On Core players, Injuries, and Winning


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In March 2012, the Phillies knew that neither Chase Utley nor Ryan Howard would begin the season healthy and in the starting lineup. Both players had debilitating injuries, Utley’s knee degeneration and Howard’s torn Achilles tendon.

When front offices compile players to make a team, they do so with the intention that those players will be healthy and available to at least 150 or more games in a season. Catchers fall into a slightly different category than other position players as the strain of playing the position makes it difficult for catchers to play in every game. Starting pitchers pitch every fifth day, and relievers, while available to pitch in most games, often will not exceed at most 5-6 innings per week. Position players other than catchers are usually dubbed as everyday players, those who we expect to be in the lineup if healthy. That 2012 opening day lineup looked something like this:

1BTy Wigginton
2BFreddy Galvis
SSJimmy Rollins
3BPlacido Polanco
LFJohn Mayberry Jr.
CFShane Victorino
RFHunter Pence
CCarlos Ruiz

When comparing that lineup to the projected 2013 Phillies starting lineup, the only name that repeats is Jimmy Rollins. Ryan Howard is finally healthy, despite few projection systems forecasting him to be as productive as his earlier days, and given the other options the Phillies placed at 1st base last season, his presence in the starting lineup is a welcomed site. Chase Utley, also healthy, will reman his post at 2nd base for as long as his knees will allow, or until another body part gives way. The Phillies traded Victorino and Pence away and then acquired Ben Revere and Delmon Young to take their places. Young will begin the season on the disabled list in spite of reports that he is healing faster than expected from offseason ankle surgery. Carlos Ruiz would have begun the season in the Phillies starting lineup, but after being busted for taking adderall, he will serve a 25-game suspension to begin 2013.

In 2012, the Phillies had their “projected starting lineup”, the players who the front office expected to play everyday play together in fewer than 30 games. This lack of consistency allowed the Phillies to play such greats as Kevin Frandsen, Domonic Brown, Laynce Nix, and Mike Fontenot on a routine basis.

Given these horrific numbers, it’s no wonder the Phillies streak of 5 winning seasons in a row ended after posting an 81-81 record in 2012. The Phillies team is built around a core of players that need to be in their lineup on a game-by-game basis to give the team the best chance to succeed.

This approach differs from other MLB teams like the Oakland A’s who utilize every player on the 25-man roster. The A’s see a roster spot as sacred spots, not placeholders. In no way am I saying that one method is wrong and one is right, but from year to year franchises have to adapt, and by not relying on one core group of veterans, teams like the A’s, Rays, Padres, and Cardinals have been able to win more than they lose. These teams may not produce winning records or make the playoffs every season, but for the most part they win because those teams’ front offices understand that if they do not adapt, their relevance will come to an abrupt halt.

www.mlbdepthcharts.com projects the Phillies 2013 starting lineup to look like this:

1BRyan Howard
2BChase Utley
SSJimmy Rollins
3BMichael Young
LFLaynce Nix
CFBen Revere
RFDomonic Brown
CErik Kratz

Does this lineup have the ability to win on a regular basis? Yes, I think that this lineup should improve on the 4.2 runs scored per game that the team put up in 2012, but I don’t know if it will be enough to get this team back into the playoffs. The Phillies will once again rely on their pitching, a core of three pitchers, all, at one time, signed to long term deals, making

Can Michael Young Play Everyday?

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them vulnerable to an injury here or there. Teams with flush minor league systems and good mixes of veteran and young players can overcome injuries, even to those players who are most important to their success. The 2012 Rays lost Evan Longoria for more than 80 games, yet the team still posted 90 wins in a difficult American League East. If the one or two of the Phillies core players succumbs to an injury throughout 2013, it could quash the team’s hopes of returning to the post season, a risk the Phillies front office is apparently willing to take.

Unfortunately there is no short-term solution for the “core players” problem, but in the long-term there may be. Fans, front office personnel, and others involved in the organization need to show patience, restraint, and ingenuity to change the nature of the Phillies entire system of operations. I’m not advocating against having a core group of players, but franchises that cannot adapt effectively, for whatever reason, will soon be relics, things of the past that dwell in the cellars of Baseballs league divisions.

I think the 2013 Phillies starters will play together more than in 2012, but until the team can put out 8 position players who will play together for more than 100 games a year, the Phillies will not wear another NL East crown. Fangraphs’ 2013 Fan projections have no Phillies players projected to play in more than 150 games this season, and only 3, Michael Young, Jimmy Rollins, and Ben Revere projected to play in at least 140 games in 2013.

In comparison, the same projection system forecasts 63 players to play in 148 or more games in 2013. Consistency matters, and teams that use core groups of players to win, but cannot get that core out on the field with consistency have little chance of making the playoffs, let alone winning more games than they lose.