As we hit the halfway mark of the Phillies 2012 season and take a look back to hand out grades, it’s clear that this has been a season of transition. But it’s not a transition in the traditional sense for a pro sports team. There weren’t major roster changes and there still might not be going forward.
The transition is more in how the Phillies are perceived, by the fans, the front office, and probably the players themselves. When you win five straight division titles, you have a well-earned confidence, whether you’re a fan or a player putting on the uniform every day. Now, we still can’t say that the Phils have lost the right to that confidence, but it’s clear that the NL East will be a dogfight this year, and most likely for years to come.
Last year at this time, the Phillies had the best record in baseball. Still, not surprisingly, there was a fair amount of angst surrounding the team. Fans were coming to grips with the fact that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard may never be the dominating hitters they once were. Well, in 2012, fans have had to face life without Utley or Howard at all. It hasn’t been pretty.
Utley made his long-awaited season debut last night. Just having him in the lineup, regardless of what he may produce, was a very welcome sight. Suddenly, with Utley in the 3 spot, the team had Shane Victorino hitting 6th and Ty Wigginton hitting 7th. It hasn’t been unusual this year to see Wigginton hitting clean-up. Suddenly, this looked like a major-league lineup again. When Utley crushed a curveball over the right field fence in his first at-bat of the season, it was one of the season’s best moments so far.
But it didn’t take long for reality to come crashing down once again, as the Pirates stormed back to score 11 runs and win that game. Hard to believe, but here in late June the Phillies are on the verge of being out of the playoff race. But the key phrase in the previous sentence may be “on the verge.” They’re not dead yet, and more reinforcements (Halladay and Howard) are on the way.
On to the grades….
Catcher, Carlos Ruiz (56), Brian Schneider (20): Just when it seems the Legend of Chooch can’t grow any more, he continues to go out and top himself. It’s hard to believe that in 2008, Ruiz hit .219 with 4 HR. He was basically the one guy in that lineup that couldn’t hit. For much of this season, he’s been the one guy the offense can rely on. Leading the league in hitting and already a career high in home runs, Ruiz would be a legitimate MVP candidate if the team had a winning record. When you combine the offensive numbers with the pitch-calling and defensive abilities, he is incredibly valuable to this team. He may end up being the team’s lone All-Star (Hamels and Papelbon have a shot, as well). Schneider has been a typical backup catcher this year, with a couple timely hits. He’s out for the next few weeks with an ankle injury, though.
First Base, Ty Wigginton (35), John Mayberry (19), Laynce Nix (10), Hector Luna (8): Wigginton has been pretty much exactly what you’d expect him to be, which is a useful player that has no business being an everyday first baseman. Mayberry, who came into Spring Training as the favorite to win the left field job, has been a disappointment, though he’s picked up his production in the last couple of weeks. Still, he’s 28 years old now. There’s no reason to expect him to be anything other than a bench contributor going forward. The injury to Nix was an underrated one, as he was really hitting well in April, though in only 50 ABs. Luna’s been solid in limited play, but you’d think he’ll be gone when Howard returns (hopefully in just a couple weeks).
Second Base, Freddy Galvis (45), Michael Martinez (13), Mike Fontenot (9), Pete Orr (9): Offensive production from this position has been nearly non-existent, but that doesn’t mean it’s been all bad news. Yes, Galvis suffered a significant injury, tested positive for PEDs, and hit .226, but his defensive play was one of the positive stories in the season’s first two months. If the Phils can’t find a place for him over the next couple of years (that’s a whole other discussion that could possibly involve a position change for Utley), then Galvis could be a valuable trade chip. He showed just enough offensively to probably convince teams that he could be an everyday SS, and those aren’t easy to find. Martinez is back in AAA after not hitting a lick and Fontenot stole his roster spot by hitting .344 over 61 ABs so far. Some guy named Utley got a shot at the 2B job last night and went 3-4 with a homer, so that could be promising.
Third Base, Placido Polanco (55), Wigginton (17): Let me first say that I love having Polanco on my team for all the reasons that you often hear about, not the least of which is his incredibly sure-handed, Gold Glove defense. But I’ve never been convinced that he was the right fit for this team at third base. Considering the drop in production, almost across the board, from this lineup, two home runs at the halfway mark for your starting third baseman is just not good enough. The good news for the rest of 2012 is that Placido is trending upward. His slugging percentage has gone from .292 in April, to .384 in May, to .429 in June. He’s hitting .282 on the year. He’s been a solid player for this team, just not one that gives power from the third base spot like they need.
Shortstop, Jimmy Rollins (72): Rollins was better in May than April, but who could’ve predicted the monster June he’s put up? It’s been his best single month in five years, going back to 2007 when he just so happened to have won the league MVP award. With still three games to play in the month as I write this, Rollins has 18 extra base hits (9 doubles, 3 triples, 6 homers) in 108 June ABs. After slugging about .300 in April/May, he’s slugging .630 in June. He probably can’t keep that up much longer, but that new contract is looking a lot less scary now than it was a month ago.
Left Field, Juan Pierre (50), Mayberry (21): Even coming out of Spring Training, few could’ve expected that Pierre would basically end up as the starting left fielder for this team, but he’s earned it. He’s getting on-base (hitting .315, .352 OBP) and stealing bags when he gets there (17 puts him in the top 10 of the league). Yes, he’s a liability in the field and the epitome of a slap hitter, but he’s filled a void in the lineup that would’ve been hard to fill. As mentioned above, Mayberry’s been poor at the plate, but his defense in left has been great.
Center Field, Shane Victorino (74): If this is the last month of Victorino’s time as a Phillie, we’ll remember him fondly. But with trade speculation swirling around him, he’s posted the worst offensive numbers of his career so far (.251 AVG/.323 OBP/.390 SLG). He’s always been better from the right side of the plate, but this year the difference has been huge. His average and OBP are 100 points higher right-handed, and he’s slugging .620 righty vs. .318 lefty. When you can’t hit right-handed pitching, that’s what we call a problem. It seems unlikely that he’ll be dealt next month, but maybe equally unlikely that he’ll be brought back when his contract expires after the season. On the positive (and surprising) side, he’s on pace for a career high in stolen bases, as he’s already matched last year’s total of 19.
Right Field, Hunter Pence (75): A look at Pence’s numbers show a guy that’s been solidly productive and could even make a push for an All-Star spot if he were to go on a hot streak in the next week before rosters are chosen. He’s hitting .275 and on pace for 26 homers and 88 RBI. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. For one, with runners in scoring position he’s hitting .202 and slugging .340. Also, for a guy as athletically-gifted as he is, he’s been a debacle in right field. His read on balls and his decision-making on when to dive for balls or let them drop has been horrendous, and he’s given up a lot of runs with those mistakes. He may be a high-energy, high-effort guy with a lot of natural ability, but he’s still managed to disappoint the Phillie faithful so far this year.
Note: Pence has homered in both games since the above was written, at least putting himself in the conversation for an All-Star spot.
A rotation that’s supposed to have three aces has really only had one in the season’s first half: free agent-to-be Cole Hamels. The veteran lefty is on pace for his first 20 win season, he ranks in the top 10 in the NL in innings, WHIP, and strike outs, to go along with a stellar 3.03 ERA. There’s a very slim chance he’ll be traded next month, but most likely he will become the story of the offseason for the franchise when he goes into free agency.
And what of the other two aces? Very much has been made of Cliff Lee‘s winless first half, but it’s obviously taken a combination of poor run support and shaky performance by Cliff. Looking past that 0 win total, you see that Lee has declined as the season’s gone on, for whatever reason. A strong start led into a middling May and then a struggling June, where he’s posted a 5.27 ERA. There’s little reason to think it’s anything more than a blip on the radar and that his numbers at year’s end will be pretty outstanding.
Then there’s the Ace of Aces, Roy Halladay, who seemed to have been fighting through some sort of injury for a couple months before hitting the DL with a shoulder problem. He still wasn’t bad before the injury, but very far from his normal self.
Vance Worley has avoided the sophomore slump (2.92 ERA), but he needs to walk less batters before that starts to really hurt him. Joe Blanton‘s been Worley’s opposite, in some ways. He’s walked only 13 hitters in 98 innings, which is downright Halladay-esque. Unfortunately, he’s also surrendered 18 home runs in those 98 innings, the most in the NL, which goes a long way toward accounting for his 4.87 ERA.
Kyle Kendrick has mostly struggled through 12 starts, with a 2-8 record and 5.35 ERA.
Jonathan Papelbon has been as advertised, converting 18 of 19 save opportunities on the year, and generally conveying a lot of confidence to the team and fans alike when he’s handed the ball with late lead.
The rest of the bullpen? It’s been one disaster and one failed veteran and one overwhelmed rookie after another. Michael Stutes and Jose Contreras might be the lucky ones, because they went down for the year to injuries before they had a chance to fully suck.
The one veteran (besides Papelbon) brought into the team was Chad Qualls, who was DFA’d off the roster a couple days ago. Would-be 8th inning set-up man (and still in that role for the time being, unfortunately) Antonio Bastardo hasn’t been able to hit the broad side of a barn, and has lost velocity of his fastball. He’s walked 14 in 26 innings (more than Blanton has in 98 innings).
Aside from Pap, Bastardo, and Qualls, it’s been basically all AAA guys. They’ve had varying degrees of success, ranging from mediocre (Michael Schwimer, Raul Valdes) to really bad (Joe Savery, B.J. Rosenberg, Brian Sanches). The one guy of note is Jake Diekman, who’s had control problems even worse than Bastardo, but has also shown the potential to be a shutdown lefty out of the ‘pen in the future. His high-90’s fastball, biting slider, and sweeping delivery make him very hard to hit. But when you walk 10 in 15 innings like he has, it doesn’t take many hits to do damage.
Grade: D- (To be fair to these guys, this grade is more due to Ruben Amaro than the pitchers. It’s hard to fault any of these guys except Qualls. There’s a reason so many of them are 26 and making their ML debuts)
Overall Team Grade:
To paraphrase Dave Chappelle: what can be said about this first-half of the Phillies season that hasn’t already been said about Afghanistan. It’s been a disaster. From Howard’s Achilles at the end of last year, to Utley’s continued knee problems, to Doc missing an extended period, to the bullpen meltdowns, it’s difficult to imagine things going much worse than they have.