After five straight NL East titles, the Phillies were one of the most disappointing teams in 2012. They were 37-50 at the All-Star break and chasing the Nationals and Braves, two of the best teams in the MLB. The offense looked old and slow. Roy Halladay made only 25 starts due to an injury, and was not his usual dominant self when he did pitch. They got great seasons out of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, but it wasn't nearly enough. Finishing the season at an even 81-81 was an impressive feat, given where they were in mid-July.
Heading into 2013, the Phillies are caught in an in-between state. No matter what happened last year, the presence of Hamels, Halladay and Lee makes them a dangerous team. But the Phillies could also join the Yankees in a new MLB AARP Division. Halladay is 35. Lee is 34. Ryan Howard is 33 and had a terrible 2012 season. Jimmy Rollins is 34. Chase Utley is 34, and hasn't played more than 115 games in the last three seasons. Carlos Ruiz is 34. Even new third baseman Michael Young is anything but for a professional athlete, at 36. Further complicating matters, Howard and closer Jonathan Papelbon have two of the worst contracts in baseball. Another slow start could turn them into sellers at the deadline, something to be wary of if you're in an NL-only league. None of their offensive players are elite at his position anymore, but the trio of aces warrants our utmost attention.
1. Jimmy Rollins, SS 2. Chase Utley, 2B 3. Ryan Howard, 1B 4. Michael Young, 3B 5. Carlos Ruiz, C 6. Delmon Young, RF 7. Domonic Brown/John Mayberry, LF 8. Ben Revere, CF
1. Cole Hamels 2. Roy Halladay 3. Cliff Lee 4. Kyle Kendrick 5. John Lannan
Take a look at Howard's advanced stats, and you don't have to dig too deep to find the three that do the best job explaining his terrible season. Howard's strikeout rate was 33.6 percent, a career high. His walk rate was 8.6 percent, a career low. And his ground ball rate was 43.3 percent, his highest since his rookie year. The strikeout and ground ball rates are indicative of a player still coming back from a foot injury and struggling with his bat speed. A slower lower half inevitably leads to slower hands, which means more ground balls and empty swings. The decreased walk rate was exacerbated by Howard's newfound propensity to swing at pitches outside the strike zone, which he did 37 percent of the time -- by far a career-worst mark. This suggests a player who's struggling to get reacquainted with the strike zone, which can come with as much time away from the game as he experienced.
There's one final stat to note. Howard's home run/fly ball ratio last year was 27.5 percent, his best rate since hitting 48 homers in 2008. When Howard squared a ball up and hit it air born, he still looked like the Howard of old. He may not be the mortal lock for 40 homers he once was, but a season of full health should result in mid-30s homers and 100-plus RBI.
All of this circles back to the fact that you can't expect Utley to remain healthy. He last played at least 150 games in 2009. In the last three seasons, he has played 115, 103 and 83 games, respectively, but the fact that he has managed 38 homers, 154 RBI and 38 steals in those 301 games is a testament to the skill that remains. He's just not a guy I'm comfortable counting on this season, and because of that, he's outside my top 10 at the position.
It's not hard to imagine Ron Gardenhire threatening Revere with pushups every time he hit the ball in the air the same way Lou Brown did Willie Mays Hayes in the movie Major League. Revere hit more than two-thirds of his balls in play on the ground, counting on his speed to rack up a .325 BABIP and 10.8 infield-hit percentage. He also makes the most of his speed by putting the ball in play the vast majority of the time. Revere's strikeout rate last year was 9.8 percent, and his contact rate was 92.6 percent. Rarely is he an easy out. With two seasons under his belt entering his age-25 season, Revere could end up jumping a level this season. His first .300 batting average with 50 steals is possible.
NL-only guys to know