Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Contemplating the Phillies Line Up and Jimmy Rollins

There was a real nice piece today in the Philadelphia Inquirer's The Phillies Zone on Charlie Manuel speaking about his contract and some of his players. Manuel gets a bit lost in the shuffle when it comes to discussions on good managers. You can't argue with Manuel's success nor with the way he seems to be the most beloved manager since Joe Torre. But Manuel is no different than a lot of managers who develop soft spots for some of their players. Torre had an absolute man crush on Jeff Weaver and Miguel Cairo. LaRussa loves himself some Schumaker and Gardenhire was sweet on Nick Punto for years. It's human nature and it happens.

Manuel has a soft spot for Jimmy Rollins. And, this Fan might point out, Manuel's soft spot has some good reasons. Rollins was the epicenter of the team in those years where they caught the Mets from behind and won the division. Rollins' 2007 season was a wondrous adventure that featured 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers, 139 runs scored, 94 RBIs from the lead off spot and 41 stolen bases in just 47 attempts. His MVP Award is open for debate for some, but not in this corner. He WAS the Phillies that year and he was remarkable.

But he really hasn't been remarkable since. His batting was just above league average in 2008 and well below in 2009 and 2010. How can you have a lead off batter with OBPs of .298 and .320 over the last two years? You can't. You can't also overlook the fact that Rollins has a career OPS+ of 97. Would you have guessed that? No, neither would this observer. But looking at his career, 2007 has to be considered an outlier, a career year. He didn't come close to the same stats in the years before or the years since. Would you also guess that his career OBP is .328? And yet, Manuel says that he thinks of Rollins as a lead off guy.
It's pretty harsh to say this, but if Rollins is your lead off guy, then you are not doing much better than putting Juan Pierre up there at lead off (Pierre had a higher OBP last year too).

Don't get the Fan wrong. Jimmy Rollins still has a lot of value as a terrific fielding shortstop and team leader. He's just got to sink to seventh in the batting order, that's all. Of course, Rollins could come out of the gate in 2011 and make the Fan look like an idiot. For Manuel's sake and for Phillies fans, that wouldn't be unwelcome. It's just expected.

The trouble with the Phillies as they are currently constructed is that they really don't have anyone who could replace Rollins in the top spot. Shane Victorino had a very pedestrian season in 2010 (and was hugely disappointing). The team's best on base guy last year was Carlos Ruis. But with Jaso leading off for the Bay Rays, maybe catchers leading off is the new flavor of the month.

Elsewhere in the line up, the Phillies have to hope for better things from Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. They both had OPS+ seasons over 120, but their standards are higher than that. If they can both get back to their career norms, that would be a good thing. Raul Ibanez surprised with another solid year for the Phillies in 2010. But like the Padres of 2010, you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Plus, he's not a good fielder at this stage of his career. There are two guys you have to consider for this season. Dominic Brown is already slated to take over for Jayson Werth. But the Fan would give that spot to John Mayberry, who deserves a full time shot. Brown would be the left fielder. Have you seen Brown's defensive numbers in right? Not pretty. Plus, the kid struggled at the plate.

The other trouble with Brown taking over for Werth is that he bats left handed. That would leave a line up with Brown, Utley, Howard and Ibanez all batting from the left side. If Brown can fulfill his promise and take over for Ibanez, then you just replace a lefty with a lefty and the right-handed hitting Mayberry hits from the right to take over for Werth. Ibanez can be the fourth outfielder.

This Fan is also not a big fan of Placido Polanco. Polanco is in this writer's mind, a back up infielder filling in at short, second and third and getting 300 at bats. He wears down as a full-time player and 2010 left him below league average in OPS+. But it looks like the Phillies are stuck with Polanco in that role for the 2011 season.

Let's face it, the Phillies don't have to hit that much to support that pitching staff. We all know that. But they have to score enough runs too. The Phillies have a lot of question marks offensively heading into the 2011 season. Can Utley, Rollins, Victorino, Howard and Polanco bounce back after down seasons? Are the Phillies really going to stick with Ibanez? Will Brown hit? Can Ruiz continue to hit that well? Can the Phillies survive with their two top lead off options getting on base only 32 percent of the time? Like the Fan said, Manuel is a great manager. He'll figure it out.

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