Spring Training is here, and with it, lots of questions. You can see how this is going to work, so let’s just get to it…
1. Should we be prepared to be disappointed by Vance Worley and John Mayberry Jr?
I hate to start out with a negative, but these two guys are probably my biggest concerns in 2012. Both of them will be relied upon heavily after very solid 2011 campaigns, and both of them have no track record to suggest that they can replicate that performance for a full season in 2012.
Let’s start with Vance Worley, who had a 3.01 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 8.1 K/9 in 131 IP. His best season in the minors was the year prior, where he pitched 158 innings between AA-AAA with a 3.36 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 6.8 K/9. The year prior, his ERA was up over 5. So what’s more likely – that Worley pitches in such a manner that MLB hitters can’t quite hit him, but minor leaguers can? Or that he had some of that “new pitcher luck” and will come crashing back to earth in 2012? As it usually is, I imagine the truth is somewhere in the middle. If Worley pitches 180+ IP with an ERA under or around 4.00, I’ll be thrilled.
Unlike Worley, who is still young (24) and could be going through a transformation, John Mayberry is 28, and less likely to have truly “broken out” last year. The biggest number for Mayberry last year was his .513 SLG% in 296 PA. Over nearly 3,000 PA in the minors, he has a career .457 SLG%, and a season-best of .480 in 2008. Again, which sample size are you trusting? The 3,000 minor league PA, or the 296 major league PA? Mayberry might be good if used in a platoon with Laynce Nix or Domonic Brown, but I have serious doubts he can be anywhere as good as he was last year. Hope they both prove me wrong.
2. Can Papelbon make us sort-of-forget how stupid his contract is?
OK, we all know Ruben Amaro comically jumped the market on closers and wildly overpaid Papelbon. You’d be hard-pressed to find any Phillies’ fan who is happy with the deal, and oftentimes when people are annoyed with a contract, they become annoyed with the player before he even takes the field.
For me, I realized this was the case with me with Papelbon. I hadn’t even thought much about what kind of performance he will have this year, because all I could think about was the money. But thankfully, they don’t decide who goes to the playoffs by contract efficiency, but rather by wins and losses.
Here are some reasons to be excited about Paps…
- Despite some well-publicized blown saves, Papelbon was the only pitcher last year with a sub-1 WHIP and over 12.0 K/9. He was 2nd in baseball in FIP (a tool that adjusts for defense and ballpark) behind only Craig Kimbrel and was also 2nd to Kimbrel in WAR for relievers (3.0).
- Rumors of his fastball decreasing in velo appear greatly exaggerated, as FanGraphs shows him averaging the 2nd highest fastball velo of his career last year (95.0)
- If you pretend his 2010 season didn’t happen, he has a 1.86 career ERA against the NL (2.66 if you count it).
- We saw with Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay that a move to the NL usually results in a drop in ERA.
3. Can Jim Thome play 1B?
This will be a big topic of conversation with Howard out and Thome reportedly coming into to camp in incredible shape (for a 41-year-old) with the intention of playing in the field some. Thome hasn’t played regularly in the field since he left the Phillies almost just over SIX years ago – which means that no matter how good of shape he is in, it’s going to be a challenge.
How bad can someone really be at 1b? I don’t know – and actually I think it’s more about the injury risk than anything else.
Personally, I’m not getting my hopes up that Thome will play in the field more than a couple times a month, with Ty Wigginton and John Mayberry getting most of the time at 1b.
4. Why does everyone hate Domonic Brown?
I really don’t understand what happened here. Brown made a couple bonehead plays in the field and on the basepaths, and suddenly our un-tradeable 5-tool wunderkind is being treated like a virus. I feel like something else must have happened here to make Ruben and Charlie sour on him so quickly. I mean, we are talking about a 24-yr-old kid who put up a .329/.391/.589 line just 2 years ago. There was very little doubt in anyone’s mind then that Brown would be the replacement for Ibanez when his contract was up, but now he seems ticketed for AAA. Hopefully he can show a little spark this spring and get people excited about him again.
5. Is Hunter Pence ready to be our best hitter?
I think so. And he kind of has to be, no? Howard is a question mark. Utley had a huge power drop as the year went on last year. Victorino probably had his career year last year and should drop a little this year. That leaves Pence as the likely #3 hitter and also the only guy in our line-up that looks poised for a career year.
He’s the right age (28), in the right mind set and right situation. Can he keep up the impressive .324/.394/.560 line he had after coming over from Houston for a full season? Unlikely, but he could get close. And we’ll need him to.
6. Who is filling out the bullpen?
The locks are Papelbon, Bastardo, Kendrick and probably Chad Qualls.
After that, the bullpen falls into several categories:
1. David Herndon – Was, dare I say, impressive the 2nd half of the year last year with a 1.42 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in his final 20 appearances
2. Mike Stutes – Was lights out through 23 appearances, but then quite average (4.47 ERA) through his last 34.
3. Jose Contreras – When healthy, he’s been great. He hasn’t been healthy much, and the Qualls signing means the Phillies don’t expect him to start now.
4. Phillippe Aumont – Found his rhythm again as a reliever last year. Probably the best stuff out of this bunch.
5. Justin De Fratus – 3 K’s, 1 H, 3 BB, 1 ER in 4 IP with the big club last year. Good fastball, but probably needs a 3rd pitch.
6. Jake Diekman – Lefty specialist, struck out 83 in 65 IP at Reading last year
7. Joe Savery – One of the best stories last season, showed good velocity on his fastball in 2.2 scoreless inning with the big club
8. Mike Schwimer – Had 16 K’s in 14.1 IP for the Phils last year, showing his stuff can play in the majors, but got hit around a bit and had a 5.02 ERA
9. Dontrelle Willis – Not a great starter, but lefties can’t hit him. If used correctly, could be a great weapon in the pen.
10. Brian Sanches – 2.92 ERA in 181.7 innings the past 3 years, and can’t get an MLB contract? Weird.
Dark Horses/Eddie Oropesa division
11. Jeremy Horst – Acquired for Wilson Valdez, lefty.
12. Austin Hyatt – Similar career path to Stutes.
13. Pat Misch – 4.00 ERA as a starter in AAA last year. Lefty.
14. BJ Rosenberg – Used to be in prospects division, but injuries have hurt him
15. Raul Valdes – Signed minor league deal with Phillies.
So that is 15 guys for likely 3 spots. The most likely scenario is Herndon, Stutes and Willis. But my hope is that a couple guys in that 2nd group pitch well enough, like Stutes last year, that they have to be given a shot right out of the gate.
7. Should we be concerned about Cole Hamels contract?
I don’t think so. Hamels is the best home-grown pitcher in team history not named Roberts and I just don’t see how we let him walk. His press conference today seemed to make it clear he would like to stay. If the idiotic Papelbon and Howard deals mean that Hamels has to walk, I might never forgive RAJ.
8. And why doesn’t anyone seem to care Victorino will be a FA as well?
A couple years back, it looked like Victorino would walk and the Phillies would replace him with Anthony Gose, Jiwan James or Tyson Gillies, whoever had blossomed. Now? Victorino is coming off a year where he was our best offensive player, and the only one of those prospects who looks ready (Gose) is in a Blue Jays uniform. Without a definitive replacement, and an offense aging rapidly, it will be interesting to see what the Phillies do here.
9. When will Ryan Howard be back?
Or maybe the question should be, what will he be like when he gets back? Achilles injuries are notorious for keeping players less that 100% for more than one year (see Brand, Elton) after they return. Howard has the type of swing and approach where if he loses even a little bit of his power/bat speed, it could get ugly. Expectations have been set at May for Howard, but Charlie is a little more optimistic. Certainly a good sign that he was seen taking some grounders in Clearwater today.
10. What are reasonable expectations for the Phillies in 2012?
Last year, with the Big-4 getting all the headlines, the expectations for the Phillies were through the roof. This year, the hype isn’t quite there, but the goal is the same. Last year, the Phils won 102 games even with a tough stretch at the end of the year. I think the Phils will have trouble hitting 100 again for the following reasons…
- Unknown status/production from Ryan Howard
- Blanton replaces Roy Oswalt
- Likely decline from Worley, Mayberry, Victorino
- Much, much tougher division w/Marlins and Nats making big moves
- Full season of Hunter Pence
- Much improved bench