You don’t need us to tell you that the first half was some of the most depressing baseball you’ve seen in quite a few years. Between the injuries, under-performance, and swirling trade rumors, it has been unfamiliar territory for many of us and not at all fun to watch. It seemed like the Phillies would find a new way to lose every night, from an outright trouncing to a late-inning nuclear meltdown. But it hasn’t all been bad, and as we go into the All-Star break, it will be soothing to reflect on the bright spots of the Phillies’ 2012 season.
Cot for Choice
Carlos Ruiz not only was the subject of a funny Internet meme thanks to Ryan Howard‘s auto-correct, but he was baseball’s most productive catcher. You read that right: Chooch, not Brian McCann or Buster Posey or Joe Mauer or Yadier Molina or Mike Napoli, has been baseball’s best-hitting catcher according to every reliable metric. He is the only catcher with a wOBA over .400, and leads the second-place Mauer by a whopping 45 points.
|A.J. Pierzynski||White Sox||.362||126|
Ruiz entered the season with a career-high nine home runs, a mark he tied on June 19 and surpassed on June 26. He enters the break with 13, putting him on pace for 24 home runs.
To put Ruiz’s season into historical perspective, he has a 166 OPS+. In baseball history, only four other catchers have finished a season with a 166 OPS+ or better:
Add to this Ruiz’s responsibilities calling every game, handling his pitching staff, controlling the running game, and overall playing solid defense, and you have one of the most valuable and most underrated players in the game today. One must shudder at the thought of how much worse the Phillies would be right now if they hadn’t been relying on the consistently-hot bat of Ruiz.
The Defensive Wizardry of Freddy Galvis
Galvis wasn’t much with the bat, as expected, but hot damn could that guy play some defense. Brought up through the system as the shortstop of the future, Galvis filled in admirably for the injured Chase Utley at second base, taking with him his incredible defensive prowess. It seemed like not a game went by that Galvis didn’t prevent runs with some kind of unreal acrobatic maneuver such as this…
… or with his speed.
Things went south quickly for Galvis, however, as he injured his back in early June and we later learned that he had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, resulting in a 50-game suspension. With a motley crew of replacements in his stead (Mike Fontenot, Michael Martinez, Pete Orr), the Phillies missed his defensive wizardry until Utley made his long-awaited return at the end of June.
Juan Pierre: Surprisingly Not Bad
If you had told me that, when the Phillies brought Pierre on board, they would give him two-thirds of the plate appearances out of left field, I’d have cried and cried and bemoaned his lack of production. Pierre, however has been exactly average. His .330 wOBA matches up precisely with the NL average .330 wOBA among all left fielders. Given Pierre’s previous history (.293 wOBA last year for example), the Phillies struck lightning in a bottle with this low-risk signing. To boot, Pierre has stolen 20 bases in 23 attempts (87%) and accomplished two things we deemed impossible: he hit a home run, and he threw out a runner from the outfield. We at Crashburn respectfully doff our caps to Mr. Pierre.
Jim Thome Mashing Taters
Thome, often the subject of The Dugout’s hilarious satire, returned to Philadelphia for the 2012 season, hoping to add onto a Hall of Fame career in what is likely the final year of his career. He entered the season with 604 home runs, eighth-most in baseball history. With the five he hit as a Phillie, he moved into a tie with Sammy Sosa in seventh place. Now with the Baltimore Orioles, he will likely finish the season somewhere in the neighborhood of Ken Griffey, Jr. at 630, which may encourage the 41-year-old to stick around for one more year. Thome also hit his 100th career home run as a Phillie on June 17 against the Toronto Blue Jays, adding yet another milestone to a career chock full of them.
The Final Tour for Cole Hamels?
In what may be his last season as a Phillie, Hamels has not disappointed. In 118 innings, he has a 3.20 ERA and portends to be a Cy Young candidate. The 28-year-old Hamels is a free agent at season’s end and is expected to receive a hefty sum of money, leading many to speculate that the down-and-out Phillies will move him by the July 31 trading deadline. While he has been in red pinstripes, however, the Phillies have benefited from more of the usual thanks to his four-pitch arsenal that includes baseball’s most devastating change-up. Hamels leads all MLB pitchers in swinging strikes with the change-up:
It goes without saying that if and when Hamels leaves the Phillies, his arm will be sorely missed, but it has been an absolute treat watching him evolve since making his Major League debut in 2006, leading the Phillies to the World Series in 2008, and evolving into a superstar in 2011.
Vance Worley Keeps ’em Looking
Worley was one of very few surprises for the Phillies last year, finishing with a 3.01 ERA in 131.2 innings and earning third place in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He had many skeptics, however, including yours truly, wondering how illusory his reliance on called strike threes actually was. Vanimal proved to us that he is for real as he enters the break with a 3.46 ERA and has been one of the very few consistently-good arms on the staff. His strikeout and walk rates are virtually identical to those he posted last year and he once again finds himself among the best inducing called strike threes, along with teammates Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton.
Worley is now an incredibly valuable commodity as he will be cheap and under team control through at least 2016. If the league never catches up to him, the Phillies will have found an absolute steal in the third round of the 2008 draft.
A Slew of Lefties
If there has been one upside of having a completely awful bullpen, it’s that the Phillies have been able to experiment with a few lefties, including mainstay Antonio Bastardo, veteran Raul Valdes, and youngsters Jake Diekman and Jeremy Horst. Bastardo, despite a 5.34 ERA, has shown flashes of brilliance and could become a dominant reliever if he can ever harness his control. Valdes has been incredibly valuable, posting a 3.48 ERA with a K/BB ratio approaching 6.0 in 20.2 innings. Diekman, with some more seasoning, has the stuff to become an absolute terror to NL East lefties as he throws in the mid-90’s with a devastating slider. He had one disastrous appearance against the Cubs on May 17, but has been close to untouchable since then, posting a 1.72 ERA with a 23/9 K/BB in 15.2 IP. Like Bastardo, control will be Diekman’s demon to battle. Finally, although we have seen very little of him, Horst — famously acquired in the Wilson Valdez trade with Cincinnati — has the potential to be a rock in the Phillies’ bullpen for years to come. The 26-year-old has struck out seven in his four Major League innings thus far and had a 2.11 ERA with Lehigh Valley before his promotion.
You would need double these 1,400-plus words to go over the negatives, but there will be plenty of time for that over the remaining three months. For now, as we anticipate the appearance of Ruiz, Hamels, and Papelbon in the All-Star Game, we can smile fondly on the positive experiences we had between April and July.