Monday, July 9, 2012

2012 - Philadelphia Phillies - Mid Season Report - It's Ugly - Part 2

            Okay, welcome to Part 2 of the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies Mid Season Report, if you missed part 1 – click here.  Let’s dig in.

            So what are the numbers saying you ask? Let’s do a quick comparison of last year at the All-Star Break.  Their rank in the National League is in parentheses, out of 16. Note the Phillies played 91 games in the first half last year.


2011:      Avg.         HR          R               SLG             OPS           
         .250 (10)      78 (9)     4.0 (9)       .382 (9)       .705 (8)

2012:      Avg.         HR           R              SLG              OPS
         .262 (4)        84 (9)     4.2 (7)       .403 (9)       .719 (9)

            So by the numbers say they are hitting the ball a bit better than they were last year, but the record has fallen off a cliff.  What are the reasons for this? There’s plenty. We’ll start with the things that you can’t really control.

            I can’t say that this is thee biggest thing, but certainly the story of the first half other than dreadful play was injuries to arguably the Phillies three best players.  We’ve discussed ad nausea in posts past, but it’s worth mentioning that the Phillies expected Chase Utley to be ready to go for the beginning of the season. He’s played 11 games. Ryan Howard was predicted back between the start of the season and June for his original diagnosis. Optimists hoped for Mid-May. He came back 3 games ago. Roy Halladay hadn’t gone on the DL since 2009 (Never for the Phillies). He’s started 11 games and was not his usual dominant self when he did start, as it seemed he was affected by the shoulder strain that landed him on the DL in late May. Those three on the shelf wasn’t good for anybody this year. 

            Other things that were maybe expected but did not occur during the first half are listed as follows. Expected John Mayberry to have a breakout year rather than fulfill his destiny as a dude who probably shouldn’t play everyday. Expected the trio of Laynce Nix, Ty Wiggonton, and Jim Thome (as a Ryan Howard replacement) to be better than a trio of Laynce Nix, Ty Wiggonton, and Jim Thome. Expected Jimmy Rollins to finally take his calling as a leadoff hitter and take a pitch or two. Expected Jose Contrares to become the oldest guy to pitch an 8th inning at age 51. Expected Shane Victorino to be some semblance of his offensive self last year. Expected Chad Qualls to be competent. Expected Antonio Bastardo to throw strikes that didn’t clang off the ivy in centerfield when he needed to. Expected Freddy Galvis to get suspended for 50 games for performance enhancing drugs. Expected Cliff Lee to be worth $21. 5 million this year.

            Maybe not all of that was expected, maybe it was. Either way the Phillies are not getting the production from most of their players that they expected this year. Let’s give grades to some of the Phillies more prominent players shall we? We’ll start with the position players, in no particular order.

This clip is a must watch before you read furhter - An Airing of Grievances!

            Jimmy Rollins – C +

I’ll say this about Jimmy. He doesn’t change. You can say that’s a good thing because he’s always been an above average player, but despite my letter pleading with him to re-sign, I have to say I’m a bit fed up with the shtick. He started slow and continues to play great defense, maybe not getting every ball like he used to, but certainly making most of the plays you think he should. His offense is what bothers me though. The Phillies, as an entire offense, were supposed to change their approach at the plate this year after all of the pathetic at bats led to their demise in the NLDS last year. Maybe the team is just following their leadoff man, because he just continues to swing early, and swing at bad pitches. I guess it’s just nothing but habit for Jimmy, but man it’d be nice to see him walk more, to let that 2-0 breaking ball in the dirt alone, just be a leadoff man. He did have a 2007 Jimmy-like June where he racked up hits and runs, but as soon as the calendar flipped to July, Jimmy forgot how to hit. He’s down to .259 and hasn’t run out a ground ball (there’s been plenty of weak ones rolled over to the right side) since May.

            Shane Victorino – D +

Shane is passing, barely. He is playing stellar defense in center field and he has made several impressive throws to gun runners down at 2nd and home. His stats aren’t what you’d call god awful, but he is probably the poster boy for the Phillies not doing the little things right to win ball games. His head never seems to be in the game. He’s constantly making me say things like, “What the hell is Victorino doing out there?” and “(*&@!$ &*(&$#@ @(*#@&;$ Shane.” He’s a free agent this year and is obviously just having a down year, but he has certainly cost himself some dough with his performance thus far this year.

            Hunter Pence – B +

A lot of people like to badmouth Hunter Pence. I’m not one of them. First things first you have to understand that Pence was supposed to carry more weight on this team than anybody was capable of (try filling Ryan Howard’s shoes, and making up for some of Chase Utley while you’re at it), let alone a guy who’s never hit more than 25 home runs in a season. Pence has 16 long balls and is on pace for a career high, but if you ask the average fan what they think of Pence’s performance so far this year; they’d tell you it hasn’t been good enough. He’s a .292 career hitter and he’s hitting .285. He’s tied for third in the National League with 58 runs scored. Maybe he hasn’t been the most clutch but he has certainly come through just as much as anybody else on the team except THE MAN behind the plate. My main issues with Pence are his shaky fielding of the baseball, he seems to get too excited at times and rushes it. And speaking of too excited, this dude just loves the first-pitch. He loves it too much for me. I swear I would like it if he seemed to get more hits on it, but I just feel like he’s not doing himself justice by swinging at that first pitch as often as he does.

            Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz – A +

CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOCCCCCCCHHHHHH!!!!!! It’s fun to say right? We’ve been saying it a lot all year. What can you say about the first half that Carlos Ruiz had? I keep saying to myself he can’t stay above .350 this long, but every damn game it seems like Chooch is tearing the cover off the ball, blooping in a jam job double, hitting game-tying home runs, and basically being everything for this ball club.  Chooch has added quite a bit of power to his repetoire this year and he’s seen some time in the cleanup role because of it. He has a career high 13 home runs and is 4th in the National League in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. He leads catchers in every major offensive category except walks and stolen bases, although he does have 3 swipes this year. Chooch was selected to his first All-Star game and is as deserving as anybody in the game to be on the squad.

I’ll give brief descriptions of a few more position players as I see fit.

Juan Pierre – He’s doing exactly what he’s done for his whole career. He hits for average and no power and steals bags when he gets on. Just a stop gap – think Kenny Lofton in the mid- 2000s.

Placido Polanco – Not good enough to mention anything decent. Not bad enough to rip him.

Ty Wiggonton – He can mash the ball every now and then but is probably better off DHing.

Jim Thome – The exact same sentence I wrote for Ty Wiggonton but take each situation up 10 fold. Jim is now an Oriole swinging the lumber on a more consistent basis as a DH.

John Mayberry – Great expecatitions unfulfilled.

Freddy Galvis – PEDs?!? Really. C’mon son!

Dom Brown – Where you at man?

Now on to this sorry group of hurlers.

            Cole Hamels – B +

Cole has been the most consistent starter on the team this year, made the All-Star team, racked up 11, sorry 10 wins (Papelbon blew that one last week), but still hasn’t really been the pitcher he was last year. He had an awful stretch from late May to early June where he gave up 18 runs in 26.2 innings over 4 starts. His ERA is 3.20 which is respectable, but a few ticks higher than the entire year last year. He has been dominant in most starts, but also capable of giving up a long ball or two. He’s 4th in strikeouts and 10th in WHIP, after finishing first last year.  Cole is the subject of swirling trade rumors. He will be getting a 7 figure contract from some team in the next 6 months, here’s to hoping its with the only team he’s ever played for.

            Cliff Lee – D

Cliff Lee is getting paid $21.5 million this year. If he equals his win total from the first half in the second half that will be a cool $10.75 million earned per win. I know all the talk about how he got no run support early in the season caused this, I mean literally none, he pitched 10 shut out innings in a game and got a no-decision. But when June rolled around and it turned into “enough’s enough with this winless bullsh*t Cliff” he started to pitch worse. He had his share of blown leads, tie games he left, and terrible run support throughout the season. But the bottom line is: Cliff Lee just hasn’t been that great this season. His ERA is way up at 3.98, which he just got under 4 after recording his very first win of the season last week (winky face). His WHIP is way up at 1.20 (up from 1.03 last season). What’s the reason for that? He does not have the control he seemed to have in seasons past. He’s racking up walks and he misses too often in the middle of the plate as evidenced by opponents batting a whopping .262 off of him. The entire NL’s average is .254 so you better believe a guy worth $20 million + a season should be holding batter's to an average less than the rest of the league combined. All I have to say is, C’mon Cliff! You are better than this (Man, I hope anyway)!

            JoKle BlanRick – C

These f**kin’ guys (Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton). You always expect the worst, at least I do, but then they’ll go out and have a completely brilliant performance. Kendrick pitched 7 shut out innings against the Braves on Sunday, but gave up 5 runs in the first inning 2 starts back. Joe Blanton has given up more homers than you would think is humanly possible. But he has 2 complete games and one was a shutout to help him to get to 7 wins in the first half. They are completely hit or miss. It’ll be nice when we can bounce Kendrick or Blanton from the rotation once Doc comes back. Depends who’s more terrible at the time. If it was a straight ERA comparison the nod would go to KK, 4.89 to 4.98. A real barn-burner!!

            Antonio Bastardo – D

This guy has lost it. He went from being just about the most dominant set-up guy in the game through 4/5ths of the season last year to the guy who gives you a sick feeling in your stomach when Charlie holds up his left hand to go out and change pitchers. When I say lost it I mean it. He’s lost all confidence. He looks scared out there. He’s lost his control, he and Rich Dubee have been looking for it for the past few months but it's nowhere to be found. He walked in the go-ahead run, with his 3rd walk of the inning, on Sunday and then proceeded to give up a grand-slam to Brian McCann. That was great. He’s also blown his share of leads for Hamels and Lee alike.

            Jonathan Papelbon – B+

He’s only been bad recently but he was lights out for the first 2 months of the season, which earned him an All-Star nod. I knew about the demonstrative antics on the field before he came to the Phillies, and when he’s mowing teams down it’s kind of fun. When he needs to get one guy out and allows 4 straight guys to reach base to blow a 1-run lead for Cole Hamels who had the opportunity to beat the red-hot RA Dickey and give the Phillies the series against the Mets this past week, they are a little tough to take. Just throw strikes and get outs and get off the mound. Take it easy in between pitches bro, obsess much? He’s 17 for 19 in save opportunities and I’d take that again in the second half, although I’ll really bitch about the 2 saves he blows.

Chad Qualls – HAHA

Vance Worley – It’s been an up and down sophomore year. I put him well ahead of Kendrick and Blanton but well behind Hamels and Lee. Last year he was their equal, which nobody really expected this year.

Mike Stutes – Where are you? Never thought I’d say that.

Just for fun report cards:

            Todd McCarthy (TMac) – C –

I don’t like his voice. I don’t like his delivery. I don’t like the fact that he can’t tell when a ball is fouled back or popped up. I don’t like the fact that he thinks fly balls are home runs and home runs are fly balls (At least these are the inflections in his voice). He’s bland. I’m not into it.

            Chris Wheeler (Wheels) – C

I’m so used to Wheels by now I’m almost of no opinion. I think he is knowledgeable and even comes through with some decent anecdotes every now and then. On the other hand, he can ramble on and be a bit of a know it all. He really enjoys praising anybody on the other team who has an ounce of talent and speaks in hushed tones a bit too much for me.

            Gary Matthews (Sarge) – A

Just listen to the man. He is always keeping me on MY TOES! Out there. He can THROW A CRAZY inflection into the MIDDLE OF A SENTENCE!!! With the best of them. His trademark “oh boy” for anything from a Ryan Howard moonshot home run, to a bonehead play by Shane Victorino gets me laughing every time.

            Scott Frantzke and Larry Andersen (LA) – A +

If you have the opportunity to listen to the games on the radio, do yourself a favor and tune to WPHT the Big Talker 1210 AM. LA just straight up tells it like it is. He is a bit of a homer but he’s funny, irreverent, and he gives great perspective as a former goofball relief pitcher. Frantzke is the perfect deadpan foil and is always egging LA on ever so subtly. It’s really a pleasure to listen to, especially when LA disagrees with any of the action. Which has certainly happened more than seasons past this year.

Here we are at the end of this marathon blog session. A lot of things will have to go completely different than they did in the first half for the Phillies to mount a comeback during the dog days of summer. As much as I am disgusted with the current play of this team, you have to have some glimmer of hope with the way this team is constructed that they do have more of a shot than most teams who are 14 games out at the break. A healthy Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay could go a long way if some things start to fall in place in the second half. I’m not saying it’s going to happen any more, but I’m not going to say I’m surprised if the Phillies are streaking in September. Hopefully it’s not too little too late.


2012 Philadelphia Phillies - Mid Season Report - It's Ugly

I have to start this blog entry by telling every one that I’m angry.  I won’t say, “I’ve had it with this team this year.” But I’m as close to saying that as you can be, and we are only through 87 games!! The last place Philadelphia Phillies are 37-50 and 14 games back of the Washington Nationals at the All-Star Break. I’m sitting here trying to come up with a sentence to follow that last one, but I can’t, so let’s move on to why I’m so fed up with the team I live for (sports wise anyway).

While I am pretty upset with this team, I’m nowhere near the level of anger of this guy. Most of my posts this year have been somewhat optimistic and hopeful for the upcoming prospects of this collection of stiffs; that's how they're playing at least. In fact, my last post was entitled “Now or Never” and I explained that the Phillies needed to begin to make a run with at worst 7 wins during their 10 game homestand. They began those 10 games with 2 straight wins, but finished losing 5 out of 8 for a pedestrian at best 5-5 finish.

Oh well, I thought. They are just continuing to tread water but with Chase due back soon, and hopefully Ryan Howard following we can get hot. Well, Chase returned 11 games ago and the Phils have managed to win a miniscule/pathetic/ridiculous 1 game since then.

The losing I can take- Let me rephrase that. I can take .500 baseball from this team. The team with the second highest payroll in baseball. But I CANNOT take losing 10 out of 11 with the team the Phillies have. I CANNOT take watching this team go through the motions and act like this trash they are producing on the field is merely okay.  They don’t seem to understand what’s at stake? Maybe they do and they just don’t care. Did everybody see Hunter Pence barrel over 3rd base coach Juan Samuel on his way to scoring a run?  Then did you watch as Pence and every one around him laughed non-stop about this? Yuck it up fellas. Keep laughing, I know you're laughing all the way to the bank, but not all the way to the win column and certainly not to October. Laughing there would be fine and dandy if the team was doing anything right on the field. But even when the score they look like idiots.

I have watched almost every game during this losing streak and let me tell you it's just bad baseball. It seems like every little intangible that good teams do; (and the Phillies used to be the best at it) the Phils are locks to not get them done.

Man on 3rd less than 2 outs? Forget about it Mayberry (you could insert any name here, but Big John Stud seems to be the best at not getting that run in with less than 2 down) is striking out or popping up.

Men on first and third, our pitcher wants to throw over to first? Just throw it into right field instead of taking the balk because Hector Luna is charging in for a bunt.

Jimmy Rollins has a 3-1 count in a key situati- scratch that he already popped up on the first pitch after the last guy walked on 4 pitches.

In need of a shut down inning after we just took the lead in the 8th? Are you kidding me Bastardo’s walking the leadoff man on 5 pitches. Oh, and that run will score, book it that run will score. Cliff Lee walked a leadoff man in 3 innings in one game. All 3 scored.

Let me think what else?

Is it me or does Hunter Pence ever look like he knows what he’s doing in the outfield? He’s certainly capable of making some plays, but everything he does looks shaky at best. I’ll talk about his hitting later…

Shane Victorino? What can I say? He has to be pretty pissed he came up with that season he had last year instead of this year because he has probably cost himself at least $20 million with the shlop he’s produced at the plate. I’ve never seen a guy look more clueless up there. It’s not just that he doesn’t come through much, it’s that he clearly lacks a plan, a clue, and discipline at least from the left side. Those three things come in handy in the big leagues, and I don’t know if Shane is losing it completely, but can you remember a clutch hit from him this year? I can’t.

I don’t want to get too in depth on the players yet, but these are just some shallow, fairly obvious observations I’ve made throughout the first 3+ months of the season.

So not only do they get the little things wrong, but there just seems to be a lack of, well, Dr. Evil explains it better than I can right here. Mojo may actually be the perfect word for it. The Phillies are lacking chemistry, heart, energy and just a general will to win ball games. It's like they forgot how to win. It just feels like they are going to lose every game. When they got up 2-0 on Sunday against the Braves, I felt like Randy Quaid in Major League 2. “So what they’ll blow it in the 9th.” Annnnd, they blew it in the 7th. If they get down late in a game. Forget it. Every relief pitcher might as well be Mariano Rivera because the Phils don’t mount late game rallies, let alone push a single run across in an extra inning game for once.

High expectations, underachieving, and injuries have certainly played a large role in this first half train wreck. But for the first time since he has been here, I have to place a large amount of blame on our skipper, the formerly infallible, Charlie Manuel.  In the past almost all the decisions Charlie made seemed to turn up golden some how. Continue to bat Pat Burrell 5th, he’ll come around. He did. Raul is oh for his last 32, plug him in there he’ll get hot. He did. Put Wilson Valdez at whatever position you want (even pitcher) and he should come through. He did. Of course, for the serious majority of those games Charlie could pencil in Number 26 in the 3 hole and Number 6 batting cleanup to bail him out more often than not. Nevertheless, he has to do better. They have to do better.

The luck seems to have ran out for Charlie this year. Not only do almost all bullpen decisions seem to backfire (He kept running Chad Qualls out there in close games in the 8th inning before they finally had to mercy cut him or somebody may have jumped out on to the field and actually cut him), but he's even screwed up the rotation a few times. He skipped Cliff Lee’s start after a rain delay  which blew up in his face when he had to have reliever Brian Sanches start a game later that week. This was much to my friend Bob's chagrin. I got a phone call and several serious texts about that decision from Bob alone. His gripes about this were right on when the Phils faced a 5-0 deficit in the first inning they could not recover from in the game Sanches started

They, and by extension we, kept having to watch other teams celebrate walk-off victory after walk-off victory, which did happen back-to-back days on one wonderful weekend in Baltimore. It used to be the Phils streaming out of the dugout to go mob who ever came up big that night. I need more Shane Victorino shaving cream pies in my life. I need Sarge to stand there in the interview and say his favorite line, "Oh boy," with a gigantic grin on everybody's face. It sure isn't as fun watching the other team do it, makes you wonder how the other half lives. 

I’m not sure what the number was, but If I had to guess it was 30 different starting lineups in the first 40 games employed by Charlie. Believe it or not, the Phils played better during that stretch than they have recently but they never seemed to come together this year as a cohesive unit. I blame Charlie for this.

And a side note that deserves its own paragraph. Can somebody please explain to me why Charlie insists on keeping a dent in the back of his hat every night? He puts it just on the top of his head, so it's not pulled tight near his ears, and then he dents the back of it in. He does this every. single. game. Change it up Chuck, it can't hurt.

After all that strife, the Phils were still hanging on and just below .500 when they finally got back one half of their All-Star duo infielders in Chase Utley. The dude homered in his first at bat back. I was at an outdoor happy hour at the time and started telling everybody within ear shot that Chase had just done this while pressing refresh every 5 seconds on my phone. Talk about a goosebump moment. Oh well. They immediately blew the 2-0 lead Chase and Chooch (they went back-to-back, their first of two times this season) had staked them and lost that game en route to losing the first 5 games with Chase on the roster. There’s no sense of urgency with this team, and when Vegas had you picked as the preseason favorite to win the World Series, and just about every writer in baseball picked you to make the postseason and/or win your division, and you’re staring up a 14 game mountain at the All-Star Break, there needs to be some goddamn urgency!!!

You need to do the little things right to win games. Not just some of them, all of them. You need to go first to third on base hits that allow it, and even some that don’t for that matter. Every bunt needs to get down. Shut down innings need to be the norm not the exception. For Christ's Sake does anybody know how a sacrifice fly works on this team? I'd bring back Bobby Abreu just for that ability at this point. Most of all, this whole team needs to pull their collective head’s out of their asses and play the way they are capable of playing (save Chooch). It starts with Manuel motivating them to do this, he should probably go with something like this..  - of course they need to win 1 for a speech like this to happen.

If that happens, instead of seeing games end like this, we might be able to see games end more along these lines.

Okay, I've vented enough about our manager and the team as a whole. In part 2 I will have more statistical and individual based analysis. Or you've had enough and think I'm nuts for dropping 1500 + words for just part 1 of a midseason report, then you can just click here.

"Okay Let's Get 2" - Click for part 2