honest, as silly an experiment as this might be (especially with Domonic Brown – who came up as a right-fielder – in the lineup), it does make some sense to try this out now. The games technically still mean something in August, even if the Phillies are out of the playoff race altogether, and these last 50 or so games figure to carry more weight than Spring Training or winter ball. Besides, it's not like the Phillies are losing anything with Ruf in right field instead of Delmon Young. Their offense is improved significantly with Ruf in the lineup, and with the exception of not getting a chance to see Delmon show off the cannon he calls a right arm, it's hard to imagine Darin Ruf being less equipped to play right field. But I've been wrong before.

Do I have any delusions about Ruf's ability in the outfield? No, not really. I expect him to be about as adequate as a guy of his size and skill to be, which is to say he will catch balls that are hit to him, have lousy range, and probably won't take any chances by diving for balls that are just out of reach. But, who knows, maybe Ruf will unlock some latent talent and make a decent enough right fielder. I wouldn't expect it, but I also wouldn't have expected the Phillies to have a veritable revolving door of right fielders over the past year, thanks to a trade of Hunter Pence and the non-tendering of Nate Schierholtz, who is at present enjoying himself with 14 homers and an .827 OPS with the Chicago Cubs. Who knew?

To be fair to Darin, he looked decent enough in right on Tuesday. He caught both fly balls hit to him, and didn't seem overmatched or intimidated in a position that he's never played at a professional level before.

At any rate, Darin Ruf (who hit his fourth homer in 80 at-bats on Tuesday) is going to be one of the few things worth watching this season, regardless of where he plays on the field.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>