Right after the regular season ended, a series of posts began to debrief all the major league teams to look at the 2009 season and to look ahead to 2010. The series has already concluded the National League West and one post covered the Atlanta Braves for the National League East before the playoffs and World Series began and left little thought to anything else. Well, it's time to get back to business and restart the process. Since the National League East is our current target and since they just finished a World Series that is fresh in our minds, it seems fitting to start back up again with the Phillies.
It seems to be an obvious statement that the Phillies had a very good year. They had the second best record in the National League. They easily beat the Rockies and the Dodgers in the playoffs and handed a powerful Yankee team two losses in the World Series. They drew 3.6 million fans meaning the money has been good. But some of their weaknesses were exposed against the Yankees. This off season will be a critical one for the Phillies and toeing the line does not seem to be what's needed to repeat again next year as National League champs.
What Went Right
Again, it isn't difficult to pick the Phillies' strengths in 2009: Utley, Victorino, Werth, Ibanez and Howard. Those five players accounted for 228.3 of VORP or Value Over Replacement Players. That's a staggering number. Werth in particular, seems to be getting better and better every year. Howard and Utley figure to continue putting up the numbers. Ibanez doesn't figure to match this year's numbers next year as he is getting up there in age. Victorino is a little harder to figure.
One thing the Phillies have going for them is that Utley, Victorino, Werth and Howard are all in the 29 to 30 year old range meaning they should be at the peak of their baseball prowess. So they should all be able to at least replicate their statistics this coming year. The Fan isn't all gellin' with Victorino. The guy seems like a decent player. His OPS+ is just a little over league average the past two seasons after three seasons below league average. He has more pop in his bat from the left side (he's a switch hitter), but he's a better hitter from the right side. His range in centerfield is about league average and he only had one assist all year, meaning his arm seems to be below standard.
What seems to be the best case for the Phillies would be to move Victorino to left (the Fan insists that Ibanez was a one year hit and that's it) and then sign Marlon Byrd, who is a free agent this year. Byrd has more range, is growing as a hitter and has a better arm. Plus, Byrd hits right handed, which would seem to even things out more for the Phillies (more on that later).
Another thing that went right for the Phillies was trading for Cliff Lee. 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA and money in the post season. You can't ask for much more than that. Just ask the Angels about their Kazmir deal. The other pitching highlight for the Phillies was J. A. Happ. The question that has to be asked is: How can your most valuable pitcher during 2009 not get a post season start? The guy had a 46.7 VORP. He finished with a 2.93 ERA. What!? If the Fan was in charge of the Phillies, the post season rotation would have been: Lee, Happ, Hamels and then whomever.
Happ is only 27 and figures to continue improving if he stays healthy. Hamels had an off year, but if you look deep into the numbers, he wasn't much worse statistically than in 2008 when he was "great." It seems to this Fan that Hamels had an unlucky year and should bounce back just fine next year. So you already have Lee, Happ and Hamels in your rotation. Blanton is a decent fourth guy and the free agent list includes useful pitchers like Harden, Duchscherer (who has more consonants in his name than should be allowed) and Doug Davis if you want to round out your five. Pedro won't be back and it is doubtful that Moyer will be anything more than a swing man. The Phillies should let Brett Myers leave via free agency.
The Question Marks
Let's start with Jimmy Rollins. Despite a late surge, Rollins finished with his lowest batting average since 2002, his lowest OBP ever, his lowest stolen base total in five years and the lowest number of triples in his career. His 85 OPS+ was astounding. He's only 31, so the age thing shouldn't be a factor yet. Perhaps it was just a bad year. Perhaps he had an injury no one knows about. But if he doesn't bounce back, he can't bat lead off. You have to move him down in the batting order. His fielding seemed okay. Maybe it was just a bad year.
Pedro Feliz is a liability at the plate. He hasn't been above 85 in OPS+ since 2004. On the other hand, he's a very good third baseman. So do you sacrifice the offense for a slick fielder? It seems the Phillies have enough offense to warrant it. The Fan really thinks Adrian Beltre is going to have a bounce back year, especially if he goes back to the National League. He might be an intriguing possibility for the Phillies. He's just as good with the glove as Feliz and has more potential upside at the plate.
Ruiz is a good catcher. Granted, he doesn't throw many runners out. But he had only one passed ball all season. Plus, he's money in the post season. The Phillies are all set there, but they have no catching depth. Bako and Coste didn't cut it.
Sooner or later, you all knew the Fan was going to get to the bullpen. Frankly, it was a real liability in 2009. But Madsen has the potential to be a really good closer. He doesn't seem to get rattled and he did his job in the World Series. Just as frankly, what are the Phillies to make of Brad Lidge? From the Fan's observation, he can no longer blow you away with his fastball and has to rely on his slider, a pitch that can be an angel or a devil depending on the game. One thing the Phillies can't do is take too long to figure it out in the spring. They can't keep waffling when it comes to the closer. If Lidge doesn't light it up early, then they have to go with Madson or bring somebody else in. There are a ton of free agent relief pitchers on the market. Bring in a few of the top arms and see what happens.
The other weakness that the Yankees seemed to exploit was left handed pitchers versus the Phillies left handed batters and right handed pitchers throwing inside to those same Phillies lefties. As a team, the Phillies struck out 22% of the time against left-handed pitching versus 20% versus right-handed. And strikeouts are a problem. Werth and Howard struck out 342 times combined. Utley added 110 more. Werth needs more help from the right side of the plate and the Phillies could use a guy who puts the ball in play more often. Their team batting average was ninth in the sixteen team league.
Again, the Phillies had a great year. They benefited nicely from the Mets falling apart due to injuries and a weak Washington team. They have horses and they know how to win. A few tweaks here and there and they should be right in the mix for their third straight NL pennant. The Braves figure to be stronger and you have to figure the Mets will be better. The Marlins' young pitching could always put it together some day. But it would be surprising if the Phillies weren't on top of the NL East again next year.