Aug 27, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets left fielder Andrew Brown (47) slides past Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins (11) at second on a throwing error to advance to third during the sixth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

TBAG #3: The Biddle Mystery

Before we get started on this week’s mailbag, I wanted to take a quick moment to ask a question.

Why doesn’t anyone care about the 1983 Phillies?

Team Picture Card – The 1983 Phillies

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the ’83 Phils winning the NL pennant. And while I understand that team was comprised of old farts and lost in five depressing games to the Baltimore Orioles in what may have been the most boring World Series ever played, the fact remains that the Phillies have won just seven pennants in their long history. And the ’83 Phillies were one of them.

I’m going to delve more into the ’83 squad in a future post, but until then, let’s listen to Harry Kalas call the final out of their clinching Game 4 win over the Dodgers in the NLCS, and remember Harry’s marvelous pronunciation of Sixto Lezcano‘s name.

By the way, raise your hand if you thought Paul Owens was going to break a hip during that celebration.

Anyway, onto this week’s TBAG…

 

Schmidt was one of the prime members of that 1983 NL championship squad and, as everyone knows, is regarded as the greatest third baseman in the history of baseball. And baseball’s been around for a long time and stuff. So, he’s definitely up there.

When talking about infielders, we’re talking about 1B, 2B, SS and 3B. Each position is different, mainly from a defensive perspective, and traditionally, the better offensive players have played at the corners and not up the middle. So, in order to take all of these factors in account, we’ll use fWAR as our main basis for ranking these players, understanding there are flaws in WAR and that the stat should not be taken as scripture.

That said, here are the top infielders of all-time, ranked by fWAR (courtesy of Fangraphs):

Position: Player: fWAR
SS Honus Wagner 138.1
2B Rogers Hornsby 130.2
1B Stan Musial 126.8
2B Eddie Collins 120.5
1B Lou Gehrig 116.3
SS/3B Alex Rodriguez 111.1
3B Mike Schmidt 106.5
2B Nap Lajoie 102.2
1B Jimmie Foxx 101.8

Those are all the “infielders” in Major League history with an fWAR over 100. And while A-Rod is listed in both the shortstop and third base categories, most of his early career, and much of his WAR value, comes from those days as shortstop. Schmidt is the highest pure third baseman on the list, and the only one over 100 in terms of fWAR.

When you look at the names on that list, you could argue that Schmidt should be bumped up or down a spot or two. But I would have a hard time moving him a whole lot higher than that. Simply put, he’s one of the best 5-7 infielders of all-time.

And that’s about as specific as we can get with such a broad question.

 

Rollins’ 2013 season has been really disappointing, and it sure does look like the future Wall-of-Famer has hit a brick wall here in his 14th Major League season. A year after leading the team with 23 HRs, Rollins has hit just 5 so far this year, with his slugging percentage a career-worst .339. And for a guy who is only getting on-base at a .310 clip at the top of the lineup, that simply isn’t going to cut it.

So my guess is the Phils would love to move Rollins and get out from under the remaining two years and $22 million of that contract (including the option for 2015 that is likely to vest). Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as that.

Rollins has full 10-5 no-trade rights, and has said he’s not going anywhere until he leaps up the leaderboard of a few more all-time Phillies lists. And while that may sound a bit selfish, Rollins has earned the right to stay if he wants to, for whatever reason he so chooses.

Not only that, why would a team trade anything of value for Rollins, given his sudden decline? Unless a team thinks it’s a fluke and is looking to buy low, no one is going to have much of an interest in a 35-year-old shortstop with $22 million left on his contract.

And even if the Phils do trade Rollins, who do they give the Major League job to? Freddy Galvis? While I do like Freddy’s defense and think he probably deserves a shot to play every day, he’s hitting only .251/.282/.359 in 248 PAs in Lehigh Valley this year. It’d be understandable if the Phils were willing to stick with Rollins over Galvis, given those numbers by Freddy.

So, to answer your question, it’s pretty darn unlikely Rollins is going anywhere.

 

It seems highly unlikely Jesse Biddle is going to be in the Phils’ rotation in 2014, other than maybe as a September call-up. Simply put, Biddle has been way too up-and-down this year to even begin to think about him pitching for the Phillies anytime soon.

Jul 14, 2013; Flushing , NY, USA; USA pitcher Jesse Biddle throws a pitch during the 2013 All Star Futures Game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While his record looks terrible (5-14), his ERA is somewhat respectable (3.64) in 27 starts at AA Reading. Early in the year, Biddle was on fire and appeared to be blazing a trail to the Majors with one high-strikeout, low-hit game after another. Lately, though, Biddle has been all over the place, especially in his last start, in which he lasted just three innings and walked seven hitters. On the other hand, he did give up just one hit and one run in that game.

In fact, twice this year Biddle has had a start in which he’s allowed 7 walks, and in those two starts he’s allowed just one run total. In 138.1 IP this year, he’s given up just 134 hits and held opponents to a .210 batting average. But he also averages 5.3 BB/9 IP, while leading the league with 154 Ks.

In other words, when he’s throwing strikes, he’s almost unhittable. Unfortunately, Biddle has had a hard time with his control this year. So, what’s going on?

Is it an illness? Is he sick or something?

Oh. That doesn’t sound good at all.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Biddle repeats Reading next year until he gets his control issues straightened out. He’ll likely jump up to Lehigh next year at some point, but expecting him to make the Phillies in 2014 would be a stretch.

It’s understandable that everyone is all excited about some of the young prospects in the minor league system. It’s mainly because most of the Major Leaguers on the team are past their prime or just not all that good.

Which brings us to Maikel Franco, whom the Phillies are now having play some first base, in addition to his normal spot at third. And yes, Franco’s 2013 season has been otherworldly. The 20-year-old hit his 31st homer of the year last night between Clearwater and Reading and, despite warnings about a swing that isn’t exactly Will Clark‘s, the kid has not stopped mashing all year.

But remember, he’s only had half a season a AA. I would think he’ll probably start the season at AAA next year, but he still has a lot of seasoning that needs to be done and, besides, don’t the Phillies already have a platoon-mate for Howard in Darin Ruf?

The only way Franco joins the big club next year is if two things happen. The Phillies have to decide that Ruf is a full-time outfielder AND they have to be committed to ACTUALLY platooning Ryan Howard. That’s the only way Franco becomes Howard’s platoon mate.

Listen, we’re all talking about a Ryan Howard platoon like it’s definitely going to happen. While it certainly SHOULD happen, the Phils are not enamored with the idea of paying a guy $25 million to play part-time. Ryne Sandberg (who I’m assuming is going to be the manager next year) has to commit to the idea that Howard is going to be platooned. And that’s no guarantee.

Right now, Franco needs to play every day. Playing once or twice a week, getting 15 at-bats a week, isn’t going to help him develop. So I don’t see Franco as a first base option UNLESS the Phillies are able to drug someone into taking Howard in a trade.

Are the Phillies going to be a playoff team in 2014? It seems unlikely at the moment, although we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the off-season. But even if they’re not a playoff team, there is plenty to get excited about for next year.

Aug 25, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Cody Asche (25) hits a two RBI double during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Third baseman Cody Asche, until he hurt his hamstring, had been a pleasure to watch. He’ll likely start the season at third, and it’ll be exciting to see his development. Ruf should be an intriguing player to watch as he accumulates more and more at-bats. It’ll be fascinating to see if Domonic Brown continues to get better or takes a step back next year, and young bullpen arms like Ethan Martin and Jake Diekman should get a shot to assume prominent roles in the ‘pen next year. And who knows, maybe Biddle and/or Franco DO make the team next year. That would be exciting, too.

Fans will still be able to watch Chase Utley and Cole Hamels play, and Cliff Lee will probably return too. And I’m hoping the Phils finalize their deal with the young Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, because that would be interesting as well.

The Phillies probably won’t be competing for a division title or anything, but there still should be a few reasons to watch next year.

Hey, kudos on using the #TBAG hash-tag there! Someone knows how to play the home game!

I think the people who wrote off Dom Brown saw him play parts of three seasons with the Phillies and figured he was just another bust because “HE’S BEEN WITH THE TEAM FOR THREE YEARS AND DONE NOTHING!” Of course, most fans don’t understand the need for a player to get more than 212 PAs in any of those three seasons, rendering their argument pointless. But the perception of three seasons of middling productivity, after being the #4 prospect in all of baseball, skewed people’s thinking.

Conversely, Ruf was not a top prospect at any point in his minor league career yet, people have seen him come up and hit home run after home run after home run at the Major League level, just a year removed from a record-setting home run blitz with the Reading Phillies. Ruf has struggled in situations with runners on base this year and isn’t hitting much for average, but has also shown the ability to work a walk or two. And his defense hasn’t been as lousy as everyone feared.

Bottom line, people FELT like they saw more of Brown than they really did, and jumped to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to live up to his lofty reputation. And in just a short time in the Majors, Ruf’s relative success has caused people to jump on his bandwagon, mainly because no one was expecting anything of him.

For these two guys, public perception has always been about EXPECTATIONS. One guy had big expectations, one guy had none.

It’s a lot easier to live up to no expectations than it is to live up to big ones.

 

By doing more of this…

Until next week, folks…

Tags: Featured Philadelphia Phillies Popular