(The following is an excerpt from Baseball Prospectus 2011, and may contain spoilers.)
Prior to the 21st Century, the Philadelphia Phillies were rarely considered a model franchise. Rarely lucky or good, the embattled ballclub staggered through the years, their record oft-charred by crippling injuries and questionable personnel decisions. With the exception of a few staggered oases (1915, 1950, 1980, 1983, and 1993), the name "Phillies" was synonymous with mediocrity, or worse. Often, much, much worse. The Phillies became the first MLB team to lose 10,000 games, a testament to their longevity as a franchise, as well as to their sustained impotence between the lines.
Things have gone a bit better for the Phils, in the current millennium. Actually, that is an understatement of similar magnitude to a statement such as "Roy Halladay is a workhorse." Or, "Placido Polanco has a sizeable melon." In making their third consecutive World Series appearance, and winning their second World Championship of the Century, the 2010 Phillies were certainly the greatest edition in the team's history. The 102 regular season wins posted by the club still left the franchise 1087 games below .500 for their history, but this now-model franchise appears to be mere decades away from a lifetime winning record. Their only burning question seems to be whether they can to continue to afford paying their superstar-riddled roster.
Continue to Phillies' 2010 Season in Review
The MLB Network has quite the matchup planned for tonight: Phillies v. Braves, in The Return of Victorino!
Centerfielder/Apparel Magnate Shane Victorino will, finally, make his first appearance of the Spring. Not to mention that tonight will mark the second start made by Phillies' Ace/Facial Hair Magnate Roy Halladay.
Continue to Halladay v. Heyward
One of the most prominent Spring Training storylines has been All Things Roy Halladay. We have learned of his intense desire to perform in the postseason. We have noted the inverse relationship between his levels of facial hair, and his Opponents wOBA (a bearded Halladay is a dominant Halladay). The effect Halladay has had on his teammates, particularly his Padawan apprentice (Kyle Kendrick), is much more difficult to quantify, but certainly beneficial. The indomitable northpaw's first game action as a Phillie included three non-strikes, among his twenty-four offerings. However, he will, undoubtedly, improve upon those numbers, as the season progresses. (Besides, it's not like he gave up any runs, or hits, or anything like that.) There has been a veritable multitude of words spent on Halladay-related topics since his acquistion, yet there is one specific area that has not yet been suitably explored.
Continue to Halladay Music
The Phillies' offseason has included several high profile acquisitions. Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco, and Ross Gload are among the household names joining the defending NL Champions. While most of the offseason's media coverage has centered around the Gload Signing, there were other moves within the organization that merit comment.
Continue to Flying Under the Radar
Catcher Carlos Ruiz and the Phillies avoided arbitration, agreeing to a three-year extension worth a reported $9 million. Ruiz had his best offensive year in 2009, posting a .337 wOBA. Ruiz has performed extremely well at the plate in the postseason, with a wOBA of .403 (119 PA.) He is considered a strong defensive backstop, ranking among the best catchers at handling pitches in the dirt. His improved offensive performance in 2009 lead to a career-high WAR of 2.2, worth approximately $10 million in free agent dollars. If Ruiz can keep his WAR in this range, the Phillies did well to extend him.
Continue to Ruiz Agrees to Extension, Rollins Marries
Remember when the cost-conscious Phillies were largely invisible during the offseason? Those days are almost as forgotten as the lost seasons when the Phillies were playing out the string by August. These Phillies have a $140 million budget, and are very active participants in free agency. Whether they should be a little less active is up for debate, but you can't argue with their recent results: three consecutive NL East titles, two World Series appearances, and one WFC(!).
Before moving on to our regular blog business here at Philliebuster, we'll briefly review the Phillies' offseason activity: their major additions, their major deletions, contract extensions, and their more "under-the-radar" moves. We'll kick things off with the biggest Phillies pitching acquisition since (Steve Carlton? Ken Howell?), the Phils' new ace northpaw: Roy Halladay!
Continue to Offseason Review: Phils' Major Additions
The Phillies lost to the Astros on Friday night, 7-0. Cliff Lee had his second consecutive rough outing, surrendering six runs on nine hits, and surviving only three innings. He was BABIP'd to death by bloops in a four-run Astros' second, and gave up a two-run bomb in the third inning. Jamie Moyer pitched well in relief, allowing only a solo home run. Unfortunately, even a solo home run would have been too much for the recently offense-deficient Phillies to overcome, as their eight hits (seven singles) lead to a total of only zero runs. The Phillies' bats are slumping now, but should perk up in the near future. Hopefully. Of course, it's better to slump now, than in the Fall Classic.
The biggest positive for the Phils on Friday night: Cliff Lee threw a mere seventy-four pitches! Typically, Lee has averaged, approximately, seventy-five gajillion pitches per start. This "vacation start" will help him stay fresh for the playoffs. Reliever Jamie Moyer has seen most of his success pitching in the rain, on at least ten days' rest, and following fastballer Pedro Martinez. The elderly slowballer was called upon to relieve Lee on Friday night, with a mere six days' rest, barely having recovered from his sixty-one pitch outing on August 28th. There wasn't any rain, either. Despite the trying circumstances, Moyer rose to the occasion, and kept the Phillies within seven runs.
When the Phillies gutted the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' roster on September 1st, the Phils' AAA squad saw their hopes of a .500 season dashed. It was the right move for the organization as a whole, however. The Phillies are chasing a playoff spot, and need to put their regulars in position to perform their best in the postseason. With a full lineup's worth of AAA talent, including Eric Bruntlett and Miguel Cairo, the Phillies now have the personnel available to rest their starting eight early and often.
All of the recent call-ups contributed on Friday night, if only by their mere presence. Sure, none of them got hits, or anything like that, but they pitched well, and fielded adequately. The one substitute who should make the postseason roster, Brett Myers, looked sharp in his scoreless inning. Phillies' Manager Charlie Manuel chose the spot for Myers' return to MLB prudently, inserting the fiery fireballer into the seventh inning, of a 7-0 game. Myers looked like anything but a sub, retiring all three batters he faced, two on strikeouts. With Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge locking down the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, Myers would make a good addition to the seventh-inning mix, in the playoffs. Paul Hoover, Quinton Berry, J.J. Furmaniak, John Mayberry, Jr., Mike Cervenak, and Kyle Kendrick also appeared, though none did anything of particular note.
There was one scary moment, in the eight inning, when Phillies' centerfielder Jason Ellison was injured diving for a line drive. Ellison was helped from the field, but could be ready to return by the start of Spring Training. Provided his extensive rehab goes well, he should help bolster the bench of his next organization's AAA squad. Showing that kind of effort, in a game that had been long-decided, displays the kind of hustle that serves as a good model to actual prospects. I wish Ellison the best of luck in his future endeavors, but I do have a confession to make. As Ellison's inert form was carefully removed from the field of play, I thought to myself that the Phillies were very fortunate that the injured centerfielder wasn't All-Star Shane Victorino. Losing Victorino would be very damaging to the Phils' hopes of postseason success, and would have been especially frustrating, under such futile circumstances. It was good planning that positioned Ellison in center to "take the bullet" for Victorino. (Though the Phillies' Win Expectancy would have remained at .1%, whether the centerfielder made the catch or not, you still have to applaud the valiant effort.)
Joe Blanton will get the start in the second game of the series, on Saturday night. As the workhorse northpaw has thrown a few gazillion pitches of his own this season, he probably won't pitch more than five innings on Saturday. The Phillies want to keep him on his routine, but want to save some arm strength for October. Moyer won't be available in relief, but with Kendrick, Rodrigo Lopez, and Drew Carpenter, stretched-out starting pitchers all, ready to go, the Phillies have the pitching depth to keep the workload of their postseason hurlers low. That's just smart management, the type of management that wins WFCs.
It was September 1st. The day when the Phillies could expand their active roster, by as many as fifteen players, and reinforce the tiring bullpen and the ineffective bench. The Phillies had a wide variety of replacement-level options for recall, and they summoned...Jack Taschner. And...that's it. Yikes.
On the plus side, the Phils have indicated that more recalls are coming. Some pitchers (Rodrigo Lopez? Kyle Kendrick? Drew Carpenter? Steven Register? Sergio Escalona?) should be up shortly. A catcher (Tuffy Gosewisch? Paul Hoover?), an outfielder (John Mayberry, Jr.?), and a player with some speed (Rich Thompson? Quintin Berry?) should also get the call. Players have to be on the 40-Man roster to be recalled (Gosewisch, Hoover, Thompson, and Berry are not.), but Joe Bisenius and Jack Taschner are easily DFAable. Rehabbing relievers Brett Myers, Clay Condrey, and Antonio Bastardo are also probable additions.
A look at some of the recent Phillies' transactions should give us an idea of their likely thought process:
Jack Taschner is recalled from Lehigh Valley (AAA). Given that he was a dismal failure with the Phillies this season, didn't think we'd see him on the parent club again. But, he put up some good numbers in AAA, and the Phillies are paying him an MLB salary, so they might as well let him eat some low leverage innings. Besides, maybe having him around the 'Pen will help Chad Durbin.
For the IronPigs, Taschner posted an ERA of 2.18, in 20.2 IP. But we know ERA can be deceptive, especially for relievers. We saw Taschner spend weeks in MLB WHIPping the ERAs of his teammates, by allowing inherited runners to score. Looking deeper at Taschner's AAA numbers, we see a .249 BABIP/81.3 LOB%/4.02 FIP combo. Taschner has been rather fortunate in AAA.
However, the southpaw has been experimenting with a sidearm delivery, when facing left-handed batters. If he could get LHBs out, he might be a satisfactory LOOGY. He did look good in this role, during Wednesday night's loss to the Giants. But don't expect Taschner to make any meaningful appearances, and don't be surprised if he is DFA'd, when a 40-Man spot is needed for a more capable relief option.
Brett Myers pitched in consecutive games for Lehigh Valley, throwing scoreless innings on Tuesday and Wednesday. He needs to start facing MLB hitters, in order to evaluate him for a possible postseason role, as a reliever. An effective Myers could be a force in the seventh/eighth innings. Expect him to be activated this weekend, for the Houston series.
John Ennis was added to the 40-Man roster, and the 25-Man roster, and placed on the 15-Day DL. Brad Harman was designated for assignment, in order to open a spot for Ennis.
Harman had no future with the Phillies, due to his inability to hit.
Ennis probably doesn't have much a Phillies' future either, and is recovering from Tommy John surgery. He should be ready to pitch again around this time, in 2010. Why did the Phillies do this? Flexibility. As long as Ennis is on the DL, he can be replaced on the postseason roster by anyone in the organization on August 31st. So, one of the September callups would be eligible, as a result of this move.
Catcher Tim Gradoville was promoted to Lehigh Valley (AAA), from Reading (AA). Gradoville retired to begin his coaching career, but was activated as a player-coach for Reading. He served as backup catcher, appearing in two games, but not batting. It looks like he may reprise this role with Lehigh Valley, enabling Paul Hoover or Tuffy Gosewisch to be recalled to the parent club, as the third catcher. The veteran Hoover would seem the more likely candidate for an MLB bench role, with Gosewisch starting the majority of Lehigh Valley's remaining games.
Michael Schwimer was promoted to Reading (AA), from Clearwater (A). Schwimer was lights-out (12.3 K/9, 4.32 K/BB, 1.95 FIP) in Clearwater, and picked up two wins (in a doubleheader) on his first day as an R-Phil. He could really help Reading's bullpen, as they try to hold on to a playoff spot.
B.J. Rosenberg was placed on the temporary inactive list, so that he could participate in the World Cup. Any "World Cup" that includes Terry Tiffee and Cedrick Bowers probably isn't worth worrying about. Don't understand why the Phils didn't keep Rosenberg in Reading, to help with their playoff run.
Carlos Monasterios was promoted to Reading (AA), from Clearwater (A). Monasterios, one of the players acquired from the Yankees, in the Bobby Abreu/Cory Lidle trade, has been effective in A ball (7.79 K/9, 2.63 K/BB, 3.27 FIP). But, he is no Rosenberg.
After losing two consecutive games to the New Britain Rock Cats, the Reading Phillies fell into a tie with Erie, for the final playoff spot.
With games against the EL North's top two teams this week, New Britain and first place Connecticut, the R-Phils' playoff hopes are in trouble.
Reliever Chance Chapman will make a spot start for the R-Phils on Thursday. Chapman was an effective starter in 2008, with Lakewood (7.64 K/9, 3.19 K/BB, 2.95 FIP). He has been an effective reliever for Reading (8.24 K/9, 2.35 K/BB, 3.13 FIP), but his arm isn't stretched out. He'll, probably, be good for four innings. Don't understand why the R-Phils didn't recall a starter from Clearwater to make this start. They might make that recall, before the spot in the rotation comes around again.
Long ago, the sport of baseball was a very different game. Players left their gloves on the field, when they returned to the dugout. If players spent more than two weeks on a roster, without playing, it was probably either because they were very bad at the game of baseball, or because they were actually spies. There was a batting maneuver, used to advance runners, known as the "bunt." The Philadelphia Phillies had an innings-eater, by the name of Grover Cleveland Alexander, who pitched more than three-hundred innings, seven seasons in a row. A "loogy" was just a synonym for expectorant. Way back then, creating a "Cliff Lee", using DNA obtained from Steve Carlton, would have been as inconceivable as the Phillies being labeled a "perennial contender."
In the much more recent past, the Phillies have pondered several questions. "If Brad Lidge blows every save opportunity, has he achieved perfection?" "Will Matt Stairs ever get a hit again?" "Is Eric Bruntlett really only the fourth-worst-hitting non-pitcher on this team?" They also considered a more philosophical question. They asked themselves, "If Scott Eyre is in the bullpen, and he never pitches, does he make a sound?" Noted philosopher/ineffective reliever Chad Durbin, who was not created using DNA obtained from Ron Reed, would likely answer that question, "Does he (Eyre) ever NOT make a sound?" Manager Charlie Manuel, however, hasn't appeared to be aware of Eyre's continued bullpen existence. At least until the eighth inning of the Phillies' 3-2 victory over the Braves, on Sunday night.
Scott Eyre entered his first game in two weeks, with runners on first and second, and no outs. Though he had warmed up numerous times during those two weeks, and his usefulness as a LOOGY had been oft-demonstrated, he had been reduced to merely cheering on his teammates. Suddenly, he was called on to pitch, during the highest leverage at bat of the game. Four pitches later, he induced an unconventional 4-6-5 double play. He retired the next batter on another grounder, exiting the inning with a 3-2 lead. Now, we are left to ponder why we had to wait two weeks between Eyre appearances. A Grover Cleveland Alexander-esque ERA of 1.65 should surely qualify Eyre for more regular use.
The Phillies' offense generated a lot of sound on Sunday night, with Chase Utley hitting yet another home run (his 29th), and Carlos Ruiz knocking three hits, including a pair of doubles. The loudest noise, however, may have been made by the softest contact. In bottom of the seventh inning, with the score tied at one, Raul Ibanez lead off the inning with a walk. Pedro Feliz followed, and performed the archaic maneuver known as "squaring around to bunt." This antiquated technique doesn't seem to have a lot of value in today's chock-full-of-extra-base-hit-game, except as a possible (occasional) deterrent to deep-playing infielders, or as a practice utilized solely by exceedingly weak-hitting batters. In Sunday night's context, however, it led to a two-base error. Carlos Ruiz followed Feliz' bunt with a two-run double, and the Phillies had all the scoring that they would require.
When you have (the post-April 2009 version of) Joe Blanton on the mound, not a lot of offense is needed. Blanton once pursued the quality start, and the seventh inning, as Moe Berg had once pursued Axis secrets (with a lumbering tenacity). Now that Blanton has made ten consecutive quality starts, venturing into the seventh inning in nine of them, the lanky northpaw has earned the "innings-eater" label that had once been, prematurely, bestowed upon him. Blanton ate seven more innings, surrendering only a solo home run, among three hits and four walks (and seven strikeouts!).
Brad Lidge, often effective when not used more than two days in a row, retired all three batters he faced in the ninth, for his twenty-seventh save. The Phillies had combined methods, both ancient and modern, in winning the rubber game of the three-game series. Philadelphia increased their divisional lead to eight games, with only thirty-four games remaining to be played. Joe Blanton may get the opportunity to reprise Alexander's 1915 role, as an innings-eater on a team that went on to play the Red Sox, in the World Series. (That is, if 2009's Red Sox can get past Detroit, in the ALCS...)