Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Phillies Best Case/Worst Case: Infield


Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

In life, one must be prepared for all contingencies. The Boy Scouts of America do a wonderful job in this respect, teaching their young participants to “Always Be Prepared.”

That is solid advice. How much better off would America be if all her inhabitants followed that idiom?

Would people have purchased homes they couldn’t afford, assuming the housing bubble wouldn’t burst? Would people save more of their income in case an illness or tragedy befell their families? Would everyone have properly mentally prepared themselves for the death of Whitney Houston?

Being aware of possible worst-case scenarios is important. Sure, it’s no fun. No one likes to be too aware of the bad things that can happen in life. But those who possess that knowledge and are prepared to face the many hiccups that come their way usually end up in a more secure and stable place.

Man, I’m a wise sunofagun, huh?

The Phillies’ 2012 season could go in a hundred different directions. Like every team in baseball, the Phillies have question marks all over the diamond. Every position has a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario.

Over the next couple weeks, we’ll take a look at the different scenarios throughout the entire team. Today, we start with the ever-aging infield. And obviously, injury is the ultimate worst-case scenario, so that will not be a factor when considering players assumed to be healthy heading into 2012.

Ryan Howard

Best Case Scenario: Ryan Howard is a unique case, because his entire season rests on how he returns from his ruptured Achilles.  The best-case scenario has him return, if not in time to start the regular season, than just one or two weeks into it. There would be enough strength and mobility in his legs and feet so that very little of his raw power was lost. With a completely healed leg and a full season of at-bats, Howard would hit 35-40 HRs, drive in his typical 110-125 runs, bat around .260 and draw a few more walks at the plate. Defensively, as long as he doesn’t spike himself in the field, you take what you can get.

Worst Case Scenario: Howard’s Achilles takes longer to hear than expected, keeping him from doing the strength training needed to provide a solid base from which to draw his power. He doesn’t return until late May or early June, at which point he is a shell of his former self. He generates only warning-track power when he makes solid contact, unable to drive off his leg for power. He performs even worse than normal against left-handers and other tough pitchers, due to his shortened season and lack of participation in Spring Training. A three or four month season where Howard hits only 15-20 HRs with an OPS in the low .800s and a slugging percentage around .450 would be lethal to this offense.

Chase Utley

Best Case Scenario: Utley’s rehabilitation of his right knee this off-season will have proven to be a success. While holding the tendonitis at bay, Chase will have been able to figure out a way to strengthen his knee and bring the power back to his swing. No more lazy flies to left. Instead, there will be an increase in his line-drive percentage, and his warning track power will be gone for good. While an OPS over .900 would be foolishly optimistic, a return to the upper .800s with about 20-25 HRs and an OB% around .380-.385 would likely make Chase an All-Star once again, as well as a true #3 hitter in this lineup.

Worst Case Scenario: Utley’s rehabilitation will have prevented him from properly strengthening his leg. The knee continues to be an issue all season long, and the fans begin to turn on Chase and openly call for him to be traded (not that there would be any takers). Another season with a batting average in the .250′s, with 15-20 HRs, 60-70 RBIs and an OPS of around .760 would make for a very disappointing 2012, and leave the Phils without a true #3 hitter.

 

Jimmy Rollins

Best-Case Scenario: After signing a new 3-year, $33 million deal in the off-season, Rollins comes back at age 33 and puts together a typical Jimmy year. As the lead-off hitter, Rollins begins to realize that he needs to work the count better, see more pitches, and improve his on-base percentage. Of course, at this stage of his career, that’s probably a long shot, but we’re talking about best-case here, so go with it. An OB% in the .340′s is not ideal for a lead-off hitter, but probably the best anyone can ask of Jimmy, especially if he provides some pop at the top of the lineup, with about 15-20 HRs as well as some speed (30-40 SBs). Jimmy used to hit a ton of doubles, so a few more extra-base hits would be welcomed as well. And, Rollins would continue to play a solid, if no longer spectacular, defensive shortstop. No one is even dreaming of another 2007-type season, but something slightly better than 2011 would be fantastic.

Worst-Case Scenario: Rollins has another year like 2009 or 2010, when he was either a pop-up machine or in the trainer’s room. His patience at the plate declines even further, his OB% drops the low-low .300′s, and Manuel is forced to once again drop him down in the lineup into the #6 or 7 hole. When Jimmy gets in one of his funks, it’s usually a long time before he gets back out of it. Rollins is a prime example of a Phillie who can go long stretches with nothing but bad at-bats, and a season of strikeouts and fly balls to the outfield, with a batting average around .240 and a continued decline in extra-base hits, would be brutal for this offense.

Placido Polanco

Best Case Scenario: Often the most overlooked player in the everyday eight, a healthy Polanco can make all the difference in that lineup. Polanco is the only player on the team who makes contact at a high rate, doesn’t strike out, and can move runners along due to his superior bat control. He’s now the only pure .300 hitter on the team, and while he doesn’t walk very much, his ability to force pitchers to throw lots of pitches can improve the quality of pitches seen by the rest of the group. A solid Polly 2012 would have him hitting over .300 with 30-35 doubles and an OPS of around .750, while continuing to play a superb defensive third base.

Worst Case Scenario: Last year, Polanco got off to a roaring start, hitting .398 in April. After that he hit .248 in May, .213 in June, missed almost all of July, and hit .280 in August and September. His 36-year-old body is slowly decaying and the worst-case scenario would see him no longer capable of playing the position every day, giving Phils fans a steady diet of Michael Martinez, Ty Wigginton and Pete Orr at 3B. I think I just dry-heaved a little. A batting average around .260-.270 with absolutely no power or walks would be virtually useless to a lineup that desperately needs a .300 hitter at the top of it.

***

Next week, we’ll take a look at the outfield, followed by the starting rotation, bullpen and bench.

You can follow John’s Phillies thoughts on Twitter @FelskeFiles and on Facebook.  He can also be emailed at [email protected].

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Tags: Chase Utley Jimmy Rollins Placido Polanco Posted Ryan Howard