USA TODAY Sports
Last season, the Phillies were shut out of the playoffs for the first time since 2007. With their aging core another year old and questions surrounding one of the best pitchers of the past decade, can the Phillies bounce back in 2013?
5.17: The Phillies collective ERA in the eighth inning. The inning originally belonged to Chad Qualls at the start of the season, but a declining strikeout rate paired with an increasing walk rate and an absurd 25% HR/FB rate led to him being traded to the Yankees in July. Throughout the late spring and early summer, Antonio Bastardo began to take over the inning that he was dominant in the year before. Sadly, he struggled when runners were on base and couldn't keep the ball in the park. Bastardo's inability to take a firm grip on the eighth led to Ruben Amaro signing the best relief pitcher on the market in Mike Adams. Hoping to bounce back from a below average season that was definitely affected by the onset of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Adams and his career 2.96 FIP and 24.9% strikeout rate could be a difference maker for the Phillies bullpen that lost 12 leads alone in the eighth inning.
83: Games Chase Utley played in 2012. When Utley's playing, even though he's lost a step from knee injuries and aging, he's still one of the best second basemen in the game. Second base was a mess last year. Freddy Galvis provided some dazzling defense but didn't produce much in 200 plate appearances as he only posted a .267 wOBA before hurting his back and getting suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. Until Utley came back, Pete Orr, Mike Fontenot and Michael Martinez completed a trifecta of replacement level play in a combined 284 plate appearances. As you may have heard, Utley is playing in spring training games for the first time since 2010 and seems to finally have developed a training program that will control his chronic knee problems. In just 83 games and 362 total plate appearances, Utley was able to produce a .342 wOBA and 3.2 fWAR. 120+ games of Utley could be a serious difference maker for the Phillies.
2012 Season in Review: The Phillies lost their grip on the NL East, stumbling to an 81-81 season, good for third in the division. Injuries ravaged their aging core and their substitutes were barely above replacement level. Roy Halladay entered spring training with an injured lower back, causing him to change his mechanics and overcompensate with his upper body, which led to shoulder spasms that put him on the disabled list for weeks. Chase Utley only played 83 games, his lowest since his 2003. Ryan Howard tore his Achilles tendon in the 2011 playoffs and was forced to return before he was fully recovered. The bullpen stocked with young upside arms underperformed in the first half but eventually improved in the second half when the Phillies were out of the playoff picture, posting the 5th lowest FIP and highest strikeout rate in the league.
Key Offseason Moves:
Signed Mike Adams to a two-year $12M contract with a $6M club option for 2015: It's a steep price to pay for a pitcher coming off of a major surgery. The Phillies are obviously banking on Adams returning to his pre-2012 form and early reports from spring training have been extremely positive. Prior to 2012, Adams was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, posting an incredible 42, 63 and 64 FIP- from 2009 until 2011. His strikeout rate has declined for three straight seasons, but he has held batters to under a .240 wOBA in three consecutive seasons prior to his battle with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in 2012. Adams will undoubtedly be the primary setup man to Jonathon Papelbon in 2013 and the duo could become one of the most dominant pairs of bullpen anchors.
Acquired Ben Revere from the Twins for Vance Worley and Trevor May: The Phillies traded away Shane Victorino to the Dodgers last summer, making John Mayberry Jr. the primary center fielder on the roster. After failing to acquire BJ Upton or Angel Pagan, Vance Worley and the once top prospect Trevor May was traded to the Twins for the young, cost-controlled Ben Revere. He is a high contact hitter with no power who doesn't walk much as evident by his 5.4 BB% in 2012. Still, Revere will only be 25 this year, is one of the best defenders in the league and isn't arbitration eligible until 2014. He's a good bet for at least 35-40 stolen bases but Revere will have to get his OBP up to create more runs and scoring opportunities.
Acquired Michael Young from the Rangers for Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla: Replacing Placido Polanco, an old second baseman turned third baseman entering his twilight years, is an old shortstop turned third baseman turned full time designated hitter entering his twilight years, Michael Young. With Cody Asche, the Phillies' believed third baseman of the future, about a year away from being ready for the MLB, a stopgap was needed. The Rangers will pay $10M of Young's $16M but (if you somehow hadn't read this anywhere else) Young was competing with Jeff Francoeur as the worst full time major league batter in baseball last year. It seemed that Young fixed a hole in his swing in September as he smacked four of his seven homeruns and a .360 wOBA in the final two months of the season. Still, he's only one season removed from a year where he led the league in hits with 213. But there are a ton of questions surrounding Young in 2013. Can he be a full time and capable defender at third base in his age 37 season? Is there really nothing left in the bat?
Signed Delmon Young to a one-year $750K contract (with $2.5 in incentives): This is a very low-risk contract for the Phillies. If Delmon Young isn't a viable defender in right field or can't contribute with his bat, Amaro and the front office will only eat a small amount of salary. That being said, trusting Young in the outfield may be a mistake. He was made a full time designated hitter by the Tigers last year at age 27 and the few times he was forced to play defense, he was awful. At his introductory press conference, Young insisted that he's uncomfortable in left field, where he played in 2012's postseason, but is much better in right. Young's maximum value can be derived in a platoon as he posted a .352 wOBA and 117 wRC+ against lefties as opposed to a .309 wOBA and 88 wRC+ against righties. This would be great if the Phillies had a righty mashing platoon partner or didn't already have a batter who can punish only lefties. In fact, John Mayberry Jr provides better production (.371 wOBA/133 wRC+ against lefties vs .301 wOBA/86 wRC+) and would assumingly be a better defender. Young's still recovering from micro fracture ankle surgery in the offseason and likely will not be able to play until late April.
Depth Chart: The Phillies' projected depth chart from MLB Depth Charts doesn't have many surprises. Erik Kratz will be the starting catcher for most of the team's first 25 games as Carlos Ruiz serves his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Darin Ruf is listed on the projected bench but may have to spend some time in Triple-A to improve his defense. Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis will be playing utility roles and may be late inning defensive replacements for Michael Young. To start the season while Delmon Young is on the disabled list, Laynce Nix will assumingly play against right handers while John Mayberry Jr. plays against lefties.
Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay will be the top three pitchers of the rotation. Kyle Kendrick will likely be a starter for the entire year and groundball specialist John Lannan will round out the staff. Mike Adams will be the primary eighth inning set up man for Jonathon Papelbon. Raul Valdes, Jeremy Horst, Antonio Bastardo and either Mike Stutes or Phillippe Aumont will round out the bullpen.
2013 Outlook: Barring a return to Utley, Howard and Halladay's prime production years, the Phillies are going to have their work cut out for them in the NL East. The Braves and Nationals have only gotten better this offseason whereas the Phillies are in the same boat they were in last fall. With an aging and declining core coupled with questions regarding Roy Halladay's health and effectiveness, the Phillies will likely be finishing in third place in their division, probably missing the postseason for only the second time since 2007.
Bold Prediction: Spring training statistics don't matter unless your favorite player is smacking the cover off the ball. That being said, Domonic Brown will finally live up to his top prospect expectations, leading to a .350 or better wOBA with around 25 homeruns and 20 stolen bases. With 22 quality starts from Halladay, healthy seasons and solid production from Howard and Utley, Brown will become a viable power/speed threat, helping the Phillies sneak into the playoffs with a wild card win.