Who is really the best baseball team in the majors? I honestly don't know but I try to figure that out by using basic and advanced statistics. I live for talking about baseball, it's my biggest drive in my life and I will jump on the opportunity to talk baseball with anyone, even with people who I don't really like. For me, Baseball is a piece of art that sits in my mind all day, ready to be painted on at any point of the day.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

30 Teams: Philadelphia Phillies

Simon and I have decided to do something that we will do every year for as long as long as the blog is running: we are going to write about all 30 teams and hopefully be done by opening day. I will be writing about 15 teams as Simon will write about the other half. We will be talking about every teams' off season, give a review of each teams' season from 2010 and make a projection for 2011. Simon will get in on this a little late as he will be finishing up his statistics posts.

By Mike Moritz

The Philadelphia Phillies made a lot of noise this off season by essentially coming out of no where to sign the lefty pitching, control artist Cliff Lee, signing him to a five-year, $120MM deal with option worth $27.5MM for 2016 with a $12.5MM buyout, plus partial no-trade clause. It was a complete surprise to a lot of people because it was thought that Lee would sign with the New York Yankees or re-join the reining American League champion Texas Rangers. We all know how big contracts for pitchers can be a very risky investment and it makes it even more risky considering that Lee is already 32 years old. But even disregarding age, Lee joins what could arguably be the best pitching rotation of all time with Roy Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Not to mention a rock solid pitcher in Joe Blanton

The Phillies also brought in Jeff Larish, Brandon Moss, Josh Barfield, Robb Quinlen, and Delwyn Young as well as others on minor league contracts. They also brought back relief pitchers Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero.

A big name that signed else where within the division is Jayson Werth who latched on with the Nationals for seven seasons and $126 million so they have a whole to fill in right field.

Luckily, the Phillies have one player within the system who is ready to take on the gaping hole in right field: 

Domonic Brown is widely considered as one of the best hitting and overall prospects in all of baseball and is named number one on many of people's prospect list. His great progress in all aspects of the game in specifically the last two seasons have essentially given him the starting right fielding job, even if the Phillies hold out on admitting it. Brown has a very smooth swing, good power, good speed, good arm and is very athletic. His hitting mechanics sometimes get out of whack and he could generate a little more power from it. 

His stance is relatively similar to that of Andre Ethier in how his feet are slightly open and how he holds his hands away from his chest. Brown then takes his step and brings his hands back while keeping the bat in a very good position. He turns his front side into the strike zone a perfect amount. He then reaches a "breaking point" in which he then takes another small double step with his front foot and then brings his hands right next his ears and carries a very nice, smooth, direct path to the ball. Although, there seems to be some upper cut to his swing but that should get fixed probably leading into this year.  

It's very hard to project rookies but will I say that he might have around 20 home runs- more or less but in that range. and about a .280-.290 average. It seems like he might have about the same season as Jason Heyward's 2010 rookie year but the OBP might be a little worse as Brown's plate discipline is not that of the Heyward's, who's discipline makes him look like a veteran player.

Domonic Brown hitting his first career home run on August 10th, 2010 against the Los Angles Dodgers.
With the whole Phillies rotation filled with highly paid superstars, I would not be surprised if Joe Blanton is traded. But then again, with Jayson Werth off the books, it might also seem likely that they keep him even with his salary jumping from $3 million to $8.5 million for 2011 and 2012. Phillies General Manger Ruben Amaro stated that come opening day, Blanton will be the number 5 starter but that does not mean that he could be traded after that. Honestly, I do not think that he will be traded, but again, I will not be surprised. 

The bullpen was good last year with the exception of Danys Baez who had a 5.48 ERA while walking 4.34 BB/9 in 47.2 innings of work (his xFIP was not much better: 4.94). But overall, the bullpen was good and even Brad Lidge had a solid bounce back year after his disastrous 2009 in which he posted a terrible 7.21 ERA and a 5.22 BB/9 rate. He quietly posted a 2.96 ERA with a 4.06 xFIP and 27 saves. 

One big topic of last years' Phillies was Ryan Howard's power outage, by his standards. He hit a career low 31 long balls last season even though his line drive, ground ball and fly ball rates were all right next to his career. But his HR/FB ratio was a career low as well, 21.1% and it looked like that it was due to his spiked O-Swing% which was 33.1% last year compared to his 27.3%. His Z-Contact% and  O-Contact% were also both significantly worse last year. So essentially, this means one of two things (or both), 1.) Howard's hitting mechanics are off or (2), he is experiencing the  "old people skills" effect. (By the way, I would highly recommend clicking on the link and reading this article, it is very interesting.) What ever the case is, Howard is a risky player right now but should still hit at least 30 homers. My personal prediction is around 34-39 dingers.

Overall, I think that the Phillies took a good step forward for this year and it is all from the Cliff Lee return (recall that he pitched for them in 2009 for a half season). I do not think that they will take a huge hit from the loss of Jayson Werth because they have Domonic Brown to take over. The lineup might look like this (but it might not look like that because I am obviously not Charlie Manuel):

1.Jimmy Rollins
2. Placido Polanco
3. Chase Utley
4. Ryan Howard
5. Raul Ibanez
6. Carlos Ruiz
7. Shane Victorino
8. Dominic Brown
9. (Pitcher)

This will most likely be the lineup on opening day, Brown and Victorino might switch spots by then but this is what I think. And if everything goes swimmingly, Brown might even be in the #2 spot in the order, just as Jason Heyward was by August. 

Let's face it, the Phillies are going to make the playoffs (pending injury). How can you not make it to October when you have a rotation that contains Cole Hamels as your number FOUR starter? Brown is already on the watch for rookie of the year and the offense is once again healthy (Howard, Utley, Victorino and Rollins all hit the DL at some point last season). If there is going to be any team in the NL East to have a chance at derailing the Phillies, it is the Atlanta Braves, and they are definitely going to give them a run for their money.  

I predict 95 wins or there about, maybe 98. The Braves will not be far behind. I say that in the end, pitching will prevail and the Phillies are my NL East division winners. 

(Statistics in courtesy of: fangraphs.com, espn.com and baseball-reference.com)

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