Will the Phillies pack enough punch to make the playoffs?
The offense has been a sore spot for the past two seasons.
In 2011, when the Phillies won 102 games, they had a team OPS of .717. The league averaged just .710 in 2011, so they were still above average; only six teams were better. In 2012, the Phillies finished right about the middle in the NL in OPS, finishing behind seven teams and ahead of eight others. They managed .716 while the league averaged .718. Last season, the matter worsened as they ranked 4th worst in the NL in OPS at .690 as a team; the league average was .703
So in 2011 they were .07 OPS points above the NL average, in 2012 it dropped to .02 points below the NL average, and in 2013 it plummeted to .13 points below the NL average. The trend against the league is down. Can they reverse the trend?
Let’s take a look at the guys toting the lumber.
The top 7 hitters in the lineup are essentially set:
There are a number of variations possible here for the lineup – for example, batting Utley second – but the key is protecting Howard with Byrd. The only starting position with a real battle is third base.
Among the bench dogs, Galvis can be looked at almost as a starter. He’ll be in the lineup twice a week and could be a defensive replacement on days he doesn’t start. He probably won’t help boost the team OPS number, so the Phillies better have some more pop in the dugout.
Wil Nieves should be able to hold on as a backup catcher. It’s conceivable Lou Marson wins the job but I think Nieves is the guy. Considering Ryne Sandberg’s strong rebuke of Marson’s positioning on a play in a Grapefruit game March 3rd, a lot will have to go right for Marson in the next three weeks to win the job.
That’s an example of how we’re not going to do it. You’ve got the ball, you block the plate and he doesn’t score. So that was an example of how not to do it. [Pitcher Michael Stutes] is out of the inning and it’s a whole different thing. So that was not a good play.
Sandberg wasn’t done, either:
We’ve covered it five, six times. We’ve covered it for two weeks. That’s a swipe tag. We don’t want a swipe tag right there. He’s got the ball. He’s got 10 or 12 feet to play with. He’s got the ball. In any situation, you block the plate. It was bad technique at home plate.
It’s only one play in the early days of spring training but it left a strong impression. Marson will learn from it and move forward, probably in Lehigh Valley once the Phillies roster is set.
My last lock on the bench is Bobby Abreu. He’s the perfect fit as a LH bat and 4th OF. You can be sure he will take pitches, make the pitchers work, give professional at-bats and notch an OPS above the team average.
Making the Cut
Taking a pitch off the hand is a bad way to begin a battle for your job; hopefully Cody Asche can put it behind him quickly. If Maikel Franco wins the job there’s no place for Asche on the 25-man roster. Having abandoned an attempt to play second base in the minors, he just isn’t versatile enough to warrant the spot.
Most likely Asche will have to play himself out of a job. I don’t think it is likely to happen in Spring Training as long as Cody is healthy, especially since Franco hasn’t sniffed AAA yet. Asche would have to struggle for a month or so while Franco tears up AAA for the Phillies to shake things up. But Asche is not a lock, or as Whitey used to say, “a lead-pipe cinch”. And if Maikel Franco forces his way in sooner, so much the better for the Phillies. Between the two, someone is going to help the Phillies at the hot corner.
This is where things get difficult to project.
Earlier, I had the Phillies going with 12 pitchers. But having picked through the roster to find the 25th man, I now realize they are better off with only 11 pitchers.
At the moment, it looks like the battle the final two bench jobs comes down to Darin Ruf, John Mayberry, Jr. and Kevin Frandsen. This is by no means an easy choice, although the guaranteed contracts to JMJ and Frandsen give them the inside track. That, and the fact that Ruben Amaro, Jr. singled out Ruf this offseason as a guy who isn’t a major league outfielder.
In right field, we don’t know what we’ve got. That’s a hole for us. Ruf is not a right fielder. I think he can fill in for us. I think he can fill in in certain areas, but I can’t sit here and tell you that he’s an everyday player for us.
Hmm. Ruf is clearly on the bubble. He wasn’t even getting outfield reps at the start of spring training, an oversight which seemed to indicate Ruf isn’t in the teams immediate plans.
Frandsen, the reigning NL leader in pinch hits with 14, is gritty and respects the game. He can play first base, second base or third base. He’s even played left field as recently as 2010 with the Angels. Last season he had an OPS of .868 in 74 AB against left-handers. Looking at his track record over the past three seasons, that OPS number against lefties reaches .921 in 139 AB. Those are really quite good numbers.
The problem with Frandsen is his numbers against right-handers. He had an OPS of just .632 in 308 AB vs. righties over the past three years, including an especially weak .535 in 178 AB vs. right-handed pitchers in 2013. That’s really bad. The splits are extreme.
JMJ over the past three seasons has averaged an .839 OPS in 377 AB vs. LH and .670 OPS in 684 AB vs. RH. Last season, his OPS dipped to .756 in 100 AB vs. LH while his .647 OPS in 243 AB vs. RH remained closer to the three-year trend.
So both Frandsen and JMJ crush lefties, especially Frandsen. But JMJ hit better vs. RH in 2013 by .100 OPS points over Frandsen. Tough to believe, but those are the numbers. Match-ups are important with these two.
Still, I think JMJ is more expendable because now the Phillies have Marlon Byrd to back up Revere in center. With Galvis likely needed all over the field, it’s important to have another back up second baseman and without Cesar Hernandez on the team, that duty falls to Frandsen.
So my 25th man is JMJ by a nose and a contract over Ruf. The good news is that JMJ’s stance looks balanced and his swing has been quiet but quick this spring. He gets a lot of heat from fans, but JMJ is a decent 25th man who simply gets exposed if he plays every day. The same is true of most 25th men in baseball: if they’re playing everyday, your team is probably in trouble.
Darin Ruf has too much pop for the Phillies to leave him off the roster, right?
Ruf plays a decent first base, but his bat isn’t advanced enough yet to offset the value he takes away as a defender in the outfield. He could start at first against some of the tougher lefties when Ryan Howard needs a day off, but you can say the same about JMJ and Frandsen. JMJ runs circles around him in the OF and isn’t that much of a drop-off at the plate.
More importantly, Ruf can be stashed in AAA whereas JMJ would have to be traded rather than cut or the Phillies would be on the hook for his whole salary. That’s not likely to happen. It’s frustrating that a guaranteed contract can get in the way of putting the best players on the team, but this is one of those cases where they don’t want to lose JMJ for nothing. If anyone wants to talk trade for Ruf or Mayberry, the Phillies would have to listen.
No, no. That’s not good enough. There’s just something about Ruf the Magic Darin that makes you loathe to break camp without him. It must be the declining team OPS year after year and knowing that Ruf would boost that number in his sleep.
If I’m Ryne Sandberg, I’m bringing Ruf north with the team.
Outside Looking In
The 12th pitcher (Michael Stutes)
Maikel Franco will be a Phillie this season as well, it’s just a question of how and when. Will he replace Asche before the All-Star break? Will he move to first if Howard is injured, leaving Ruf on the bench? Will Asche hold him off and make him wait until the rosters expand in the fall? The Phillies could use his pop, the sooner the better.
Cesar Hernandez is a really good ballplayer. It’s tough to leave him off the roster but his skill set is too similar to that of Freddy Galvis. Hernandez is a better hitter but he cannot play shortstop or third base yet. Cesar is working on other positions to improve his versatility but for now, he’s really more of a pure second baseman. As long as Utley, Galvis and Frandsen are all on the team and healthy, Cesar won’t have a spot. If Utley goes down, Cesar could come up and slide right into his starting job but until then, he probably has to bide his time in Lehigh Valley.
Michael Stutes over Darin Ruf? I don’t think so. I’m picking Ruf as my 25th man and taking my chances with eleven pitchers.
With a healthy starting lineup bolstered by Marlon Byrd and with more pop on the bench, I think the Phillies should return to close to the league average OPS in 2014 and ride the improvement right into their first wild card.
Tags: Philadelphia Phillies