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New Year’s Day tends to bring about two things for most Americans: bad hangovers, and the realization that baseball is on the horizon. We have just over a month left to wait until pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Clearwater, Florida. Shortly thereafter, competitive yet meaningless baseball games will be played, and before you know it, the regular season is ready to begin.
For now, though, we’ll put up with the other half of winter and dream of a Phillies World Series championship in 2011. For that to happen, the Phillies’ players need to make some resolutions and stick to ‘em. What are those resolutions, you ask?
(Note: Ryan Lawrence posted some Phillies-themed resolutions as well for the Delco Times. Check them out for some alternate versions.)
Carlos Ruiz – Ignore expectations.
As unlucky as Jimmy Rollins was with BABIP last year, Ruiz was similarly as fortunate. His .335 BABIP — 55 points above his career average — skyrocketed his wOBA to .366, which placed him with the best offensive catchers in baseball like Brian McCann. Unfortunately, Ruiz just isn’t that good with the bat and he will likely have a worse showing in 2011. Some people will be shocked and others upset, but all Ruiz needs to do is ignore them and focus on being the pitching staff’s favorite target and playing good defense.
Ryan Howard – Crush right-handed pitching.
For the last three years, left-handed pitchers have been known as the bane of Howard’s existence. However, in 2010, it was actually right-handed pitching that caused Howard a lot of grief. His .372 wOBA against them seems good at first glance, but when you compare it to his .424 career average, you realize that something went wrong.
Since 2008, the percentage of “soft” stuff (i.e. breaking balls) that Howard has seen from right-handers has risen eight percent. Howard’s ISO against those pitches dropped from .297 last year to .238. The heat maps below, via Baseball Analytics, show Howard’s declining production.
(Click to enlarge)
Chase Utley – Take some days off.
The second baseman’s production declines late in the season most likely because he’s been going full throttle for 120 games. As much as Utley may hate it, a day off every now and then will be very beneficial.
Jimmy Rollins – Keep hitting ground balls.
Nearly 46 percent of Rollins’ batted balls were on the ground last year, which is a good thing when he’s healthy and able to use his speed to its full potential. Although Rollins appears to be in decline, he was mostly BABIP-unlucky on ground balls in 2010. Rollins’ BABIP on 147 total ground balls was .137, much lower than the league average .236. Had Rollins benefited from a .236 BABIP instead, he’d have had 15 more hits to his name and his batting average would have risen to .286 from .243.
Placido Polanco – Hit for a little more power.
Polanco’s .088 ISO in 2010 was his lowest in four years and third-lowest of his career since he started playing every day in 2001. While he’s never been known as a power hitter, he does have occasional pop, which is a nice asset for a #2 hitter. Aside from his grand slam on Opening Day in Washington, Polanco was rather impotent, relying mostly on singles to get the job done.
Raul Ibanez – Avoid Father Time for one more year.
Ibanez’s 2010 was his worst offensively since he became a regular player in ’02. His .341 wOBA was nearly 40 points lower than in the previous year, which doesn’t portend well for the left fielder, who will turn 39 in June. The Phillies don’t know what they’re going to get out of whatever concoction they come up with in right field. The team will be happy as long as Ibanez is able to be somewhat productive without succumbing to injury.
Shane Victorino – Make a case for leading off.
Despite possessing better on-base skills than Jimmy Rollins, Victorino has only led off on a few occasions, usually when Rollins is on the mend or struggling with the bat. Rollins has done some campaigning on his own behalf, at times stating that he views himself as a lead-off hitter and nothing else. However, the loss of Jayson Werth leaves the Phillies without a right-handed hitter that can reliably hit in the middle of the order. Rollins doesn’t have much of a platoon split overall, but has hit better as a right-hander in recent years. Additionally, hitting in the #5 spot will make aggressive base running less of a need for Rollins, who has had three different stints on the disabled list with leg-related issues in the last three years.
The swap of Victorino to lead-off and Rollins to the #5 spot may only net the Phillies a few extra runs overall, but with a starting rotation expected to make runs a scarce commodity, every little edge helps.
Domonic Brown – Be selective.
Brown struck out in nearly 40 percent of his 70 plate appearances last year, which worried many Phillies fans who had been waiting for the phenom prospect’s arrival to the Majors. Young players don’t always hit right out of the gate when they get promoted — don’t forget that Mike Stanton‘s triple-slash line was .225/.266/.402 in his first 109 Major League plate appearances. His strikeout rate was over 41 percent. For the rest of the season, Stanton’s triple-slash line was .271/.347/.547 and his strikeout rate dropped to 32 percent. While still high, it was an improvement that led to more frequent success at the plate. As long as Brown isn’t taking low-percentage swings, the rest will follow.
Ben Francisco – Crush left-handed pitching.
Francisco will have one major responsibility in 2011, and that will be to be productive against lefty starters. He will likely platoon with Brown in the rookie’s first full season. Francisco has a career .352 wOBA against southpaws, which isn’t too impressive. If Francisco can improve on that, the Phillies will have very little to worry about.
Roy Halladay – Don’t get hurt.
Phillies fans are very familiar with the injury bug and how it has the potential to derail a season. It almost did last year before a mid-season acquisition of Roy Oswalt jolted the team back into contention. Fans’ worst fear going into 2011 is the injury bug coming back and this time gnawing at the starters’ arms. Halladay is as automatic as you get, so his job is to simply sidestep bad rolls of the dice.
Cliff Lee – Forget about struggling in Texas.
Lee was off to a great start with the Seattle Mariners after missing the first two months with an abdomen strain. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was approaching 15 and he appeared to be everything Jack Zduriencik had hoped for when he agreed to the trade with Ruben Amaro. When Lee was traded to Texas, two things happened: he walked batters slightly more often (0.5 per nine innings with the Mariners; 1.0 per nine with the Rangers) and he allowed twice as many home runs (four percent HR/FB with the Mariners; nine percent with the Rangers). Neither of those jumps are very significant as his xFIP was only 0.08 higher in Texas (3.27 to 3.19).
Lee’s struggles were simply a matter of looking bad in contrast to unsustainable success in Seattle. As long as he doesn’t change anything significantly, he should be just fine.
Roy Oswalt – Be vocal about back pain.
As mentioned here, Oswalt has dealt with back issues in the past. He has what is known as degenerative disc disease, which doesn’t magically go away as his success last year may lead you to believe. If Oswalt’s back problems flare up again in 2011, he needs to be open and honest with the Phillies’ medical staff about it, rather than gutting it out and pitching in pain.
Cole Hamels – Keep improving the cut fastball.
At first, Hamels’ new cut fastball appeared to be just another junk pitch like his curve ball, but as he kept throwing it, it got better. In the first half, hitters crushed it for a .345 wOBA. In the second half, he held hitters to a mere .265 wOBA.
(heat maps via Baseball Analytics)
(Click to enlarge)
Joe Blanton – Pitch well into July, then prepare for a change of address.
As Dave Cameron illustrated at FanGraphs, Joe Blanton is an underrated pitcher. This is mostly because he spent time on the disabled list last year and didn’t impress upon return. The Phillies, with a stacked rotation, will be trying to unload Blanton whenever an opportunity arises. The best case scenario leaves Blanton with the Phillies through the first half, pitching well and boosting his trade value. Come the end of July, a team in the playoff hunt will be willing to pay the remainder of Blanton’s $8.5 million salary in 2011-12 and the Phillies get either a useful bench player or a fringe prospect to stow in the Minors.
Right now, Blanton’s trade value is low not only because of his horrid 2010, but because the Phillies have very little leverage in trade negotiations. Teams know Blanton is an afterthought in a rotation that includes Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels and that the Phillies are in need of salary relief. However, with a big first half, Blanton can help both his cause and that of the Phillies.
Ryan Madson – Avoid metal folding chairs.
Madson drew the ire of many Phillies fans last year when he blew a save in San Francisco last year, then kicked a metal folding chair in frustration and broke his toe. The injury kept him out for two months. Brad Lidge also fell victim to the injury bug, which meant the Phillies actually relied on Jose Contreras to close out games.
Despite the chair incident, 2010 was actually a great year for Madson. His strikeout-to-walk ratio approached 5.0, among the best ever by a Phillies reliever. His strikeout rate continued to skyrocket as his change-up was established as one of the best out pitches in the game. Madson’s contract expires after the season. A good showing will encourage the Phillies to keep him around and usurp the closer’s role from Brad Lidge, whose contract also expires at season’s end (assuming the Phillies deny his $12.5 million club option).
Brad Lidge – Reduce the free passes.
Lidge has never been known as a pitcher with great control. His career BB/9 is over 4.1, but in 2009 and ’10, his walk rates have been 5.2 and 4.7 respectively — far too high for a reliever with most of the highest-leverage innings.
If the bullpen as a whole performs well, the Phillies could potentially use Lidge as trade bait. Madson is clearly good enough to close, and Contreras showed promise as a reliever in 2010. Unless he has an amazing ’11 season, Lidge will likely only qualify as a Type B free agent, so any chance the Phillies get to reclaim some value from him is one they should take. Improved control would make him a more attractive trade option for teams in need of a closer.
Charlie Manuel – Use J.C. Romero strictly against left-handed batters.
Look at this, Charlie. Adjust accordingly.