MLB 2012 Predictions

The 2012 Major League Baseball season is upon us.  The season began with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics playing in Japan; however, the rest of the MLB begins their season this week.  Displayed below are the DuggerSports 2012 MLB preseason power rankings for all clubs and 2012 season predictions.

Power Rankings
1.  Tampa Bay Rays
2.  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3.  Philadelphia Phillies
4.  New York Yankees
5.  Boston Red Sox
6.  Detroit Tigers
7.  Texas Rangers
8.  St. Louis Cardinals
9.  San Francisco Giants
10.  Cincinnati Reds
11.  Milwaukee Brewers
12.  Los Angeles Dodgers
13.  Atlanta Braves
14.  Miami Marlins
15.  Chicago White Sox
16.  Colorado Rockies
17.  Washington Nationals
18.  Arizona Diamondbacks
19.  Chicago Cubs
20.  Kansas City Royals
21.  Pittsburgh Pirates
22.  Cleveland Indians
23.  Toronto Blue Jays
24.  Minnesota Twins
25.  Seattle Mariners
26.  Baltimore Orioles
27.  New York Mets
28.  Houston Astros
29.  Oakland Athletics
30.  San Diego Padres

I believe the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals can be surprising teams this season.  While I do not believe either team will make the playoffs, I do believe they are capable of winning the AL Central if the heavily-favored Detroit Tigers slip up.  I also believe the Los Angeles Dodgers are a more talented team than they are given credit for and will contend for a playoff spot.

AL Division Predictions
West:  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Central:  Detroit Tigers
East:  Tampa Bay Rays
Wild Card:  New York Yankees
Wild Card:  Boston Red Sox

The AL will be a massive minefield during the postseason with three AL East teams.  For years, the Yankees/Rays/Sox were a trio of terror that struck fear into the hearts of other AL teams; the additional Wild Card spot may very well assure the AL East of seeing their top teams in the postseason.

NL Division Predictions
West:  San Francisco Giants
Central:  St. Louis Cardinals
East:  Philadelphia Phillies
Wild Card:  Cincinnati Reds
Wild Card:  Los Angeles Dodgers

The Reds have the pieces to be one of baseball’s highest-scoring teams but have lacked in pitching for years.  This may be the year the Reds’ pitching staff turns them into contenders.  Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo provide the Reds with a solid trio of starting pitchers.  Arroyo is not an overpowering pitcher; however, he consistently pitches 200 innings and is a veteran.  Latos and Cueto have the ability to be all-star pitchers and should give the Reds the chance to compete in games.

Aroldis Chapman will begin the season in the bullpen; however, he is expected to be slotted into the rotation when several relievers return from the disabled list.  Mike Leake is an underrated pitcher who can provide the Reds with solid pitching.  Due to Chapman’s move to the bullpen, Homer Bailey still has a job in the rotation (for now).  This season may be Bailey’s last chance to stay in Cincinnati’s starting rotation.

I believe the Dodgers will make the playoffs this season as Matt Kemp puts up another MVP-caliber season.  Andre Ethier will also have a great season and help Kemp form one of baseball’s deadliest one-two punches.  Young shortstop Dee Gordon will play a large role in the Dodgers’ success this season as he swipes bases.  I believe Gordon can hit .290 and steal at least 40 bases (perhaps even 60).  Clayton Kershaw will be a Cy Young Award candidate again.

AL Awards Predictions
MVP:  Albert Pujols (Angels)
Cy Young:  Jered Weaver (Angels)
Rookie of the Year:  Lorenzo Cain (Royals)

Cain will begin the season batting 2nd in the Royals lineup

In 128 games with the Omaha Storm Chasers (AAA) of the Pacific Coast League, Cain hit .312 and reached on base at a .380 clip.  Cain tallied 16 home runs and 81 RBIs with 16 steals and an OPS of .877 last season.

Cain is a good outfielder with a strong arm and blazing speed who will bat second in the Royals’ lineup to start the 2012 MLB season.  I expect Cain to put up good numbers and score plenty of runs while the likes of Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler drive him in.

If the Tigers fail to reach expectations, the Royals could be one of those sleeper teams that sneak in and steal the division crown.

NL Awards Predictions
MVP:  Joey Votto (Reds)
Cy Young:  Roy Halladay (Phillies)
Rookie of the Year:  Dee Gordon (Dodgers)

Predicting the MVP in the NL is a tough task for this season.  I believe the MVP vote may come down to Matt Kemp (Dodgers) and Votto (Reds).  Both will lead their teams to the postseason and collect MVP votes.

World Series
Philadelphia Phillies defeat Tampa Bay Rays

Despite the injuries the Phillies have to start the season (Ryan Howard, Michael Martinez, Jose Contreras and Micheal Stutes on DL) and concerns with Chase Utley’s health, the Phillies have a super trio of pitchers in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.  All three are capable of winning the Cy Young.

I believe the Phillies’ offense is being underestimated by many baseball pundits.  With or without Howard, the Phillies are still a force in the NL.  While there are a handful of teams in the NL with tremendous upside, I believe only the Phillies and Cardinals can legitimately be considered as favorites to reach the World Series in the NL.  The AL will be an explosive minefield in the postseason with the Yankees, Rays, Angels, Red Sox and Tigers beating each other up.  The AL playoffs will be full of teams with very high expectations and huge letdowns for the fan bases of the unfortunate teams to lose.

The additional wild card spots in the 2012 MLB playoff format will create very exciting postseason baseball.  I wish all you fans the best of luck with your teams and I hope you enjoy the season!

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Chase Utley Retires

Major League Baseball has been full of surprises in 2012.  Manny Ramirez came out of retirement to sign with the Oakland Athletics, Ryan Braun reportedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and appealed his 50-game suspension (and won his appeal) and Albert Pujols left the St. Louis Cardinals to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (there’s a mouthful).  Although these stories grabbed the headlines, they pale in comparison to Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley’s stunning retirement.

From 2005 to 2009, Utley hit .301 and averaged 29 home runs and 101 RBIs. Utley won the NL MVP in 2005 and four Silver Slugger awards.

According to sources close to the Phillies, Utley informed Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. that he is retiring.  Amaro has been unavailable to comment thus far.  It is believed that Amaro and Utley are scheduling a press conference for later in the week (perhaps Thursday).

Utley – drafted by the Phillies with the 15th overall pick out of UCLA in the 2000 MLB entry draft – hit .290 with 188 home runs in his nine MLB seasons.  Utley won the National League MVP in 2005, was a five-time All-Star and won four Silver Slugger awards.  Utley played a large part in the Phillies’ success in the past decade and won the World Series in 2008.

Utley was perhaps the best second baseman in baseball for a span of five years.  From 2005-2009, Utley hit .301 and averaged 29 home runs and 101 RBIs.  Unfortunately, Utley has struggled with knee injuries in the past two seasons.  Utley missed over 40 games last season due to his right knee; this time it is his left knee that ails him.  Although the condition of Utley’s knee is degenerative, he initially discussed the possibility of rehab and playing through the pain in the 2012 season.

Utley’s retirement could not have come at a worse time for the Phillies.  Infielder Michael Martinez will start the 2012 season on the disabled list (along with slugging first baseman Ryan Howard).  It is unlikely that Placido Polanco will move back to second base at all; Polanco is likely going to stay at third base and 21 year-old Freddy Galvis will take Utley’s place.  Galvis hit .278 between the AA and AAA level in 2011.

News of Utley’s retirement not only brings a somber mood to the Phillies clubhouse and fan base, but could also conceivably slam the door shut on the Phillies’ 2012 World Series hopes.  Although Utley struggled with injuries during the past two seasons, Phillies fans will always remember him for being one of the best second basemen in his all-too-brief career.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

APRIL FOOLS!

Inside Baseball Rating

There are many things to like about baseball:  the nice spring weather, the relaxed pace of the game, the family-friendly atmosphere and many other things.  Statistics are one of the things to love about baseball, as baseball is chock-full of them (a stat junkie’s paradise).  Through the use of statistics, people are always trying to predict what will happen next in baseball; the obsession with statistics in turn created fantasy baseball.

While many in today’s era use statistics mostly for fantasy baseball purposes, I believe they can also be used to judge a player’s value to his team.  For years, I have debated with fans who were adamant that Ozzie Smith did not belong in the Hall of Fame (they believed he lacked the bat); I pointed out that although he will never be mistaken for Ty Cobb, Smith was a much better offensive player than he was generally given credit for.

Rather than waiting for somebody to produce a statistic that would measure the “small ball” or “inside baseball” efficiency of a player, I took the liberty to create such a statistic.  Displayed below is the formula for my Inside Baseball Rating.

My formula for Inside Baseball Rating (IB Rating)

The formula (pictured above) displays a player’s efficiency via hits (that are NOT home runs) along with steals, sacrifice hits, sacrifice flies, walks and hit-by-pitches in plate appearances that did not result in home runs.  I created this formula with the belief that every base-reaching or runner-advancing action contributes to a team’s success and its probability in scoring runs.  My formula does not take into account a hitter reaching base via error (nor should it).  My formula also punishes players for striking out and being caught stealing.

After creating the formula, I then decided to research the career numbers of a handful of players whose names randomly popped into my head from different eras.  Here are the results of said research:

.367 (Tony Gwynn)
.352 (Tim Raines)
.348 (Wade Boggs)
.346 (Rickey Henderson)
.340 (Ozzie Smith)
.316 (Ichiro Suzuki)
.306 (Dustin Pedroia)
.300 (Albert Pujols)
.281 (Don Mattingly)
.256 (Sean Casey)
.255 (Chipper Jones)
.250 (Derek Jeter)
.246 (Jimmy Rollins)
.168 (Kirk Gibson)
.056 (Adam Dunn)
.042 (Ryan Howard)

To my surprise, Tony Gwynn's career IB Rating (.367) was higher than Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson.

In all honesty, I was surprised to see Smith score as highly as he did with my formula.  I always considered Smith to be a very underrated offensive player; however, I never expected his IB Rating to be higher than the likes of Ichiro Suzuki or Albert Pujols.  I was also under the impression that Derek Jeter and Kirk Gibson would have higher IB Ratings than they actually scored.

I expected low IB Ratings from sluggers like Dunn and Howard, but nowhere nearly as low as their actual marks.  The low numbers by Dunn and Howard make the .300 IB Rating by slugger Albert Pujols all the more impressive!

I expected a higher IB Rating from my favorite player (Sean Casey).  Casey was a career .302 hitter who did not strike out much in his career.  To say that I was surprised by how high or low some of these IB ratings were by specific players would be a great understatement.  I would like to take this opportunity to remind my readers that a low IB Rating does not mean that a player is a waste of a spot in the offensive lineup; a low IB Rating merely means that player has not done enough of the positive things and/or done too much of the negative things that affect his rating.  No matter how poor a player’s IB Rating may be, sluggers like Dunn and Howard will always be needed in baseball.

Does my formula have merit in the baseball world?  That is not for me to decide; however, I like to believe it does have merit.  I believe that my formula may help teams figure out which players they want in the 1-2-3 and 6-7-8 slots in their batting orders (leave the fourth and fifth slots to the sluggers).  I believe that a team who stacks the top third and bottom third of their order with as many players as possible with high IB Ratings will have a greater chance of creating chaos for opposing defenses and producing runs on a more frequent basis.

My rating may not indicate who the best hitters or base-runners are.  I believe they indicate who the most complete offensive players are when they are not striking out or hitting home runs, hence the title “Inside Baseball Rating.”  Gwynn’s IB Rating was aided by his very high level of productivity as a contact hitter (and his refusal to strike out).  Smith’s IB Rating was aided by not only his stolen bases, but his many sacrifices as a hitter.

The IB Rating might not be the most useful tool for you in fantasy baseball leagues, but I like to believe it may help a team win a World Series.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

2012 Phillies Preview

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.

Lineup
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

With or without Ryan Howard, Hunter Pence (.314 AVG, 22 HR and 97 RBI) will be the go-to guy in the Phillies lineup.

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.

Bench
Michael Martinez
Brian Schneider
Laynce Nix
Jim Thome
Juan Pierre

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:

Batting order
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)
P (Pitcher)

Starting rotation
Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton
Vance Worley

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.

Bullpen
Jonathan Papelbon
Jose Contreras
Michael Stutes
Chad Qualls
Kyle Kendrick
Antonio Bastardo
David Herndon

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.

Joe Savery was 4-0 with two saves, a 1.80 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 25 innings through 18 relief appearances with the Iron Pigs (AAA) in 2011.

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.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

2012 Phillies Offseason Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies recently made a big statement by signing free agent first baseman Jim Thome.  By signing Thome, the Phillies are letting the world know that they are ready to replace Ryan Howard during his time on the disabled list and gear up for a 2012 World Series run with or without Howard.

While the Thome signing was one I foresaw, there are other signings I would like to see the Phillies pursue:  Michael Cuddyer, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, Darren Oliver and John Mayberry.

Michael Cuddyer

If the Phillies sign Cuddyer, it is possible that he may be the starting second baseman and the team may move Chase Utley to first base.  If Utley were moved to first, then Jim Thome would serve as a backup who gets the occasional start and serves as a good power bat on the bench.

If Utley remains at second base, then Cuddyer could perhaps play first base while Ryan Howard remains on the disabled list.  If there are no plans to start Cuddyer at first base, then he could possibly start in left field to replace Raul Ibanez.

Cuddyer is a logical option for the Phillies.  He is a solid right-handed bat – which the Phillies sorely need – who can hit for average and power; more importantly, Cuddyer can hit left-handed pitching.  His versatility will be a useful tool, especially if the Phillies suffer a string of injuries in their lineup.

Dilemma at first base

While Howard is on the disabled list, the Phillies will not miss his strikeouts and poor situational hitting; however, they will miss his power and run production.  I believe Thome will serve well as a power hitter, especially in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Ballpark; however, Thome has a history of back ailments.

The Phillies need to plan to have a replacement for Thome at first base if his back flares up.  If they indeed sign Cuddyer, he could be Thome’s replacement at first base while John Mayberry (if they re-sign him) or Domonic Brown could play in left field.

Why the Phillies need Jimmy Rollins

I believe the Phillies need to re-sign free agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins.  While Rollins does not hit for an extremely high average (.268 AVG in 2011) or sport a high on-base percentage (.338 OBP in 2011), he is vital to the Phillies’ success.  Rollins is a switch-hitter, excellent base runner and a superb shortstop.

Do not underestimate the importance of Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino to the Phillies' success.

The flaws in Rollins’ offensive game merely call for a change in the batting order.  Rather than batting Rollins in the leadoff spot, I prefer to see him batting sixth or seventh in the 2012 season.

Rollins has some power in his bat and should not be discouraged from using it in the sixth or seventh spot; furthermore, his speed will be a deadly weapon in the bottom third of the order.

When Rollins is on base in the bottom third of the order, a base hit will likely score a run.  Rollins’ speed also presents the hit-and-run as an option in the bottom of the order.  If the pitcher is up to bat, Rollins’ speed will enable him to advance the next base on some less-than-ideal bunts (if he does not already steal second or third base).  If Rollins is on third base, the squeeze play is an option, regardless of who the batter may be.

Although Rollins is not a leadoff hitter in the truest sense of the title, he is a dangerous player whose success plays an important role in any team’s pursuit of victory.  His switch-hitting and his speed would be wonderful tools to have in the bottom of the Phillies’ batting order; furthermore, his superb defense saves them many runs.  It is important that the Phillies re-sign Rollins and let him finish his career with the team.  The only way I would excuse the absence of Rollins is if the Phillies were to sign free agent shortstop Jose Reyes and name him as their new leadoff hitter (I see Babe Ruth coming back before Reyes signs with the Phillies).  Personally, I prefer Rollins for his excellent defense.

If the Phillies re-sign Rollins, I hope to see him moved to the bottom third of the order and Shane Victorino moved up to the leadoff spot.  Victorino is a more consistent hitter than Rollins and is capable of consistently hitting over .280 in a given season.

Shane Victorino AVG by season
2006:  .287
2007:  .281
2008:  .293
2009:  .292
2010:  .259
2011:  .279

Victorino’s .355 OBP in 2011 bests Rollins’ .338 OBP.  While Victorino does tend to strike out at a slightly higher pace than Rollins, he sports a better OBP and AVG.  From this information, one can surmise that Victorino waits for better pitches to hit than Rollins does and that his swings are normally of a higher quality than Rollins’ swings.  For those reasons, Victorino should be the leadoff hitter.

My 2012 Phillies starting lineup

If Ruben Amaro’s thought process is the same as mine, then Rollins will be re-signed and remain a member of the Phillies.  Cuddyer’s skill as a right-handed hitter and his versatility will be brought to the club and become the starting left fielder.

Below is my 2012 Philadelphia Phillies starting lineup on opening day (provided that Amaro makes the moves I think he should):

[1]  Shane Victorino, CF
[2]  Placido Polanco, 3B
[3]  Chase Utley, 2B
[4]  Hunter Pence, RF
[5]  Jim Thome, 1B
[6]  Michael Cuddyer, LF
[7]  Jimmy Rollins, SS
[8]  Carlos Ruiz, C
[9]  Roy Halladay, SP

With the above batting order, the Phillies have hitters who can hit for average and power and their abilities can complement each other very well.  Pitchers will have difficulty in pitching around this lineup, for the way my batting order is set up, each hitter’s abilities give another hitter lineup protection.

More importantly, my batting order does not have any back-to-back left-handers.  Without having back-to-back left-handers in the lineup, this order forces a cat-and-mouse game for opposing managers who have to carefully decide when to bring in a left-handed pitcher from the bullpen.

The batting order I created above has average, power, speed, discipline, situational hitters and lineup protection.  This order can also create matchup problems that favor the Phillies and force the hand of the opposition’s manager.

Pitching

I have no concerns about the starting pitching.  Regardless of whether or not the Phillies bring back Roy Oswalt, they have four solid starters whose spots may be set in stone:  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley.  The Phillies could stick a pitching machine into the fifth slot and they would still have the best pitching rotation in baseball.

The bullpen may be a slight cause for concern, however.  Free agent Brad Lidge has been injury-prone in the past few years and closer Ryan Madson is a free agent.  Young left-hander Antonio Bastardo had a brilliant start to his 2011 season; however, he faded down the stretch.

In the interest of having more than one left-hander in the bullpen, I believe the Phillies should sign veteran Darren Oliver.  Oliver is a reliable left-handed veteran still chasing the dream of winning a World Series; the Phillies are one of the few favorites who make that dream a realistic possibility.

While Jose Contreras could conceivably fill in as the team’s closer, he struggled with injuries in 2011.  Regardless of whether or not Lidge returns, it would be a blow to the Phillies’ bullpen to lose Madson.

While the possibility of Madson leaving would be a big disappointment to the Phillies, it would not be an entirely crushing blow, for the Phillies do not rely heavily on their bullpen.  If Madson does leave, the Phillies could make Contreras or Michael Stutes their closer.

My 2012 Phillies rotation
SP:  Roy Halladay
SP:  Cliff Lee
SP:  Vance Worley
SP:  Cole Hamels
SP:  Joe Blanton (if not Kyle Kendrick or Roy Oswalt)

My 2012 Phillies bullpen
RP:  Ryan Madson (closer)
RP:  Jose Contreras
RP:  Michael Stutes
RP:  Antonio Bastardo
RP:  Kyle Kendrick (if Joe Blanton or Roy Oswalt starts)
RP:  Darren Oliver (reliable left-handed veteran)

My 25-man roster on opening day (assuming everybody but Ryan Howard is healthy) would look like this with Domonic Brown starting the 2012 season in the minors:

Starting lineup
C:  Carlos Ruiz
1B:  Jim Thome
2B:  Chase Utley
3B:  Placido Polanco
SS:  Jimmy Rollins
LF:  Michael Cuddyer
CF:  Shane Victorino
RF:  Hunter Pence

Rotation
Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Vance Worley
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton (if not Roy Oswalt or Kyle Kendrick)

Bullpen
Ryan Madson
Michael Stutes
Jose Contreras
Antonio Bastardo
Darren Oliver
Kyle Kendrick (if not replacing Blanton or Oswalt as 5th starter)
David Herndon

Bench
Backup catcher (I do not care who it is)
Michael Martinez, 2B/3B/SS/OF
Wilson Valdez, 2B/3B/SS
John Mayberry, OF/1B
Ben Francisco, OF

If Amaro follows the plans I have in mind, the Phillies would have a talented and versatile batting order full of hitters who complement one another and give one another lineup protection, have a strong pitching rotation, have a strong bullpen and have versatile players on the bench (several of which are right-handers that can hit left-handed pitching).

Will the ideas I have in mind come become reality with the Phillies?  I do not know; however, I would be very excited about the Phillies’ chances of winning the 2012 World Series if these ideas do become reality.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Twitter Etiquette

Ordinarily, I write about professional sports from my own perspective as a writer, fan and viewer all at once.  When I write about the games, I write about the games themselves and the offseason moves and what I would do if I were an armchair general manager or coach.  Now I shall write about professional sports from a social media perspective.

We live in a golden digital age at this time.  Thanks to the Internet and its social media applications (namely Facebook and Twitter), fans are able to get closer than ever to professional athletes and other celebrities.

Several professional athletes – and former athletes – I follow on Twitter include:  Matthew Barnaby, John Axford, Dirk Hayhurst, Logan Morrison, Jimmy Rollins, Kevin Weekes, and many others.  I enjoy my interactions with these people.  I am sincere in my words and I joke around with them.  I have teased Barnaby at times and he responds back in a jovial manner.

For example, I once teased Barnaby about his struggle to get his kid in bed at a reasonable time.  I simply quipped that he should tell the child that Wayne Gretzky got plenty of sleep and Barnaby himself did not (a cheap little joke at the disparity between Gretzky’s talent level and Barnaby’s talent level).  Thankfully, Barnaby took it for what it was:  playful teasing.  Judging from some of the tweets he has made, he loves being a father.

Axford joked that the media should not refer to him as a redneck, but as a yokel; I then compared him to Cletus the slack-jawed yokel – a character from The Simpsons – and he was amused by the comparison.  Axford then posted a link to a Youtube video showing the sing-along song about Cletus the slack-jawed yokel.

Treat athletes with sincerity and dignity and they will be glad treat you in the same manner. (Click on image if you wish to see full size)

It is a wonderful thing to be able to learn about the human side of professional athletes via Twitter.

Thanks to social media, it is possible for fans to have some semblance of camaraderie with the athletes that you normally only see among the players themselves.

Unfortunately, the Internet world of social media is not all fun and games.  Sadly, there are too many people who have the audacity to abuse the so-called anonymity of the Internet to bring their unjustifiable hatred to an area outside of the games and the stadiums.  I have seen “fans” say horrendous things on Twitter to the likes of Logan Morrison, John Kruk, Jeremy Roenick, Kevin Weekes and countless others.

With so many arrogant pricks on the Internet, it is no mystery why some athletes/celebrities are apprehensive to interact with fans.  I am not saying that all athletes and all celebrities are precious angels; however, I strongly believe that many so-called “fans” are bigger jerks than the way they perceive the athletes and celebrities to be!

Regardless of their profession or how much money they make, athletes and celebrities are people, too.  First and foremost, they are human beings.  As fellow human beings, they are entitled to the same rights as the rest of us:  the right to be able to interact with others and establish camaraderie with others without the fear of harassment.

I hope the jerks of the Internet realize the errors of their ways before it is too late.  Rather than spending so much time and energy on being hateful over trivial little things, those jerks of the Internet should apply that energy elsewhere to better their own lives.  Aside from ruining their own lives with their unjustifiable hatred, the jerks of the Internet risk creating the day when professional athletes and celebrities will stop interacting with fans altogether.

Frankly, I am amazed at what thick skin some athletes and celebrities have on Twitter.  After seeing some of the despicable things some people have said to them, I thought they would stop interacting with fans altogether; however, they remain classy and treat people with respect and dignity.  Kudos to those athletes and celebrities for handling themselves in the proper manner!

Regardless of who you follow on Twitter or any other social media application, and regardless of what their professions are, you should treat people with the same respect and dignity you feel you are entitled to.  First and foremost, people are people.  Do not ever forget that.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

The Greatest Game

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers by a final score of 16-7 to take a 2-1 lead in the 2011 World Series; however, the 2-1 series lead takes a backseat to another storyline:  the dominance of Albert Pujols.

Albert Pujols joins Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a single World Series game (Ruth accomplished the feat twice).

Pujols put on a hitting display that may go down as the greatest individual offensive performance by any player in World Series history.  Pujols went five-for-six with three home runs; Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only other players to hit three home runs in a World Series game.

The first Pujols home run went an estimated 431 feet, the second home run went an estimated 424 feet and the third went an estimated 420 feet.

What was most impressive about the performance of Pujols was not the fact that he hit three home runs in one game or that he hit his final home run in the ninth inning.  The impressive thing about his feat is that he tied or set seven MLB records in one World Series game!  Displayed below are the World Series records Pujols broke or tied.

Most home runs
3:  Babe Ruth (10-6-1926)
3:  Babe Ruth (10-9-1928)
3:  Reggie Jackson (10-18-1977)
3:  Albert Pujols (10-22-2011)

Most hits
5:  Paul Molitor (10-12-1982) [all singles]
5:  Albert Pujols (10-22-2011) [three home runs and two singles]

Runs batted in (RBI)
6:  Bobby Richardson (10-8-1960)
6:  Hideki Matsui (11-4-2009)
6:  Albert Pujols (10-22-2011)

Runs
4:  Babe Ruth (10-6-1926)
4:  Earle Combs (10-2-1932)
4:  Frank Crosetti (10-2-1936)
4:  Enos Slaughter (10-10-1946)
4:  Reggie Jackson (10-18-1977)
4:  Kirby Puckett (10-24-1987)
4:  Carney Lansford (10-27-1989)
4:  Lenny Dykstra (10-20-1993)
4:  Jeff Kent (10-24-2002)
4:  Albert Pujols (10-22-2011)

Total bases
14:  Albert Pujols (10-22-2011)
12:  Babe Ruth (10-6-1926)
12:  Babe Ruth (10-9-1928)
12:  Reggie Jackson (10-18-1977)

In addition to the five records above, Pujols also set two other records.  Pujols became the first player in World Series history to get a hit in four consecutive innings.  Pujols also became the first player in World Series history to have four or more hits in a World Series game in which he hit two or more home runs.  In all, this amounts to at least seven World Series records set by Pujols in one game.

The series is far from over, as the Cardinals lead 2-1 over the Rangers; however, the performance by Pujols makes this game an instant classic and may be the single greatest performance by any player in the history of a World Series game.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.