Phillies First Half Review: Still Just Average

Scenes like these from Sunday would be a welcome sight in the second half. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Phillies finished 81-81. That’s a .500 record.

This year, as the Phillies head for the All-Star break, they have a record of 48-48. That’s a .500 record.

I’m starting to sense a pattern here.

The first half of the 2013 season, while better than the first half of the 2012 season (they were 37-50 and 14 games back last year, as opposed to being just 6 1/2 games back in the NL East this year, 5 1/2 back in the wild card), proved the Phils are exactly what their record says they are. A .500 team.

In fact, they may even be overachieving. Their run differential of -45 is fourth-worst in the National League, only better than Miami, Milwaukee and San Diego, all last place teams.

After a spring training that provided some hope that the Phils might be capable of one last playoff run (yes, I picked them to win 91 games and capture the second wild card), most of the first half of the season proved to be an exercise in frustration. And, despite a 7-3 homestand heading into the All-Star break that has some thinking the Phillies should be buyers at the deadline, a more realistic view of the team shows that Ruben Amaro should be open to trading anyone on the roster, if that trade will bring back high quality prospects and/or Major League players.

So, as we review the Phillies’ first half of the season, we’ll take a look at what’s gone right, and what’s gone wrong.

The latter will be a bit longer list.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

1. Domonic Brown

The feel-good story of the first half of the season has to be the success of Dom Brown who, after struggling during brief call-ups over parts of three seasons, emerged as an All-Star power hitter this year after finally getting a real shot to show what he can do. Brown enters the All-Star game this year hitting .274/.319/.536 with 23 HRs and 65 RBIs. That’s more HRs and RBIs than the Phils’ team leaders from last year (Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz both had 68 RBIs in 2012, Rollins had 23 homers), which both speaks to Brown’s hot start and the ridiculous lack of production from the offense last year.

Of course, it was Brown’s crazy May, which won him Player of the Month honors, that catapulted him into the national conversation. In May he hit 12 HRs and posted a .991 OPS (here’s a collection of those dingers courtesy of Crashburn Alley). He’s followed that up with a solid June and July, and has become the cornerstone player that everyone was hoping he’d become when he was rated the #4 overall prospect by Baseball America before the 2011 season. And, as an added bonus, his defense in left field has been more than adequate.

Thank goodness he didn’t get traded for Alfonso Soriano.

Jul 13, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Ben Revere (2) fouls the ball off his foot in the eleventh inning against the Chicago White Sox during game one of a doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park. He broke his foot on the play. The White Sox defeated the Phillies, 5-4 in eleven innings. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

2. The Ben Revere Trade

Things weren’t looking so good for this deal through the month of April. After the first month of the season, Revere was hitting .200/.234/.222 with only 5 stolen bases, 14 strikeouts and 4 walks. And aside from the spectacular diving play here and there, his defense wasn’t terribly good either.

But once the calendar hit May, Revere morphed from this generation’s Ricky Otero into a virtual Pete Rose, hitting .347/.380/.404 with 17 stolen bases, 28 runs scored, 22 strikeouts and 12 walks. That batting average since May 1 was the sixth-best in all of baseball, with 15 multi-hit games in his last 28 starts. His season average is .305, and his play completely solidified the lead-off spot for the Phils. It also helps that they gave up a struggling Vance Worley and minor leaguer Trevor May for Revere, making his acquisition one of the bright spots of Amaro’s off-season, especially when you consider the struggles of B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan, and the rest of the center fielders the Phils could have signed for big money and lots of years.

3. Jonathan Pettibone

Pettibone has pretty much reached his ceiling as a #4 or #5 starter, but having those types of pitchers going every fifth day is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, given the struggles of Cole Hamels and the injury to Roy Halladay, Pettibone’s performance since being called up in April has been better than anyone had a right to expect.

Through 16 starts, Pettibone is 5-3 with a 3.89 ERA. He has pitched five or more innings in every start except one and has given up three earned runs or less in 13 of those 16 starts. He’s not a big strikeout guy, only 61 in 90 1/3 innings, but he has minimized his walks and also gotten a bit lucky with runners in scoring position, allowing just a .264 average with runners on base and a .266 average with runners on scoring position.

4. Kyle Kendrick

Perhaps the better story has been the continued emergence of Kyle Kendrick as a true #3 starter in the rotation. His consistency has been invaluable to the Phillies, especially as Halladay struggled and then went on the disabled list. He’s moved into Halladay’s spot in the rotation and, while not as dominating as vintage Doc was during his heyday, has provided stability and consistency to the starting staff.

Basically, when Kendrick starts, you pretty much know what you’re going to get.

Through 19 starts this year, Kendrick is 8-6 with a 3.68 ERA. His much-improved strikeout rate, which was 4.1 per nine innings from 2007-2011, jumped to 6.6 per nine last year and is 5.3 so far this year, much higher numbers than he had put up earlier in his career. Kendrick has gone six or more innings in 15 of his 19 starts and only failed to go at least five innings in one start this year.

5. Chase Utley

You’re also going to see Utley’s name in the next section, but for starters, it’s been a positive to see that Chase’s troublesome knees haven’t appeared to be an issue at all this year. Not only that, Utley is once again one of the best second basemen in the National League.

Through 66 games, Utley’s batting average of .272 is the highest he’s had since hitting .275 in 2010 and his slugging percentage of .492 is the highest since 2009, when he slugged .508. His .824 OPS is also the highest it’s been since 2010, when it was .832. His 11 HRs already matches the number he hit in both 2011 and 2012, and his defense (that wacky three-error game the other night aside) has been as stupendous as always. He’s already worth 2.7 WAR, putting him on pace for about a 5.0 WAR season, which is right around All-Star territory.

Of course, whether he’s going to continue to be a Phillie in the next couple weeks is still up for debate. But for now, the Utley renaissance has been enjoyable to watch, when he’s been on the field.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Jun 13, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Mike Adams (37) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Phillies won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Bullpen

The ‘pen has been an unmitigated disaster. Mike Adams, the big-priced veteran free agent Amaro brought in to nail down the eighth inning this year, was hurt almost from the start of the season and is now on the 60-day disabled list due to a partially torn right rotator cuff and labrum. His 3.96 ERA is the worst since an 11.57 ERA with the Padres back in 2006, and his 5 HRs allowed in just 25 innings was more than the four he allowed in 52 1/3 innings last year. It was also the most he’d given up in a season since he allowed seven as a Padre back in 2008.

Free agent signee Chad Durbin was a disaster from the moment he signed his one-year deal with the Phils. In 16 brutal innings, he had a 9.00 ERA, walking over 5 batters per nine innings during his not-brief-enough tenure, before finally being released in April. And veteran arm Raul Valdes… well… you know what? Just read my piece from earlier this month on the Phils’ bullpen and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s been brutal.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been the total lack of production from any of the young arms the Phillies are now using in their ‘pen. Only Antonio Bastardo has been somewhat dependable, and his control could cause him to implode at any time. These young Phils relievers have been unable to consistently throw strikes, and now a second former member of the bullpen has publicly said pitching coach Rich Dubee should be fired.

Dubee has had no answers on how to fix these young relievers.

The one bright spot in the ‘pen for most of the season had been closer Jonathan Papelbon, but now there are even some flies on him. Through May, Papelbon had an ERA of 1.31 and was 11 for 11 in save opportunities. He actually saved his first 13 save chances without a problem. However, since June 4, Papelbon’s ERA is 3.18 and he has blown five saves in that time. Not only that, Papelbon is only 5 for 10 in one-run save opportunities.

That isn’t good.

One would hope the Phillies are trying to trade Papelbon to a contender, but given his recent performances, including a blown save in the series finale against the White Sox, it seems difficult to imagine how the Phils will be able to get a quality prospect in return for the struggling closer.

2. Roy Halladay

The Phils were not even counting on Halladay to be the staff ace anymore heading into this year. They saw his dip in velocity and his shoulder and back problems last year and knew he was a different pitcher. They were hoping he’d be an effective #3 starter. But the injuries took their toll and, after a 2-4 start and 8.65 ERA, Halladay was placed on the 60-day DL to have right shoulder surgery. The word is that Halladay is feeling much better and he has recently begun tossing a baseball once again, saying he feels “great.” But if the Phillies are factoring Halladay into any future plans for this season, they’re nuts.

Simply put, this could be an incredibly depressing end to a Phillies career that was so unbelievably awesome for a little while there.

3. Cole Hamels

For the third start in a row Sunday, Hamels pitched extremely well, going eight innings while giving up just two runs with seven strikeouts and no walks. In his lat three starts, Hamels has pitched 23 innings and given up just four earned runs (1.56 ERA). This is an incredibly positive sign that Hamels, whose velocity and overall stuff was still just as good as ever, may be figuring things outs.

But for the first 17 starts of the season, Hamels was both unlucky and flat-out bad. His ERA of 4.58 during those starts was well-deserved, although in many of the starts in which he pitched well he got no run support.

There are a million weird Cole Hamels nuggets and stats from the first half of the season. Needless to say, it was weird. Just a lot of weird.

Jul 2, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (6) fields a ground ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. The Philadelphia Phillies won 3-1.Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

4. Ryan Howard

It’s fair to wonder if Ryan Howard will ever be healthy again. After a blazing spring training in which it appeared Howard had recovered his power stroke, the hulking first baseman with the bum leg once again became nothing more than a platoon-necessary, plodding, slow, power-less power hitter hitting clean-up in a lineup without a lot of power to begin with. Through his first 80 games, Howard had hit only 11 HRs and accumulated just 43 RBIs while striking out 95 times with just 23 walks. His .784 OPS was good for 29th in the National League, behind Brandon Belt of the Giants and ahead of Wilin Rosario of the Rockies.

Of course, all of this is because Howard’s leg, which really hasn’t been right since a couple months BEFORE the Achilles injury in the 2011 NLDS playoffs against St. Louis, was a mess. Perhaps favoring his Achilles, Howard’s knee began to bother him this year, finally to the point he had to be placed on the disabled list for about 6-8 weeks for surgery on that left knee.

5. Chase Utley’s Health

This time, his knees weren’t the problem. Utley missed a month in late-May/early-June due to an oblique muscle pull suffered while taking a swing in batting practice. While this type of injury was kind of freaky and could have happened to anybody, Utley’s past problems with being hurt only magnified his absence.

Thankfully, it wasn’t the knees. But Chase’s reputation of being a brittle player was not helped by his month-long stay on the DL.

6. Delmon Young Is Still Playing Baseball

For the first 144 at bats of Young’s season, Young hit .220/.277/.390 with 6 HRs and an OPS of .667, all while playing horrific defense. He may have been the worst player in the National League.

Then came the hot streak. In his next 55 plate apperances, he hit .431/.473/.549 for an OPS of 1.022 with 1 HR and 10 RBIs.

He then followed that up with a 2 for 16 stretch in which he had one RBI, including two huge failures with runners in scoring position against the White Sox this weekend, striking out with a runner on third and less than two out in each situation.

Oh, and he’s continued to play horrible defense.

None of this is a surprise. Young is a terrible baseball player. But any tiny hope that Delmon would figure things out and be a consistent run producer for the Phillies remains far-fetched. Hopefully, Amaro can find a sucker to take him off his hands for a turkey sandwich and a nice macaroni salad.

7. Jimmy Rollins’ Disappearing Power

Last year, Rollins led the team with 23 HRs. This year he has 4.

Four home runs for Rollins. Yikes.

Jimmy has never been a real good on-base guy and his career batting average of .270, while pretty good, has been no higher than .268 since 2009 and no lower than .243 during that time as well. What has always made Rollins a top National League shortstop was the power he provided at that position, as well as his stellar defense.

This year, Rollins is -8 in defensive runs saved. Last year, he was also -8 and was -7 the year before that. And his ultimate zone rating of -0.7 this year is far worse than his 7.9 number from last year. Granted, defensive statistics are by no means perfect and have their flaws. But it seems as though Rollins’ defense has definitely taken a hit as he’s gotten older.

And now, with his power stroke gone too, it’s becoming harder to find something that Rollins does really well anymore.

8. Ben Revere Injury

Just as Revere was becoming the hottest hitter for average in the National League, he fouled a ball off his foot in Saturday afternoon’s disastrous extra-innings loss to Chicago. The fleet-footed center fielder is expected to miss 6-8 weeks, an injury that could be the straw that broke the camel’s back and force Ruben Amaro to start selling players.

Either that or he over-pays for a temporary center field replacement. Please God no.

***

The Phillies have typically done very well in the second half under Charlie Manuel. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

All in all, the Phillies are lucky to be where they are in the standings. Only mediocre play by Atlanta and Washington has kept the Phils within shouting distance. And it really is a miracle the team has managed to go .500 with this roster and all the injuries that have befallen them.

But there are some things to look forward to here in the second half. Mathematically, the Phillies are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, especially if the Braves and Nationals continue to struggle.

However, it’s hard to imagine this team going on the kind of hot streak that will be necessary to earn the NL East crown or a wild card spot. Yes, I know the Phillies have typically played better in the second half than they have in the first half under Charlie Manuel

 

…but much of those numbers came with different players on the team or when the current core players were much younger and healthier.

There is no 45-homer Ryan Howard coming in September to get hot. There is no .900 OPS Chase Utley to carry them. Jimmy Rollins is aging and has fast become a league-average offensive shortstop. Carlos Ruiz has gone missing. Ben Revere is on the disabled list. The bullpen is a disaster and Delmon Young continues to play everyday.

So what is there to watch?

I’m excited to see Darin Ruf play first base every day. Maybe he’ll be an everyday big leaguer. Maybe he won’t. But it’s about time we found out exactly what kind of Major League player he’s going to be.

I’m interested to see more of Cesar Hernandez, who could be given the first shot to play center field in Revere’s absence. Yes, the Phils are shopping for a center fielder, but there isn’t a whole lot out there to be had.

I’m excited to see if Brown can continue to progress as a hitter in the second half. I’m excited to see Michael Young get traded and watch Kevin Frandsen or Cody Asche play third every day.

I’m interested to see Mikael Franco and Jesse Biddle develop in the minor leagues, and I’m interested to see if one or two of these young bullpen arms can figure things out and start to be productive and consistent.

I’m excited to see who the Phillies might get back in return for some of the veterans that could get traded away.

And I’m thrilled to watch Chase Utley play for as long as he’s still here.

It’s been a mediocre 2013 season so far, much like 2012 was. And that’s pretty much what this team is.

Mediocre.

 

ABC tickets has Philadelphia Phillies tickets for the second half of the season.

Topics: Philadelphia Phillies

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