It hasn’t been a good week for the Phillies. They dropped yet another series at home, losing two of three to the Florida Marlins before the Washington Nationals arrived. Then they learned that they’d be losing their statistically-best starting pitcher for most or all of the season due to a frayed labrum. Overall, what should have been a glorious year coming off of a World Series championship has instead been filled with unmet expectations, tragedy, and declining health and production.
But there have been many bright spots during the season as well, such as Raul Ibanez seemingly defying the laws of nature, putting up MVP-caliber numbers as an old man in baseball years. Ryan Madson has been harder to hit than Lyoto Machida. Oh, and that Ryan Howard fellow — he can rake. And apparently, he can pick it with the glove all of a sudden as well.
Eric Seidman of FanGraphs sent me an E-mail a couple days ago:
Odd Howard stat – he’s got almost identical OBP/SLG to last season right now
I asked him if I remembered correctly that people were bagging on Howard at this time for various reasons related to his hitting. His response: “Well he wasn’t playing Travis Lee-esque defense last year!”
How good has Howard been? He has a 10.2 UZR/150 compared to 2.4 last year and 0.4 in 2007. His UZR/150 this season is fifth-best in the Majors, behind Travis Ishikawa, Chris Davis, Lyle Overbay, and Kevin Youkilis. He committed his first error last Tuesday, but has otherwise been shattering defensive expectations.
More uplifting news: pitching prospect Antonio Bastardo will get to make his Major League debut on Tuesday, filling in for Brett Myers — at least in the short-term. Bastardo has been dominating in the Minors: in nearly 35 innings in AA Reading, he had a 1.83 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 7 walks. Following a quick promotion to AAA Lehigh Valley, he put up a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings with 12 strikeouts and 3 walks.
His ERA has been under 4 at every level and if you exclude his first year in the Gulf Coast League in 2006, it’s been under 3 at every level. There’s a huge difference between dominating Minor League hitters and doing the same at the Major League level, but if there’s anyone in the Phillies’ farm system that can do it at the present moment, it’s Bastardo.
Thankfully, it seems like GM Ruben Amaro will not be following in the footsteps of previous GM’s Gillick and Wade and settling for mediocre pitchers at the trading deadline. From what’s been said, it seems like Amaro is going to wait a while and see how the rotation shapes up, and if he needs to, he’s going to go big or go home. No Jason Marquis or Brad Penny.
Remember the Ed Wade days, when the days leading up to the July 31 trading deadline were among the most excruciating? You were legitimately worried that you’d lose your top prospects for Jack Taschner-type relief pitchers. I can’t believe I’m saying this already, after not pulling any punches on him over the winter, but I actually trust Amaro not to screw up. What do you think? Am I being too naive, or has Amaro earned that level of trust based on what he did in the off-season and what he’s done and said so far during the regular season?