Just because the samples are small and the season is young doesn’t mean we can’t be surprised by what we’ve seen so far. The 7-2 start by the Phillies is just about what everyone expected, but the Phillies took an unexpected road to get there.
With many expecting the veteran shortstop to continue on the downward spiral, Rollins has started 2011 with a bang. No, he has not hit a home run nor driven in a run hitting out of the #3 spot in the lineup, but he is hitting more balls on the ground and he is continuing to draw walks, a trend that started during his injury-plagued campaign last year. Rollins’ walk rate is at 9.8 percent, just a hair behind last year’s 10.2%, and he has hit only five fly balls — just 16 percent of his total batted balls. He has also stolen three bases in as many attempts, and looked quite nimble in doing so.
We all knew Bastardo had stuff, but we have yet to see it on display at the Major League level. In the Minors, Bastardo struck out hitters with reckless abandon, but his control was always in question. In four and two-thirds innings so far this year, he has struck out nine hitters (17.4 K/9) and has yet to allow a run, or even walk a batter. If he continues to pitch well, he could hop over J.C. Romero on Charlie Manuel’s bullpen depth chart.
Valdez filled in admirably for the Phillies’ infielders as they seemed to drop like flies last year. He was about replacement level with the bat, but played above-average defense up the middle. Filling in exclusively for Chase Utley in 2011, Valdez has a hot bat through nine games. He’s hitting .333 with three doubles and five RBI hitting out of the #8 spot. While I and many others are skeptical of his ability to maintain his level of production going forward, it is nice to see yet another scrap heap pick-up panning out quite well for the Phillies.
Phillies’ substitutes are hitting .462 so far. That’s 12-for-26, which includes one home run and seven RBI (to be fair, most of that was Carlos Ruiz‘s grand slam). John Mayberry has been the most successful bench bat so far, notching four hits in seven at-bats, including a walk-off RBI single on Opening Day against the Houston Astros. The bench was believed to be a big weakness for the Phillies, partially a result of injuries to Utley and Domonic Brown, but the pine-riding crew has looked quite capable through nine games.
If I told you that Baez had pitched five innings without yielding a single run, you would call me a liar. But that’s been the case in 2011, despite allowing a hit in each of his five outings. Charlie Manuel has been using him mostly in low leverage situations: with an 8-3 lead against the Astros on April 2, a 7-1 lead against the New York Mets on the 5th, a 10-0 lead against the Mets on the 7th, and a 10-2 lead against the Atlanta Braves on the 9th. I am most skeptical about Baez’s success going forward, and it appears that even Manuel knows that when you play with fire, you get burned. He is using Baez such that when he gets burnt, it is in as low-leverage a situation as possible.