Thursday, November 22, 2012

Phixing Philadelphia

By all accounts, 2012 was a disappointing season for the Philadelphia Phillies. After 5 consecutive 1st place finishes in the NL East, the team finished third, with an 81-81 record. Fans spent 5 seasons packing Citizens Bank Park, cheering on their team, getting used to the idea of a winning baseball team in Philadelphia. This past season changed things a bit. The team dealt with multiple injuries to key players like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, and Carlos Ruiz. Combine injuries with an aging team that traded many young and talented players in the hopes of upgrading the squad heading into the playoffs, and fans were left with a team that struggled to win.

So, how did the 2012 team differ from Phillies teams prior?

Runs/Game wRC+ wOBA SLG% OBP
2010 4.77 99 0.327 0.413 0.332
2011 4.40 96 0.315 0.395 0.323
2012 4.22 93 0.311 0.400 0.317

2010 -5.9 0 1.36
2011 -10 -59 0.75
2012 -8.3 -8 -0.45

Base running:
2010 4.4 -6.2
2011 -1.4 -9.5
2012 4.5 -9.7

2010 3.93 3.68 19.4% 6.8%
2011 3.24 3.02 21.4% 6.7%
2012 3.72 3.86 22.8% 6.7%

From a hitting perspective, the Phillies have consistently been moving down the charts. Their rate of decline isn't steep by any standard, but for a team that has leaned so heavily on its pitching, even minute drops in hitting production can have significant effects. The Phillies have never been one for considering on base percentage a top priority, but even still, a team that gets on base at a .317 clip probably isn't making the playoffs. In fact, the Tampa Bay Rays had an identical team OBP to the Phillies in 2012, but the reason the Rays won more games is that the Rays had the best pitching in the American League.

Defensively, the Phillies have also fallen by the wayside. Okay, so no one is falling off the impending fiscal cliff to their defensive demise, but the team has consistently become worse and worse in the field. The reason for this is simple. The Phillies have aged, which takes away from range, and certain players weren't good fielders to begin with, like Ryan Howard, anyone who has played left field, and Hunter Pence. Filling holes in their team this offseason should upgrade their defensive efficiency, something important to bolster a pitching staff that still sports numerous aces.

Cole Hamels
The pitching has not changed drastically over the last three seasons. 2011 was a particularly spectacular season for Phillies pitchers as it was the season of the daunting 4 aces, Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt. The 2012 Phillies pitched more similarly to the 2010 Phillies, but with pitchers like Halladay and Lee getting older, some regression is possible. On the other hand, the team signed lefty Cole Hamels to a long-term contract, which will keep him pitching in Philadelphia for many more years.

Now that we have looked at the team's past, what about the present and the future? Going into the 2012-2013 offseason the front office has some work to do. After trading center fielder Shane Victorino and right fielder Hunter Pence, the team needs to find replacements for 2 outfield spots, as well as one at third base due to the void left by Placido Polanco. In addition, the team could use to add at least one or two veteran arms in the bullpen to complement the numerous younger possibilities at the team's disposal.

The market this offseason for center fielders is vast. Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Josh Hamilton, and Angel Pagan are all options, as well as trade candidates Dexter Fowler and Denard Span. Given the the Phillies recent depletion in their farm system, a trade is less likely than a free agent signing. The team seems to be focused on filling the center field spot, with rumors that they are most enamored by the youngest option of the bunch, B.J. Upton. Hamilton is probably too expensive, and will have to be moved to a corner outfield spot in the very near future, while Pagan's age, and desire to return to San Francisco, may turn off the Phillies. Bourn remains a possibility, but his value is wrapped up in his base running and defense, two factors that diminish quickly with age.

While this free agent crop is filled with center fielders, it is devoid of third basemen. The biggest name is Kevin Youkilis,but after that, there isn't much. In times like these, teams need to find value. Interestingly, the Youkilis is a actually a great option for the Phillies. He may be a bit older, but he's a right-handed bat that can hit for power (.174 ISO), but most importantly, he gets on base (career OBP .384). While Phillies GM Ruben Amaro should consider Youkilis his first option, many other teams will also be clamoring to sign Youk, which will make it more difficult. A lesser known, but valuable option is Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger has bounced around from team to team during his career, but he gets on base (.337 career OBP), and has averaged an fWAR of ~ 1 for the last 5 seasons. Last year he added 2.8 wins to the Rays, playing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base all at an above average rate. He would cost less than Youkilis, and would allow the Phillies to concentrate money on other spots.

From the bullpen perspective, the Phillies have numerous options. The 2012 Phillies pen was one of the league's best at getting strikeouts (10.05 K/9), but had a below average ground ball percentage. In addition, the team could do a better job getting lefties out. Two pitchers the Phillies should look into are Koji Uehara and Kyle Farnsworth. For a righty, Uehara is surprisingly good at getting left-handed batters out. This is probably due to his devastating changeup that acts similarly to a slow splitter, diving away from lefties. Farnsworth has dealt with injuries, but refashioned himself with a 2-seam fastball that moves and causes many more ground balls. Uahara is more sought after, so his price tag is higher, but both pitchers would fit well into the Phillies 2013 bullpen, and neither would cost too much money.

My best fit, perfect world solution for the Phillies looks like this:

Nick Swisher
1) Use capitol to sign outfielder Nick Swisher. He's a bit expensive, and due to the qualifying offer the Yankees gave him, the Phillies would be forced to surrender their 1st round draft pick to the Yankees. This is a risk, but Swisher does many things well that the Phillies need. A contract in the range of 5 years and $75 million would pay Swisher $15 million per season, a reasonable sum for both sides.

2) Trade pitcher Jonathan Pettibone and shortstop Freddie Galvis to the Colorado Rockies for center fielder Dexter Fowler. The Rockies are looking for pitching and, due to their cluster of outfielders, adding the defensively minded infielder Galvis into the deal could be the key to plucking Fowler. Fowler is entering arbitration years, thus he is under financial control, and provides speed and explosiveness from center field. Platooning Fowler with John Mayberry Jr., who only hits well off of lefties, could be quite productive.

3) Sign infielder Jeff Keppinger to a 2-year contract worth $17 million with a team option for 2015 worth $9 million. He's serviceable, can play all over the infield, and keeps third base warm until prospect Cody Asche improves a bit more on his way to the Majors.

4) Sign Koji Uehara to a 2-year $8 million deal and sign Kyle Farnsworth to a 1-year $3 million contract. Both veteran bullpen arms will do well complementing Papelbon, Bastardo, Aumont, De Fratus, etc... in the bullpen.

Those transactions yield a starting lineup of:
Catcher Carlos Ruiz
1st Base Ryan Howard
2nd Base Chase Utley
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins
Third Base Jeff Keppinger
Left Field Domonic Brown
Center Field Dexter Fowler
Right Field Nick Swisher

Amaro would have added about $31 million to the 2013 payroll, which is pretty affordable for the additions of 5 players. No, these moves don't have the snap, crackle, and pop of flashy moves like signing Josh Hamilton or trading for David Wright, but given the Phillies great pitching staff, it would add value in particularly important areas. Some of those moves aren't completely realistic. Nick Swisher may cost more money, and the Rockies may ask for more to acquire Dexter Fowler, but Amaro should look into fixing the Phillies' problems more with patching than with shiny, fancy new parts. Given the Phillies .500 record in 2012, the team could easily rebound to contend once again for the NL East crown, but needs a bit of work to do so. 

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