Three Up, Three Down
It’s no secret that many wearing Phillies red last season underwhelmed with their performances on the field. Additionally, as a function of their aged roster, GM Ruben Amaro dealt with a number of his key players winding up on the disabled list at some point during the season. The Phillies finished at 73-89, their worst finish since 2000. They were even worse if you judge them by their expected won-lost record, which was 66-96 according to Baseball Reference.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that the past year makes it possible for some of those who disappointed to bounce back and gain re-entry into our good graces. Below, I’ll identify three Phillies I think could have a bounce-back season, along with three I think might not improve on last year’s numbers.
1. Ryan Howard: Starting off with a fairly obvious one here. Howard spent half the season on the disabled list once again, tearing the meniscus in his left knee in early July. His numbers up to that point were an improvement on 2012, when he was still recovering from a brutal torn Achilles in his left foot suffered at the end of the 2011 NLDS. His power was still a far cry from where it used to be: his .199 ISO last season put him in company with Michael Cuddyer, Josh Donaldson, and Hunter Pence. His .274 ISO, compiled between 2005-13, is third-best in baseball in that period of time, between David Ortiz and Albert Pujols. Will Howard hit for Pujolsian (in his prime) power again? It’s unlikely, but if he is able to stay on the field for an entire season, he would shock no one if he finished with 30 or more home runs and an OPS north of .800.
2. Chase Utley: Utley was able to play in more than 115 games for the first time since 2009. While he lost some range defensively and he finished in the single-digits in stolen bases for the first time since 2007, he showed moderate offensive gains, particularly in the power department. His .191 ISO was a modest improvement over his marks the previous three seasons, which ranged from .166 to .173. Utley did miss 28 games with a ribcage injury. That said, while I’m not a doctor, I’m pretty sure the ribcage isn’t connected to the knees, which have bothered Utley so much. As a result, I’m not concerned about Utley missing another 30-plus games. Assuming Utley can play in around 140 games, he could provide the Phillies as much as a full Win Above Replacement over what he was worth last year (3.5 per B-R; 3.9 per FG).
3. Carlos Ruiz: The obvious joke here is to expect a bounce-back season from Ruiz simply because he has obtained an exemption to use Adderall — the same substance for which he was banned 25 games at the start of the 2013 season. Ostensibly without the drug, Ruiz’s numbers dropped to five-year lows in every conceivable department: average, power, plate discipline, and even defense. But Ruiz’s decline could have also been a single-season aberration. It could also have been the start of a downward trend; Ruiz is 35 years old, after all. But we’ll need more data before reaching that conclusion. Whether you take the drug use route or the mean-regression route, it’s easy to expect a modest return to normalcy at the very least.
1. Jimmy Rollins: Rollins put up career worsts in ISO and wOBA at .095 and .295, respectively. His strikeout rate has risen in three straight seasons, but he was bothered by lower leg injuries in two of them. Even his defense was a far cry from what it used to be, ending up in the negatives for the first time according to UZR, and worsening dramatically according to Baseball Reference’s DRS. Also noteworthy was the fact that Rollins stole fewer than 25 bases in a full season for the first time since 2003. Rollins hit 23 home runs and stole 30 bases as recently as 2012, but Rollins is 35 years old. It would be one thing if it was only his bat that declined, but Rollins was worse across the board in areas he normally dominates: defense and base running. It’s tough to label his 2013 a fluke, which is why he could continue to decline this season.
2. Marlon Byrd: Asking if Byrd was a regression candidate back in November, I noted that hitters like Byrd who posted a .350 or better BABIP saw their BABIP decline by at least 30 points in the following season. Of those in the list, Larry Walker posted the highest next-season BABIP. Byrd possesses has no offensive qualities — high contact rate, good plate discipline, predisposition to hit for power — in common with Walker, so it’s tough to say Byrd will buck the trend and even decline as little as Walker did. ZiPS is perhaps the most optimistic about Byrd’s future, projecting a modest 20-point decline in wOBA. PECOTA is projecting a .263 true average (TAv), which is all of three points above average. Average isn’t bad, but it also isn’t close to the All-Star-caliber production he provided last year.
3. Domonic Brown: There was a point last season where Brown was the Phillies’ only offensive threat in the lineup. Hopefully, that won’t be the case at all this season given that Howard and Utley stay healthy and with the addition of Marlon Byrd, but he will still be the team’s biggest and most obvious target when opposing coaches and catchers go over the scouting report with their pitchers. As I noted on January 2, pitchers eventually started staying away from Brown. In particular, lefties started throwing a lot of off-speed stuff low and away, just like they have been doing with Ryan Howard. Howard, aside from his injury woes, has had trouble adjusting to this strategy. Brown has a better mastery of the strike zone, but there’s only so much he can do with an 83 MPH slider and it’s not likely to include depositing it over the fence in left field. Even if Brown himself isn’t worse in 2014, his results may be comparatively worse simply because opposing teams will continue identifying better ways to approach him.