Well, that wasn’t a whole lot of fun, huh?
The Phillies 2013 season came to a long overdue end on Sunday in Atlanta, with the Phils doing what they did 88 other times this year. They lost, this time 12-5 to a Braves team that finished 23 games better than them this year. The Phils’ final record of 73-89 was their worst since 2000, good for 4th place in the NL East (behind the Mets) and third worst in the National League.
After a spring training in which it looked like Ryan Howard had regained his health and power stroke and the Phillies looked like a team that could contend for a wild card spot, the regular season proved once again that no one should ever base any expectations for a team on spring training results.
I was guilty of this. I predicted a 91-win season, a third place finish and the second wild card spot.
I was stupid.
The big question is, can the Phils recover in 2014? Can they compete for a playoff spot? Can they reverse the downward trend this team has been on since losing the World Series to the Yankees in 2009?
We’ll tackle those questions soon. But for today, here’s one last look back at a 2013 season that deserves to be put out of its misery and buried in the back yard.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
Let’s start off optimistically. There were some good things that came out of this season, although the list of what went wrong will be substantially longer.
The emergence of Dom Brown as an All-Star corner outfielder was a wonderful development, even if it was a bit streaky and injury plagued towards the end of the year. Brown played in 139 games and hit .272/.324/.494 with 27 HRs, 83 RBIs, 64 runs, 21 doubles and an fWAR of 1.6. However, most of Brown’s home runs came during an insane hot streak in May, in which he hit 12. From July through the end of the season, Brown hit just six homers and did not hit one after August 15, going his last 103 PAs and 31 games without a long ball.
Still, Brown looked like a player to be counted on in the coming years and is one less question mark the team has to address moving forward.
Hamels got off to a rocky start, of that there can be no question. But both left-handers proved to be healthy and top-notch hurlers that can anchor the first two spots of any rotation in baseball. Lee was especially dominant, going 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA and a fWAR of 5.1. He pitched 222 2/3 innings this year, and struck out 222 while walking only 32.
That is nuts.
Hamels had the exact opposite record as Lee’s, going 8-14 with a 3.60 ERA, but still managed an fWAR of 4.2. He pitched 220 innings, struck out 202 and walked 50. That’s still ridiculous.
Neither pitcher missed a start due to injury and appear to be one of the few things about the starting rotation that can be counted on for next year.
3. The Protected Draft Pick
Yes, losing 9 out their last 11 games wasn’t the way most players probably wanted to go out, but it could not have been a better outcome for the team’s future, both this off-season and in the years to come.
The Phillies finished with the 7th worst record in MLB, guaranteeing themselves a protected first round draft pick this off-season. That means the Phils can sign any free agent they like without the worry of losing that first round pick. The #7 slot also means more money to sign other draft picks. Historically, when there was no spending limit in place, the Phillies were reluctant to overspend on draft picks, especially later in the draft. But armed with more cash than 33 other teams, the Phils may be able to do that more this off-season.
Major League Baseball has set up the rules that make tanking a viable strategy to rebuild. And while the Phillies would never actually tank anything (at least, we don’t think they would), their late-season crapfest could not have been better.
4. Young Bullpen Arms
The Phils finished with the second-worst bullpen in the NL, with an ERA of 4.19. And, while we saw what we thought was an improved ‘pen at the end of last season turn out to be more of the same old garbage once the 2013 season began, there is some hope that some of the young arms that emerged late this season are ones that will give the Phils some confidence next year.
In particular, B.J. Rosenberg and Jake Diekman looked especially good once the Phillies fell out of contention. Upon being called up in mid-August, Rosenberg went 13 straight appearances (11 2/3 IP) without being scored upon, striking out 11 and walking just four. He stumbled a bit in the last two weeks, but still posted a 3.24 ERA in his last 16 2/3 innings this year, striking out 17 while walking just seven.
Diekman was even better, posting an ERA of 2.58 in 38 1/3 innings this year. From July 7 through the end of the year, Diekman posted an ERA of 1.82 in 29 2/3 innings, with 31 strikeouts and 14 walks. However, from August 11 through the end of the year, his ERA was 0.52 and he struck out 24 while walking just four.
5. Chase Utley
Utley did not miss a single game due to a knee injury this year. That is huge news. Then, he signed a two-year extension with the Phillies (with a few vesting options thrown in the back of the deal for good measure) after hitting .284/.348/.476 with 18 HRs 69 RBIs and 73 runs scored in 131 games. He missed about a month of the season due to a strained oblique, but those knees… those old, creaky knees… appeared to hold up quite nicely.
Utley’s OPS of .816 was fourth-best among all MLB second basemen, his 17 HRs tied him for 6th, and his fWAR of 3.9 was also 6th best among MLB second basemen.
In other words, Utley was still one of the best second basemen in the league. Quite a nice bounce-back season for Chase.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
Unfortunately, the list of things that went wrong are far more extensive, and I’m sure I’m going to miss a couple here. If the Phillies are going to improve in 2014, they’re going to have to do better in all these areas.
The list of crippling injuries is long and distinguished. A few of them we should have seen coming. Some were just extremely unfortunate.
Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Mike Adams, Carlos Ruiz, John Lannan, and Ben Revere all missed major portions of the season and were counted on to be major pieces of the ’13 Phillies. Howard, Halladay and Adams’ injuries were particularly crippling. Lannan was probably addition by subtraction.
Still, the Phillies are going to be counting on Howard, Adams and Revere to come back healthy next year and be productive. Howard especially. Forgive me if I’m not putting a lot of hope into that scenario.
Halladay’s injury was particularly sad. Hopefully, he can make it back and become an effective pitcher once again, but the odds of that happening are somewhere below 5%. And hopefully, the Phillies just move on.
One year after hitting a team-leading 23 HRs with an OPS of .743, Rollins regressed badly this year, hitting only 6 HRs with an OPS of .671. Manager Ryne Sandberg has encouraged Rollins to be more selective at the plate and work on his on-base percentage, rather than trying to hit warning track fly-outs, and it seemed that Rollins was listening over the last few weeks.
The Phils don’t need Rollins to hit home runs if he’s going to improve his on-base percentage. But what cannot happen is for a Rollins that hits under 10 home runs and has an on-base percentage under .310. That would be no good.
Folks, it appears as if the decline of Jimmy Rollins is here. Oh, and he’s not going anywhere either, so any trade ideas you may have you can just put back in your sock drawer.
3. The Youngs
ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield listed what he thought were the 10 worst baseball decisions of 2013. Guess what finished at the top of the list?
Delmon Young and Michael Young were worth a combined minus-2.8 WAR in 2012, with the Defensive Runs Saved statistic suggesting both were lousy defenders. Ruben Amaro flouted advanced metrics and acquired both players. They combined for minus-2.3 WAR while with the Phillies. On a perhaps related note, the Phillies have allowed the second-most runs in the NL.
Good signings, Rube. Well done.
4. The Outfield
Aside from Dom Brown, the Phillies outfield was a disaster in 2013. Here is a list of all the players who played at least one game in the outfield for the Phillies this year.
While Ruf did perform OK offensively during his tenure as the everyday right fielder (.247/.348/.458, OPS .806, with 14 HRs in 293 PAs), his August (.229/.305/.505) and September (.232/.354/.378) don’t exactly scream EVERYDAY PLAYER. While the power and on-base percentage definitely qualify him as a Major Leaguer, he would be best suited as a platoon-mate for Ryan Howard and right-handed bat off the bench.
Without question, the Phillies will enter the off-season once again attempting to find an impact bat to play the corner outfield. We’ll get into who they should target in a later post.
5. Starting Rotation
Aside from Lee and Hamels, the glaring weakness of this team was in the starting rotation. Lannan, the #5 starter, couldn’t stay healthy. He made just 14 starts this year and, when he did start, wasn’t particularly effective (5.33 ERA).
No wait. He sucked. He just plain sucked. That’s probably a more accurate statement.
Kyle Kendrick had a solid first half (8-6 3.68 ERA in 19 starts) and a horrendous second half (2-7, 6.91 ERA in 11 starts), and finished the season on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. Nevertheless, Ruben Amaro said over the weekend the Phillies would offer Kendrick a contract to comeback.
WHY CAN’T I QUIT YOU???
Kendrick will probably get a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $6-8 million. He should be no more than a swing man, #5 starter/long man out of the bullpen. If they’re depending on him to be the #4 starter next year, this team will be in exactly the same place they are now.
Jonathan Pettibone pitched decently until he got hurt. He could be the team’s #5 next year. But what was particularly glaring was the lack of depth in the rotation, which is the main reason why Kendrick will be re-signed. When Zach Miner and Ethan Martin are making starts at the end of the year, you know things have gone off the rails.
All told, 10 different pitchers started games for the Phillies this year. Tyler Cloyd got 11 of them. That’s about 11 too many.
The addition of Miguel Gonzalez will hopefully help, and hopefully Jesse Biddle and Adam Morgan will progress next year. But the team would be wise to either trade for or sign a free agent starter this off-season. That’s got to be priority #1.
The bullpen, especially early in the season, was a disaster. Between Chad Durbin, Raul Valdes, J.C. Ramirez and Adams’ injury, the bullpen just couldn’t get anybody out in the first few months. Not only that, one member of the ‘pen was a particularly disturbing disaster, and deserves his own space here…
Bastardo’s numbers were decent, but typically Bastardo-ish. He posted a 2.32 ERA in 42 2/3 innings, with 47 strikeouts and 21 walks. However, what earns Bastardo special distinction is his 25-game suspension for PED use as part of the Biogenesis investigation.
His inclusion was a total surprise to everyone, including the Phillies. It’s unlikely he will be offered a contract to come back, mainly because he hid his involvement in the scandal from Phils’ management right up until the day of the suspension.
That’s a turd move, bro.
8. Charlie Manuel‘s Firing
I, for one, didn’t have much of a problem with how the Phillies handled the Manuel firing. It would have been nice for them not to do it on the night they were going to honor him for his 1,000th victory, but I didn’t have a problem with giving Ryne Sandberg the last month of the season to get his feet wet as skipper.
That said, a lot of people had a big problem with it, and that added to the dreariness of a season that was pretty darn dreary to begin with.
9. Team Defense
There was a time when the Phillies boasted one of the top defenses in baseball. They saved runs with their gloves with stellar defenders like Pedro Feliz, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth on the field. Yes, there were limitations with Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez and Pat Burrell in the field, but you’re not going to have a Gold Glover at every position.
Those days are long gone.
This year, with the addition of Michael Young, Delmon Young, Darin Ruf and a diminished Rollins, the Phillies were 29th out of 30 ballclubs in UZR, a metric that measures the number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs and error runs combined, and dead last in a statistic called Range Runs, which is the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, based on a fielder’s ability to reach a ball.
In other words, they were really terrible as a defense. But that’s what happens when you put terrible defenders in the field.
It’s an action-reaction kind of thing, you know?
Obviously, there are still some things from the 2013 season that are up in the air. How good is Cody Asche? His season totals (.235/.302/.389 with 5 HRs and 8 2Bs) weren’t impressive, and he particularly struggled in his last 32 PAs (2-28 with 1 RBI). Still, we’re talking about an extremely small sample size (179 PAs), he had a very decent hot streak in there, and he may have worn down by the end of the year, playing in more games this year than he ever had before. Also, the kid played good defense, which has likely earned him the third base job heading into spring training.
Maikel Franco emerged this year as a power-hitting third base prospect (36 HRs between Clearwater and Reading this year), and is probably the #1 prospect in the organization now. The issue is that Franco also plays third base, and the only other position he’s capable of playing is first base. He is not a candidate for the outfield. That would mean either Asche will eventually get moved to an outfield spot, or one of Asche and Franco will get traded at some point.
Cesar Hernandez had a very solid late-season run as the everyday center fielder in Ben Revere’s absence, hitting .289/.344/.331 in 131 PAs. He was especially hot from September 12 through the end of the year, hitting .313/.361/.343 in his last 72 PAs. He had eight multi-hit games in his last 23, and notched at least one hit in 15 of those last 23. His BAbip of .368 was high, but may be sustainable if he continues to hit line drives and keep the ball on the ground, using his speed. It’ll be interesting to see what the Phillies do with him next year.
And Sandberg’s 2013 cameo as manager had some good moments, as well as some bad ones. We just didn’t see enough to know how to feel about him yet. At the very least, he’s constructed a different atmosphere in the clubhouse and hopefully will be able to squeeze one last good season out of some of his veterans, and continue to help the younger players mature and grow.
The 2013 season was not a good one. A busy off-season awaits Ruben Amaro and the gang.
There are a lot of question marks, and some of the holes that must be filled, cannot be filled, thanks to big contracts to declining veteran players.
Making the 2014 Phillies a winner will be a challenge.
Good night 2013. Wish I could say it was a pleasure.