Wednesday, December 11, 2013

This Isn't 2004

This isn’t 2004 anymore. Unfortuntately.

In 2004 Barry Bonds had the following stats:

147 games played, 45 home runs, 101 RBI, .362 batting average, 232 walks, and a .609 on base percentage.

That was Barry’s 19th season in the league and arguably his most impressive (save the 73 home runs he smashed in 2001) season statistically. For whatever reason baseball turned a blind eye to the quite obvious steroid use of players like Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. America was enamored with the long ball and those guys sold their souls to stay dominant well past the bell curve that is a player’s prime. These guys were able to play, and dominate play, well past their primes because they were doing it with the dreaded acronym “PEDs”.

Well, it may have taken Bud Selig a decade too long to have a reaction to all this, but he finally did decide to put policies in place to “preserve the sanctity of the game.” Since this is the case, we are not seeing aging players put up better numbers than they did in their prime. It’s logical to believe it doesn’t work like that.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, their front office doesn’t seem too interested in finding younger talent to mesh with their seriously aging core of superstars. Let’s take a quick look at the Phillies biggest three offensive (not a double meaning) names and how their careers are currently trending.

Ryan Howard turned 34 last month. He hasn’t played a full season since 2011 when he had technically his worst statistical season to that point. If he is somehow able to put up numbers comparable to 2011 when he hit .253 with 33 home runs and 116 RBI, the Ryan Howard bandwagon will be full up. It’s hard to imagine him doing this given his recent injury history and penchant for swinging at way too many pitches out of the strike zone. Howard is trending down.

Jimmy Rollins turned 35 last month. The old saying always went, the Phillies go how Jimmy Rollins goes. Unfortunately for the Phillies and Rollins, that saying still holds up. Rollins has played 316 games the last two seasons and while some of his numbers in 2012 were solid, the ones that matter most for a leadoff man have not been for some time now. In 2012 he hit .250 and had an on base percentage of .316 (both those numbers warrant a bit of a throw up reflex) but he scored 102 runs and led the Phillies with 23 home runs and 68 RBI. In 2013, oh boy, Jimmy hit .252 with a .318 on base but only scored 65 runs and managed 6 home runs. If he’s not hitting the ball out of the ball park and he’s not getting on base, he’s just a below average hitter. It’s sad but it’s true. Jimmy Rollins is trending down.

One silver lining for Rollins that could play into this year was the criticism he received, almost immediately, from new manager Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg was not afraid to call Jimmy out for his lack of patience at the plate. If you’re a long time reader of this blog, you’re well aware that I like to get on Jimmy for popping up the 2nd pitch of an at bat at least 5 times a week (all numbers very accurate). Well, Sandberg said publicly that Rollins needs to be more selective and that did seem to lead to him drawing 24 walks in August and September, after only  earning 35 free passes in the first 4 months of the season. In fact, Jimmy had a .370 on base percentage in September, which is unheard of for a man who’s career on base percentage is .327.

Chase Utley turns 35 this week. After not playing in more than 115 games from 2010-2012, Utley managed to suit up for 131 games in 2013. Chase had a solid season that saw him bat .284 with 18 home runs and 69 RBI. Obviously, that’s a far cry from his hey-day years when the Phils were racking up division crowns and back-to-back pennants, but it was an improvement from his prior few seasons. If Chase can put up similar numbers this year, his 2 year contract extension will look a lot better for much maligned GM Ruben Amaro. Utley is clearly not in his prime any more, but at least he is trending steady as of right now. Which is more than you can say for the two men that will play beside him this year.

Aside from the big three above, Ruben Amaro must’ve thought that the Phillies just needed more veterans on this team to round it out. He decided to bring back 36 year old Marlon Byrd for 2 years and 16 million. Ruben cited a lot of garbage about Byrd’s swing plane and how it now produces more fly balls which will lead to home runs. We can all agree that Byrd had a career year last year split between the Mets and Pirates, but this is also a man who was suspended for 50 games for PEDs and was seen on HBO’s real sports backing the infamous Victor Conte. Speculate what you want from that, but as I mentioned earlier, guys don’t generally have career seasons in their mid to late 30s. We’ll see how Byrd holds up this year, but the signing is just perplexing at face value.

Then a week later Amaro went ahead and re-signed Carlos Ruiz to a three year contract extension for a little over 25 million that will keep Chooch in red pinstripes until he’s 37. Chooch missed 50 games last year for his ties to PEDs. I can’t fault this signing but it does solidify a virtually ancient baseball team.

The Phillies projected opening day lineup boasts Ryan Howard as the youngest player that’s been a starter in this league for more than 2 years. Dom Brown, Ben Revere, and Cody Asche are all 26 or younger but still have plenty to prove.

To me, it all comes down to one thing. One man really. And that’s Ryan Howard. If Howard can somehow manage to channel 2008 and mash 35 home runs and knock in 120 runs then it will take a serious amount of pressure off the rest of the team. Howard’s bat used to strike fear into every pitcher and the rest of the lineup could feed off that and thrive off of that. He hasn’t been that player since the dreaded game 5 NLDS loss to the Cardinals in 2011, and the Phillies haven’t been any good since then either. There is a lot riding on The Big Piece’s shoulders this year. We shall see..