Inside Look: Phillies

One of the benefits of being in the ESPN SweetSpot Network is that I’m able to pick the brains of other bloggers who cover opposing teams on a daily basis. With the Mets facing their first big test of the season, I called on Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley to give us the scoop on the Philadelphia Phillies.

Note: my questions are in bold italic; Bill’s answers are in the light blue boxes.

1. Three-fourths of the Phearsome Phoursome have taken the mound thus far. Do they look like they’ll meet the historic expectations?

Do they look like they’ll meet the historic expectations? Yeah. Through 19 innings, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt have combined for 23 strikeouts and one walk.

Will they meet those expectations though? I tend to fall on the conservative side of things. Oswalt is due for a big regression compared to the numbers he posted with the Phillies in a half-season last year, and Halladay should be ever so slightly worse. Lee and Cole Hamels should be about as good as they were in 2010.

It will take more than just skill to match the Braves’ rotations of the mid-1990’s; it will require a lot of good luck, offensive support, and efficient defense as well.

2. How is Jimmy Rollins looking? What is he saying, if anything?

He’s looking great thus far. He went 2-for-3 with two walks on Sunday. In his one stolen base attempt (on Opening Day), he stole third and looked quite nimble in doing so, even if the decision to steal was questionable at best.

The Phillies made a nice comeback against the Astros on Opening Day. Rollins credited the rally to a fan who was being awfully critical of the team’s effort. On Twitter following the three-game sweep, Rollins said (referencing the fan):

“nice intensity at the bank this weekend. Where you at, American Legion guy?!”

I thought that was pretty funny.

3. Who is playing second base in Chase Utley’s absence, and how do you see that working out going forward?

Wilson Valdez is playing second base full-time and it should remain that way unless he gets injured or has severe problems at the plate. He’s roughly replacement-level, which is what should be expected from him. I don’t foresee him being significantly better or significantly worse than that. He’s a substitute with slightly above-average defense and the offensive skillset to post a .300 wOBA at the dish.

4. Who is the closer in Brad Lidge’s absence, and how do you see that working out going forward?

Jose Contreras has the ninth inning for the most part, but Charlie Manuel did say that Ryan Madson should get some opportunities as well. Contreras is really good — underrated, in fact. Last year, he posted a 9.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, both very good rates for any pitcher. He should be about as good this year as he was last year.

Madson didn’t get the nod despite his great numbers because others perceive him as being mentally incapable of handling the ninth inning. Madson himself admitted to this recently, though I think it’s a bit of a chicken-egg paradox: did Madson fail in the ninth inning because of his psychological issues, or did he fail in the ninth inning and attribute that to his psychological issues after the fact?

Madson arguably has the best stuff of any reliever in the game. His mid-90’s fastball creates more than 10 MPH velocity differential from his change-up, which is probably the best in baseball. Those two pitches helped him compile a 10.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 with a 50-percent ground ball rate.

He’s a free agent after the season, so I think one reason the Phillies kept him in the eighth inning was to deflate his leverage at the negotiating table. I would bet they are very interested in retaining his services, but his agent is Scott Boras, and if Madson gets ample save opportunities, his price will inflate exponentially.

5. In regard to questions 3 and 4 above, if the current people don’t work out as hoped, is there help down on the farm or do you see the team going outside the organization to fill the holes?

I don’t see the Phillies going outside of the organization to patch second base, right field, or the bullpen. If Valdez doesn’t pan out at second base, they have at least three other options they can consider: Michael Martinez, Josh Barfield, and Pete Orr. They also have Delwyn Young but they saw him more as a corner outfielder as spring training progressed.

If Contreras doesn’t pan out, he’ll just swap spots with Madson. The Phillies do have some good, live arms that are close to being Major League ready, but it’s better to rely on the veterans and keep the prospects’ arbitration clocks from ticking.

6. What happened to Domonic Brown?

He broke the hamate bone in his wrist and had surgery to fix the problem. I’ll be surprised if he’s back before June, especially if Ben Francisco continues to play as well as he has.

Keith Law says that it takes 12-18 months for players to recover their power hitting after suffering a hamate injury. I’d prefer to see Brown get some regular at-bats with Triple-A Lehigh Valley instead of being rushed back to the Majors, just to split time with Francisco.

7. Do you expect Raul Ibanez to hit for more power in 2011? Do the Phillies need him to?

I think the perception that the Phillies aren’t as “powerful” anymore is wrong. They only hit 166 home runs last year compared to 224 the year before, but there are two reasons for that: 1) power hitting went down across baseball, and 2) the Phillies suffered a lot of injuries, forcing players like Utley, Rollins, Howard, etc. to miss time, and their spot in the lineup was given to players like Juan Castro and Wilson Valdez.

Obviously, 2011 isn’t off to a great start with injuries to Utley, Brown, Shane Victorino, etc. and losing Jayson Werth doesn’t help either, but the Phillies should still be among the top-third in NL offense.

I do expect Ibanez to have a bounce-back year. He did not have the opportunity to use spring training for its intended purpose last year; instead, he was recovering from off-season surgery. His first half of 2010 was very lackluster (.724 OPS, .154 ISO), but recovered in the second half (.869 OPS, .185 ISO).

I was impressed with Ibanez’s success at the plate on Saturday against Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez. He hit the ball hard and worked counts well, two things that are going to be important since he is going to be hitting behind Howard and facing a lot of the LOOGY’s opposing managers bring in late in games.

8. Is there anyone new or surprising on the Phillies who Mets fans might not know about?

Not really, it’s mostly the same crew from last year that helped the team win the most games in baseball and advance to the NLCS. Mets fans probably have an idea who Contreras is, but they probably don’t realize how well he pitched for the Phillies out of the bullpen last year. The eighth-ninth inning combo of Madson and Contreras might be the most underrated — and one of the best — in baseball.

There you have it — the inside scoop on the Phillies. Many thanks to Bill Baer, whose blog Crashburn Alley should be followed if you’re interested in what’s happening with the Phils. In case you missed it, here is the Inside Look we did with Bill last April.

What are your thoughts on what Bill had to say? Agree? Disagree? Surprised or confused about anything? Post your notes in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Eric April 5, 2011 at 10:18 am
    Kind of funny, but as a Mets fan, some of Bill’s comments seem to be little digs:

    “it’s mostly the same crew from last year that helped the team win the most games in baseball and advance to the NLCS.”

    but then I guess you realize the comments are true.

    Either way, I’m not worried about Philly. I kind of see them as similar to the Yankees, a couple questions, and one or two injuries from being average.

  2. Mike April 5, 2011 at 10:33 am
    Thanks for that link Joe. I recall that discussion. I enjoyed rereading it. Pelfrey was really good in the first half and made me look pretty smart. Then he got hurt (or whatever his excuse was) and regressed right back to his mean. Fun. Anyway at least I don’t sound like a total homer in hindsight, just a fan arguing a point.

    As for the Phillies this year I took the under 97.5. I just don’t see enough health to get all the way to 97 wins.