The Philadelphia Phillies were the 2011 favorites to represent the National League in the World Series, only to fall short in the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The series went the distance as Chris Carpenter pitched the game of his life in a memorable 1-0 pitching duel against Roy Halladay in the fifth and final game; the Cardinals went on to win the 2011 World Series. The loss left fans with the dreaded “what if?” feeling; however, the NLDS loss demonstrated that the Phillies needed to improve their consistency with the bats.
Spring training is here and I firmly believe the Phillies will again be widely regarded as favorites to represent the NL in the World Series. The Phillies still have a mighty pitching rotation which features Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. There have been murmurs that Roy Oswalt might return to the Phillies; if Oswalt indeed returns and is healthy, that would only improve the pitching rotation. Slugging first baseman Ryan Howard will start the season on the disabled list, as he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the fifth game of the NLDS. Early indications are that Howard may return perhaps in late May. Even in the absence of Howard, the Phillies shall remain a high-scoring team and possibly a more consistent offensive team this season.
C: Carlos Ruiz
1B: TBD [Ty Wigginton]
2B: Chase Utley
3B: Placido Polanco
SS: Jimmy Rollins
LF: TBD [John Mayberry Jr.]
CF: Shane Victorino
RF: Hunter Pence
The Phillies lineup from 2011 is generally intact; however, manager Charlie Manuel will have some interesting options and plenty of flexibility in juggling his lineup this season. Domonic Brown could have a chance to start in left field; however, I believe Brown will start the 2012 season with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (AAA).
With Brown possibly starting the season in AAA, I foresee John Mayberry Jr. starting in left field and Ty Wigginton sharing playing time with Jim Thome at first base. Wigginton is a solid right-handed bat and should help the Phillies hit left-handed pitching.
Although I believe Thome and Wigginton will share time at first base, Wigginton will more than likely get the nod when the opposition starts a left-handed pitcher.
Martinez is virtually assured a spot on the 25-man roster because he is a versatile infielder who can play multiple positions. You can chalk up a spot for Schneider as well, because every team will run with at least two catchers on the roster. Nix and Thome will serve as good power bats to have on the bench and get the occasional start. Pierre is a non-roster invite; however, I am confident that Pierre will win a roster spot. Pierre has been a good contact hitter in his MLB career and has been one of the best at swiping bases. Pierre did have an off year in 2011; however, I believe he will return to his normal self this season. Pierre’s speed and steady hitting will provide Manuel with options to juggle his lineup from time to time; when Pierre starts, I believe you may see him leading off the lineup. Displayed below is what I believe the ordinary starting lineup and batting order may look like in 2012:
SS (Jimmy Rollins)
3B (Placido Polanco)
RF (Hunter Pence)
2B (Chase Utley)
LF (John Mayberry Jr.)
CF (Shane Victorino)
1B (Ty Wigginton)
C (Carlos Ruiz)
Rumors have been swirling that the Phillies are willing to trade Blanton; the difficulty will be in finding somebody who is willing to take on Blanton’s $8.50 million salary. Blanton is a solid pitcher; however, he has struggled with injuries in the past two years. I do believe Blanton will remain with the Phillies for the time being; however, if he pitches well, he could be traded in the midst of the season (should the Phillies wish to do so). If by some unforeseen circumstances Blanton either starts the season on the DL or is traded, I believe non-roster invite Joel Pineiro could steal a starting pitching job in the rotation. Other possibilities to replace Blanton include Phillippe Aumont or Kyle Kendrick.
Hamels is coming off the best season of his career. Hamels had a very misleading 14-9 record that was damaged by a lack of run support at times; however, he set career-bests in ERA (2.79), complete games (3), WHIP (0.99) and K/BB ratio (4.41). Hamels signed a one-year extension for $15 million to remain with the Phillies in 2012; he will be a free agent in the offseason. I believe it will be difficult for Hamels to duplicate his 2011 numbers; however, he has the ability to do so and is one of the better young pitchers in the game today. Look for the Phillies to lock Hamels up with a long-term agreement before the season begins to avoid any unnecessary distractions.
The Phillies will likely run a seven-man bullpen this season. If you have any concerns about the Phillies bullpen, you can take a deep breath and relax. The bullpen should be strong in the 2012 season. First of all, the Phillies’ starting pitching rotation will keep the bullpen fresh and spare them from the rigors of a 162-game season. When you consistently have Halladay and Lee pitching 7-9 innings and Hamels pitching 6-8 innings, you have a fresh bullpen.
Papelbon is a proven closer who will shut the opposition down; like any closer not named Mariano Rivera, he will have his blow-ups now and then. More often than not, Papelbon gets the job done. Qualls is an underrated signing that brings stability to the young bullpen. When Qualls is on top of his game, he is a ground ball pitcher who will negate the effects of hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park. Qualls has consistently pitched better in the later stages of the season in his MLB career.
If Kendrick does not move to the starting rotation, you will see him in the bullpen. Kendrick did a solid job in the 2011 season out of the bullpen with a 3.41 ERA in 19 relief appearances; as a reliever, Kendrick conceded only one home run in 31.2 innings. Herndon had a very strong finish to the 2011 season as he posted a 1.55 ERA and held hitters to a .216 AVG in his final 22 outings. I believe Herndon will be assured a roster spot.
Bastardo will be assured a roster spot; however, I admit I have concerns about him. Earlier in his career, I was unimpressed with his pitching and his lack of control. In the 2011 season, he surprised me with his dominance as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball for much of the season. Bastardo was 6-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 2011 as he struck out 70 hitters in 58 innings (10.9 strikeouts per nine innings); however, he struggled in the later stages of the 2011 season. In his first 36 games, Bastardo had a 0.82 ERA and 0.76 WHIP; in his final 28 games, Bastardo had a 5.04 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. If Bastardo’s late-season struggles carry over into the 2012 season, then the Phillies will likely be without an effective left-handed reliever unless they carry two in their bullpen.
There is a chance that Contreras might be unavailable to start the season. If Contreras were to accompany Howard on the DL, then young lefty Joe Savery or veteran Dontrelle Willis could fill the void. If the Phillies want a second lefty in the bullpen, I would prefer Savery before Willis. Willis has been an inconsistent and wild pitcher in his MLB career and has passed his peak. Frankly, I would value Willis more for his hitting than his pitching!
The 26 year-old Savery needs to be given an opportunity to shine as an MLB regular. In 2.2 innings of work at the MLB level last season, Savery allowed no runs, no walks and one hit while striking out two hitters. At the AAA level with the Iron Pigs, Savery was 4-0 with two saves and a 1.80 ERA in 18 relief appearances. In 25 innings, Savery struck out 26 batters and walked six.
If the Phillies run a seven-man bullpen, I would like to see Savery in there along with Bastardo; however, I do not know how that will be arranged unless Kendrick moves into the starting rotation or Contreras starts the season on the DL. Regardless of what transpires, I am very confident in Savery’s ability and would like to see him get the opportunity to perform at the MLB level.
I firmly believe the 2012 NL representative in the World Series will either be the Phillies or the Cardinals; however, I give the edge to the Phillies at this time. In Howard’s absence, the Phillies might hit fewer home runs; however, they shall still be a high-scoring team and a more consistent hitting team. The pitching rotation will be strong again and the bullpen has no shortage of depth. Health permitting, the Phillies will be a team with very few weaknesses – if any – and win the NL East yet again and possibly the World Series.
I say the over/under for the Phillies’ wins this season will be 98. The Phillies must remain sharp and be on top of their game, because I believe the Atlanta Braves have the potential to steal the NL East crown if the Phillies get complacent. Phillies fans have every reason to be excited for the 2012 season, as the Phillies will again be regarded as one of the favorites to appear in the World Series.
The 2011 MLB season has several wild races going on. The St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves are fighting for the NL Wild Card spot while the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are fighting for the AL Wild Card spot. In the NL, there is also another race going on: the race for the Cy Young Award.
Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers is having the best season of his career and has qualifications worthy of a Cy Young vote.
Kershaw leads the NL in wins (21), ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248). Kershaw is also tied with Cole Hamels for the best WHIP (0.98) in the NL.
Kershaw is also the NL leader in AVG against (.207) and is followed by Hamels (.212 AVG).
In my eyes, Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies is the best pitcher in baseball and has been for years. Halladay is a warrior who pitches with the mindset of pitching all nine innings every time he steps on the mound. Halladay’s pinpoint control and robot-like consistency make him the most valuable pitcher and an ace in the truest sense of the word.
Despite Halladay’s incredible consistency and dominance, Kershaw’s dominance outshines that of Halladay’s this season in the overall body of work. In his 19 wins, Halladay had a 1.60 ERA; Kershaw had a 0.69 ERA in his 21 wins. Halladay was more impressive in his losses (4.12 ERA) and his no-decisions (3.07 ERA) than Kershaw was in his losses (6.99 ERA) and no-decisions (4.47 ERA); however, Kershaw’s overall body of work amounted to him leading the NL in wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and AVG against.
Kershaw was also dominant against both left-handed and right-handed hitters, as lefties hit .178 and righties hit .213 against him; lefties hit .273 and righties hit .206 against Halladay.
Those who argue that Halladay is more worthy of the Cy Young vote may point out that Halladay had a 2.48 ERA in 15 starts at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park; Halladay did even better on the road, posting a 2.23 ERA in 17 road starts. People may also point out that Kershaw had many starts against the offensively challenged San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. If you eliminate games against the Padres and Giants, then here is how Kershaw and Halladay stack up against the rest of the NL.
Halladay vs. rest of NL
30 GS (17-6)
Kershaw vs. rest of NL
24 GS (13-5)
As you can see from the above statistics, Halladay – despite having the better ERA – and Kershaw both had very similar numbers against the rest of the NL. Halladay’s dominance at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park and the above numbers against the rest of the NL indeed help his case for repeating as the Cy Young Award champion this season; however, as I stated earlier, Kershaw’s overall body of work cannot be ignored. Kershaw is the NL leader in virtually every pitching category and is therefore worthy of the vote.
No disrespect intended to Cliff Lee or Hamels, but the Cy Young Award voting should be a two-man race between Halladay and Kershaw. There are reasons to support either pitcher; however, it should be extremely difficult to overlook Kershaw’s case. I believe Kershaw should win, and he would get my vote.
You ever see three little children fighting over a shiny toy? Such a scene may very well symbolize the strength of the Philadelphia Phillies’ pitching this season. Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels appear to be fighting each other for the NL Cy Young Award with each gem they pitch.
This trio of pitching wizards probably gives hitters nightmares and visions of three-headed monsters. The Phillies’ three-headed monster is a collective 46-19 with a 2.52 ERA this season. Their pitching numbers are virtually mirror images of each other, as all three have surrendered 56 earned runs apiece; Halladay allowed 56 in 202.2 innings while Hamels allowed 56 in 194 innings and Lee allowed 56 in 203.2 innings.
Roy Halladay (16-5, 2.49 ERA)
Halladay is the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and will pitch tonight against the Milwaukee Brewers. On the season, Halladay has 195 strikeouts and 26 walks for a 7.50 K/BB ratio. Since the All-Star break, Halladay is 5-2 in nine starts with a 2.58 ERA. Halladay was 3-1 in five August starts with a 2.62 ERA.
For years, I considered Halladay to be the best pitcher in baseball and I stand by that belief now. Halladay is a warrior who wants the ball and wants to pitch all nine innings every time. Halladay’s mentality – combined with his conditioning and abilities – may be what enables him to pitch his way out of a jam.
When viewing Halladay’s monthly splits, you will notice that he is consistent. His worst month of the season was May, in which he went 3-2 in six starts with a 3.00 ERA. Halladay’s ERA was under 3.00 in every other month (currently 3.00 in one September start).
Despite pitching in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, Halladay is 8-2 in 14 home starts with a 2.32 ERA this season. Since joining the Phillies in 2010, Halladay is 20-7 with a 2.26 ERA at Citizens Bank Park!
Cliff Lee (16-7, 2.47 ERA)
While Lee’s overall numbers are most impressive, his season has been a tale of two pitchers. In April and May, Lee looked very human with a 4.18 ERA in five April starts and a 3.78 ERA in seven May starts. Lee also struggled with a 4.91 ERA in five July starts. In those specific months, Lee is 5-7 in 17 starts with a 4.22 ERA.
In the other months, Lee dominated as if he were playing a simple video game. Lee was 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA in the month of June; he repeated that performance in August with a 5-0 record and 0.45 ERA. Lee won NL pitcher of the month in both June and August. Lee is currently 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in the month of September.
Lee’s June/August/September numbers combine for an 11-0 record with a 0.30 ERA (three earned runs allowed in 90.2 innings)! If Lee continues his hot streak in the month of September, that may be all that is needed for him to steal the Cy Young Award away from Halladay or Hamels.
At this time, I could not vote in good conscience for Lee because Halladay and Hamels were much more consistent this season. If Lee’s hot streak does not cool off soon and he dominates yet again in September, then he may be worthy of the Cy Young Award. Since the All-Star break, Lee is 7-1 in nine starts with a 1.76 ERA.
Like Halladay, Lee also dominates in the Phillies’ hitter-friendly park. For the season, Lee is 11-2 in 16 home starts with a 1.97 ERA.
Cole Hamels (14-7, 2.60 ERA)
Although Hamels gets the least fanfare among the three aces, he is as dominant as the others when his game is on. Although Hamels has an impressive 14-7 record, he has been a victim of poor run support at times. Like Halladay, Hamels has been consistent this season. The only months in which Hamels had an ERA of 3.00 or higher were April (3.13 ERA in five starts) and July (3.25 ERA in five starts).
In August, a lack of run support cost Hamels several wins. In August, Hamels was 1-1 in four starts with a 2.42 ERA. The month of August was not the first time Hamels was a victim of poor run support, as he went 2-2 in six starts with a 1.31 ERA in the month of June.
While Hamels continues to pitch well, his numbers since the All-Star break are not on par with Lee and Halladay’s numbers; therefore, Hamels may be slipping on the Cy Young Award radar. In nine starts since the All-Star break, Hamels is 3-3 with a 3.19 ERA.
What hitter-friendly park???
Although Citizens Bank Park has a reputation for being a hitter-friendly ballpark, the Phillies’ three-headed monster is making a mockery of that reputation.
Three aces at home this season:
Lee: 11-2, 1.97 ERA
Halladay: 8-2, 2.32 ERA
Hamels: 7-5, 2.45 ERA
Combined, this three-headed monster is a collective 26-9 at home with a 2.23 ERA! It should be no surprise that the Phillies have the best record in baseball with such fantastic pitching numbers, especially at a hitter-friendly ballpark.
If Halladay, Lee and Hamels were not to win the NL Cy Young Award this season, then who would the possible usurper be? I see Clayton Kershaw (17-5, 2.45 ERA) of the Los Angeles Dodgers as that possible trophy thief.
Kershaw is having a fantastic season and may be the best young pitcher in baseball today (yes, even better than Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners).
I am surprised with how little recognition Kerhsaw received over the past two seasons. In 2009, Kershaw had a 2.79 ERA in 30 starts; the Dodgers’ pathetic run support for him led to an 8-8 record that season. In 2010, Kershaw dominated again with a 2.91 ERA in 32 starts; however, the Dodgers again failed to give him the run support, as his record was only 13-10.
Kershaw took matters into his own hands this season by lowering his ERA to a new career-best 2.45 at this time. The Dodgers have provided Kershaw with enough run support this season, as he currently has 17 wins (more than Halladay, Lee or Hamels).
Since the All-Star break, Kershaw is 8-1 in 10 starts with a 1.44 ERA. At the very least, Kershaw is forcing voters to consider him for the NL Cy Young Award.
Cy Young Chances
In the end, I think it will be a three-horse race with Halladay, Lee and Kershaw. While Hamels has strong numbers, his numbers have cooled off in the second half and may make voters forget about him for now. Halladay’s consistency and dominance always make him a contender for the award; Lee and Kershaw have been baseball’s hottest pitchers since the All-Star break and may steal votes from Halladay.
Hamels will likely have no effect on the Cy Young voting; however, Halladay and Lee may end up stealing votes from one another and allow Kershaw to sneak in and steal the prize. If Kershaw begins to cool off, it will be a two-pitcher race between Halladay and Lee. If Lee continues his hot pitching throughout the month of September, then Lee may win effortlessly. Regardless of what Halladay does, the performances of Lee and Kershaw in the month of September may determine who wins the Cy Young Award this season.
Over the past month or two, I have had plenty of exchanges with Mr. Bob Kendrick on Twitter. Mr. Kendrick is the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (located in Kansas City, Missouri). The exchanges I have had with him have been most pleasant, as he is surely a fan with a passion for baseball and an appreciation for the game’s history.
Recently, Mr. Kendrick asked his Twitter followers to name their dream double play tandem. I opted for Ozzie Smith and Joe Morgan while he opted for Ozzie Smith and Frank White. This topic inspired me to ask myself, “What would my dream starting lineup be and what would the batting order be?”
I put deep thought into my selections, and I was amazed to find that I did not include the likes of Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Rickey Henderson, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Edgar Martinez, Joe Morgan, Ted Williams and many others. Baseball’s history is loaded with riches of talents that enable one to omit players such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Williams.
Here are the rules: you have to pick one player at each position and then post your batting order after you post your lineup. You can make rational/relevant changes to a player’s position if you wish. For example, you can move Willie Mays from center field to left or right field if you wish to put someone else at center. Also, for the sake of flexibility in player selection, you may also pick a designated hitter (DH).
My starting lineup
C: Josh Gibson
1B: Lou Gehrig
2B: Jackie Robinson
3B: Mike Schmidt
SS: Ozzie Smith
LF: Ichiro Suzuki
CF: Joe DiMaggio
RF: Willie Mays
DH: Babe Ruth
SP: Satchel Paige
Boston Red Sox fans may be irked that I failed to select Ted Williams. With all due respect to Williams, he was not a great outfielder like Mays and DiMaggio were, and I would rather have the bat of Babe Ruth at DH. Furthermore, Ichiro’s defensive ability and baserunning ability give him the nod over Williams as well.
I moved Mays from center field to right field for several reasons. First of all, DiMaggio is the most naturally gifted center fielder to ever play the game. DiMaggio was a master at reading the ball off of the bat and therefore rarely ever had to make difficult “highlight” catches. For this reason, Mays gets bumped out of center field.
My rationale for moving Mays to right field is because he had a stronger arm than Ichiro. If a runner is taking off for third base, I would rather have Mays throwing the ball from right as opposed to Ichiro.
With all due respect to the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr. and Derek Jeter, Ozzie Smith is a no-brainer at shortstop. Smith is widely regarded as the greatest defensive shortstop of all time, and for good reason. Smith had a strong arm with a golden glove and uncanny range and anticipation. Whitey Herzog once estimated that Smith saved his teams at least a hundred runs a year with his defensive play, and I do believe that is not an exaggeration.
In addition to Smith, other no-brainers for me included Ruth, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. Ruth and Gibson are perhaps the two greatest baseball players to ever play the game. Gibson had Ruthian power and was a fantastic catcher. Legend has it that Gibson was the only man to hit a home run completely out of Yankee Stadium. Gibson was the Negro Leagues’ greatest star (unless you consider Paige its greatest) and was often dubbed by some as “the black Babe Ruth.” Meanwhile, others dubbed Ruth as “The white Josh Gibson.”
As for Paige, there simply never was any pitcher like him back then or now. If my life depended on a baseball game, I would select a prime Paige to be my starting pitcher for that game.
Second base and third base presented a bit of a challenge for me in making my selections. I have often been told by my father that Brooks Robinson was the greatest defensive third basemen he had ever seen (yes, he rates him above Mike Schmidt). In my lifetime, Schmidt was the best I had ever seen. I gave the edge to Schmidt for his ability as a power hitter. If Schmidt is a defensive downgrade from Robinson, then at least it is not a big downgrade.
At second base, I was 99% sure I was going to select Joe Morgan; however, I went for Robinson in the end. Despite Morgan’s defensive play, Robinson was the more naturally gifted athlete and a better hitter.
For his career, Robinson hit .311 with a .409 OBP and .883 OPS; this tops Morgan’s .271 AVG, .392 OBP and .819 OPS.
In Morgan’s defense, however, he played 22 seasons (which will cause numbers to decline in the end) as opposed to Robinson’s 10 MLB seasons.
Nevertheless, I do not think it matters how many seasons both men played. The stress which Robinson had to bottle in while handling himself with courage and dignity throughout his playing career as spectators hurled racist slurs at him was remarkable. I fully believe this stress may have prevented the world from seeing Robinson’s true abilities as a player. Had Robinson been widely accepted as any white player in his day, perhaps he may have posted even better numbers!
My Dream Team Batting Lineup
Ichiro Suzuki (LF)
Jackie Robinson (2B)
Joe DiMaggio (CF)
Babe Ruth (DH)
Josh Gibson (C)
Lou Gehrig (1B)
Willie Mays (RF)
Mike Schmidt (3B)
Ozzie Smith (SS)
DiMaggio would be the perfect hitter to have hitting third in the lineup. DiMaggio was a superb hitter who could hit for average and power while rarely striking out. In his MLB career, DiMaggio averaged only 32 strikeouts per 600 at-bats. To put that in perspective: Albert Pujols currently averages 67 strikeouts per 600 at-bats in his career. In terms of strikeouts, DiMaggio makes Pujols look like Adam Dunn.
I have Gehrig hitting sixth and Mays hitting seventh because Mays was a better runner than Gehrig. His ability to swipe bases would put himself in scoring position when he’s not hitting home runs and make it easier for Schmidt and Smith to drive in runs.
Well, there you have it. I hope my dream team lineup and batting order have sparked your interest in thinking deeply about what players you would select for your own dream team and lineup. As I said earlier, there are no right or wrong answers, as there are endless multitides of combinations and possibilities to compile a winning team.
Thanks to Mr. Kendrick for the pleasant exchanges on Twitter. Mr. Kendrick, our conversations have been most pleasant and amusing (I would also say educational). It is always a pleasure to converse with a fan who has a love for the game and an appreciation for the game’s history.
Philadelphia Phillies fans have much to be excited about. The Phillies not only boast the best pitching rotation in baseball (in spite of lingering injuries to Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt), but also the best record in baseball and are serious World Series contenders (especially after acquiring Hunter Pence). Unfortunately, I know some Phillies fans who get too excited about Ryan Howard. I consider Ryan Howard to be baseball’s most overrated star.
Do not take this the wrong way: I love having a hitter who can change the game with one swing of the bat like Howard; however, he is not as great as people think he is. Adam Dunn is also capable of changing the game with one swing of the bat, and look at the miserable season he is having with the Chicago White Sox!
The fact of the matter is that Ryan Howard is not a very good hitter; he merely hits when pitchers are forced to throw strikes – which happen to be quite hittable – to him.
I wrote last year that Howard’s enormous contract extension was an enormous mistake, and I stand by that belief. Frankly, Howard is not going to get better as a hitter; he is only going to get worse as he ages.
In fact, he already had been declining the past few seasons. The 2006 season was his first season as a full-time starter; it also happens to be the greatest statistical season of his career. Therefore, Howard’s career will not be measured against his 2006 season.
I measure Howard’s career based on his progression from season-to-season, starting with the progression from the 2006 to 2007 season.
Ryan Howard career progression
2006: career year
AVG: down, down, up, down, down
OBP: down, down, up, down, down
SLG: down, down, up, down, down
OPS: down, down, up, down, down
No, the above is not the famous “Konami Code” which gives you extra lives in Contra and other Konami brand video games. The above numbers are indeed Howard’s statistical progressions from season to season. Despite playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark and having several Cy Young candidates on his team (rather than facing them), he continues to decline each season. Howard’s limitations as a hitter will be all the more problematic as he ages and his decline continues.
Back on July 11, I compared the career numbers of John Kruk vs. Ryan Howard (which are accurate as of July 11, 2011). At that time, Howard’s career numbers trailed Kruk in many categories. Despite being the superior hitter, Kruk will likely never get a call from Cooperstown because he did not have the power to hit 40-plus home runs on a consistent basis. It is tragic to see great hitters be lost in the shadows of inferior hitters who can smash a ball 500-plus feet.
Prior to tonight’s game, Howard has a career .279 AVG when the game is tied, .278 AVG when his team is behind and a .271 AVG when his team is ahead. These are respectable numbers for his career. He is not a good two-strike hitter, however, as he is hitting .170 in his career with two strikes against him. Below are the career numbers of Ryan Howard and several other hitters.
Career AVG when game is tied
.330 (Ichiro Suzuki)
.317 (Derek Jeter)
.311 (Albert Pujols)
.305 (Sean Casey and Joey Votto)
.300 (Matt Holliday)
.299 (David Ortiz and Placido Polanco)
.279 (Ryan Howard)
Career AVG when team is behind
.346 (Albert Pujols)
.323 (Ichiro Suzuki)
.318 (Joey Votto)
.315 (Derek Jeter)
.310 (Matt Holliday)
.298 (Placido Polanco)
.296 (Sean Casey)
.278 (Ryan Howard)
.266 (David Ortiz)
Career AVG when team is ahead
.340 (Matt Holliday)
.328 (Ichiro Suzuki)
.327 (Albert Pujols)
.324 (Joey Votto)
.307 (Sean Casey and Placido Polanco)
.306 (Derek Jeter)
.285 (David Ortiz)
.271 (Ryan Howard)
Career AVG with two strikes
.266 (Ichiro Suzuki)
.263 (Albert Pujols)
.252 (Placido Polanco)
.234 (Matt Holliday)
.229 (Sean Casey)
.228 (Derek Jeter)
.219 (Joey Votto)
.206 (David Ortiz)
.170 (Ryan Howard)
Although Howard’s AVG is respectable in the above scenarios (with the exception of two-strike scenarios) for his career, it is taking a sharp decline in those categories this season. Thus far in the 2011 season, Howard is hitting .230 when the game is tied, .231 when the Phillies are behind, and .283 when the Phillies are ahead. Even his two-strike AVG is below his career mark at this time (.153 on the season).
I am pleased that fans support their teams and their players, including players such as Howard. Supporting a team and its players is what fans are supposed to do; however, I believe fans need to also be realists and honest with themselves. Howard is a dangerous bat who can change the game with one swing; however, he is not a great hitter and is most certainly not an MVP. The long-term contract extension given to Howard is one of the very few bad moves made by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
With all due respect to Howard and his accomplishments, he is a very limited hitter who needs to be in a hitter-friendly situation to achieve. Since the Phillies acquired Pence and stuck him right after Howard in the batting order, Howard’s hitting has improved because pitchers would rather pitch to Howard than pitch to Pence. Since joining the Phillies, Pence is hitting .366 and Howard is hitting .272 in the past 10 games.
When I replay last season’s NLCS-ending strikeout in which Howard stared at a Brian Wilson fastball right down the middle of the plate, I find myself remembering how much I wished Polanco were up to bat in that situation. Fans can say what they want about Howard’s home runs and RBIs and how much it helps their fantasy teams and they can say what they want about Howard’s RISP numbers; the fact remains that the hitters who do the little things such as hitting with the bases empty or hitting with two strikes against them – and doing these things well – are the hitters who ultimately win baseball games for your team.
For the third consecutive season, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made a blockbuster acquisition on July 29. On July 29 of the 2009 season, Amaro acquired Cliff Lee; he followed that up in 2010 by acquiring Roy Oswalt. Now in 2011, Amaro acquired Houston Astros right fielder Hunter Pence.
The acquisitions made by Amaro in his time as the Phillies’ general manager makes him one of the best in the game (if not the best). Amaro acquired Lee (and later acquired him again as a free agent), Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and now Pence. Phillies fans should be excited about this acquisition for two reasons: first of all, Pence is an excellent talent in right field; secondly, the Phillies acquired Pence without trading Vance Worley or Domonic Brown. In exchange for Pence, the Astros acquired RHP Jarred Cosart, RHP Josh Zeid, 1B/OF Jonathan Singleton and a player to be named later.
The 24 year-old Zeid is struggling this season with the Reading Phillies (AA) of the Eastern League. Zeid currently has a 2-3 record with a 5.65 ERA in 21 games (16 starts). The 21 year-old Cosart has tremendous upside and has solid numbers with the Clearwater Threshers (A) of the Florida State League. Cosart is 9-8 with a 3.92 ERA.
Although Zeid and Cosart have unspectacular numbers in the minors, perhaps the best prospect in this deal is Singleton. Singleton currently has a .282 AVG, nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 92 games with the Threshers. While such numbers in Clearwater may not sound very impressive, fans must remember that Singleton is only 19 years of age. Aside from Brown, Singleton was widely regarded as the Phillies’ top hitting prospect, and very well may have been the centerpiece of the Pence trade. In addition to his tremendous potential as a hitter, Singleton has versatility as he can play first base and outfield. If the Astros still have Brett Wallace at first base in several years, then Singleton may end up being Pence’s replacement in the outfield in the future.
This blockbuster trade can greatly help both teams. For the Astros, this trade holds potential and promise for the future. For the Phillies, this trade means a greatly-improved chance at winning the 2011 World Series and beyond. Pence is 28 years of age and is in the prime of his career. The acquisition of Pence should make fans forget about the loss of Jayson Werth (who is struggling mightily with the Washington Nationals this season).
A career .290 hitter, Pence has the ability to hit for average and power. He can also play good defense in the outfield and run the bases. For his career, Pence averages 25 home runs and 90 RBIs per 162 games. Pence should be able to post similar – if not better – numbers in the Phillies lineup. Unlike most Phillies hitters, Pence also has the ability to hit left-handed pitching well. In addition to being a career .290 hitter, Pence currently has a career .290 AVG against right-handed and left-handed pitching.
Amaro’s ability to make blockbuster deals while holding on to key players and top prospects (Brown and Worley) make him perhaps the best general manager in baseball right now. Regardless of the potential scouts may see in Cosart and Zeid, there is no need for them in the Phillies’ system when they already have Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels, Oswalt and Worley in the rotation. Singleton likely would never have seen MLB time with the Phillies, as they plan to have Brown be a major fixture in their lineup in the future; furthermore, first baseman Ryan Howard is locked in with a long-term contract.
Amaro has done an excellent job of making the Phillies contenders for now and in the near future. Eventually, the Phillies will have to make plans for the future at shortstop and third base; however, the rest of their lineup appears to be set in stone for the next 3-5 years. While trading away prospects can be risky business, Amaro has made all the right moves thus far and has the Phillies in position to contend for years.
Recently, a Philadelphia Phillies “fan” had the audacity to not only criticize John Kruk after being inducted into the Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame, but also insult Kruk on Twitter. He wrote, “@JohnKruk_ESPN you couldn’t run,field,throw,or hit for power so all that’s left is hit for average which .300avg says that.Is that HOF stuff”
I was amused by how small-minded this “fan” was, so I took the opportunity to reply. I replied that Ryan Howard cannot run, field, throw or hit for average. I’ll take a .300 hitter anyday.
Lo and behold, I get accused by this “fan” of being a hater. I find it ironic that I point out Ryan Howard’s flaws as a hitter and become accused of being a hater; furthermore, the person accusing me of being a hater is one who downplays the accomplishments of another player. Wow! Very well. After I pointed out the strong numbers Kruk posted in other categories (and he bests Howard in those categories), the small-minded “fan” continues to disregard those numbers and continues to downplay the achievements of Kruk.
When that fan ran out of anything intelligent to say – not that he had anything intelligent to start with – he stated that he knows more than I do about baseball because he played “division 1 baseball.” First of all, having played baseball on a collegiate level does not make you an expert or a good reseacher; secondly: NOBODY CARES.
I took the liberty of researching the statistics of John Kruk and Ryan Howard’s careers. Obviously, Kruk does not match Howard in home runs and RBIs. Kruk was not a power hitter. Although Kruk was not a power hitter, I would gladly take a team full of hitters like John Kruk as opposed to a team full of hitters like Ryan Howard. I do not care whether a man hits a baseball 500 feet or 300 feet. If I’m a manager of a baseball club in a tight playoff game, I want the man who can put the ball in play, as opposed to the man who is apt to strike out.
As you can see from the above numbers, Kruk bests Howard in virtually every category. Howard currently holds a one-point edge in AVG with runners in scoring position; however, that will likely go to Kruk once Howard ages and declines as a hitter. As Howard ages and eventually declines, his numbers are only going to get worse.
I do not bedgrudge any Phillies fan for being a fan of Ryan Howard. I do not begrudge any fan for oohing and aahing over towering home run shots; however, to insult another former player and blindly speak garbage without giving any thought to the numbers to back up one’s argument is laughable. Any “fan” who does that is not a fan of baseball.
Am I saying that John Kruk is a better baseball player than Ryan Howard? No. I am not arguing that one is better than the other; I am merely pointing out the fallacies in the way this other “fan” thinks about the game. Some people will prefer to have Howard because he can change the game with one swing of the bat; others will prefer a hitter like Kruk for his ability to put the ball in play.
I personally would prefer to have a team full of hitters like John Kruk or Sean Casey as opposed to a team full of hitters like Ryan Howard. I evaluate hitters based on their abilities, not their fantasy stats (such as home runs and RBIs). In my research, the best hitter I have ever researched would have to be Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio could hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, play great defense and he rarely ever struck out. DiMaggio hit .325 for his career, reached base at a .398 clip and struck out an average of 32 times per 600 at-bats.
Throughout the course of a nine-inning game and throughout the course of the regular season and the postseason, I prefer hitters who put the ball in play often. Sluggers like Howard have severe limitations as hitters and sometimes do more harm than good.
If you would prefer to have a one-swing game-changer like Ryan Howard, that is your desire; however, nobody should downplay the achievements or the importance of contact hitters. Major League Baseball’s sudden resurgence in pitching dominance and the struggles of sluggers like Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla greatly show that contact hitters are not to be overlooked.
As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), I participate each year in several voting sessions during the course of a baseball season. It is now time to unveil my BBA votes for the 2011 MLB All-Star Game.
C: Brian McCann
1B: Joey Votto
2B: Brandon Phillips
3B: Placido Polanco
SS: Jose Reyes
OF: Matt Kemp
OF: Ryan Braun
OF: Matt Holliday
SP: Roy Halladay
NL Rationale: McCann seemed to be an easy choice to me, as he has the best offensive statistics among NL catchers at this time. First base was somewhat a tough decision as I contemplated between Votto and Gaby Sanchez. Both have similar numbers; however, Votto got my vote because he is heating up again while Sanchez has cooled off lately; furthermore, Votto’s .407 OBP is superior to Sanchez’s .376 OBP.
I reluctantly voted for Polanco at third base because he is in a major slump at this time. He has good numbers with a .289 AVG and 39 RBIs; however, his hitting is not as hot as it once was. Polanco hit .398 in April, .248 in May and is currently hitting .207 in June. Nevertheless, he is one of the best contact hitters in baseball when his game is on. He is also an excellent defensive player. No NL third baseman really has mind-blowing numbers this season, so Polanco gets lucky and gets my vote.
Jose Reyes was an easy choice at shortstop. Despite the New York Mets not being contenders in the NL East, I believe Reyes deserves to be mentioned as a possible NL MVP candidate this season. At this time, Reyes is hitting .341 with 61 runs and 28 stolen bases.
Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun were obvious choices for me in the outfield. The difficulty was selecting a third NL outfielder. I originally wanted to cast my vote for Lance Berkman; however, Berkman’s hitting has cooled off recently. His fellow St. Louis Cardinals teammate Matt Holliday has been a much more consistent hitter this season and is the focal point of the Cardinals’ offense while Pujols is on the DL. Despite an earlier trip to the DL, Holliday has a .330 AVG with nine home runs and 39 RBIs.
Roy Halladay gets my vote for the starting pitcher job. In the past few weeks, I felt the NL pitcher spot was a two-man race between Halladay and Hamels. After their most recent outings, Halladay edges Hamels in virtually every stat and is the NL leader in strikeouts; Halladay also has five complete games on the season.
C: Victor Martinez
1B: Adrian Gonzalez
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: Alex Rodriguez
SS: Jhonny Peralta
OF: Jacoby Ellsbury
OF: Jose Bautista
OF: Curtis Granderson
DH: David Ortiz
SP: Justin Verlander
AL Rationale: although Victor Martinez splits time between catching and serving as the designated hitter, Martinez gets my vote for the catcher spot in the AL. Martinez currently has a .333 AVG, six home runs and 44 RBIs. No other AL catcher can match him in production at this time.
Adrian Gonzalez was THE most obvious choice for any all-star position on either team this season. Gonzalez is having a monstrous season and should be a unanimous choice for the AL MVP if the season were over today. Gonzalez currently has a .361 AVG with 16 home runs and 71 RBIs. Just as many expected when he was traded to the Red Sox, Gonzalez is putting up video game-like statistics in hitter-friendly Fenway Park. Should Gonzalez remain hot, there is a very real possibility of him winning the triple crown (a feat last accomplished by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967).
Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez were obvious choices for me at second and third base. Cano has no competition in the AL at the position. Although Adrian Beltre put up similar numbers to Rodriguez, Rodriguez has the higher AVG and gets my vote.
Shortstop is where it gets interesting: I originally planned to vote for Asdrubal Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians; however, Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta got my vote. Peralta has a higher AVG and his power numbers are similar to Cabrera, despite having many fewer at-bats than Cabrera.
Jose Bautista was an easy selection for the AL outfield. With the exception of Adrian Gonzalez, Bautista has been the best hitter in baseball this season. The Blue Jays left fielder is currently hitting .325 with 23 home runs and 48 RBIs.
Curtis Granderson and Jacoby Ellsbury also get my votes for the outfield. Offensively, Granderson has been the complete package for the Yankees this season. Granderson is currently hitting .276 with 21 home runs, 55 RBIs, 68 runs and 12 stolen bases. Ellsbury is hitting .303 with nine home runs, 39 RBIs and 25 stolen bases.
David Ortiz was an easy selection for the designated hitter slot in the AL for two reasons: (1) I took Victor Martinez out of consideration for it by voting him to be the catcher and (2) Ortiz has the numbers to back up the vote. Ortiz is curently hitting .311 with 17 home runs and 48 RBIs. He also has 20 doubles, a .391 OBP and .972 OPS. Ortiz may hit .300 or higher for the first time since the 2007 season. Ortiz is turning back the clock and hitting once again like an AL MVP candidate; unfortunately for Ortiz, an MVP will be impossible to win this season if teammate Adrian Gonzalez keeps hitting in Ruthian fashion.
Selecting a starting pitcher for the AL was no easy task. I juggled between Justin Verlander (10 W, 2.38 ERA, 0.84 WHIP), James Shields (8 W, 2.29 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) and Josh Beckett (6 W, 1.86 ERA, 0.92 WHIP). Although all three pitchers have superb numbers, Beckett’s downfall is that he had not pitched nearly as many innings as Shields or Verlander.
In the end, Verlander got my vote because he not only tossed a no-hitter (the second of his career), but flirted with a no-hitter several times this season. Furthermore, his 0.84 WHIP is superior to Shields’ 0.92 WHIP. Simply put, Verlander has been more dominating than any other AL pitcher this year.
After 21 games in the 2011 season, the Philadelphia Phillies (15-6) have the best record in baseball.
The Phillies had a red-hot start to the season with their offense; however, they have failed to score more than four runs in a game for the past 13 games. The last time they scored more than four runs was in a 10-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on April 9.
Despite the recent offensive struggles, the pitching rotation has led the Phillies to victory in seven of their past 10 games. The rotation is a collective 10-4 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.
The “four aces” (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels) are living up to their billing. The foursome are 10-3 with a 2.75 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.13 K/9 rate, two complete games and one shutout.
The foursome’s numbers are likely to improve as Cliff Lee (2-1, 3.91 ERA) is expected to lower his ERA. Although the Phillies’ foursome gets all of the publicity, fans should not overlook the contributions of Joe Blanton (0-1, 5.92 ERA). Blanton’s 5.92 ERA is the byproduct of struggles in his first two starts. In his past two starts, Blanton is 0-0 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.
Although not as talented as his other fellow pitchers, Blanton is capable of pitching very well in stretches. Blanton is usually hot or cold and he improves as the season progresses. In 108 career starts before the All-Star break, Blanton is 35-42 with a 4.68 ERA. In 87 career starts after the All-Star break, Blanton is 37-19 with a 3.91 ERA.
The bullpen is currently depleted with injuries as Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero and Jose Contreras are all on the DL. With Contreras on the DL, Ryan Madson becomes the closer. Perhaps the most effective reliever for the Phillies this season has been Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo is currently 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, a win, a hold and a save. In 9 1/3 innings of work, Bastardo has struck out 14 (a 13.50 K/9 rate) and walked four while allowing only three hits.
The Phillies begin a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight. After playing the Diamondbacks, the Phillies have a great opportunity to pull away from the rest of the NL East as they play 15 consecutive games against division rivals.
Ben Francisco and Jimmy Rollins have cooled off lately. Raul Ibanez is only hitting .187 thus far. Domonic Brown is on the DL, but could return soon. Do not be surprised to see Brown take the starting job away from Ben Francisco. If Ruben Amaro opts to keep Brown in the minors for now, it would not be a surprise to see Ross Gload and/or John Mayberry receive more playing time as Ibanez and/or Francisco struggle.
The Phillies’ dominant pitching will keep them in most games; when their streaky offense gets hot again, they will look virtually unbeatable. Until then, their opponents are forced to match the Phillies pitch-for-pitch.
Thursday, March 31, 2011: opening day is here!
In 2010, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers to win their first World Series since 1954. The 2010 season was dubbed as “the year of the pitcher” as Roy Halladay tossed a perfect game (Halladay also tossed a no-hitter in the postseason). Dallas Braden, Ubaldo Jimenez and Edwin Jackson also tossed no-hitters during the 2010 season. Several other pitches came within several outs of tossing no-hitter. Rookies Starlin Castro and Jason Heyward were impact players for their clubs.
The big stories in the offseason were the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. The Red Sox acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Carl Crawford. I believe the Red Sox now have the best lineup in baseball. The Philadelphia Phillies shocked the baseball world by re-acquiring pitcher Cliff Lee. Lee joins Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels in what may be one of the greatest pitching rotations of all time.
With the 2011 season now upon us, it is time for predictions.
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: Colorado Rockies
NL Wild Card: Atlanta Braves
NL MVP: Albert Pujols (.326 AVG, 41 HR, 129 RBI)
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay (22 W, 2.69 ERA)
NL Rookie of the Year: Freddie Freeman (.268 AVG, 19 HR, 71 RBI)
Despite the uncertainty around Chase Utley’s knee injury, the Phillies will finish with the best record in baseball. The pitching rotation of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels and Blanton will be the best rotation in baseball. Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels are all capable of approaching 20+ wins. Had Hamels not been a poor victim of run support in 2010, he likely would have notched 20 wins.
Despite Adam Wainwright’s season-ending injury, I believe the St. Louis Cardinals will win the NL Central in 2011. Albert Pujols will win the NL MVP in what could possibly be his last season as a Cardinal. If the Cardinals do not win the NL Central, I still do not see the Cincinnati Reds repeating as NL Central champs in 2011. Should the Cardinals not win the NL Central, I foresee the Milwaukee Brewers then winning the division with their improved pitching rotation.
AL East: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Detroit Tigers
AL West: Texas Rangers
AL Wild Card: New York Yankees
AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez (.292 AVG, 49 HR, 126 RBI)
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander (20 W, 2.84 ERA)
AL Rookie of the Year: Dustin Ackley (.282 AVG, 16 HR, 62 RBI)
With the acquisitions of Crawford and Gonzalez, the Red Sox are the clear favorites in the AL. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will carry their pitching rotation while John Lackey provides excellent support. If Josh Beckett returns to form and pitches like he did years ago, that will be a great bonus for the Red Sox. Daisuke Matsuzaka showed promise in spring training; however, he has a history of being unpredictable with his control. The New York Yankees will also reach the postseason and face the Red Sox in the ALCS.
Just like the NL Central, I find the AL Central to be an intriguing division. The Tigers, Twins and White Sox are all capable of winning the division; however, I give the AL Central to the Tigers for their pitching. Justin Verlander will win the AL Cy Young Award while winning 20 games for the first time in his career. Rick Porcello will have an ERA under 4.00 and start to show his true potential later in the season.
The Seattle Mariners have top prospect Dustin Ackley in the minors to start the 2011 season; however, he is expected to be called up eventually. Playing time permitting, I believe Ackley is capable of launching 20+ home runs as a rookie. Keep Ackley on your watch lists in your fantasy leagues. If you are in a keeper league, you should entertain the notion of plucking Ackley from waivers now.
2011 World Series: Philadelphia Phillies defeat Boston Red Sox in 6 games.
I believe the Phillies are capable of winning it all with or without Utley; however, it is imperative for Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard to stay healthy if Utley is out. With or without Utley, the Phillies may have just enough talent in their lineup to win it all while their pitching rotation shuts the opposition down.