Inside Look: Phillies

Big test coming up for the Mets this weekend as they play the big bad Phillies. To get an idea of what’s going on with our phavorite team from Philadelphia, I called on fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley to give us the inside scoop.

By the way, I provided answers to Bill’s questions on his blog here.

My questions in bold, Bill’s answers in the blue boxes.

1. How is the offense coping without Chase Utley and the departure of Jayson Werth? Is offense going to be an issue throughout the season?

The offense has been a disappointment thus far. From April 12-25, the Phillies scored four runs or fewer in 14 games. In that span of time, they averaged 2.8 runs per game with an .200/.269/.292 AVG/OBP/SLG line.

Losing Utley to injury and Werth to free agency is huge. Both were great not only at getting on base, but hitting for power as well. Wilson Valdez has played in Utley’s stead… suffice it to say he is not of the same caliber. His on-base skills leave a lot to be desired and he hits far too many ground balls. Ben Francisco got the full time job in right field after Werth left and Domonic Brown succumbed to injury. He hasn’t been bad, but he doesn’t project as anything more than an average offensive player.

2. We know the starting rotation is fabulous, but how is the bullpen holding up? Who is the weak link?

Overall, I’m fine with the bullpen, but there are two problems: injuries, and the continued reliance on low-strikeout arms. Brad Lidge, Jose Contreras, and J.C. Romero have all landed on the disabled list, causing quite a mix-up in the bullpen. The depth chart going into the season was (in order of “importance”):

Lidge, Contreras, Madson, Romero, Danys Baez, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, David Herndon

Now, it’s:

Madson, Bastardo, Baez, Kendrick, Michael Stutes, Mike Zagurski, Herndon

Madson and Bastardo should be fine, and I’m confident in Stutes, but the rest of the arms are highly questionable. My biggest gripe is that Herndon and Kendrick still hold Major League jobs despite ample evidence that they simply do not possess the requisite skills necessary to succeed. Both strike out batters at a below-average rate and neither has an out pitch. Herndon induces a bunch of ground balls, but it has been moot given his awful control so far.

I’d prefer if the Phillies demoted Kendrick and Herndon and relied on some young, cheap arms, even during these troubled times. Stutes has already been recalled, but I’d also like to see Justin De Fratus, Michael Schwimer, and Scott Mathieson with opportunities to earn bullpen jobs this year.

3. With J.C. Romero on the DL, who is the LOOGY to face Ike Davis in a tight spot? Do you have confidence in this person?

Since Bastardo has been bumped up on the depth chart, the LOOGY is Zagurski. I do have confidence in him, as he showed a great ability to miss bats in his Minor League career. His splits are encouraging as well.

4. How long will the Phillies wait for Raul Ibanez’s bat to wake up? Are there any signs it will?

I was optimistic about Ibanez going into the season, but I’ve soured. Ibanez is a notoriously streaky hitter, so his awful April may just be one of his patented long-term slumps that gets balanced out by a ridiculously productive time period.

However, he is striking out at a rate that would easily be the highest of his career if we had an appropriate sample size. Furthermore, he has shown absolutely no power as his .060 ISO illustrates. His career average is .191 and among years in which he received regular at-bats, his lowest was .156 in 2005.

As to how long the Phillies will wait, they have no choice but to wait unless Dom Brown rebounds in a big way from a broken hamate bone. Keith Law has estimated that it takes 12-18 months for a hitter to regain his power after a hamate injury, so my expectations are tempered. If Brown does impress in his rehab appearances, though, I think you’ll see Ibanez platooned, starting only against right-handed pitchers. That’s the best-case scenario, though, which I think has a very small chance of occurring.

5. Do you consider the Marlins and Braves as legitimate obstacles to the Phillies’ fifth straight NL East title?

The Marlins have impressed, but their infield has been putrid thus far, Gaby Sanchez aside. Catcher John Buck, second baseman Omar Infante, and shortstop Hanley Ramirez each have a wOBA under .270, which is quite awful considering that .315 is around average. Their pitching staff is also riding a nice wave of BABIP luck. As a whole, they have a .258 BABIP, lowest in the National League. Last year, the Oakland Athletics had the lowest staff BABIP at .274. Going forward, I expect the Marlins to fall off the pace a bit when their pitching regresses.

I still think the Braves are far and away the biggest obstacle in the NL East. They have actually been a bit unfortunate offensively — their .259 BABIP is the third-lowest in all of baseball, ahead of only the San Diego Padres in the National League. Their offense is better than what we have seen so far, and their pitching staff can match up with anybody’s, even the Phillies (almost).

6. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, tie ballgame, winning run on third base. What Phillie do you want at the plate?

Assuming you’re talking about Phillies that are currently healthy, that excludes Utley. Since all I need is a single, I’d call for Placido Polanco. On my blog and on Twitter, I’ve been lamenting how much I dislike the approaches most of the Phillies have at the plate. One of the few exceptions is Polanco. It’s cliche, but he really is a professional hitter. He’s hitting .389 presently, which I expect to start plummeting at any moment now, but he’d be my number one option to get a game-winning run in from third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

7. Same situation, but Mets are hitting. Which Met do you least want to see in the batter’s box?

Based on the way he’s hitting so far, Ike Davis. I’m skeptical that he can maintain it going forward.

Due to a very impressive track record and continued success to start 2011, I would actually least like to face David Wright. For right now, that’s who I’d go with, but if you ask me this question in a year or two, there’s a good chance I’m citing Davis.

There you go — the point of view of the enemy. Many thanks to Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley for sharing his perspective on the Phillies. Do you agree with his answers? Have anything to add? Let loose 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. Joe April 29, 2011 at 8:44 am
    Simply, the Mets obviously have to take at least one of three, which would be okay if the other two weren’t embarrassing, but two of three (starting with a win today vs. their call-up) would show us something.
  2. Mike April 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm
    Ike Davis is getting better, but due to small sample sizes lets not get too excited about his high average. Clearly he has the ability to “muscle up” and hit a bomb, but also “shorten up” and hit a single. No hitter can get away with this approach this successfully for a full season. I do think that he is a smart kid capable of making adjustments quickly. Color me optimistic he will be the best hitter on the team in two years as Bill is implying.