Results tagged ‘ Ryan Howard ’

Down Doc, Up Brown

Domonic BrownThe Phillies returned home last night, and most things in camp went well except for Roy Halladay. I don’t include Darin Ruf here because I think people in the organization hoped Ruf would fare well in the outfield, although they did not necessarily expect it. And starting him in Triple-A isn’t the worst thing in the world, nor is it a crushing blow to the team’s chances. But Halladay’s importance is obvious, and the fact he had so many issues and struggles leaves one enormous question mark on the mound.

I said a couple weeks ago I thought the Phillies would jump at the opportunity if somebody told them Halladay would finish 14-10 with a 3.80 ERA in 30-32 starts this season.

I believe that even more today.

I’ve never seen a premiere pitcher struggle like this in the spring. I mean, I’ve certainly seen great pitchers struggle in spring training before, but it never looked like this. He labored, he struggled to command his pitches, he lacked velocity, he didn’t have a feel for his cutter, which has been a money pitch for him. But if you’re an optimist, then you believe each of Halladay’s explanations for his struggles following his last five starts. He mentioned “dead arm” March 6, when his velocity dipped for the first time. He said he felt lethargic March 12, when the Tigers battered him in 2 2/3 innings. An extra bullpen session in between starts, plus the rigors of a more intense workout program, sapped his energy, he said. He promised he would pull back before his next start and there would be improvements. But he suffered from a stomach virus March 17, and lasted just one inning against the Orioles. Then last Saturday in a minor league game against Toronto’s Triple-A hitters, Halladay allowed 11 of 18 base runners to reach base. He blamed a “mushy mound” for his lack of velocity and said throwing more hard stuff against minor league hitters hurt him. Then yesterday he allowed two runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Blue Jays with Toronto picking up three of those outs on the bases. He said he found it difficult to grip the baseball because the balls were not rubbed up with mud properly before the game. The Phillies also said he is still trying to recover his strength following his sickness.

Again, each of these explanations are completely plausible, but coming off last season’s struggles it would unwise to take them at face value.

If the over/under on Halladay’s ERA this season is 4.19 (average ERA for starters last year) I’d have to take the over.

Conversely, Domonic Brown has been Halladay’s polar opposite. He has looked incredible this spring. I wrote earlier how Brown’ spring training numbers could indicate a successful 2013. John Dewan said players that show a 200-point increase in their spring training slugging percentage from their career slugging percentage have performed significantly above their career marks in the upcoming season 60 percent of the time. Brown finished the spring with a .675 slugging percentage compared to a .388 career slugging percentage. That is a .287 difference, which puts him in that group. Like I wrote in my story, eight of the 12 Phillies previously on Dewan’s list ended up surpassing their career slugging percentages during the regular season. Of the four players that fell short, two were not everyday players (Eric Bruntlett in 2009 and Pete Orr in ’11) and one got injured midway through the season (Jim Thome in ’05). Maybe Brown will make Dewan 9 for 13.

If the over/under on Brown’s slugging percentage is .428 (average slugging percentage for outfielders last season), I’m taking the over.

Ryan Howard also had a great spring, compiling a .663 slugging percentage, but his career slugging percentage is .551 so he fell .088 short of Dewan’s mark. But Howard’s slugging percentage the previous two seasons is just .468, so maybe he is in line for a bounce back season, too.

Opening Day is three days away.

Predictions for Halladay, Brown and Howard?

Do Big Spring Training Numbers Matter?

Domonic BrownDomonic Brown and Ryan Howard have been bashing baseballs since the Phillies opened their Grapefruit League schedule last month.

That’s great, but does it really mean anything?

“It’s good for someone who we think needs to show us something,” Charlie Manuel said following today’s 10-6 loss to the Twins at Bright House Field. “That’s definitely good. But at the same time, when the season starts we’re talking about two different seasons. But it is very encouraging when you see somebody swinging the bat like Brown. I’ve seen some real big improvement out of him.”

But keep an eye on Howard, Brown and other Phillies hitters through the end of spring.

Particularly, pay attention to their slugging percentages.

Baseball statistician and author John Dewan found that players who beat their career slugging percentage by more than 200 points in Spring Training have more than a 60 percent chance at beating their career slugging percentage during the regular season (minimum 200 regular season at-bats and 40 Spring Training at-bats).

It is not a fail-proof predictor obviously, but it is something interesting to watch before the Phillies open the regular season April 1 in Atlanta. Consider for a moment that since Dewan started writing about his Spring Training predictor in 2005, eight of the 12 Phillies on his list ended up surpassing their career slugging percentages during the regular season. And of the four players that fell short, two were not everyday players (Eric Bruntlett in 2009 and Pete Orr in 2011) and one got injured midway through the season (Jim Thome in 2005).

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Play Ball

2013 spring training 002The Phillies open their Grapefruit League schedule tomorrow against Houston at Bright House Field, and Chase Utley will be in the lineup.

Utley, who played in today’s intrasquad game, will play in his first Spring Training game since 2010. He missed the previous two because of bad knees. Ryan Howard, who missed last spring following left Achilles surgery, also will be in the lineup.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel’s lineup looks like this:

  1. Ben Revere, CF
  2. Michael Young, 3B
  3. Chase Utley, 2B
  4. Ryan Howard, 1B
  5. Darin Ruf, LF
  6. Domonic Brown, RF
  7. Laynce Nix, DH
  8. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS
  9. Erik Kratz, C.

Schmidt on Howard, Ruf and Brown

Mike Schmidt, Charlie ManuelMike Schmidt is in camp through March 20 as a special instructor. He spoke for about 25 minutes this morning at Bright House Field, touching on a variety of topics. Here are a few higlights:

On new third baseman Michael Young. “Golly, I was talking to (Phillies president) David Montgomery about him 10 minutes ago. What a lot of people don’t realize and I haven’t heard it, Michael Young could retire tomorrow and he would be a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame. He’s probably two Michael Young years away from being a first ballot Hall of Famer. I don’t know if anybody has thought about that. I don’t know what his career hitting numbers are, but he’s a little like Derek Jeter, is he not? He’s that kind of player and he’s had that kind of career. Obviously it’s not playing in New York, but if he played in New York, imagine what people would be saying about Michael Young’s career? Somebody would have mentioned the Hall of Fame a long time ago.”

On connecting with Ryan Howard early in camp. “I’ve got to tell you right out of the chute, Ryan Howard to me is very interested in my input in his hitting. To me that makes me really feel good. We’ve chatted over the years about hitting. I’ve always been a Ryan Howard fan, but he’s picking my brain a little bit more. He looks good. He’s thin. He’s doing some of the things we talk about. It’s not going in one ear and out the other. He’s taking it all in. I’m only in my second day here and I’m really excited. I feel like I’ve made more strides in my temporary coaching role than I ever had to this point. Of course we’ll see in a couple weeks how it all works out as they get game at-bats.”

On how he can help Howard the most. “He’s stuck in a game situation against the best pitcher, one of the best left-handers in the league, probably 60-70 times more than other any hitter in the league. He probably creates 20 jobs in the Major Leagues. There’s 20 left-handers that wouldn’t be in the Major Leagues if Ryan Howard weren’t in the major leagues, right? I guess what we’re kind of working on is a mindset that may allow him to become a little stronger in those at-bats. A little more contact. He’s still going to strikeout. I’m in the top 10 all time in strikeouts so I’m pretty comfortable with striking out. But I think he needs to and we were talking about ways where we might get him to be a little less strikeout prone in those kind of (Jonny) Venters at-bats, against Atlanta late in the game, when you get that nasty left-hander to get him out. We need contact in this at-bat. I don’t care if it’s a grounder to second or a chopper up the middle. Even if it’s on the first pitch or second pitch. Less foul balls and two-strike vulnerability in those at-bats. He has bought into the discussion 100 percent.”

On Darin Ruf. “At this point I’m a big fan. I chatted with him really quickly, told him, ‘Congratulations on your great start with the Phillies in the Major Leagues.’ I think he opened a lot of eyes when he came up. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I would guess they want him to play … I just like him. He’s a great young kid. He has no fear as a hitter against tough right-handers. You see that sometimes. He can give you a hell of an at-bat against a nasty right-handed pitcher. He’s very mature for 26. I wouldn’t discount him being your Opening Day starter (in left field). Let’s wait and see. He has everything you need to win that job.”

On Domonic Brown. “From a hitting standpoint, even now he might be ahead of where I was at that time, a little better idea of hitting. I couldn’t hit a ball to the opposite field to save my butt back then. I couldn’t hit a curve ball, I couldn’t hit a slider. But I sure could hit a long home run down the left-field line and play third base. I was afforded the time to make adjustments and sort of become an everyday, consistent Major League hitter. He doesn’t have that luxury. He has Darin Ruf hounding him … he’s got like six guys who want his position. For him to get that guarantee of, ‘You’re our left fielder, you’re getting 500 at-bats’ is very, very hard. … It’s about time that Domonic does the things that everyone thinks he can do. And not do them over a day, but does them over a month, then two months. And that’s when he gets his name inserted in the lineup every day.”

How Many Wins?

Darin Ruf, Erik KratzSo if you had to guess today, how many games will the Phillies win this season?

81, which they won last year?

More? Less?

A few things to consider:

  • How confident are you Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will be healthy and productive? If you are confident, push that number north of 81.
  • The Phillies went 36-24 (.600) the final two months of the 2012 season. That translates to 97 victories over a full season. Now, it’s foolish to say the Phillies will win 97 games next season based solely on a strong finish because there are slow starts, injuries, etc., but if you believe the talent on this team will be there (and possibly be improved) over six months in 2013 push that number past 81.
  • The Phillies blew 13 leads in the eighth inning last season. If setup man Mike Adams is the guy the Phillies hope he is — he had offseason surgery, remember — you figure he holds at least seven of those games, right? If the Phillies had held just seven of those 13 leads last season they would have won 88 games.
  • The Phillies went 10-8 against the Marlins last year. The Marlins should be absolutely dreadful this year. You’ve got to figure the Phillies get an extra win or two from Miami.

Or you could go the other route: this team is another year older, the Phillies haven’t made enough moves to push past the Nationals and Braves, Halladay’s best days are behind him, Utley hasn’t been healthy in years (why should this year be any different?), Howard’s OPS has been in decline since 2009, the corner outfield situation is scary, Carlos Ruiz will miss the first month of the season and who knows how good he will be once he returns, etc.

I’m thinking the Phillies finish in the 86-90 win range. If they finish on the higher end of that they probably make the postseason.

If you don’t think Halladay, Utley and Howard will be healthy and productive, oof, it could be a long season.

But it’s January 9. Who wants to be Debbie Downer today? But it’s at least something fun to think about with pitchers and catchers a little more than a month away.

Amaro on Offense, Utley, Doc and More

Ruben Amaro Jr.,Ruben Amaro Jr. met with reporters this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park as part of the Michael Young press conference, so we asked a lot of questions.

Here are the highlights:

QUESTION: Are you still searching for a corner outfielder?
ANSWER: As far as the outfield situation is concerned, we’re still trolling through the possibility of adding another piece there. And we’re also considering the possibility of a double platoon. That’s a possibility as well. We’ve done some things that have helped our club at a couple of different levels. I don’t think the process of trying to help improve our club stops until the end of the season. It’s very possible that we have the answers internally. I feel comfortable with the way our club is today and if there’s a way to improve it, we’ll try to do that.

QUESTION: Have an update on Roy Halladay‘s offseason?
ANSWER: Doc’s done very well. He’s going to start throwing off the mound here very shortly. Dubes (Rich Dubee) has seen him throw a couple times, at least long toss. I guess he’s working down there with Kyle Kendrick pretty extensively. He’s doing well, but we don’t know what kind of Doc we’re going to get until Doc’s down firing in spring training. But he’s feeling pretty good so far.

QUESTION: How is Chase Utley doing?
ANSWER: He’s done very well this offseason. (Head athletic trainer) Scott Sheridan’s visited him once and he’s probably going to go see him again. He’s taking ground balls pretty much every other day. He didn’t take a whole lot of time off. One of the things I think we’ve all learned, including Chase, that it probably behooved him to continue to work and do things to be able to keep his joints going, keep his knees going. He’s actually done very well. We have to be cautiously optimistic that he’s going to be back and playing. He hasn’t played games in spring training the last two years, but we’re cautiously optimistic that he’s going to be ready to go. We’ll probably monitor and have a discussion prior to spring training about how he’ll be utilized and such during the spring. I think he’s feeling like he’s raring to go and hopefully he’ll be ready to go April 1.

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Jimmy Is Good

The news conference yesterday at Citizens Bank Park with Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel lasted 42 glorious minutes, and it pretty much had three themes:

  1. The coaching staff changes, which included Ryne Sandberg‘s arrival as third base coach and as Manuel’s possible replacement.
  2. Amaro’s thoughts on the offseason.
  3. How in the world can the Phillies possibly survive another season with Jimmy Rollins?!?!?!?!?

There were about 5,900 words in the 42-minute transcript. Nearly 1,200 covered Rollins.

Who knew Rollins was 20 percent of this team’s problems?

Listen, I understand Rollins can be frustrating. He doesn’t always hustle, and there’s simply no excuse for it. He popped out in the infield 42 times this season to lead the big leagues. That is painful to watch. He also hit just .250 with a .316 on-base percentage, his lowest OBP since 2009 (.296).

But let’s put Rollins’ season into perspective, shall we?

Here is how he ranked among all shortstops in Major League Baseball:

  • Third in WAR (5.0).
  • Fourth out of 21 qualifying shortstops with a .429 slugging percentage.
  • First in runs (102).
  • Second in home runs (23).
  • Second in doubles (33) and walks (68).
  • Fourth in RBIs (68).
  • Tied for fifth in triples (5).
  • Sixth with a .746 OPS.

Not bad.

I know some folks might not want to hear it, but Rollins was one of the better shortstops in baseball this season, both offensively and defensively. Now, one can make the argument the Phillies would be better served with somebody else hitting leadoff, considering Rollins’ low on-base percentage. (Playing devil’s advocate, Rollins’ superior base running allows him to take advantage of the times he is on base, which might explain his 102 runs scored.) But just because the Phillies don’t have another option at leadoff doesn’t mean Rollins should be pinned as the crux of this team’s offensive problems. He isn’t. But that is how it is portrayed.

“Two months ago, I heard somebody talk about (Michael) Bourn from Atlanta and you know how good he’d be in the leadoff hole, but Jimmy Rollins has more production than Bourn has and things like that,” Manuel said. “What I’m getting at is who
out there in the Major Leagues does any better than Jimmy in the leadoff hole? If you find that guy, mention him to me.”

This team has bigger fish to fry than Rollins. There is Chase Utley‘s health. There is Ryan Howard‘s health. There is the entire outfield (Amaro said yesterday nobody is guaranteed a spot in next season’s outfield). There is third base.

Shortstop is one of the only solid spots in the lineup.

Rollins isn’t a perfect hitter when compared to every other hitter at every other position in baseball. But compare him to other shotstops in baseball and he’s still producing. So focus the ire and frustration elsewhere.

Howard Breaks Toe, Season Finished

It is a fitting end to a forgettable season.

Ryan Howard, who missed much of 2012 following left Achilles surgery, broke his right big toe Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, where he dropped the lead pipe his swings in the on-deck circle squarely on his toe. Howard said an x-ray Thursday revealed a small fracture in the toe, which will require nothing more than rest to heal.

But his season is over.

So what’s next for the Phillies’ $125 million man? Only the most important offseason of his career.

Howard hit .219 with 11 doubles, 14 home runs and 56 RBIs in 71 games. His batting average, on-base percentage (.295), slugging percentage (.423) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.718) are career lows, but he projected to 127 RBIs over a full season because he hit .329 with runners in scoring position.

“I know I’m a better hitter than that,” Howard said. “But I think for being able to come in and try to do the best I could and contribute, still being able to get 56 RBIs and 14 home runs and whatnot, considering everything that had gone on and not really having a Spring Training to properly get ready for the season, I look at that as a positive.”

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The Old Big Piece in 2013?

Ryan Howard stood in front of his locker at Citi Field late last night and tried to explain why his swing became so compact and so quick in the ninth inning after it looked so long and so slow in his first three at-bats.

“I blacked out, I guess,” he said. “Maybe I need to black out more often.”

Howard crushed a 0-1 fastball from Mets left-hander Josh Edgin into the upper deck in right field for a two-out, two-run home run to propel the Phillies to a 3-2 victory. It kept the Phillies’ faint postseason hopes alive. They remain four games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card with 13 games to play, meaning even if they finish the season 10-3 the Cardinals would need to finish no better than 6-7 to tie.

But, hey, at least they still have a chance.

They can thank Howard for that.

Howard has had an interesting year. He opened the season on the disabled list following left Achilles surgery. He has played nearly every day since his return, but is hitting just .225 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .718 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Howard’s batting average, .303 on-base percentage, .416 slugging percentage and OPS would be career lows — by far — if projected over the course of a 162-game season, but his RBIs project to 123 because he is hitting .344 (21-for-61) with runners in scoring position.

Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel both believe Howard’s left leg has been a factor in his struggles this season. They also believe a full season of strength training and conditioning will get him back in shape.

They have to hope that’s all it takes, anyway.

Howard begins the second year of a five-year, $125 million contract extension next year. His numbers generally have been in decline since 2006, so unless he reverses that trend next season the Phillies are going to be in a bad spot in the future. Sure, the Phillies will try to add a bat or two in the offseason, but if it ends up being one of the guys most people mention (i.e. Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton) I’m not sure they’re going to be saviors. (I hear a lot about Upton’s tools and potential, but can somebody show me the production?) That means they need guys like Howard to continue to carry the weight.

Is it realistic to ask that of him? Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have no choice.

Bad Weekend, Bad Signs

That couldn’t have gone much worse, huh?

The Phillies entered this weekend’s series against the Astros as the hottest team in baseball, but lost three of four to the worst team in baseball. They’re back under .500 and four behind the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card race with 15 games to play. I’m not going to say it’s impossible to make the postseason, but …

  • Even if the Cardinals finish just 7-8 they will be 84-78.
  • The Phillies would need to finish 11-4 just to tie. That means they would have to win two of three in four of their remaining five series, and sweep the fifth.
  • And that only works if the Cardinals stumble and the Dodgers, Brewers or Pirates (unlikely) don’t outplay them.

The Cardinals play their next nine games against the Astros and Cubs, while the Phillies have nine of their final 12 games against the Braves and Nationals. And again, don’t forget the Dodgers, Brewers and Pirates are between the Cardinals and Phillies in the standings.

Maybe a bad weekend against the Astros shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. The Phillies had been on a great run, but we saw many of the holes this team had showed the first four months of the season:

  • An inconsistent offense. The Phillies were 5-for-31 (.161) with runners in scoring position in their three losses against the Astros. Three of the top four hitters in their lineup are hitting no better than .254: Chase Utley (.254), Jimmy Rollins (.252) and Ryan Howard (.229). The Phillies have some offensive holes to fill in the offseason, but I’m sure they’ll be expecting Rollins, Utley and Howard to sit atop their lineup in 2013. That is not entirely comforting. The Phillies can talk about injuries and bounce back seasons for Utley and Howard, but it is far from a lock they will completely rebound. The numbers for those three players have been in decline the last few years anyway. Howard’s OPS has dropped every year since his MVP year in 2006, except 2009. Utley’s OPS this season (.815) is up from last year, but it’s still his second lowest since he became an everyday player in 2005. Rollins’ OPS (.740) is up four points from last season, but overall he hasn’t approached his numbers from 2004-07. Now, taking these players individually it doesn’t look that bad. Rollins ranks 7th out of 21 qualifying shortstops in baseball in OPS. Utley would rank third among qualifying second baseman. Howard has 46 RBIs in 61 games. That is 122 RBIs over a 162-game season, although his .715 OPS  would rank 16th out of 21 first basemen. But the Phillies are averaging just 4.11 runs per game since Howard rejoined the team July 6, which ranks 12th in the National League. Just because those three compare favorably with other players at their positions doesn’t mean this offense is in great shape. That’s because they don’t have a player to truly anchor the middle of the lineup, like Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, etc. Carlos Ruiz has a .949 OPS this season, but it would be dangerous to expect him to replicate those numbers next season and beyond. Plus, he has never had more than 410 at-bats in a season. If Utley had enough plate appearances to qualify, he’d have the second-best OPS on the team behind Ruiz, but it would rank just 64th out of 202 big-league players. It’s tough to score consistently when the three highest paid hitters in the lineup aren’t hitting .260.
  • A leaky bullpen. Phillies relievers had a 5.25 ERA against the Astros, allowing 12 hits, 10 runs (seven earned runs), seven walks and one hit batter in 12 innings. The Phillies struck out 13 batters in those innings, showing they have good “stuff,” but they still don’t have the consistency they need to be relied upon.
  • Starters. Roy Halladay is 4-0 in his last six starts, but also has a 4.70 ERA. That’s just not the quality one expects from Halladay. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said weeks ago it would take Halladay a long time to lose the bad habits he picked up while pitching with a strained right back muscle earlier this season. But considering the mileage on Halladay’s arm and his age, it is not unfair to wonder what kind of pitcher the Phillies will be getting next season. I would never bet against Halladay, but it also is tough to just say, “He’ll absolutely be the old Doc next year.”
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