New Years Resolutions for the Phillies

2011 is on its way out, thankfully so for many people. For the Phillies, 2011 can hardly be labeled a failure as the team set a franchise record in wins with 102 and marched into the playoffs with one of the greatest starting rotations of all time. While it would have been nice to have a different outcome — the Phillies were ushered out in the NLDS by the eventual world champions — every fan would take the 2011 season over any of the dreadful years in the mid- and late-1990’s. That said, there are some areas in which players and personnel can improve, so the Crashburn staff has done all the legwork in creating a list of 2012 resolutions for the Phillies.

Bill Baer’s resolutions for the Phillies:

J.C. Romero is the best example of Charlie not using his lefty relievers properly. Romero’s results left a lot to be desired, but they could have been better if Manuel utilized him in the proper situations. Last year, for every five batters Romero faced, only two of them were lefties — not a great rate for a so-called “lefty specialist”. It made total sense to protect Romero from right-handers: over his career, Romero compiled a 5.39 xFIP against them, but only 3.55 against lefties.

Dontrelle Willis recently joined the squad, ostensibly as a LOOGY. Like Romero, Willis is considerably better against lefties (2.88 xFIP) than their right-handed counterparts (4.71). If Willis is deployed by Manuel in one-inning stints, then his results will suffer. However, if Manuel uses Willis intelligently, he can prevent some key runs from crossing the plate during the season. For a team that is expected to regress from 102 wins, that is an important consideration.

I’ve written at length about the Phillies’ successful base-stealing exploits over the years, but that endeavor came to a halt in 2011. Jimmy Rollins was the only Phillie to steal 20 or more bases (he had 30). Victorino, who had averaged 33 stolen bases (with a success rate at 82.5 percent) in the previous four seasons, came in at 19. This, despite nearly matching a career-high in on-base percentage.

2011 was quite a year for Victorino overall. He was a potential MVP candidate at the end of August, making huge strides in both patience (9.4 percent walk rate was a career-high) and power (.212 ISO also a career-best). The lack of stolen bases was noticeably absent — particularly in the playoffs (zero attempts). As Johnny Damon demonstrated to Brad Lidge in the 2009 World Series, stealing a base can mean the difference between winning and losing a crucial post-season game.

In the past, the Phillies have hinted that they would like to give Utley some regular breathers, but it never happened. Utley returned from the disabled list on May 23, having battled patellar tendinitis in his knee. He did get a day off here and there, but it could hardly be called regular. From June 28 to August 3, Utley did not ride the pine once. For one whole month from August 5 to September 7, Utley again played every day. Then, due to a concussion, Utley missed six consecutive games. Presumably, he would have started in all of them if not for the non-knee-related injury.

Two facts are true: Utley has been injury-prone over the years, and he tends to wear down as the season progresses — his first-half OPS is 70 points higher than his second-half OPS over his career (.915 to .845). Giving Utley regular rest could both prevent injuries (from happening and from exacerbating) and keep him fresher later in the season, two huge bonuses to have in the dog days of August.

Michael Baumann’s resolutions for the Phillies:

  • Shane Victorino: “When batting left-handed, I’m going to do 20 push-ups for every ball I hit in the air.”

Believe it or not, Victorino’s platoon split in 2011 was almost as big as Ryan Howard‘s. Victorino is one of those guys who learned to switch-hit because he’s fast, not because he could actually hit left-handed. From his natural side, Victorino posted a 1.032 OPS, which is Albert Pujols territory. Against righties, batting left-handed, Victorino had a .787 OPS. Given his ridiculous speed, and the fact that he steps into the bucket a little from the left-hand side to get out of the box faster, it would make more sense for Pineapple Express to take completely different approaches from the two sides of the plate: a conventional approach from the right side, which he does rather well, and a slap-and-run style from the left akin to what you might find in Japan or women’s fast-pitch softball.

As much as Shane Victorino should hit the ball on the ground from the left side, Wilson Valdez should try to keep the ball in the air. It’s only possible to ground into a double play when there’s a runner on first and less than two outs. In those situations, Exxon reached base 21 times (15 singles, 4 doubles, and 2 walks) in 83 plate appearances in 2010, while grounding into 20 double plays. In 2011, in 79 plate appearances with a man on first and less than two outs, he again reached base 21 times (14 singles, 5 doubles, 2 walks) and grounded in to 13 double plays. Either ratio is completely unacceptable. Exxon is listed at 5-foot-11 and the most unconvincing 170 pounds I’ve ever seen, so that medium-speed, tailor-made double play ball is probably as hard as he can hit it. Maybe if he starts snacking with Papelbon and puts on some weight, some of those balls will sneak through. Or he’ll hit some more in the air. Or he’ll drink too many beers, miss the ball altogether and strike out. Either way, even in limited playing time, those GIDPs are a killer weakness.

  • Domonic Brown: “I’m going to cut off three square inches of Ruben Amaro’s skin until he calls me up and instructs Charlie Manuel to play me every day.”

Going all Jack Bauer might be the only way for the Domonator to get into the lineup, because management seems intent on playing ANY aging veteran with a sub-.300 OBP over the onetime top prospect in baseball.

Paul Boye’s resolutions for the Phillies:

  • Ruben Amaro, Jr.: “I will give Domonic Brown 400+ Major League plate appearances.”

Dom Brown is fast becoming damaged goods. Once a top-five prospect across the game, Brown has suffered at the hands of poor performance in small Major League samples and a management set that still seems undecided on what to do with him. If he’ll play left field now with Hunter Pence in the fold, why was he DHing and subsequently not even playing at the end of Lehigh Valley’s season? Remember, too, that this is a club that willfully suffered the defense of Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez in left for the past 12 years.

As of this moment, with Ryan Howard expected to start the year injured, the Phillies’ corner outfield gang consists of John Mayberry, Jr., Hunter Pence, Laynce Nix and John Bowker. Mayberry is a candidate to spend significant time at first base, and Pence is locked in for the starting right field gig. Nevermind that Nix and his .288 career OBP somehow got two guaranteed years, is it truly beneficial to play him over Brown not just for the future, but for 2011? Nix can hit a home run every now and then, to be sure, but he’d have to hit more than 20 to make up for the amount of outs he makes. Don’t stow Brown in AAA any longer; give the guy the extended look and playing time he deserves, or else risk completely tanking his value altogether.

  • The Fans: “I will arrive on time and make an effort to stay for the duration of the game.”

Look, I know everyone can’t stay for every pitch. And traffic, despite the South Philly complex being pretty open and accessible as far as sports complexes go, can be a bear (this is still Philadelphia, after all). But this is absolutely a call-out to the large groups of fans who, on numerous occasions, managed to have Citizens Bank Park 75 percent full at first pitch for a large number of sold out games, and sometimes more barren in the later innings of non-blowouts.

I tailgate and still manage to be at my seat on time. I may not live an hour away, but getting my money’s worth of every ticket I buy is pretty important to me. Maybe this empty-seat problem has existed before 2011, but it certainly never stood out to me quite like it did this past season.

Worley was one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2011 season, but he doesn’t exactly have everyone converted to believing he’s really an up-and-coming “ace.” His peripherals are solid and his batted ball numbers, while they aren’t great, hardly alarming. Utilizing a predictable-but-somehow-unsolvable two-seamer against left-handed hitters, Worley held lefties to a .201/.271/.299 line in 2011, but was roughed up by righties. He’s sort of a bizarro-Kyle Kendrick in that respect, and it’s something he will need to improve on if he hopes to provide stability behind the all-world trio of Halladay, Lee and Hamels. He’ll also need to demonstrate the durability to make 30 starts and pitch 190-plus innings; his career highs are 27 starts and 158 innings, accomplished across AA and AAA in 2010. If he can’t hack a full season’s worth of starts, he may be destined for the bullpen. The 2012 season will be pivotal for the Mohawked One.

Ryan Sommers’s resolutions for the Phillies:

  • John Mayberry Jr.: “I will stay patient at the plate.”

For every fan or analyst who has ever hitched their wagon to the “They adjusted his swing!” narrative, John Mayberry Jr.’s 2012 will either be another tough blow or a beacon of hope. You could call Mayberry’s 2011 a “breakout,” if there was any serious hope that he could repeat that level of production — a .369 wOBA in 296 plate appearances — in 2012. Mayberry brought the power that his status as a fringe prospect always hinged on while in the Texas and Philadelphia minor league systems, but he supplemented it with some patience at the dish that was rarely seen from him before 2011. He posted walk and strikeout rates of 8.8% and 18.6% respectively, both at about the league average rate and both not really indicated by his resume. His .341 on-base percentage was his best in any significant sample besides his stint with the Rangers’ A ball team in 2006. Perhaps not coincidentally, his contact abilities improved to a level that finally allowed him to put his pop to work for the Phillies. His BABIP (.293) certainly doesn’t indicate that any good fortune was working in his favor, but with under 300 plate appearances it’s just too soon to say with any certainty whether his 2011 is for real, especially with a large minor league track record working against that conclusion — unless you attend the Church of Tweaked Mechanics.

As the team is currently comprised, Mayberry figures to play a big role in at least the first half of 2012, logging time in the outfield and at first base while Ryan Howard is on the mend. Whether or not he can shed the cloak of small sample mystery is a vital question facing next season’s offense.

  • Mike Stutes: “I will command my slider more effectively.”

Stutes had a good debut season in the results department, posting a 3.63 ERA in 62 innings, but in August and September, as the balls-in-play and fly ball fortune started to wear off, it became clear that he may not yet be a finished product. It is perhaps too much to ask for Stutes to fix his batted ball profile — he managed just a 32.9% groundball rate, and a corresponding 47.9% flyball rate, hardly the desirable outcomes for a reliever or, really, any pitcher. With his only significant groundball success coming in the Sally league, that seems to be written into his pitching DNA. But for Stutes, who builds his success on a very good punch-out ability, reigning in his walk rate (10.8% in 2011) to something closer to league average is the difference between marginal and weaponized relief pitching.

Per ESPN TruMedia, Stutes’ slider was only in the strike zone about 43% of the time. That by itself is not necessarily bad, but his swing-and-miss rate on the pitch was just above average, not top-tier. Against lefties, Stutes kept his slider away but left it quite high, allowing the batter either to take for a ball or smack for an outfield fly. A reliever of Stutes’ profile needs a Daisy Cutter pitch to succeed; his slider was merely a grenade.

  • Tom McCarthy: “I will find a new gimmick and not abuse it.”

Close your eyes and try to imagine how many times you heard “HOW ABOUT THAT” on the Phillies telecast last season. There are plenty of complaints in circulation about McCarthy, but I think picking a signature line that is a) not suited for momentous baseball occasions at all and b) used more than once per game is the gravest charge on the docket. Freak plays, walk-off homeruns, 5th inning doubles and a strikeout to end the 1st are all given equal weight when voiced in identical, unconvincing yelps of a catch phrase better suited for finding that last uneaten yogurt in the back of the refrigerator than an event that will be written about in newspapers and talked about on television the next day. I’ve now heard it so many times that it takes on this weirdly resigned character, as if an exasperated McCarthy is ticking off all of the various plays that he is incapable of describing in interesting or unique ways (How about that? How about THAT? How about THAT?). He also lacks the solid fastball in any announcer’s repertoire — the home run call. Every Phillies longball is accompanied by screams of “GONE” with varying lengths and hoarseness, all bearing his faux-enthusiastic campus tour guide affectation that prohibits the sort of fan camaraderie that viewers hope to share with their hometown commentator.

The natural contrast is radio play-by-play man Scott Franzke, whose wry and understated commentary has made him a fan favorite. Franzke parses the game’s events like few others, building tension by varying the intensity and speed of his speech, and the amount of detail in his descriptions, as appropriate. You can tell if it’s a meaningless at bat in a blowout or the most important play of the game just by listening to him narrate the pitcher’s actions on the mound. In the most crucial moments, Franzke speaks with an infectious sense of anticipation, as if every spoken line is accompanied by a silent “Can you believe this? Here we go!” It occurs without any detectable effort. This style may well be way out of McCarthy’s range, so I wouldn’t ask him to emulate it. But, seeing as he will be a part of the telecast for the foreseeable future, he should resolve to take a page from Franzke’s playbook: dial down the PR personality, find a new catchphrase, and start carving peaks and valleys with the commentary, instead of one flat, insufferable plateau.

A Lesson in Playing the Market

The inimitable Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus summed up this off-season’s free agency in one sentence after news broke that the Boston Red Sox had acquired Andrew Bailey in a trade with the Oakland Athletics:

So the big losers this offseason are Madson and the Phillies, huh.

As you are no doubt aware, the Phillies acquired closer Jonathan Papelbon in November, agreeing to a four-year, $50 million contract with a fifth-year option. This was days after Madson and the Phillies reportedly agreed to a four-year, $44 million deal. For a still-unknown reason, the Madson deal fell through, allowing the Phillies to pursue Papelbon.

GM Ruben Amaro has always been aggressive in free agency, often to his own detriment. He attempted to act before the market settled when offering contracts to free agent Raul Ibanez (in December 2008) and soon-to-be free agent Ryan Howard (in April 2010). The Ibanez contract turned out to be a net loss and the Howard contract actually looks worse now than it did at the time of signing — as hard as that is to believe. Similarly, the Papelbon contract falls into that same group as it is by far the most expensive contract awarded to a reliever thus far. (The second-largest contract belongs to Heath Bell, who signed with the Miami Marlins on a three-year, $27 million deal.)

As it stands now, Madson figures to get significantly less than what was offered by the Phillies, both in terms of years and money. He and agent Scott Boras have to be feeling sour about sticking to their guns in search of a long-term contract like that of Papelbon. With the Red Sox having acquired Bailey, one of the few remaining suitors is off the board meaning that Madson’s leverage is significantly weakened, if not outright obsolete. Madson will likely have to settle for significantly less money and only two or three years — perhaps even less than what Bell got from the Marlins. This, despite the fact that he and Papelbon are comparable in many ways, including age (31) and defense-independent metrics.

When and if Madson signs, his contract will be completely dwarfed by that of Papelbon. It will be then that Amaro realizes his mistake in jumping the market yet again, and the Madson-Boras team will realize their mistake in being inflexible. The lesson, boys and girls, is patience. The losers of the off-season, as Wyers described them, respectively displayed a complete lack of patience, and entirely too much patience. The equilibrium is somewhere in between. Or just roll with a thrift store bullpen.

A Number to Retire

Hi, everyone. My name is Michael Baumann, and I’m the newest member of the gang over here at Crashburn Alley. Odds are you’ve either never heard of me before or you know me from Phillies Nation, where I authored, among other things, the notorious Dr. Strangeglove series. If you’re on Twitter, my handle is @atomicruckus in case you’re in the following mood.

I have sort of an odd fixation on retired numbers and captaincy designations. For instance, when Chris Pronger got knocked out for the season, my first question was not “How do the Flyers replace him on the ice?” but “Do they assign a temporary captain? And is it Kimmo Timonen or Danny Briere?” It’s a small subset of the uniform obsession weirdness, and, I’ll grant you, not the coolest thing to care about as a sports fan.

There have been two historical questions to consider, at least for me, looking back on the past half-decade of Phillies history. The first, which Bill addressed the other day, is whether Chase Utley makes the Hall of Fame. The second, and now that he’s signed an extension that will most likely keep him in Philadelphia through his age-36 season, is whether the Phillies ought to retire Jimmy Rollins‘ number.

All things considered, the Phillies are rather conservative on retiring numbers. Despite a history that predates, among other things, the American League and the state of Oklahoma, the Phillies have retired five numbers, not counting Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, which, as you know, was taken out of circulation by Major League Baseball in 1997. In addition, they’ve honored Grover Cleveland Alexander and Chuck Klein without retiring a number because Alexander played before uniform numbers and Klein, by my count, wore seven different numbers in his three stints in Philadelphia. Incidentally, three of the numbers Klein wore for the Phillies, No. 1, No. 32, and No. 36, were the first three numbers retired by the franchise, while a fourth, No. 26, is currently in use by someone who may warrant a marker of his own someday.

But while all of that is fascinating, none of it is particularly relevant to my argument: that Jimmy Rollins, assuming his career trajectory remains more or less normal, should have his number retired. I’m a little biased, since I’ve written volumes on my unrequited man-love for the Phillies’ shortstop, but consider the stats as they stand now.

Jimmy Rollins is currently eighth on the Phillies’ career leaderboard since 1901 in bWAR among position players, third in plate appearances, fifth in games played, third in hits, third in runs, second in doubles, second in triples, second in stolen bases, fifth in fielding runs, and thirteenth in home runs (as a Gold Glove-winning shortstop, for what that’s worth). That’s an impressive list, particularly when you consider that the people he’s behind include Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn in most cases, and remember that Rollins has somewhere in the neighborhood of four more years of starting and racking up 600 plate appearances per year to add to those totals. We’ll come back to that later.

The counterargument, of course, is that he’s 27th in OPS and 20th in WPA for the team since 1901, and if a franchise is going to retire five numbers in its history, all for Hall-of-Famers, why would you make room for a guy with a .329 career OBP who was never, if we’re totally honest, anything more than the third-best player on his team? After all, he’s almost certainly not going to make the Hall of Fame, which appears to be the standard for the Phillies retiring players’ numbers.

There’s an answer to that question, but not an entirely satisfying one because it’s absolutely emotional and subjective, so if you think this is absolute hogwash I won’t be personally offended. Jimmy Rollins has the extremely rare opportunity to become a civic institution in Philadelphia. Entering a three-year contract with a vesting option for a fourth, that will run from his age-33 to age-36 seasons, Rollins has 7,537 career plate appearances, 2,463 short of 10,000. He needs about 616 plate appearances a year to reach 10,000 plate appearances for his career, and a little over 631 (his plate appearance total in 2011, incidentally) per year to tie Mike Schmidt’s franchise record of 10,062.

That number, 10,000 is not really important in and of itself, but here’s the complete list of major league ballplayers who have compiled 10,000 plate appearances while playing their entire career with one club: Carl Yastrzemski, Cal Ripken, Stan Musial, Craig Biggio, Robin Yount, Brooks Robinson, George Brett, Al Kaline, Mel Ott, Derek Jeter, Ernie Banks, Luke Appling, Charlie Gehringer, Tony Gwynn, Roberto Clemente, Chipper Jones, and Mike Schmidt.

Let’s say Rollins compiles another nine WAR by the end of his contract, on the way to 10,000 or more plate appearances (3 in 2012, 2.5 in 2013, 2 in 2014, and 1.5 in 2015). That puts him at 43.4 bWAR for his career, which would make him one of the worst players ever to compile 10,000 plate appearances for any number of teams (66th out of what would be 73 if, for the sake of argument, no one beats him there). But someone who plays as long for one team as Rollins will have done seems to automatically get key-to-the-city status, even if he’s hardly the player Jones and Jeter are.

The argument with Rollins is, in essence, the exact opposite of the argument for Chase Utley. Utley, at his peak, may have been one of the ten best second basemen to play the game (exploring that statement would require an entire post unto itself, so I’ll have to ask that you take my word for it for now and trust that the Utley post will come soon enough). But he didn’t become a major league regular until he was almost 27, and after only a few years, age and injuries began to slow Utley down to the point where there’s a serious risk of his major Hall of Fame roadblock not being his counting stats as such, but having played 10 full seasons in the majors.

Rollins, however, was a starting shortstop and leadoff hitter at 22 and has been relatively healthy since then, so he’s been able to take 700 or more plate appearances almost every year. So while Utley’s peak may have been almost twice as good as Rollins’, Rollins’ career might wind up being almost twice as long. From a player evaluation standpoint, this puts Utley unquestionably ahead of his double-play partner, but retiring a number isn’t wholly about how good the player was in a vacuum.

Rollins will almost certainly pass Sherry Magee’s modern-era stolen base record next year (apologies to Ed Delahanty and Sliding Billy Hamilton, who played before baseball had entirely evolved into a civilized game). He will almost certainly end this contract as the franchise’s all-time leader in hits, and is on pace to break Delahanty’s club record of 442 career doubles sometime in the next four years, assuming he stays healthy and in the lineup.

So while it might make sense to put the franchise’s career hits leader up on the proverbial outfield wall (or, rather, his uniform number), it’s not just the statistical legacy Rollins leaves behind that warrants special consideration. The Phillies, it seems, have a tradition of honoring historic teams by retiring the number of one or more of its members. When we see Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts’ numbers, we think of the Whiz Kids. With Carlton and Schmidt, we see the teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and especially the 1980 World Series champions and 1983 National League champions. Jim Bunning’s No. 14 brings back memories of the 1964 Phillies, though I’d really rather it didn’t.

So it would make sense that the franchise should memorialize the past decade, the greatest in more than a century of Phillies baseball by wins and playoff success, by retiring at least one number from the era. The current Phillie with the best chance of making the Hall of Fame is almost certainly Roy Halladay (who wasn’t on the Phillies for either of their World Series appearances), then comes a long distance to either Cole Hamels, who probably has to pitch at this level for another eight or nine years to get there, or Chase Utley, whose spectacular peak is undermined by a lack of longevity, and whose generational greatness has, in any case, been largely overlooked by a BBWAA whose understanding of the game and interrogative inclinations have only atrophied since the days of Ring Lardner. Even if Utley’s peak is great enough to warrant his inclusion into Cooperstown (which, given how short it was, is debatable), it’s probable that the people who observe and write about him for a living have been too oblivious to notice. But, again, that’s another post.

Even if Utley or Hamels make the Hall of Fame (which is unlikely), the man who represents the transformation of the franchise is Rollins, in any case. Rollins arrived in 2001, the year the Phillies went from doormat to also-ran, and it was Rollins’ bold proclamation and MVP season in 2007 that heralded the Phillies’ transformation from mid-table pest to five-time defending division champion. It seems counterintuitive to say that Jimmy Rollins, even at his best, was really only the fourth-best player on the team (behind, at different times, Abreu, Rolen, Utley, Thome, Howard, Werth, Hamels, Halladay, Lee, and, sometimes, Ruiz, Victorino, Rowand, and Burrell), and then lift him up as the avatar for the greatest period of success in the history of the franchise. But that’s what he was.

Bill James once wrote of another shortstop, Bert Campaneris, who, like Rollins, was never the best player on the juggernaut Oakland A’s of the early 1970s, but his arrival during the team’s purgatorial stay in Kansas City heralded the great things to come. So, too, with Rollins, whose early arrival and almost tidal consistency would have, if he were a 10 percent better player, catapulted him into the stratosphere of public adoration that Chipper Jones enjoys in Atlanta or Derek Jeter enjoys in New York.

Rollins, like Campaneris, was never the star, but has always been the pathfinder. The Phillies likely don’t win a title without him, and if that’s hard to believe, it’s only because Rollins has manned shortstop so well for so long that it’s hard for Phillies fans to remember what it’s like to have Kevin Stocker or Desi Relaford out there for 162 games a season. Rollins, whose tenure in Philadelphia has seen the Phillies rise from the ashes of the Francona Era like a phoenix, is the Tenzig Norgay to Utley’s Sir Edumund Hillary.

So to distill nearly 1,800 words into a couple sentences, I think the Phillies, who have never retired the number of a non-Hall-of-Famer, should do so for a shortstop with a .329 OBP. In fact, I think it would be strange if they didn’t.

Happy Holidays from Crashburn Alley

I would like to wish Crashburn Alley readers a happy and safe holiday and new year. The Phillies community really is the best in the business, and that is especially true (I feel) about the Saber-minded crowd. Thanks to an ever-increasing readership, Crashburn Alley continued to find new levels of success. In particular, I am extremely proud of the commenting community. On a vast majority of other sites on the web, the comments are where intelligence and rationality go to die, but that is certainly not the case here. I can count on one hand the number of posters I’ve had to mute. Furthermore, many writers complain about getting nasty, hateful emails, but I did not receive one this year. I consider myself extremely lucky and am grateful for those of you who show up here on a regular basis, representing the fan base at large in the best way possible.

2011 saw three writers added to the team: Paul Boye, Ryan Sommers, and Jeff Barnes (who, unfortunately, could not find the time to contribute regularly). On that note, I’m happy to announce that one more writer will join the team as we go into 2012. Michael Baumann, formerly of Phillies Nation, will bring his highly-intelligent and unique writing style to this blog. You can follow him on Twitter (@atomicruckus). And don’t forget to follow Boye (@Phrontiersman) and Sommers (@Phylan), as well as myself (@CrashburnAlley).

I personally had a lot of fun live-tweeting games with the lot of you, and live-chatting the few times I did that. I spent most of the season working on a book and hosting a weekly show on Phillies 24/7 HD radio. It was easily the busiest and most enjoyable summer of baseball I’ve had and it couldn’t have happened without you. I have a few ideas rolling around in my head for the 2012 season, all of which I hope come to fruition. Those will be detailed as they become more realistic. In 2012, expect Crashburn Alley to continue to set the pace in Phillies-centric analysis.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, you can reach me in any number of ways (commenting, email, Twitter, Facebook), so don’t hesitate to do so. Again, thanks to every single one of you for a great 2011. Have a safe and happy holiday.

Ed Wade to Return to Philly

Via CSN Philly:

A major league baseball source has confirmed that former general manager Ed Wade will be rejoining the Phillies’ organization. Though no official announcement is planned, Wade will have an unspecified role in the team’s scouting department.

Most fans remember Wade as the architect of the woeful Phillies teams of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. With Wade at GM between 1998-2005, the Phillies won at roughly a .500 clip, winning 643 games and losing 652. With each passing year, Wade’s tendency to focus on aging middle relievers as a panacea irritated fans as his teams perpetually finished in second or third place.

What often went unnoticed was Wade’s guidance of the Phillies’ farm system. Here’s a look at who the Phillies drafted by year:

(Also note that Wade brought Shane Victorino to Philadelphia via the Rule-5 draft, although he did offer to return the center fielder to the Los Angeles Dodgers at one point.)

The Phillies’ scouting department as a whole deserves a ton of credit for putting together what is still the core of the Phillies’ team, but it couldn’t have happened without Wade at the helm and that is something that should be highlighted more often when discussing Wade’s legacy. One does not draft that many good players consistently year after year accidentally, especially when the picks get gradually lower and lower due to the team’s incremental improvement.

Wade is back in Philly and we should welcome him back with open arms. He will be in a position that plays to what seems to be his greatest strength, and that can only be a good thing for the Phillies.

Active Phillies and Future Hall of Famers

Over at The Book blog, Tango looks at the PA threshold for Hall of Famers:

Of players born since 1924, here are the least number of plate appearances for Hall of Famers:

7831 Kirby Puckett
8237 Duke Snider
8364 Yogi Berra (C)
8379 Bill Mazeroski
8669 Johnny Bench (C)
8695 Orlando Cepeda
9019 Gary Carter (C)

As you can see, it’s extremely tough to make the Hall of Fame with under 9000 plate appearances.

That’s a bit depressing for me because, as one of the biggest fans of Chase Utley out there, it is highly unlikely that the second baseman will reach the 9,000 PA plateau. He currently sits just shy of 4,800. Assuming 600 PA per season, Utley would need to play seven more full seasons at, more or less,  his current level of play. The problem is that Utley is currently 33 years old, so he would be 40 and his ability to stay on the field consistently is already in question, as he has accrued under 1,000 PA in the last two seasons combined.

Jimmy Rollins is currently the closest to the mark, with over 7,500 PA to his name. But the Hall of Fame case for Rollins is much tougher. Although he has one MVP award and a rare 20/20/20/20 season under his belt, his career OPS is below-average. Only two shortstops are near Rollins’ career rWAR (34.4): Rabbit Maranville (38.2) and George Davis (37.6). If you exclude players who played at least partially in the Dead Ball Era, then Phil Rizzuto is the closest (41.8). And unlike Ozzie Smith (64.6), Rollins’ defense wasn’t incredible to the point where you could overlook other deficiencies.

Ryan Howard is the only other active player who could conceivably approach 9,000 PA as a Phillie. With over 4,400, Howard is piling on the counting stats that voters love, but the future is not looking bright for the big man. Already missing part of the 2012 season, injuries will only become more and more of a possibility, and the lasting effects of his Achilles injury could drain his already-declining power. Howard would need to play 7-8 seasons at 600 PA apiece to reach the 9,000 PA mark, taking him through at least his age-39 season. Howard also has accrued 23.1 rWAR, vastly below Hall of Fame first basemen outside of the Dead Ball Era. The closest to Howard is Orlando Cepeda at 46.8. Needless to say, Howard would need to completely defy the aging curve to come close.

The 2007-12 Phillies will go down as the greatest teams the franchise has ever assembled, but it could have an interesting footnote in that none of the position players reach the Hall of Fame.

The Forgotten Man in the Rotation

Roy Halladay, check.

Cliff Lee, check.

Cole Hamels, check.

Vance Worley, check.

Uh… Kyle Kendrick?

That’s been the run-down of the Phillies’ rotation, or at least the general consensus from conversations I’ve had. It seems like the city of Philadelphia has collectively forgotten about Joe Blanton‘s existence. Of course, it’s hard to find fault when the right-hander made only eight starts last year, missing nearly four months between May and September due to an elbow injury.

Blanton finished the year with a 5.01 ERA, but had decent peripherals in a small sample of innings (41 and one-third): he averaged 7.6 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine innings and induced grounders at a 55 percent clip. The ground ball rate was well above his career norm, but the strikeout and walk rates were essentially in line with what we would have expected.

The 5.01 ERA is ugly when paired with his 2010 ERA of 4.82. For those who still use the stat as a basis for forecasting, it’s hard to get excited about Blanton especially when you have Kendrick waiting behind him. However, as we’ve learned in the past, we can get a rather good estimate of a pitcher by looking at factors directly in his control. The following is a list of pitchers who, between 2010-11, amassed at least 200 innings with a K/9 and BB/9 within 0.5 of Blanton’s rates (7.0 and 2.2).

Rk Player ERA SO/9 BB/9 IP ERA+ HR
1 Joe Blanton 4.85 7.01 2.16 217.0 83 32
2 Ricky Nolasco 4.60 7.30 1.91 363.2 87 44
3 Gavin Floyd 4.23 7.13 2.43 381.0 100 36
4 Brett Myers 3.79 6.96 2.52 439.2 103 51
5 Shaun Marcum 3.59 7.34 2.27 396.0 113 46
6 Chris Carpenter 3.33 7.05 2.25 472.1 113 37
7 Hiroki Kuroda 3.23 7.23 2.19 398.1 117 39
8 Daniel Hudson 3.18 7.18 2.18 317.1 127 25
9 Roy Oswalt 3.13 7.34 2.26 350.2 127 29
10 Alexi Ogando 3.08 7.05 2.52 210.2 145 18
11 Matt Cain 3.01 7.20 2.51 445.0 124 31
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/19/2011.

That’s a pretty good list of pitchers. Along with this post expressing pessimism with regard to Kendrick, Phillies fans should be more confident about Blanton going into 2012. He is entering the final year of a three-year, $24 million contract. If you are among those that believe that players try harder to succeed in a contract year, then there’s another plus — he will want to prove he can both stay healthy and be productive, hoping to land another multi-year contract in free agency.

In a rotation with three Cy Young-caliber pitchers and an up-and-comer in Worley, it makes sense that Blanton would be looked over. However, he is one of the few wild cards on the Phillies’ pitching staff, adding even more intrigue to an already interesting upcoming season.

Phillies Bring Jimmy Rollins Back

Via Todd Zolecki, the Phillies and Jimmy Rollins have agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract with a vesting option for a fourth year.

He’s baaack!

When Jose Reyes signed with the Florida Marlins and Rafael Furcal re-upped with the St. Louis Cardinals, there were few destinations left for Rollins, turning this into a waiting game for the Phillies. GM Ruben Amaro has often preempted the market to his own detriment (see: Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard), so he should be credited for being patient and recognizing the market.

The deal is about as team-friendly as realistically possible. Rollins was reportedly seeking a five-year deal with an average annual value greater than $11 million, so the Phillies were looking at committing upwards of $60 million potentially. To get him on a comparatively short deal at a reasonable price (both AAV and in total) is a huge coup for the Phillies. As a result, they will have slightly more wiggle room to fit under the luxury tax. Depending on how Amaro chooses to round out the roster and what the few arbitration-eligible players are paid, the Phillies may be able to make one more notable signing.

Getting Rollins back was so important for the Phillies. Without him, they were looking at a significant downgrade, be it via Freddy Galvis, Wilson Valdez, or a free agent like Ryan Theriot or Ronny Cedeno. Despite what many considered to be another season of decline last year, Rollins was worth 4 WAR according to FanGraphs. Missing out on Rollins and moving on to any other available option (replacement level) would have been a significant loss.

Reports of Rollins’ demise may have been greatly exaggerated. At the second-most important position on the field, Rollins posted an above-average wOBA (.329), walked as often as he struck out (58/59), stole 30 bases (at a 79 percent success rate), and continued to play solid defense. When he is on the field and stays there consistently, Rollins’ production is rivaled by few in the game.

Zolecki reports that Rollins’ fourth-year vesting option is easily-attainable, so the Phillies are realistically looking at $44 million over four years, which isn’t bad at all. Rollins simply has to post about 10 fWAR over the life of the contract, or 2.5 fWAR per season. Rollins will be 36 years old when he will next be available for free agency. It is still possible that he has one more payday ahead of him, but for now, the Rollins family, the Phillies organization, and the city of Philadelphia should be very happy that the face of the franchise will don red pinstripes for the foreseeable future.

Phillies Sign Dontrelle Willis

Per Jim Salisbury and Jerry Crasnick, the Phillies have signed left-handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis to a one year contract for “about $1 million and performance bonuses.”

After a few up and down seasons with the Marlins, Willis was traded to the Tigers as part of the Miguel Cabrera deal, and suffered a near complete collapse, stumbling around the Detroit and San Francisco minor league affiliates. Finally settling in with the Reds last season, Willis had another rough year, albeit one that may have looked worse than it really was. He brought his walk rate down to a somewhat acceptable 11.1%, and was able to induce groundballs at about a 55% clip, posting a SIERA of 4.29.

More importantly for the Phillies, who will have a newly-tendered Kyle Kendrick competing with Joe Blanton for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, Willis shows some indications of being an effective left-handed specialist. He has a 2.88 career xFIP versus left-handed hitters, and last year, in an admittedly small 60 hitter sample, struck them out at a 33.3% rate. The image below shows Willis’ pitch placement to left-handed hitting since 2009, and his groundball rate for the same scope. When Willis manages to stay away from the inside of the plate against lefties he keeps the ball on the ground successfully. Over the 191 plate appearances represented in this image, lefties managed just a .276 wOBA against Willis.

Of course, this is all predicated on Willis actually being used in this way. It’s tough to forget J.C. Romero, ostensibly the left-handed specialist, being brought to the mound to face 256 right-handed batters between 2008 and 2010, with results at once infuriating and comedic. Charlie Manuel’s bullpen management, insofar as any coherent strategy can be deciphered, appears to be a mix of innings-based decisions and traditional closer values, so if the D-train is left in for, say, an entire 6th or 7th inning, the likelihood that he’ll face right-handed hitting washes away any value he has to offer to the Phillies’ pen.

As it is, though, at around $1 million, Willis is a bargain flier for the Phillies, with the chance to effectively supplement a bullpen comprised of Jonathan Papelbon, Jose Contreras, and a group of young arms.

Phillies Trade Ben Francisco to Toronto

When one hears about the Phillies and Blue Jays making a trade, one can’t help but think of the Roy Halladay blockbuster, but the Phillies this time made a small, logical move. With a glut of outfielders on the roster, someone was eventually going to be squeezed out. After a disappointing 2011 season, that person was Ben Francisco. Per David Hale:

The Phillies 2012 bench continues to evolve, and Monday GM Ruben Amaro Jr. gave it yet another facelift, trading outfielder Ben Francisco to the Blue Jays for left-hander Frank Gailey.

Francisco was the “other guy” that went with Lee from the Cleveland Indians back in July 2009. In his two and a half years in Philadelphia, Francisco was a capable back-up outfielder, hitting slightly better than the league average (.332 wOBA) with passable defense and base running. Overall, FanGraphs values him at 1.2 WAR in his 594 plate appearances with the Phillies, which is between replacement level and average. Given that the Phillies paid him less than $2 million, Francisco certainly paid for himself.

Francisco is arbitration-eligible for the second year. After earning $1.175 million in 2011, he was due for a slight raise. As mentioned in this post on Kyle Kendrick, the Phillies are operating with very little wiggle room between where they are at in terms of their payroll and the $178 million luxury tax. With two big items left on the agenda (Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels), saving a million dollars here and there goes a long way.

The Phillies received Frank Gailey from Toronto in return for Francisco. Gailey is a local product, having attended Archbishop Carroll High School and West Chester University. Drafted in 2007, he compiled impressive strikeout and walk rates before earning a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire last year. With New Hampshire, Gailey struggled as his strikeout rate plummeted and his walk rate shot up. In 30 innings, his ERA sat at an Adam Eaton-esque 5.70. Perhaps a change of scenery can change his fortune.