Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Philadelphia Phillies Look Ahead to 2012

Guest Post By: Craig Kibler

The 2011 Philadelphia Phillies featured a roster full of talent and through 162 games they put the best team on the field. Day in and day out, the Phillies dominated opponents with their outstanding pitching rotation and solid yet disappointing hitting.

Offensive Affairs
Although the Phillies ranked in the top half of the NL in most offensive categories, their lineup had the potential to do much more damage.

However, it is important to mention that injuries did play a part in their slightly disappointing offensive performance last season. Most of the key injuries happened on the infield with the most major injury happening to 5 time All-Star second baseman Chase Utley. Not having Utley in the lineup for a good part of the season had a clear affect on the rest of the roster. Removing a great hitter like Utley can really disrupt a lineup and make the normally frightful Phillies’ hitters seem a little less scary.

Shane Victorino also missed some games and I think he has been the “table setter” the last few years that every good offensive team needs. Victorino saw a big dip in his steals last year going from 34 to 19, but he did successfully steal 88% percent of his attempts, which is a career high.

The offense has gone through little change this off-season. The only major loss was Raul Ibanez and his exit was expected and now we get a chance to see what highly touted prospect Domonic Brown can do as an everyday major leaguer…. maybe….
“He could wow us in spring training and then all bets are off,” Amaro said. “If we feel like he’s the best choice for us, I know he’s looked good in the mini-camps we’ve had. I know that’s a bit of a long shot, but we have to keep our minds open.” – NBC 10 WCAU: Philadelphia
~Ruben Amaro Jr.

Brown’s recent struggles have left the organization and fans wondering whether this “untouchable” piece of the Phillies farm system is worth the label. Right now John Mayberry looks to be the opening day starter in left field but like Amaro said, there is still a month of spring training so anything can happen.

Pitching Prospectus
It doesn’t take an expert analyst to tell you that the Phillies had the best top to bottom pitching staff in all of baseball last year. The Phillies posted a team ERA of 3.02 in 2011. Pretty remarkable stat and the lowest team ERA in baseball since the Orel Hershiser led ’89 Dodgers (2.95). None of the starters had an ERA over 3.43 that season for the Dodgers. Wow.

There were only 18 pitchers in MLB with an ERA under 3 in 2011 and the Phillies fittingly had 3 of those 18.

Not surprising with a record of 102-60 that Philly has 2 of the top four NL pitchers in wins and ERA (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee). Most teams pray to have one pitcher like “Doc” or Lee let alone two. I really hope Philly fans appreciate how rare it is to have two pitchers that could be considered the best at any given point in the season.

Fairly simple to see why the Phillies pitching was so dominant and why they won over 100 games last season. I haven’t even mentioned Cole Hamels yet. Hamels is just another home grown player that has come to be one of games’ best. 2011 was Hamels best season to date. All of his numbers were very good last year, but his WHIP is what sticks out the most to me. For many baseball enthusiasts this is one of if not the most important pitching stat. Usually owning a WHIP around 1.20 is a solid year. Getting below 1.10 means you had a fantastic season. Recording a WHIP below 1.00, Cole Hamels had a WHIP of .99, is historically a number that only pitchers like Maddux and Pedro have been able to accomplish. I don’t expect any decline from Hamels this year and once again the Phillies will have the best 1-2-3 punch in baseball.

No Oswalt this year for the Phillies. But you can’t expect to have a number 4 starter like Roy Oswalt for too long. Some fans may want Roy back but his 10 million dollar asking price is just too high.

For now the rotation will most likely be rounded out with Vance Worley and Joe Blanton. The Phillies front office has been trying to trade Blanton and his contract but there are no takers to this point. My guess is he will end up with the Phillies this season as their number five starter.

All in all this should be the best starting pitching staff in baseball and their bullpen should also flourish again with the signing of Jonathon Papelbon. The bullpen is young and has a lot of quality arms. Kyle Kendrick is at the top of that list and should project as a major league starter, although for 2012 he is slated for long relief in the bullpen.

2012 Outlook
In my opinion the Phillies are still the most talented team in baseball. Their first round exit in the post-season had people asking questions, but this team is in great shape. The MLB Playoffs are the hardest post-season to conquer and success cannot be placed on a 5 game series. Sure they didn’t play great, but after back-to-back World Series appearances in ’08 and ’09 I don’t see much room for complaint or a need for change. The Cardinals proved their value with their World Series victory last season, so the Phillies can hold their heads up high and use that loss as motivation this season.

The last four years I have picked the Phillies to win the NL and 2012 will make it 5 in a row. Baseball is so hard to predict and anything can happen in the post-season, but I truly believe that the Phillies have put themselves in the best spot to make a return to the Fall Classic after a 2 year absence.

Food For Thought
Howard’s health is in question entering the season and if my prediction is going to hold true for the Phillies then they will certainly need a healthy squad in 2012. Perennial injury Chase Utley will need to be as healthy as possible and so will Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. These players all missed time in 2011 so health will once again be key. Health is really the only question for the Phillies as they embark on the journey that is known as the regular season.

If Howard misses time this spring it might not be so bad for Illinois native and Philly favorite Jim Thome. This season Thome enters what in all likelihood will be his final season in a Hall of Fame career. Really would bring things full circle as Howard got his chance to become a star when Thome went down with injury while playing for the Phillies in 2005. Jim is a true HOF’er and is one of the great people in baseball. Should be an emotional year for Jim and the Philly fans, and especially so if he can go out with his first World Series title.

Thome Milestones To Watch For:
* 5 home runs from passing Sammy Sosa for 7th all-time

* 2 RBI from passing Gary Sheffield for 25th all-time

* 21 RBI from passing Cal Ripken for 24th all-time

* 28 RBI from passing Reggie Jackson for 23rd all-time

* 30 RBI from passing Frank Thomas for 22nd all-time

* 58 RBI from passing Honus Wagner for 21st all-time

About the Author:
Craig Kibler is the lead blogger for Sports Traveler a leading sports tourism site specializing in providing customized MLB travel packages.


GM-Carson said...

Ryan Howard suffers setback in the rehab process. Is out for the remainder of the week at least to let heal up his new stitching.

I want to once again applaud Ruben Amaro for signing Howard to a 5 year $125M deal before it was necessary.


Preserve Jon said...

That graphic is seizure inducing.

I'm torn. I gave up TV before 9pm for Lent - you know, to be more productive around the house. My wife and I are still in DINK territory and are looking to fix up our house before we start a family. But more importantly, I just realized that I will not be able to watch this weekend's first televised Phils' game or any of the away games the first week of the season. What do I do?

I humbly ask the GMs for their suggestions.