Monday, October 4, 2010

Playoff Scouting Report: Philadelphia Phillies


This is the NL's deepest offense, one without the two or three easy outs found in most lineups in the weaker league; every starting player in the Phillies' lineup was worth at least one win above replacement (WAR) this season, even if we exclude the value of their defense. Their two best hitters are Chase Utley, whose only weakness is his tendency to get hurt because he plays so fucking hard, and Jayson Werth, who had a tremendous free-agent walk year in large part because he beat up right-handed pitching, generally a weak spot for him. Ryan Howard remains a masher of right-handers who will chase sliders down and away until our Sun implodes, making him valuable early in games with a right-hander on the mound but an automatic call for the opponent's lefty specialist in the final innings. Jimmy Rollins had a calf injury that ruined his 2010 season (it's hard for almost any hitter to hit with any kind of leg problem) then missed three weeks in September with a groin strain that may not be fully healed by the time the playoffs start. That left Shane Victorino as the more likely leadoff hitter, but he had a down year with just a .329 OBP and struggles mightily from the left side, limiting his viability in that leadoff role.

The back end up of the lineup is stronger than the lineups that Phillies pitchers will face in the postseason, but it still has its weaknesses. Raul Ibanez has returned to his usual form of struggling against left-handed pitching, and Carlos Ruiz's apparently strong plate discipline is partly a function of hitting directly ahead of the pitcher, as his walk rate dropped substantially this year when he hit seventh. Placido Polanco's struggles late this season could be due to wear that comes with age but also could be related to the bone spurs in his left elbow for which he recently received cortisone shots. His value could be limited in October because of the injury. It's an older, injury-plagued lineup that is full of patience and power when fully healthy, but several key contributors enter October at less than 100 percent.

The Phillies remain one of the best base-stealing clubs in baseball as far as success rate goes (as they have been the past two years), but their raw stolen-base totals dropped this year. With Rollins' leg injury and Utley a year off a hip injury (and getting deeper into his 30s), the Phils likely won't be as aggressive on the bases this October as they have been, but at least they are unlikely to run into a slew of outs through baserunning follies.


Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt all have worked as nominal No. 1 starters in the past year and change, with the first two among the top 10 starters in the league this year and Oswalt doing a pretty good poor-man's ace act himself. Halladay, a possible NL Cy Young Award winner, clearly found the National League to his liking, using his cutter heavily with three other effective pitches. He's no longer the extreme ground-ball pitcher he was earlier in his career, but he misses more bats with the cut fastball and has taken his control to ridiculous, Cliff Lee-like levels, becoming the first pitcher since 1923(when Nucky Thompson reigned supreme) to throw 250 innings with 30 or fewer walks. Hamels struggled with both reduced command and bad luck on balls in play in 2009, and he was likely to return to his true talent level. his The world once again get to see Cole’s plus-plus change, which he'll throw even when behind in the count against left- and right-handed hitters. Oswalt's rejuvenation this year is in large part due to heavier use of his own above-average changeup, which has helped his fastball play up. Aside from reserving his slider mostly for right-handers, he'll use any pitch to any hitter in just about any count. Joe Blanton is fat.

Not only are those three tremendously effective, they also are durable and have helped the Phillies get by without really overhauling a problematic bullpen by providing the team with more innings than any other MLB team got from its starters this year. Brad Lidge can look unhittable at times (especially recently), but it would be kind to say his command is game-to-game. Setup man Ryan Madson is more consistent, featuring one of the best changeups of any reliever in baseball, a pitch that he uses almost half the time in two-strike counts. He also throws a hard slider/cutter in the upper 80s, more to right-handers, but it's more of a show-me pitch to keep hitters off the fastball.

Beyond those two, the 'pen thins out quickly. Jose Contreras is the Phillies' next-best weapon thanks to a tick upward in velocity with his move to the 'pen. He'll work with a lot of two-seamers and sliders, but the two-seamer is the only thing he throws that might move in toward a righty, so he's more specialist than full-inning guy.

The Phillies lack a great left-left weapon for late-game matchups if Madson and his changeup aren't available, with J.C. Romero's control a chronic issue and his recent back injury leaving questions, but they could boost their pen a little by adding Antonio Bastardo as a second lefty.


The Phillies didn't field their ideal defensive alignment often in 2010, but they should have it for the postseason. Utley remains one of the top defenders at second base, with good range but better instincts and hands, while double-play partner Rollins has been one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball for the past few seasons (again, injury may come into play), and third baseman Polanco has made up for his loss of agility with good hands.

The Phillies are thinner in the outfield, where Ibanez is awful in left, and Victorino -- who has been hobbled by injuries -- has lost a step in center. Werth can fill in for Victorino but is best suited in right, where his arm can add value as well.


The Phillies have fewer weaknesses than any NL team and probably as few major weaknesses as any playoff team. Their late-game relievers are shaky but capable of performing at an extremely high level; they have a few key lineup members hobbled by injury or vulnerability to left-handed pitching; their fourth starter is nothing to write home about, unless you’re writing home about America’s growing obesity problem. They enter October in relatively good shape overall (except for Joe Blanton ……who is fat), with their top three starters all looking extremely strong and every expected offensive starter at least nominally ready to play. Any series loss before the World Series will be an upset.

I’ll have my reaction to the Phillies playoff roster when it comes out.

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