Change-UpFebruary 21, 2007
Time to Get Their Phil
By Patrick Sullivan

The Mets blew away the National League East last season and aside from having to survive part of this year without Pedro Martinez, look every bit as formidable. So the NL East is theirs, right? Jimmy Rollins disagrees, and I do too.

I stumbled across an article by Jayson Stark wherein he mentions a Rollins quote from January 23rd and then delves into the Starkisms we have come to expect - quotes from anonymous GM's, lighthearted hyperbole taking jabs at the sorry state of Philly sports and clubhouse chemistry type lines having to do with "bulletin board material." According to Stark, here is what Rollins said:

"I think we are the team to beat in the NL East -- finally."

Since the dreary Terry Francona era came to an end in Philadelphia, the Phillies have been a consistently above average club, coming in second place in four of the six seasons while averaging 85 wins. The bulk of the National League East media focus coming into each season seems to center either on the perpetually contending Atlanta Braves or the big-spending New York Mets, and this season is no different. The Mets feature a young nucleus and are coming off their first Division Championship since the Reagan administration while the Braves boast young emerging stars of their own and are hungry to return to post-season play.

So what of the Phillies in 2007? Should they be considered the team to beat like their shortstop asserts or will this be another blah, barely above .500, semi-contending season those in and around the City of Brotherly Love have come to expect? To answer this, let's first compare the 2006 Phillies to this season's and then take a look at how they stack up to the rest of their division.

In 2006, the Phils led the National League in runs scored with 865. There is some good news and bad news with respect to how the bats stand to fare in relation to last year's club. Most notably, Philadelphia will lose out on 438 plate appearances of 120 OPS+ hitting from Bobby Abreu. In addition, David Dellucci's defection, and more specifically his 301 plate appearances of 125 OPS+, will be missed. Without question, getting to 865 runs without Abreu or Dellucci will be a tall order.

There is one significant change that will help the offense. The bulk of at-bats that went to David Bell and Abraham Nunez in 2006 will be Wes Helms's in 2007. Now Philly fans will not be confusing Helms for Mike Schmidt but he will represent an upgrade over what the Phillies received from their third basemen in 2006. And if by some chance he can come close to his 2006 AVG/OBP/SLG line of .329/.390/.575 then the Phills will have pulled off one of the real steals of the off-season. Even if he does not, it was a nice deal. Check out some of the scenarios below compared to what Philly got from the Hot Corner in 2006.

                                     AVG  OBP  SLG
Wes Helms (Career)                  .254 .337 .447 
Wes Helms (2007 PECOTA Projection)  .287 .355 .477
Phillies 3rd Basemen in 2006        .254 .337 .347

As you can see, to the extent that Charlie Manuel has the good sense to keep Abraham Nunez in the dugout, the Phils stand to get a serious uptick at third this season. Where Philly may have some offensive trouble is in the outfield. Pat Burrell is a dependable slugger but neither Aaron Rowand nor Shane Victorino stand to light the league on fire. What they lack in pop they will hope to make up in depth, as Jayson Werth and perhaps even youngster Michael Bourn offer insurance should Rowand or Victorino falter badly.

Overall, I see the offense taking some small steps back. The losses of Abreu and Dellucci will hurt badly but Helms will alleviate the net downgrade. Further, the two best players on the Phillies are both at a point in their career where improvement is not out of the question. Ryan Howard is just 27 and Chase Utley 28 and although they both have already ascended to superstardom, there is still the possibility that they reach even more impressive heights.

Where the Phillies really stand to make their hay is in the starting pitching department. Brett Myers has emerged as a legitimate ace, Cole Hamels appears to be on the verge himself and the newly acquired Freddy Garcia is one of the most dependable horses in the game. At the back end of the rotation, some combination of Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and Jon Lieber should be able to provide reliable output. On its own the rotation looks formidable but what is so tantalizing about this staff is the incremental upgrade it figures to provide over and above the 2006 version. Freddy Garcia alone will provide a multi-win upgrade over and above the 200.1 innings of 6.47 ERA pitching that Gavin Floyd, Randy Wolf and Ryan Madson contributed in 40 combined 2006 starts. Factor in continued development from the 26-year-old Myers and 23-year-old Hamels and it is hard to forecast anything but remarkable improvement on the run-prevention side of the Phillies ledger.

In the bullpen, the Phils figure to be no better or worse than last season. Tom Gordon, Madson and Geoff Geary constitute a decent trio and from there it will be up to Manuel to cobble something together. Another option not to be ruled out is the possibility of General Manager Pat Gillick taking advantage of his newfound starting pitching depth and shipping Jon Lieber off for some bullpen help. Heck maybe Lieber himself will join the 'pen. I ought to note that there is one factor working in the relievers' favor; their starters figure to hand the ball off to them less frequently and in cleaner situations, thereby lightening the overall burden they will have to bear.

So what does the aggregate look like? From my vantage point I see the Phils giving back some runs on the offensive side but saving a whole bunch more thanks to the phenomenal front three of Myers, Hamels and Garcia. Philadelphia's starting staff has a good chance of going from one of the very worst in the National League in 2006 to one of the very best this season. With Pedro Martinez injured and the Mets having played over their heads in 2006 according to their Pythag record, New York looks to me more like an 88-90 win team than a runaway favorite. The Marlins still are not quite there, Atlanta's starting pitching is too thin and the Nationals are just abominable. With a bolstered starting staff that is the class of the division, I see the Phillies just the way Rollins does - as the team to beat in the National League East.


While I think the Phillies can make it a closer race in the division and are one of the faves for the WC, they certainly aren't the team to beat in that division. My main concern is the effect of that ballpark on their starting pitching (even the bullpen). Myers and Hamels had good peripherals at home, but both gave up more HRs in less IP at Citizens Bank. Even Moyer, despite his 4-1 record, gave up 6 HRs in 20 innings at CBP. HRs certainly isn't indicative of how well a pitcher has pitched, but can PHI's pitching be so sucessful in that park that they vault to the top of the division? Also, add in the fact Flash Gordon's ERA in that park was 2.5 times higher than his road ERA. As a person who's watched a few games at CPB (great park, but the most humid place in America), I wonder just how good the pitching can be there.


Who, then, is the favorite? IMO, the Phils are as good of a pick as the Mets to win the division, and the Braves are only a tick behind (with their pen, they can afford to have a #5 starter that only go 5 innings, and Smoltz is the best pitcher in the division with Pedro out). I really think the NL East is going to be a fun division to watch this year.

The ballpark argument doesn't hold a lot of water with me. Just as the Phillies pitchers must endure the tight confines, their hitters get to take advantage of them.

So maybe their stats, before a park adjustment, will not stack up as neatly to their peers as they ought to but the park will not impact wins and losses.

I believe home ballparks matter to the extent that they cause wear and tear on arms and cause teams to go through more pitchers than normal. Bill James once did a study showing World Series champs more often come from teams playing home games in a pitcher's park rather than a hitter's park.

Boston showed you can win a championship in a hitter-friendly environment, but it generally is a more difficult proposition. (For the record, I like Philadelphia, too, so I wouldn't rule out teams simply based on the makeup of their home ballpark.)

The Mets outplayed their Pythagorean record, but they also had the division locked up by June. They rested their players and used pitchers that they might not have had they been in a tight race. That needs to be taken into account too. I'm still picking the Mets, their rotation wasn't good last year either.

Freddy Garcia? Seriously? The word phenomenal should not be attached to Garcia ever.

Don't poo-poo 6 consecutive years of 200+ league-average-or-better innings. It's not like Garcia is their #1 (or even #2) guy. He's a pretty ideal #3, actually. He's basically 200 innings the Phils aren't going to have to worry about this year.

Yeah mravery said it best but just to reinforce the point, Garcia as your #3 starter is pretty phenomenal.

Watching every game last year, the above is a fallacy. Abreu and Dellucci are terrible outfielders, and cost the Phillies as many games lost as they won with the bat. One can take Abreu's VORP, or whatever, but it's offset by his bad defense. It will be noticed this season in Yankee Stadium. His Gold Glove in 2005? A joke. Dellucci has one of the worst arms I have ever seen. A true noodle.

Eh, Abreu's FRAA for the Phils last year was a -3, but he was a +3 for the Yankees. That paints him as a pretty average to slightly below average fielder--and is right in line with his performance the last few years (and yes, the '05 GG was pretty bad). He did post a 4.9 WARP2 in half a season though and it's pretty damn hard to replace that. Though I'm sure they'll be happy saving the $16 million or whatever his contract calls for this year.

I like the Phillies' starting rotation a lot. They don't have a fearsome top of the rotation (few teams do), but they make up with plenty of good, solid depth. The bottom of the Phillies' rotation doesn't look like typical No. 4/5 starters. This could be the type of team which wins a lot of games in the regular season, perhaps capturing the division, but has more difficulty in the playoffs...where starting depth is less of a factor.

Myers and Hamels should easily be the best 12 punch in the east (or even the entire NL) unless Pedro somehow manage to return to form (extremely unlikely) or Hampton ..(lol)

i'm still not sure on why the Phillies pulled the Abreu traded like they did, they should have at least gotten something of major league use, all they got was Matt Smith, who would be a ok loggy but you don't trade loggy for one of ur top player.

Rod Baraja should also represent a upgrade over the joke that was Sal Fasano and the corpse of Mike Liberthal last year, espically if they get anything like what they got out of Coste and Ruiz late last year...

The true worry for the Phillies seem to be Tom Gordon's health.

Oh also, the Phillies have a terrible track record of screwing their own chances by running useful players out of town, (only to see them win with other teams while they continue to suck... see Dolten , Schilling, Rolen...) one has to wonder if the same fate is waiting for Pat Burrell this year.

On a more practical side the Phillies were also terriblly inconsistent last year, they got off to a atrocious start, and almost everyone hit worse in the first half than the second.

Since when is Pat Burrell a "useful" player? Sure, he hits 30 homers, but if you actually look at the stats, most of the homers come in garbage time.

Down 7-1? There's Pat stroking a homer.
Down 4-3 and need a clutch hit? There's Pat striking out looking again.

He's also a poor defensive player.

He was surrounded by good talent in the lineup last year (Howard and Utley) and still couldn't come up in the clutch.

Burrell (2004-2006): .266/.381/.488

I am sorry that you have selctively remembered some bad Burrell moments but the suggestion that he is not a "useful" player is preposterous.

is this player clutch?

RISP: 224 PA, .313/.429/.598, 13 HR, 92 RBI
2 outs: 226 PA, .298/.407/.586, 15 HR, 56 RBI
2 outs, RISP: 108 PA, .295/.426/.693, 10 HR, 48 RBI

that's Pat Burrell, 2005.

even in 2006, Burrell posted a .982 OPS (16 HR and 58 RBI in 290 PA) when the lead was a run or less.

oops - I meant to put scare quotes around "clutch" in that first line. but I'm pretty sure my point is still clear...

I suppose some people think if the pick the Phillies every year (Buster Olney has the same obsession with the Indians. He went so far as to suggest that Cliff Lee was "the missing link to greatness" or some such nonsense.), then sooner or later they'll actually win and presto! you can brag about picking them. By some of these articles I've been reading, you'd think that Pedro went 30-2 with a .90 ERA last year and carried the whole team on his back. I have news for you guys...after June, Pedro didn't do a whole heck of a lot. Freddy Garcia and Wes Helms aren't bad players, but using them as the core of your argument for the Phillies winning the NL East is just laughable. I know that next year, after the Phillies phinish 5-15 games out, there will still be people on the bandwagon *shrug*.

Randy, if you compare the Mets starting staff vs the Phillies, assuming Pedro is hurt most of the year or not up to his usual standards, there is not a pitcher 1-5 on the Mets that matches up to the Phillies 1-5, or more accurately 1-6. Myers beats Glavine,Hamels beats Hernandez, Garcia beats Maine, Eaton beats Perez and Myers or Lieber beats Park and in all cases it isn't even close. In addition, the Phillies win the lineup comparison as well, winning 1b and 2b by a large margin,LF,RF, and are very close at SS, with Reyes's injury history narrowing the 20 more steals he averages over Rollins who has more power. The only positions the Mets win by a large margin over the Phillies is CF and 3B. The Mets also have a big edge in the bullpen which they will need given the starting staff, so when you sum it up, the Phillies by far have the best starting pitching and a slightly better lineup while the Mets have a much better bullpen. Sure looks like the Phillies year to me.