Going the Wrong Way

Good morning from Arizona.

A few thoughts/facts on one of baseball’s worst offenses through 16 games:

  • The Phillies have a .283 on-base percentage, .317 slugging percentage and 2.69 runs per game average. No team (in either league) has finished a season with a lower OBP since the 1968 Mets (.281), a lower SLG since the 1972 Rangers (.290) or a lower runs per game average since the 1942 Phillies (2.61). So unless you think the 2012 Phillies are one of the worst offenses in baseball history, they will improve. But how much? And will it happen in enough time to make a difference?
  • The Phillies have scored two or fewer runs in 10 games, and in 5 of their last 6.
  • We could see Chase Utley at the ballpark today, while Ryan Howard is scheduled to see a wound specialist in Philadelphia. Is there any shot the Phillies get good news from both?
  • I’m an Utley skeptic at this point because he proved to be no better than an average big-league hitter last season. It’s just difficult to believe he will return to All-Star form when he is still battling the same knee problems. (His .769 OPS last year would have ranked 77th out of 146 hitters had he qualified for the statistic.) But here’s something interesting: From April 1 through May 22 last season without Utley in the lineup, the Phillies averaged 3.83 runs per game with a .312 OBP and .364 SLG. From May 23 through July 29 with Utley in the lineup, the Phillies averaged 4.71 runs per game with a .329 OBP and .407 SLG. And from July 30 through the end of the regular season with Utley and Hunter Pence in the lineup, the Phillies averaged 4.54 runs per game with a .324 OBP and a .406 SLG. It is possible even an average Utley can make that much of a difference in the lineup’s performance? It’s something worth thinking about.
  • Jim Thome has 2 hits and 9 strikeouts in 16 at-bats. I’ve had fans ask me if they think he is finished. But I’ve got a crazy idea: Play Thome more. If Charlie Manuel believes Thome needs more at-bats, which he said yesterday, then give them to him. What does Manuel have to lose? There had been talk in spring training that Thome might be able to play as many as two games in the field every week. Maybe even three. What happened to that? Thome has started just three times this season. If Thome plays more and his back flares up, it’s not like his absence is going to kill the offense, as little as he has played and as little as he has contributed as a pinch-hitter. (He’s 0-for-7 with 5 strikeouts as a pinch-hitter.) And as much as Thome has struck out, he also has given the Phillies some of their most “professional” at-bats. He is averaging 4.50 pitches per plate appearance. The next closest Phillies players with 16 or more at-bats are Juan Pierre (4.02) and Placido Polanco (3.94). So turn Thome loose. Let’s see how much he has left in the tank. If he produces, great. If he can’t handle the job physically or he continues to struggle, well, then you know.
  • Oh, and when Thome starts hit him fourth and Pence third. Maybe Pence would be more comfortable hitting somewhere other than cleanup. He has never hit more than 25 homers or had more than 97 RBIs in a season. Cleanup isn’t his spot, at least when Thome is playing.
  • I’ve gotten lots of e-mails and tweets about Domonic Brown, but he is hitting just .263 (15-for-57) with four doubles, one triple and eight RBIs in 15 games with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He has a .311 on-base percentage and a .368 slugging percentage. As much as John Mayberry Jr. has struggled, I can’t see the Phillies considering Brown as the solution in left field with a .680 OPS in Triple-A.

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15 Comments

Todd, I hope you are not advocating playing Thome over Mayberry (because it appears that Charlie is enthralled with Pierre in LF). Thome is done and, while Mayberry may have been a mirage last season, at least find out if he has a future. Thome needs to get the clock ticking toward his eventual HOF induction.

It is pretty obvious that the Phillies have peaked and are now declining. In 09 and 10 they were the best team in the NL and arguably in all baseball, but they have generally gotten older while a lot of teams around them have gotten better (Braves, Nats, Dbacks…just to name a few). This is not an uncommon situation for most teams, greatness ebbs and flows. Nothing they did this offseason excited me outside of signing Rollins (because he’s a proven team leader even when he is not producing). But part of this is just a matter of bad timing: stuck with several contracts that are really doing nothing for them (Polanco and Utley come to mind). So far, the experiment in LF after the departure of Ibanez has not produced the hoped-for result, but it is too early for that story to be written. I agree that the return of Utley and Howard will not be a major turnaround for this team this season. I’ve heard it said that MLBers who have had the injury Howard has say he won’t be right until next year, and Utley is done as anything other than a utility infielder, barring a miracle. His knees are old and hurt – can’t recover from that. Best case scenario would be for him to split time with Michael Martinez to rest his knees. But as currently constituted, I do not see this team winning the NL Pennant or certainly not the WS. If they actually struggled back to win the NL East, I think that would be a major victory for this team in 2012. Anything other than that is just pure fantasy. And I expect them to deal Cole Hamels for a real second or third baseman and maybe even a left fielder if they are out of it by the All Star break. Doc, Cliff, and Vanimal plus Blanton and Kendrick would still be a good enough staff to win in the future (assuming Kendrick continues to pitch like he did last year down the stretch) but they need a greatly improved offense. The old adage that “Pitching wins Championships: ignores the fact that good pitching still needs a decent offense to score some runs in the postseason, especially late in games, or you still lose. The Phillies (and the Braves before them) have shown that quite sufficiently.

OK Steve, you want to trade Hamels for a legit 2B or 3B. Now tell me who that would be because, unless you are getting someone like Cano or Longoria, you won’t be getting fair value. And I doubt those players are available.

Phan – see below, but this is not what I want, it is what I think will happen. And with Hamels as trade bait, it may be surprising who becomes “available”.

Ya….I don’t think so. Hamels should be made a franchise player since he’s been there and been Phillies main pitcher for last 5 yrs. Glad you are not the GM. Signing Howard, getting rid of Ibanez and Wilson Valdez didn’t help but getting a couple of bats wouldn’t hurt. I think they should play Thome more. Utley is past prime…I’d like to see him retire as a Phillie, but right now he is not helping the team. He’ll end up like Pat Burrell…go somewhere else and produce some and then retire. I think last year WAS the year if we were gonna win it again. Hopefully I am wrong tho.

Vinny – I agree, but where’s the $ coming from? The only way I see to do it is if Hamels takes a paycut. If so, great. But otherwise, I don’t see the Phils being able to outbid the Dodgers, who I think will be coming hard for the left-coaster. It is just bad timing, Cole’s contract finishing up right after they signed Howard, then Halladay, then Cliff, now Jimmy….something has to give. And I think it will be Hamels going somewhere else. My opinion, not my wish.

I’m concerned, but I think that everyone still needs to calm down. The offense certainly stinks, but it can only get better. You can’t expect the Natinals (sic) to continue to play .750 baseball either. I still have High Hopes and I’m holding onto the “It’s April” thinking, but ask me again next Tuesday.

Yesterday, I said that I was trying to be optimistic since it’s early in the season. However, after games like yesterday it’s getting tough.

I do agree that Thome should gracefully retire very soon. (Did anyone see Ibanez’s HR last wk at Yankee stadium? It was a bomb into the upper deck 400+ feet. I know if he were still with the Phils he’d probably be struggling also. Nice to see though)

Todd ….

Beez Nutz already posted this theory about Thome … please acknowledge him next time.

Love,

A Beez Nutz Fan

Yep…it’s gonna be a long season. Meanwhile…..GO FLYERS!

To be clear, I’m not advocating trading Hamels. But I think that is what they will do if the team is out of it come All Star Break. Unless he takes a massive paycut, I don’t think they can resign him anyway, based on what pitchers like him are commanding these days. And why should he, if there seems to be no improvement in the offense? (Which would be the only reason they would be out of it come the break) I mean, Philly is a great place to play and all, but other than Pence, the team has done little to improve the offense over the last 2 years, and I suspect pitchers like Hamels are getting tired of it. Why not test the market and get closer to home? I think the Dodgers will be coming hard for him and will pay him closer to what he wants than the Phillies can, or should. This team needs youger position players right now more than they need Hamels. The only way they should get Hamels is if they can get him to sign a hometown deal like Cliff, and right now there is little incentive for him to do so. If they have to break the bank to resign him and are stuck with the same infield over the next couple of years, where does that leave the team? I feel like right now the Phillies are over a barrel and there is no easy way out. I don’t want to see Cole go, but I don’t want to have him and the same roster over the next 2-3 years, because if that is what happens, 2011 will be repeated over and over again.

I follow about Cole, but the Phillies need to re-sign him. He’s only 28 and he has 5-6 really good years left in him. They can afford to go over the luxury tax next season, and then the threshold goes up after that in 2014. They also need to re-up Pence as he is one of the younger regulars. They HAVE to try and keep the younger productive players.
I’m not jumping ship just yet because, frankly, the Phillies had two poor 16-game offensive stretches last season that were even worse than this and still won 102 games (you could look it up; one in May and one in September). This looks worse because it is at the start of the season, but they’ve only played 16 games.
If they are out of it after the All-Star break (which I doubt will happen), the players to unload at that point are the expensive aging guys who may still offer a contending team a late season boost. Players like Rollins, Victorino and Utley. They could really load up on young players with those guys. I doubt Blanton will have any value, but they could try. Even Papelbon, if there would be a takers. A lot of teams have lost their closers for the year already. But again, I doubt it will be necessary. It’s a looooong season.

With an extra team in the playoffs, the trading deadline will take on a new meaning. A few other clubs will be thinking of making a run instead of dumping salary.
If they trade Papelbon after signing him to that huge deal they’ll have more than egg on their faces.
Victorino has limited value because he’s in his walk year and Utley’s knees make him nearly worthless. They’re into him for 2013 too.
They are paying such huge salaries that their actual value is less than what they would be if they were earning a more realistic salary that was based on their actual production.
I don’t think there is much that they can do except play it out with the guys they have.

I really hope they can keep Cole. I really do. I have no real feel for how high their payroll can be, but I get the sense they are close to maxing out. Would they trade Rollins after just resigning him? Seems unlikely, but what do I know? Vic is a tough one, because he’s one of the few guys that is clutch at the plate. He’d make the most sense of the three, but I wonder how much of an upgrade over him they would get in return?

I know they were horrible at times last year and still won the division. But the lineup seems no better than last year (possibly worse with no Ibanez), they are missing 2 key guys who are not likely to come back as good as they were last year, and I think the Nats, Mets, and possibly the Braves are all better than they were last year. I don’t think the Phils will find it as easy to make up ground this year as they did last year. But we’ll see, like you said, it is a looong season. But it is a short playoff, and I don’t like their chances with this lineup against the better teams in this league OR against the Rangers/Tigers/Angels etc in the WS. There are a lot of powerful offenses in the AL with good pitching right now. So without some kind of major move in July (which the team is known for) I say again, I don’t see this team winning a pennant or a championship this year. I thought that before the season, and see no reason to change my mind now.

But I will take this team over the ones in the late 80s and most of the 90s any day!

Frankly, 2011 wasn’t that bad. They won the division by a large margin. They barely lost the division series, and that was to the hottest team at the time, who went all the way to win the WS. But I will say they do need to improve their offense. They need to be more patient. Thome leads the team with 4.50 pitches per at-bat. That’s horrible. The team has no patience. As soon as someone gets on base, they start swinging at anything. However, Galvis is improving, Rollins and Victorino are starting to hit a little better. Pierre should play all the time because has been great. First base needs to be addressed because no one has impressed me. Nix, Wigginton, Thome, and Mayberry have all been sub-par. Might be time to pick one guy and start him all the time, rather than a entire platoon taking turns. I think it’s time for a new hitting coach. They let Milt Thompson go and Greg Gross has, in my opinion, done an even worse job. I love the pitching moves Amaro has made, but he’s focused too much on pitching and seemed to forget about hitting. He tried in the off-season, but it was too little, too late.

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