Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Phillies Mid-Season Report

            As of Monday, the Philadelphia Phillies had played exactly half of their 2012 baseball schedule.
            Their record at the time: 36-45.  Eleven games back of the first-place Washington Nationals in the National League East.  Eight games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card.
            Never thought I would use the words “back of,” “Nationals” and “Pirates” when describing the Phillies, but I guess there is a first time for everything.
            Things are becoming extremely bleak for the Phils.  And as someone who has tried to remain as optimistic as possible during the team’s injury-plagued and seemingly exciting-less season, I am running out of cards to play.
            I was in the car Monday and had on some sports talk radio about the Phillies.  I only had time to catch two callers, but both recommended making changes to the managerial staff.  Needless to say, I was blown away with how ridiculous it sounded.
            Let me get this straight.  When the Phillies go at least .500 every year under Charlie Manuel, including winning 90-plus games each of the last four seasons, it’s all the players doing?  Manuel had nothing to do with the team’s 2008 World Series title or its franchise-record 102-win season?  However, once the team experiences one sub-par year, which has been marred by injuries and underachieving play by almost everybody on the roster, it is time to cut him loose?  Did those callers forget where the Phils were before Manuel took over?  Did they completely erase the late-90s and early-2000s from their memory banks?
            As someone who has actually sat in the Phillies’ press room, asked Manuel some questions and heard him respond to others, I can say without a shred of doubt that he is still the right man for the job.  While others may think it is time to panic, Manuel isn’t about to jump off the ledge.  He has stayed even-keel through it all.  And it is that personality that had all of his players singing his praises back in 2008.  Manuel should be the Phillies’ manager as long as he wants to be.  After all, I don’t see him stranding runners on third base or coming in out of the pen and blowing whatever lead the team had at the time.
Besides, all the panic is relative.  The fans who are acting as if the sky is falling are a direct result from the team’s success over the last five years.  Now that the Phils have won five straight division titles and have gone to consecutive World Series they have to do it every year.
News flash people: that’s not how things work.  “Stuff” happens.
With all of that said, it is looking more and more as if this will be the year Philadelphia’s reign finally ends.  Or at least takes a one-year hiatus.
The average record of the Wild Card team over the last three years has been 91-71.  In order to get to that record the Phils would have to go 55-26 (68 win percentage) in the second half of the season.  At this point in time, I don’t think that is looking like an achievable task.
Despite the Phillies’ tumultuous first half, they haven’t been a terrible team according to the numbers.  Here are my first-half grades for the team:

Hitting: A –
At first sight of this grade one might think I am crazy.  However, considering how the Phillies started the season and where they are now, they should be given their props.
As of Monday, Philadelphia was third in hits (749), sixth in stolen bases (72) and eighth in batting average (.264).  It also ranked in the top half of the league in runs (347), homers (79), RBIs (331) and slugging (.406).
Take into account that the Phils have done practically all of that without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and one can see why I am willing to give such a high grade.  They have done better than most teams would have had they lost their two biggest bats.  However…

Situational Hitting: C –
This is why the Phillies have been losing games.
I was shocked to learn these stats though.  The Phils are fifth in the league with the bases loaded (.313), eighth in runners in scoring position with two outs (.260) and 13th with runners in scoring position (.250).  Those numbers kept me from giving them an F.
I can remember countless times this season when the Phils left runners stranded on third with less than two outs.  I am not sure exactly which game it was, but I even recall them leaving a runner on third with no outs.  It was embarrassing.  When it happened, I remember thinking that that was the sign that this wasn’t going to be their year.  The Philadelphia teams of the last five years would have found some way to get that run in.  I mean all someone had to do was hit the ball hard and fair.  That memory alone trumps the semi-decent stats.

Starting Pitching: C
No matter how bad the Phillies’ offense could be, the starting staff was always expected to keep the team in the hunt.  That hasn’t been the case for the most part.
Philadelphia’s starters are a combined 27-33 on the year.  Between the first and sixth innings, the Phils rank 14th in ERA (4.02) and 19th in hits allowed (477) – not exactly quality stuff.  Still, they rank first in strikeouts (445) and fourth in WHIP (1.23) over those innings.
Vance Worley (2.92), Cole Hamels (3.08) and Roy Halladay (3.98) are the only starters with an ERA under four.  Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton are both over four, while Kyle Kendrick is over five.  Blanton and Kendrick are both producing as expected, but Halladay and Lee are definitely far worse.  Furthermore, only Hamels (.232) and Worley (.247) have a batting average against under .250.
To top things off, it was recently reported that the Phils are gauging league interest on Hamels.  I understand the whole money situation, but why they would try to deal the staff’s best pitcher with the most years ahead of him instead of Lee or Halladay is beyond me.

Relief Pitching: D (with Papelbon); Z – (without Papelbon)
Jonathan Papelbon has been everything the Phillies expected.  He is 18-for-19 in save chances, has a 37:7 K-to-walk ratio, a .223 BBA and has given up just 25 hits in 29.2 innings.
Everyone else has been absolutely terrible.  Even Antonio Bastardo has been off.  While he does have a .218 BBA, he has given up 12 earned runs in 27 innings.
From the seventh inning on, the Phils rank 22nd in WHIP (1.36), 28th in strikeouts (239) and 29th in ERA (4.40) – and that’s with the help of Papelbon’s numbers.  Virtually nobody has been able to come in and hold a lead at any point this season.  Anybody who has watched this team on a regular basis knows that this has been the biggest pit-fall.

Defense: B –
Some might think the defense has been a major problem this year and in some instances it has.  But when one looks at the numbers they will see that it might not be as bad as initially thought.
No Phillies pitcher has had more than five unearned runs scored against him.  Many may feel that Lee has been at the brunt of some bad defensive play, but all 41 of the runs that he has allowed have been earned.  In fact, Blanton and Kendrick (five each) have the most unearned runs scored against them.
The Phils have committed 48 errors (T16th) and possess a .984 fielding percentage (T12th).  Sure they are in the middle of the pack, but when one looks at their stats from last year’s 102-win club (74 errors, .988 FP) they will see that there isn’t much difference.  Last year’s 74 errors ranked 29th last year, while the fielding percentage (currently only .004 better) was first.

            How things go in the second half is anyone’s guess.  One can choose to be optimistic or pessimistic at this point.  Personally I wouldn’t argue with a fellow fan if they went either way.  Regardless, here’s to the Phillies’ second half being better than their first.
            Oh, and not trading Cole Hamels.

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