Ruben Amaro may not have as much financial flexibility as he did last year (when he added Oswalt’s contract) but it still seems likely that he will make some move to add a right-handed bat that can slot into a corner outfield position. That speculation and discussion will dominate much of the next month for media and fans following the team. Amaro will also be kicking the tires on available relief pitchers, mostly because injuries have forced a heavy workload on some young arms.
On to the grades. Any player that has started at least five games at a position is listed (with the number in parentheses representing the number of starts they’ve made there).
Catcher, Carlos Ruiz (53), Brian Schneider (14), Dane Sardinha (12): No one could have expected Ruiz to match last year’s production (.302 BA, .400 OBP, and a handful of MVP votes), and the hitter he’s been this year is definitely closer to who he really is. Still, like just about every hitter on the team, he’s at least slightly underperformed, with just a .346 slugging percentage. Schneider has had a disappointing Phillies tenure. He’s hitting .161, and seems to end up on the DL every couple of months, even though he only plays once a week. Sardinha is a fine AAA catcher, I’m sure.
First Base, Ryan Howard (78): One underrated aspect of Ryan Howard is his durability. For as big ashe is, it’s impressive that he’s out there every single day. He’s well on his way to 500+ at-bats, which would mean he’s done that in every one of his full ML seasons. Now, the question is whether or not he’ll ever be the 45-50 home run guy that he was up until last year. It’s true that home runs have been down across the game the last couple of years, but Howard’s have dropped by about 33%. Right now, he’s on pace to about match his total of 31 last year, and his slugging percentage is below .500. With Howard, you always expect a second-half surge, but it’s worth noting that that surge didn’t come last year. His 62 RBI do rank 2nd in the NL, but I’d argue that the lack of production from the 3-hole has left a ton of RBI opportunities sitting there for the big guy. He gets a bonus grade bump for only committing one error so far.
Second Base, Wilson Valdez (31), Chase Utley (28), Pete Orr (16): Second base this year resembles shortstop at the mid-season point last year, with Valdez seeing a lot of playing time in place of the injured starter. One problem: though his defense continued to be excellent, he hasn’t hit as much as he did last year, sporting a miserable .306 slugging percentage. That opened the door for some starts by Orr, who wasn’t any better, slugging .279 before exiting to AAA upon Utley’s return.
It’s difficult to draw any conclusions on Utley because of the spring training injury and the somewhat limited time he’s played so far. On the plus side, he appears to be running well on the knee and looks as healthy as we could hope. On the negative side, his offensive numbers have steadily declined every year since 2007. This year, he’s hitting .270, with a solid .375 OBP, and a run-of-the mill .435 slugging. It’s possible that that’s just who he is now, and the days of him being a .300/30 homer player appear to be over.
Third Base, Placido Polanco (73), Valdez (6): For the season’s first month, Polanco was the ONLY bright spot offensively. But his .398 April average dropped to .248 in May, and he’s sitting at just .207 in June. What does it all add up to? Well, shockingly, if he were to match his 1st half performance in the 2nd half, it just may add up to the worst season of his long career. While that says something about how consistent and good he’s been throughout that career, it’s also pretty terrible news for a Phillie team dying for hitting, especially from the right side of the plate.
Still, assuming he can rebound from this downward trajectory his season has taken, he brings so much to the table in ways that don’t appear in the statistics, and the Phillies would be happy with a .290/9 home run season from their third baseman.
Shortstop, Jimmy Rollins (73), Valdez (5): Much like we probably have to adjust our expectations for Utley, we’ve already had to adjust our expectations for the aging J-Roll. He’s hitting .260 and on pace for 15 homers and 30 steals. If you’re looking for any more than that from him at this point, you’re fooling yourself. He’s also on pace for a career-high in walks. It will be interesting to see if he returns next year (I don’t think he will) and, obviously, his performance over these next few months will go a long way in determining that. He’s just starting to slip defensively, so any sort of long-term commitment is probably ill-advised.
Left Field, Raul Ibanez (69), John Mayberry (5): So, three-year contracts for 37-year-olds may not be the best idea, huh? Ibanez turned in a great 2009 season, and will most likely always be remembered fondly by Phillie fans, if for nothing more than the fun of the “Rauuuuuuullll!” cheer every time he got a big hit. But he was mediocre last year and has been downright terrible at the plate in ’11. His time as a Phillie, and very possibly his career, will wind down over these next few months. If he doesn’t start hitting, it could possibly wind down on the bench.
Center Field, Shane Victorino (60), Mayberry (13), Michael Martinez (6): Pretty quietly, the Flyin’ Hawaiian has been the best offensive player on the Phils this season. Victorino leads the team in average (.291), on-base percentage (.359), and even slugging percentage (.498). He’s also second on the team in steals (12) and third in the NL in triples (8). He’s accomplished all this despite being bounced all around the line-up. He could be headed for his second All-Star game and earn his fourth straight Gold Glove.
Mayberry didn’t hit much when he was up, but he did help his value going forward by showing that he’s a capable center fielder. He could possibly be a throw-in to a trade in the next month. Martinez hasn’t even hit enough to justify a utility role (2 extra-base hits in 63 AB’s), but he’s a versatile defender, useful pinch-runner, and a Rule 5 pick, so he’s most likely here for the rest of the season.
Right Field: Ben Francisco (45), Domonic Brown (27): After a decent-enough April, Francisco missed his chance to claim the right field job when he couldn’t buy a hit in May, and his season average is just .225. That opened the door for Brown, but he too has failed to find the way through that wide open doorway. After tearing up AAA in a brief stint after coming back from the broken hand injury, Brown came back to the majors and reverted right back to being the guy that couldn’t hit in his brief time in the majors last year. He’s shown some raw power but has not yet shown the ability to hit a major league fastball. A platoon with Francisco doesn’t even look feasible, with Brown hitting just .202 vs. right-handers.
One of the many, many wonderful things about going into a season with four aces is that if one of them is forced to deal with injuries and a family crisis, you still have three other aces to fall back on. That’s the position the Phils find themselves in, with Roy Oswalt heading to the DL for the second time with back issues, after also missing a week to deal with damage from tornadoes that ripped through his hometown in Mississippi. Despite all that, and despite not picking up many wins, he was pitching really well through June 1st, with a 2.70 ERA. In his four starts since then he struggled, and you have to wonder if the back problems were affecting his performance. Hopefully he can get healthy and come back strong at some point this season.
As for the other three, it wouldn’t be a surprise right now to see either Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, or Cliff Lee walk away with a Cy Young Award come season’s end. Their NL ranks, respectively: 2nd, 4th and 8th in ERA. T1st, T3rd, and T7th in Wins. 4th, 1st, and 12th in WHIP. 1st, 5th, and 4th in Innings Pitched. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in K/BB ratio. And they’re doing all this in one of the best hitter’s parks in the game. Just amazing.
It’s really only fair to compare Halladay to himself. His numbers are just slightly better (but almost eerily similar) to his numbers of last year, when he won the Cy Young. At 34-years-old, he’s showing zero signs of slowing down. He’s basically a carbon-copy of the guy that was out there last year. He’s almost mechanical in his ability to repeat the same pitches and the same delivery, pitch after pitch, game after game.
At this point last year, Hamels was still having some of the same struggles he had during his poor ’09 season. I said in last season’s Mid-Season Report Card that he would never be a complete pitcher until he mastered a third pitch to go with his fastball and change-up. Well, I think shortly thereafter he started really finding success with his cutter. This year, though he still doesn’t throw it much, his curveball has been there for him when he needs it. Suddenly, he’s a four-pitch pitcher, and one of the best in the game. He’s having his best season by any measure, with a 2.49 ERA and an obscene 0.95 WHIP. He’s cut his HR rate in half and is posting career best rates in walks and strike-outs as well.
Lee had some shaky outings in April and May, but in four June starts he’s allowed 1 run in 33 innings, taking back-to-back shutouts into his next start. With that dominance, he can’t be counted out as challenging Halladay and Hamels for supremacy over the next few months.
The young guys that find themselves currently in the rotation, Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick, with Oswalt and Joe Blanton on the DL, have held their own. In six starts, Worley has a 2.83 ERA and has shown a lot of promise as a future key member of this rotation. He needs to work on his control though. With 16 walks in 35 innings, he’s very fortunate to have such a low ERA. Splitting his time between the pen and the rotation, Kendrick has quietly pitched really well, with a 3.23 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.
The only starter that didn’t pitch too well was Blanton, who’s been out since mid-May with an elbow injury. He was actually pitching pretty solidly in his last few starts before hitting the DL. If he can make it back this season, Charlie and Rich Dubee may have some decisions to make on whether or not they want Big Joe back in the rotation. He does have big game experience, and with Oswalt a question mark, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Blanton could be making a postseason start or two for this team.
It’s been an interesting half-season for the Phillie bullpen. In these few months, Ryan Madson has gone from the guy we were all sure could never be a closer, to the guy who looks like the prime candidate to be the team’s closer for the next few years. With Brad Lidge missing the whole season so far, and Jose Contreras limited to just 14 innings because of two DL stints, Madson was the default closer choice, and he’s been great. He has a 2.03 ERA and has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities. With his and Lidge’s contracts expiring after this year, it seems very possible that the Phillies could hand Madson a closer-type contract and plan to keep him in that role for the next three or four years.
With Lidge and Contreras out, and Madson stepping into the closer role, the Phils’ needed some unproven arms to step up, and Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes have done just that. Bastardo has been a revelation, allowing just 3 earned runs in 28 innings. He’s been nearly unhittable, with opponents hitting .120 against him. He does need to cut down on his walks though. Stutes has looked up to the task of a 7th inning role in front of Bastardo and Madson. Like the team’s other promising young arms, Worley and Bastardo, he needs to improve his control, but he’s got the stuff to get Big League hitters out, as his 2.92 ERA attests.
After Madson, Bastardo, and Stutes, the pen gets thin real quick, with the likes of David Herndon and Danys Baez. J.C. Romero was released for ineffectiveness, and there are no other remotely proven pitchers available. Even if Lidge and Contreras do return, they can’t be counted on to stay healthy, so Amaro will certainly be interested in adding at least one veteran to this bullpen.
Still, despite the injuries and inexperience, the pen has done a commendable job. It helps that the starters eat so many innings, but with the offense not producing, the pen has still had to get the job done in a lot of close games.
Overall Team: Yes, the team has the best record in baseball, but that doesn’t mean we can just hand them an automatic ‘A’. We grade on a curve here, and when you come into the season with one of the best starting rotations in the history of the game, and a largely intact offense that carried this team to a world championship three years ago, the bar is set high.
Going into the NLCS last year, we said that the Phillies needed to play effective small ball. They had the pitching to keep the Giants off the board, but they weren’t hitting and the Giants’ vaunted pitching staff wasn’t going to help matters. They couldn’t do it, and they lost in six games. It just might be time for Charlie, the coaching staff, and the players to come to grips with the fact that Rollins, Utley, and Howard are not the hitters they were three years ago, and Jayson Werth is gone. They need to learn how to manufacture runs when they’re not getting hits. Their pitchers will keep them in every game, and will often hold the opponent to zero or one or two runs. On those nights, they have to be able to push a couple runs across the board. Too often this year, they haven’t even mustered that.
All that being said, not only do they have the best record in baseball, but they have the best record in the NL by 4.5 games. The pitching has been amazing to watch. We just may end up hoping that the offense can get hot at the right time: October. Because the pitchers are all but guaranteeing that the team will be there.