Coming off their second World Series appearance in as many years, the Phillies have a talented group of players on their roster. The Phillies made moves this offseason in an attempt to push themselves over the hump and win another title this year.
Even after making it into November the past couple of seasons, and acquiring some big time talent this offseason, the FanGraphs FANS projections only have the Phillies winning the NL East division 23% of the time, and making the playoffs 34% of the time. CHONE agrees to some degree, placing the Phillies second in the NL East but winning the wild card by a 4-game margin. While I don’t think any casual fan would agree with the FANS or CHONE projections, the fact that multiple systems are agreeing that Philadelphia will fall off of their NL East throne is interesting, if not convincing.
Behind the plate, the Phillies don’t have a big name catcher, but two players with substantial time in the majors. Carlos Ruiz has had at least 370 plate appearances in each of the past three seasons, but never more than 430. Ruiz can draw a walk and was one of the 13 players who walked more than they struck out in 2009. While they may have been able to hand over more at bats to Ruiz, they decided to sign veteran Brian Schneider to help keep “Chooch” healthy. Schneider is below average, so his new backup role should suit him well.
Once you get past the man behind the plate, the rest of the Phillies offense is very familiar, with most players being household names. Ryan Howard will have another 40+ home run season at first base, with a wOBA around .390. While Howard is seen as a big bad power hitter and an one dimensional player, he doesn’t get enough credit for his defense. A half season in 2005 was the only time Howard has posted a below average UZR. Howard will barely be above average once again, but any positive defensive value from a fantastic hitter is great. Chase Utley is one of the most underrated players in the league, posting 8 WAR seasons in 2007 and 2008, and was worth over 7.5 WAR in 2009. After posting 5+ WAR seasons from 2006-2008, Jimmy Rollins was worth only 2.4 WAR last year. While he is on the decline, Rollins will be better in 2010. Acquisition Placido Polanco will be moving over to third base, where his value will still likely hover around 3 wins. The infield is aging, with no starter under the age of 31, but still have a couple of prime years left.
In the outfield, the age problem is still prevalent. Shane Victorino is under-30, but he’ll be joining the “Big 3-0″ club a month after the season ends. The other two starters, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez are already in the club. However, like the infield, they will all be successful and worth close to 3 wins apiece. However, Ibanez won’t be helping his team in the field again, barring a minor miracle. Ibanez posted a -38.4 UZR from 2006-2008, but he was 8 runs above average in the field in 2009. There is no reason to expect him to be good again, with the FANS and CHONE have him in the -5 to 0 range.
Compared to the start of last year, the rotation is leaps and bounds better. Compared to the rotation they entered the offseason with, it is barely better. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton will be worth somewhere around 12.5 WAR, combined. The rest of the rotation is suspect. J.A. Happ will be the fourth starter, but he stranded 85.2% of runners last year and allowed hits on balls in play only 27% of the time. Both rates will go through some regression, but Happ will still be close to league average as a starting pitcher. The fifth starting spot won’t be pretty, with Jamie Moyer slotting into the role barring another injury problem.
The bullpen is going to be a mess that Charlie Manuel needs to figure out, and quick. Brad Lidge won’t be ready to start the season, so the ninth inning job falls to Ryan Madson. Danys Baez could also get a few chances. J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, and Jose Contreras will all see innings in the bullpen, which is not good news for fans.
The Phillies have some great pieces in place to win this year, but all most of them are aging and getting ready to fall. While some projection systems may like the Braves to win the division, I like the odds of the Phillies repeating as division champs. If the Phillies don’t make the playoffs with their all-star roster, heads will roll.