An In-Depth Breakdown of the Phillies Off-season

Thursday, December 15, 8:05 a.m.
All statistics and records compiled from Yahoo! Sports, and

Ruben Amaro Jr. has achieved two out of his three main objections in the 2011-12 MLB offseason thus far: he signed an elite closer and upgraded a bench that combined for a .232 batting average with 32 home runs with 177 runs batted in. Resigning shortstop Jimmy Rollins is the third priority of the offseason and according to David Murphy, Phillies beat writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, RAJ has every intention of getting a deal done with the 12-year veteran. Let’s take a closer look at where the reigning NL East champs stand as of today:

Offseason Review

1. Jonathan Papelbon vs. Ryan Madson – It comes as no surprise that Amaro moved to act quickly to address who will be filling the closer role for his team. What RAJ [1] wants, RAJ usually gets these days. With Madson, Papelbon and Heath Bell all available, the Phillies proved once again they are not afraid to set the market at a given position (i.e. Ryan Howard’s often criticized 5 year, $125 million deal). Papelbon will make $11 million this coming year which increases to $13 million from 2013-2015 and a vesting option at the same dollar amount for 2016 based on specific performance bonuses, second only to Mariano Rivera’s $15 million salary. There was speculation that the Red Sox are eyeing Ryan Madson [2] but Boston acquired Mark Melancon from Houston Tuesday in a deal centered on young infielder Jed Lowrie. (Note: Jon Heyman of recently wrote that Madson would not have received anything close to the 4 year, $50 million Papelbon inked [3] and with the last big market suitor for Madson now out of the running, it is all but guaranteed his next contract will be team-friendly). It isn’t fair to compare the two statistically, as Madson’s role has been in flux throughout his nine year career, including the 2006 season when former GM Ed Wade tried to convert Madson to a starter. Over the past two seasons, however, it has been clear that ‘Mad Dog’ has been the dominant arm in the Phillies’ bullpen. A look at their statistics over the 2010 and 2011 seasons:

· Madson: In 2010 he recorded 53.0 innings pitched, a 2.55 earned run average, 10.9 strikeouts-per-nine, 2.2 walks-per-nine, 42 hits and 4 HR allowed with a 6-2 record. In 2011 those numbers were 60.2/2.37/9.2/2.4/54/2/4-2 and in his first year as the full-time closer he went 32-for-34 in his save opportunities.

· Papelbon: In 2010 he had his worst statistical season in his seven year career. After never having a worse ERA than 2.65 (2005, his rookie year), he had a 3.90 earned run average with 3.8 BB/9 and a 5-7 record. Papelbon had 8 blown saves and just a 0.4 wins-above-replacement, all career lows despite whiffing 10.2 batters per nine innings. Although his 2011 campaign will be forever associated with his blown save on the final game of Boston’s historic 2011 collapse, the four-time All-Star selection had a fine year (64.1/2.94/12.2). Papelbon went from May 9 to September 20 without blowing a save and was 31-for-34 in all with a 4-1 record.

By all accounts, it was clear that super agent Scott Boras was not going to give the Phillies a home team discount for his client Madson. Had Amaro decided to stick with a proven commodity, there is no reason to think ‘Mad Dog’ wouldn’t have continued to flourish as the closer. He throws a consistent 95-97 mph faster that goes up to 99 mph when the postseason lights are shining upon him. He mixes that with one of the most devastating change-ups in the game and a cutter that replaced his curveball last year. But, as Brad Lidge’s perfect season proved, a lights-out closer is a huge advantage when embarking on a World Series-or-bust season. Last season was the first in his career that Madson has proven he can be a reliable closer, blowing 24 saves not including the two from last season. Here is a season by season breakdown of Madson’s holds, saves and blown saves:

· 2004 – 7 holds, 1 save, 1 blown save

· 2005 – 32 holds, 0 saves, 7 blown saves

· 2006 – 6 holds, 2 saves, 2 blown saves [began season as starter]

· 2007 – 7 holds, 1 save, 1 blown save

· 2008 – 17 holds, 1 save, 2 blown saves

· 2009 – 26 holds, 10 saves, 6 blown saves

· 2010 – 15 holds, 5 saves, 5 blown saves

· 2011- 3 holds, 32 saves, 2 blown saves[became the closer April 22]

Papelbon is a predominantly fastball-slider pitcher who has been known to change his repertoire. In 2006, his second season, he threw his sinker 19.7% and posted a 0.92 ERA and a .167 OBP but blew 6 saves. The following season, he decreased his sinker use to 15.7%, blowing half the amount of saves (3) and improving upon what were already nasty numbers. Despite a 1.85 ERA that was almost a full run higher, opponents hit just .146 off him and he posted a career best 0.77 WHIP and had 84 strikeouts. After consecutive dominant seasons in 2008-2009 (combined 79 saves in 87 chances) in which his sinker use continued to decrease (12.6% and 9.4%, respectively), Papelbon went back to the pitch a career high 21.2% in 2010, which coincided with the worst year of his career [4] . Last season, he reverted back to his norm (15.6%) and bounced back to have a solid year. So, obviously, this means that Papelbon can be dominant with two pitches (fastball-slider) and when his sinker is on he is one of the most unhittable closers in baseball. Conclusion: There were a very low percentage of people happy to see Madson’s departure; there should be even fewer who complain about the addition of Papelbon. This is not an upgrade in talent; Madson’s change-up is one of the best pitch’s in baseball. But Papelbon’s track record, Philly-tough attitude and extensive postseason experience as a closer makes this another notch in the belt of the great RAJ.

2. Rest of the Bullpen – Antonio Bastardo was a revelation last season as the primary lefthander in this group and made J.C. Romero expendable. Bastardo (6-1, 2.64 ERA, 0,93 WHIP, .144 BAA, 70:28 in 58.0 innings) could be Jonathan Papelbon’s primary setup man this season depending on how well newly acquired Dontrelle Willis pitches in his first season as a reliever. Bastardo was used based on matchups last year, which took him out of the game too early too often. In 55 appearances for the Reds against lefties last year, Willis allowed 7 hits (.127 BAA) and struck out twenty while walking two. Jose Contreras (no use trying to guess his age) allowed 5 hits and 0 runs in his first 11.1 innings of the 2011 season but that was scattered between April 2 and June 3 because of elbow problems. Contreras even saved five consecutive games and appeared to have won the job, however briefly; he was ineffective in five June appearances and was finally shut down for the year. Contreras will be expected to fulfill a late inning role and the emergence of Michael Stutes (6-2/3.63/.218) will help ease his workload. In fact these two should be good for each other, as the 62.0 innings he pitched contributed to an inconsistent August when his earned run average went up from 3.18 to 3.72 and a stretch from September 6-20in which he surrendered 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 5.2 innings. No, Brad Lidge will not be back. Kyle Kendrick (8-6/3.22/.255) was a consummate professional last year as a long man and spot starter and his role on the 2012 roster will be based on what direction Amaro decides to go regarding Joe Blanton. Blanton would be the best number 5 pitcher in baseball and his durability is unquestioned (29+ starts from 2005-2010), but he is owed $8.5 million and Vance Worley emerged as a legitimate big league starter last year. If Kendrick is a member of the Phils’ star-studded rotation, 2010 Rule 5 pick David Herndon will have plenty of competition to take the job as the primary long reliever. Phillippe Aumont, the big 6’7″righter-hander acquired in the infamous Cliff Lee trade, mixes a splitter with 97 mph heat which says could help him translate into a “nasty closer” one day. Michael Schwimer, Justin de Fratus and Joe Savery will be the primary competition along with veteran additions RAJ makes to fill out the 50-man roster. Conclusion: After the Papelbon signing and the possibly-50-year-old Contreras, this is one of the youngest units in the majors. *Wild card: Phillippe Aumont*

3. The Bench Overhaul – Ben “Benny Fresh” Francisco was shipped off to the Blue Jays for Philly-born minor league southpaw reliever Frank Gailey earlier this week as the odd man out on a revamped Phillies bench. Francisco started the 2011 season as the Phillies everyday right fielder and finished the year with 6 homers and 34 RBI’s with disappointing .244/.340/.364 splits. Rule 5 pick and super utility man Michael Martinez looks likely to be waived and/or out-righted to triple-A Lehigh Valley for depth. Martinez (.196 average in 209 AB’s, a .540 on-base-plus-slugging) did an admirable job defensively wherever he played, filling in for injured regulars Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino for various stretches. As mentioned earlier, the combined bench totals of eight reserves with at least 100 at-bats hit for a .232 clip with 32 homers and 177 RBI’s. Those numbers, however, include John Mayberry Jr. (.273/15/49 in 267 AB’s) who has been promoted to the everyday left fielder. Subtract his numbers and the bench’s offensive production was paltry. David Murphy has reported that Ryan Howard likely will not be a factor until June as the team must protect its $125 million investment and his repairing Achilles heel. No surprise then, that RAJ was aggressive in acquiring Ty Wigginton, a serviceable utility man that has power (37 HR, 123 RBI the last 2 seasons). In a 10-game span from June 19 to June 29,”Wiggy” went postal, hitting 7 home runs and driving in 12 including two multi-homer games. The drawback to this is that Wigginton has seen his average dip from .273 in 2009 to.248 and .242 the past two seasons, respectively. Spelling Wigginton at times will be Lance Nix, a journeyman who just completed his 10th in the pros. Philadelphia will be Nix’s fifth team after four years with Texas, three with Milwaukee, two with Cincinnati and last season was his only one in Washington. That most recent campaign (.250/16/44/324 AB’s) was his most productive since 2004 (.248/14/46), his second year in the majors and he will see playing time at both corner outfield positions as well. Backup catcher Brian Schneider is a great veteran, clubhouse leader and the perfect complement to Carlos Ruiz. Wilson Valdez is a big-league defensive player who can literally field all nine positions and has proven his worth as a valuable commodity when the stars have taken trips to the disabled list. Jim Thome takes the last spot on the bench to hit home runs late in games and provide another voice of leadership in the clubhouse while Charlie gets his favorite drinking buddy back.Conclusion: Offensive upgrades abound and Valdez remains to provide the requisite defense.

4. The Jimmy Rollins Situation – There is more disagreement over which direction the Phillies should head with the long tenured athlete in Philadelphia than any other issue regarding the team. By now, you all know the drill: Rollins wants a 5-year deal but the Phillies won’t go past three. With reported that the Tigers likely won’t be able to pay Rollins what he and agent Dan Lozano is asking for [5] , it’s becoming more and more obvious that all the leverage in these “negotiations” is on the Phillies side. But, crazier things have happened, so let’s look at four hypothetical 2012 Phillies lineup cards:

¶With Jimmy, without Howard: ¶With Jimmy and Howard

1. SS, Jimmy Rollins 1. SS, Jimmy Rollins

2. 3B, Placido Polanco 2. 3B, Placido Polanco

3. 2B, Chase Utley 3. 2B, Chase Utley

4. RF, Hunter Pence 4. 1B, Ryan Howard

5. LF, John Mayberry Jr. 5. RF, Hunter Pence

6. CF, Shane Victorino 6. CF, Shane Victorino

7. 1B, Ty Wigginton 7. LF, John Mayberry Jr.

8. C, Chooch Ruiz 8. C, Chooch Ruiz

¶Without Jimmy and Howard ¶Without Jimmy, with Howard

1. CF, Shane Victorino 1. CF, Shane Victorino

2. 3B, Placido Polanco 2. 3B, Placido Polanco

3. 2B, Chase Utley 3. 2B, Chase Utley

4. RF, Hunter Pence 4. 1B, Ryan Howard

5. LF, John Mayberry Jr. 5. RF, Hunter Pence

6. 1B, Ty Wigginton 6. LF, John Mayberry Jr.

7. SS, Freddy Galvis 7. SS, Freddy Galvis

8. C, Chooch Ruiz 8. C, Chooch Ruiz

Between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, the 22-year-old Galvis saw a dramatic improvement at the plate, hitting.298 in 129 AB’s with the Iron Pigs after hitting just .233 in 2010. Galvis is already considered to have a big league glove and would bring much needed speed to a lineup that has gone from 7th to 10th to 19th in the majors in steals over the last three seasons, respectively. Galvis is similar in stature to Rollins (5’10”, 180 lbs) and gets rave reviews for his defense like Rollins but in Jimmy’s first full season in the majors, 2002, he hit .274 and led the big leagues with 12 triples and 46 steals while belting 14 homers and driving in 54 runs. Galvis is considered raw at the plate, at best, and like outfielder Dominic Brown, cannot be counted on to be ready to face major league pitching. Ryan Theriot is the only free agent shortstop that is a competent professional at the position but the offensive downgrade would be so drastic that even a hypothetical quantification may not reveal how much weaker the lineup becomes. Rollins has nowhere else to turn and even if he did, Ruben Amaro Jr. has yet to acquire even a slight blemish on his record and he won’t get his first by letting Jimmy walk. This isn’t the Eagles. Conclusion: Really not a whole lot of drama here as it seems like a matter of time before a deal is inked. If Rollins decides he’s being low-balled, however, and spurns the Phillies, offensive production could be a precarious endeavor on a nightly basis in 2012.

5. The Ongoing Health Problems of Chase Utley and Placido Polanco – Injuries to these two key players may be what has derailed the Phillies World Series hopes over the last two seasons more than any other issue the team has faced. If Rollins has been the dynamite, Utley has been the detonator, making sure the explosion happens when the bomb is laid on the tracks. Placido Polanco is the ballplayer that God himself shaped, combining an uncanny consistency at the hot corner, while being what Jim Leyland called “the best two- hole hitter he’s ever coached”, an institution of fundamentals. But the hard truth with Polanco is that he has never been the most durable player, starting in more than 140 games only five times in a 14-year career. Since 2007, his on-base-plus-slugging percentage has regressed from .846 to .727 to .726 to .674 last year, a season in which he was the NL batting leader in early August. Chase Utley was on pace to finish his career in the conversation with second basemen like Jeff Kent and Roberto Alomar as the greatest offensive second basemen of the last thirty years after an awesome 2008 (.292/33/104) that was his fourth consecutive year in which he hit 22+ HR, 102+ RBI, and at least a .291 average. The 32 year old, nine year veteran’s decline at the plate began in September of 2009 when his average fell twenty points (.302 →.282 from September 1 – October 3). Utley has missed significant time the past two seasons (115 games in 2010, 103 in 2011) and his combined offensive numbers (.267/25/109) do not inspire confidence in a lineup that has been power deprived, slumping from 244 to 166 to 153 in team home runs between 2009-2011. The Phillies are committed to Utley for the next two seasons at $15 million per year and unless he reverts back to form, the Phillies brass will be taking a hard look at these two prospects:

· Cesar Hernandez, high-A Clearwater – After hitting .325 in a limited 2010 role at low-A Williamsport (287 plate appearances), the 21-year-old Venezuelan stole 23 bases while batting .268 with an unsightly .639 OPS. In his 5th season with the team, the front office will want to see some concrete production at the plate for Hernandez to remain rising the organizational ladder.

· Harold Garcia, double-A Reading – An undrafted free agent pickup in 2004 and also of Venezuelan descent, Garcia, 25, is considered Utley’s heir apparent – assuming they promote from within – at this point. Garcia worked his way up the ranks and by putting up solid numbers (.291/8/55/42 steals in 118 games) against the ultra competitive Sally League pitching in 2009, he was clearly the class of second base depth in the minors for the Phils. He followed that up by posting an impressive .335 clip at Clearwater in 2010and Garcia was promoted to Reading where his average dropped to .285 but he still managed to have 29 stolen bases. Garcia can also play third so don’t be surprised to see him in a Phillies uniform in September.

There is not much flexibility with Polanco in regards to where Charlie Manuel can put him in the order. He’s either an effective number two hitter, he isn’t, or he is hurt. Conclusion: After speculation was quashed that the Phillies would trade Polanco and sign Aramis Ramirez (who subsequently signed with the Brewers), the grizzled veteran remains a key component in the Phillies lineup and not many third basemen field the position better. The onus is on Chase to stay healthy and revert back to his 2007-08 levels at the plate if he wants to retire a Phillie.

[1] It is my belief that the great Bill Conlin, 2010 J.G. Taylor Spink Award and Philadelphia Daily News legend, coined this nickname.





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