Every week, the writers of That Ball’s Outta Here debate the key issues facing the Phillies. Joining me this week are Spencer Bingol and Michael Lecke. This week, we discuss if Ryan Howard is delusional and whether the Phillies are carrying too many relievers.
Ryan Howard says that despite the Phillies less than stellar start, they are actually playing well. Is he delusional, or does he have a point?
He’s not delusional. He and his co-workers have all been kicking ass, relatively speaking. The team has held the lead in all but one game this season, and Howard himself has been swinging like the Howard of old (3 HR in 13 games is a 37 HR pace).
Sure, there’s a lot you could nit-pick about the assessment (he’s hitting .224; only two starters have OPS’s over .800), but the Phillies lead the NL in OBP, and have scored the fifth-most runs. The offense has, as a whole, played remarkably well, and what do you expect him to say? “Well, WE’VE done our part, those pitchers need to pull it together” wouldn’t play well in a locker room.
Make no mistake, the reason for the Phillies not having a stronger record is wholly dependent on the pitching staff (and the management of it). It’s unsustainable to only have two starts last longer than 6.0 IP in 13 games. The team ran with an extra reliever for two weeks and it STILL felt like there weren’t enough arms. I believe that leads into the next question, but suffices to say I won’t blame Ryan Howard for not calling out the entire pitching staff, and Ryne Sandberg.
I see his point. The Phillies have probably played better than their record would indicate. But Howard also has to remember that baseball is a complex game. If a team can’t play good defense, and their bullpen makes every lead tenuous, then that team’s record likely won’t be as good as it should.
Howard has also been around long enough to recognize that it doesn’t matter how well a team plays. What matters is how many games they’ve won.
We’ve all heard a player or a coach say the words “we are better than our record”. Then again, we also can never forget Bill Parcell’s maxim: “You are what your record says you are.” Personally, I think your record is where the rubber meets the road. If you’re a .500 team, you’re not good enough.
Still, I understand where Ryan was coming from. It’s a matter of staying positive and focused on things that matter without dwelling too much on results. For a big leaguer, process and preparation matter almost as much as results, particularly in the beginning of the season. It’s a bit like a hitter going 0-3 but after hitting the ball hard each time after a good, long AB. The raw results don’t tell the whole story.
Howard sees Utley mashing, an offense committed to drawing walks and getting good pitches, a team coming together under its new manager and he’s saying, look, things aren’t as dire as you guys and the fans seem to think. We got this.
Considering Ryne Sandberg’s reluctance to use some of his relievers (Most conspicuously Brad Lincoln and Justin De Fratus before their demotions), would the Phillies be better served jettisoning a reliever and going with an extra bench bat?
There has been some discussion around this, but personally everything I see screams NO, GOD NO. The offense has been capably productive, and with the return of Freddy Galvis and emergence of Tony Gwynn, there are no glaring defensive deficiencies either.
The team has a desperate need for fresh arms. Poor Jake Diekman racked up the loss on Monday, and he’s a reliever who’s appeared in well over half of all games to date (8/13). He was sent out in the ninth with probable fatigue and KNOWN severe platoon issues against right-handers, and people are shocked when Dan Uggla does one of the only two things he knows how to do.
Is it mismanagement? In that case, yes – Diekman should be more of a specialized pitcher than he’s used as, because of his seductive velocity. However, a lot of issues stem from the amount of strain placed on the bullpen by the starters – Jonathan Pettibone, Roberto Hernandez, and Kyle Kendrick providing 5-6 IP is normal.
Also, have I mentioned that Burnett is going to be pitching through a hernia for the rest of the season? God, this is fun.
If the starters can’t increase their workload, then they’ll need to carry seven relievers just to handle the sheer number of innings. But it seems pointless to carry seven guys if the manager isn’t going to use two of them. If Sandberg doesn’t trust a reliever, then there’s no reason to have him on the team. You can have maybe one “mop up” guy, but aside from that, the manager needs to be able to use any of the others in a close contest.
On the other hand, are there any bench guys who would really be more useful at this point? Once Darin Ruf is ready to play, I’d consider going with him and only six relievers. But for now, I’d stick with seven and suggest that Sandberg start handling them a little better.
Both [Lincoln and De Fratus] have been demoted and will have to work their way back from AAA. Both have a reasonable chance of battling back, though.
Lincoln needs to work on a two-seamer instead of his straight four-seamer. If he can get a feel for it and generate some movement on a fastball without losing command, he’ll be back. De Fratus has good stuff but seems to lack a bit of confidence. He’ll probably go back to Lehigh Valley and regroup, focusing on command and pitch sequence. He could also work on anything that adds to his deception. I’m sure he’ll be back since the Phillies don’t exactly have a ton of depth. I think Justin will settle in and become a good piece in the pen before the year is out.
What do you think? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below.
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