Fantasy baseball 2013 team previews: Philadelphia Phillies
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
Bullpen: Jonathan Papelbon (closer), Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst, Phillippe Aumont, Raul Valdes, Chad Durbin, Mike Stutes, Justin De Frutas
• Can Ryan Howard rebound from his terrible 2012 campaign? Howard missed the first three months of last season after rupturing his Achilles in the Phillies' season-ending loss to the Cardinals in the 2011 NLDS. When he finally did hit the field he looked like a shell of his former self, amassing a .219/.295/.423 line with 14 homers in 71 games. These stats were so out of line with his career numbers -- his career-low OPS before last season was .835 -- that they're jarring to revisit. But were they the sign of a decline or the result of a player recovering from a devastating injury?
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.
• And what about Howard's running mate on the right side, Chase Utley? Few players were more fun to watch than Utley from 2005 through 2009, but unfortunately, I'm not quite as bullish on him as I am on Howard. His per-game numbers are actually not that far off his career peak back in the middle of last decade, but his rate stats are down, largely on the back of declining BABIPs each of the last three years. In fact, his BABIP at the end of 2010, '11 and '12 were all career lows at the time, which isn't a surprise for a guy whose speed has essentially abandoned him. In the first eight years of his career, Utley's infield-hit percentage was below five percent just twice, but he's failed to reach that threshold each of the last two seasons.
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.
• What can Ben Revere do as an everyday starter? Feel free to lump me in with the people who were shocked that the Twins traded Revere to the Phillies after already sending Denard Span to the Nationals. Yes, the Twins got back a nice pitcher in Vance Worley, but they also gave up a 24-year-old center fielder who had just posted a .294/.333/.342 slash with 40 steals in 124 games in his second year in the majors. The Twins loss is the Phillies gain, though; a team that desperately needed some youth in its lineup got what I believe to be their centerfielder and leadoff man of the future.
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.
Carlos Ruiz: Ruiz had been a very good hitter in 2010 and '11, but his power came out of nowhere last year. In 2010, he hit .302/.400/.447 and in '11 he hit .283/.371/.383. Yes, he'll miss the first 25 games of the year after testing positive for amphetamines, but that's not a PED that directly influences a player's power. You can say that it's stimulating effects make a player better in a general sense, but I'm willing to believe in Ruiz's power breakout to a certain extent, especially since his suspension should keep his draft-day price low.
Domonic Brown: It's now or never for Brown, whom we've seemingly heard about forever. The Phillies have no excuse to bury him this year, unless they believe John Mayberry is a significantly better player. And if they believe that, we have all the information we need about Brown. He was a better hitter at Triple-A last year than he was in 2011, hitting .286/.335/.432, compared with .261/.391/.370, but I'm not letting myself be the guy who is sucked in by his promise. There's a reason he has yet to have any success in the majors as he enters his age-25 season.
Ben Revere: See above. While the lineup I listed earlier in the column has Revere hitting eighth, I believe he'll eventually be on top of this order, setting the table for Young, Utley, Howard, Rollins and Ruiz. Revere can be Michael Bourn at one-fourth the price.
Kyle Kendrick: Kendrick has posted respectable ERAs of 3.22 and 3.90 the past two seasons, though his strikeout totals are very low. Don't be totally fooled by those ERAs, as his FIPs for the last two years are 4.55 and 4.32, respectively, according to Fangraphs.
John Mayberry: A lot of this will depend on how the playing time shakes out, but Mayberry did hit 14 homers in 479 plate appearances last year, and 15 in just 296 plate appearances in 2011. He's got a good deal of pop.
Delmon Young: Young could end up missing all of April with an ankle injury, and playing the outfield is going to be a test, but he could be a very cheap source of power. He had 18 jacks in 608 plate appearances for the Tigers last season.