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.