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December 14, 2011

On the Beat

"Fixing" the Phillies

by John Perrotto

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It may be nitpicking to find fault with a 102-win team. However, when that 102-win team gets bounced in the first round of the postseason, people will find plenty of nits to pick regardless.

Such is the case with the 2011 Phillies.

The Phillies put together one of the most star-powered starting rotations of all time with right-handers Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt and left-handers Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, then had long-time set-up man Ryan Madson step into the closer's role and perform well. Not surprisingly, the Phillies led the major leagues in wins, fewest runs allowed (3.27 per game), ERA (3.02), and FRA (3.78).

The Phillies' pitching staff was so good that two friends of Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki and CSNPhilly's Jim Salisbury, are writing a book about the rotation’s Big Four.

Yet despite their wonderful pitching, the Phillies not only failed to fulfill what many thought would be their destiny by winning a second World Series in three years, but they didn't get past the National League Division Series, losing in five games to the eventual world champion Cardinals.

Since the blame always has to go somewhere when a team falls short of its goal, the finger has been pointed at the offense since the abrupt end of the season. The Phillies finished just 13th in the majors in runs scored (4.40 a game) and 16th in TAv (.260). Those ho-hum regular-season numbers combined with the first-round playoff exit had general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. suggesting the Phillies hitters needed to change their approach and become more patient at the plate.

That criticism perked the ears of Manuel, who is truly a hitting savant. Manuel made his name as the Indians' hitting coach when their lineup was terrorizing the American League in the 1990s and thoroughly enjoys talking at length about the art and science of bat meeting ball.

Thus, Manuel was at least mildly stung by Amaro's suggestion. Even last week during the Winter Meetings in Dallas, Manuel was quick to defend his hitters for posting a .226/.269/.335 slash line in the NLDS, though the Phillies did outscore the Cardinals 21-19 in the five games,. Manuel doesn't necessarily disagree with his GM but believes the Phillies' hitting woes in October were more a result of the situation than a poor approach or declining talent.

"Baseball is a funny game," Manuel said. "You look at Bobby Cox and everybody says he's a sure Hall of Fame guy, and why is he going into the Hall of Fame? Mostly because he won those 14 division titles in a row, that's why. And you look at that and you say how come he didn't win more World Series? Because there's a ton of luck in baseball, and every day is different, and you react different every day, and that's the part that's hard to explain.

"What I saw, especially the fourth game in St. Louis, was we scored twice early, and then all of a sudden they got the lead, and all of a sudden we started trying to do too much, and we started swinging at balls out of the strike zone. I saw the same thing in the fifth game. All of a sudden we kind of ... I don't know if you'd call it panicking or not, but we get overanxious, and we start chasing bad balls."

Manuel also remembers how his Indians were shut out on one hit in eight innings by the Braves' Tom Glavine in the decisive Game 6 of the 1995 World Series.

"If they ever show it, watch it, because the first three or four innings, we smoked some balls, and every one we smoked was right at people, and all of a sudden we started chasing balls out of the strike zone and Glavine kept feeding us more pitches off the plate," Manuel said. "What happens is that's kind of how the game goes on that day, and you say, well, why didn't you reel them in or harness them and stuff like that. It's kind of hard to do. Really that's almost impossible."

The Phillies' lineup is starting to age. Of the projected 2012 Opening Day starters—assuming free agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins re-signs, as expected—the only two under 31 will be left fielder John Mayberry Jr. and right fielder Hunter Pence, who will both be 28.

The farm system isn't ready to provide immediate help, as the Phillies have drawn upon it often in trades while building a team that has won five consecutive NL East titles. However, Amaro has taken steps this winter to build a deeper bench so the regulars can get more days off.

Infielder/outfielder Ty Wigginton (.251 TAv last season) was acquired from the Rockies in a trade, and first baseman Jim Thome (.304) and infielder/outfielder Laynce Nix (.278) were signed as free agents. They should be upgrades over outfielder Ben Francisco (.259) and first baseman/outfielder Ross Gload (.219).

The most interesting of the new bench players is Thome, the future Hall of Famer who is returning to the Phillies after playing for them from 2003-05. The Phillies traded him to the White Sox after Ryan Howard emerged as the first baseman of the future when he won NL Rookie of the Year in '05 while Thome was injured.

Thome has since played in the AL, except for a late-season stint with the Dodgers in 2009 in which he was used strictly as a pinch hitter. Thome hasn't played a game in the field since 2007, but the Phillies are hopeful that he can be part of a committee with Wigginton and Nix to fill in at first base at the start of next season while Howard recovers from the torn Achilles tendon he suffered while making the last out of the NLDS.

The 41-year-old Thome is confident he can get into good enough shape to play first at least a couple of times a week. While Manuel would love to give Thome 50 starts at first base, he says 20 is a more realistic number.

"Look at it this way: in Interleague play, it's nine games he definitely can hit there (as the designated hitter), and if you're a pinch-hitter in the National League, I can find a place for you to hit once a night, so that's 150 (plate appearances) or whatever," Manuel said. "If we get him over 200 at-bats, I think that's enough for him to help us and produce and stay sharp as a pinch-hitter."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  Phillies

45 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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saint09
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Its worth clarifying: The Cardinals arent the World champions. They are the American Major League champions, still an awesome accomplishment.

Pass along the message to your colleagues please?

I'm positive that the Chunichi Dragons don't refer to themselves as World Champions, nor does County Dublin in Gaelic Football, or Panathinaikos in European basketball. Nor do the Green Bay Packers. Wait, scratch that, they claim World Domination as well.


Dec 14, 2011 00:40 AM
rating: -12
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

I'm somewhat sympathetic to this argument, but it seems to my sleep-starved brain to be largely a semantic one. Yes, it sounds a little presumptuous to call something a "World Series" when the only teams eligible to compete play in the US and Canada. On the other hand, it is a truly a World Series in that the players who appear in it are drawn from all over the globe. Until there's a team anywhere else in the world good enough to beat the Cardinals (or any other major-league team, for that matter), "World Champions" and "American Major League Champions" amount to much the same thing. It just comes down to how self-effacing we want to be as a country, which is usually: not very.

What if teams from all countries participated, and we called the winners the "Solar System Champions" instead of the "World Champions?" Would that be worth clarifying for the benefit of the microbes that might be lurking on Mars or Titan? (No, I'm not equating non-American teams with extraterrestrial microbes--except in the sense that they're both probably just about as likely to beat us at baseball over the course of a full season.)

I reserve the right to disagree with everything I just wrote when I wake up.

Dec 14, 2011 02:04 AM
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

And by "beat us," I mean, "beat any or all of the 30 major-league teams."

Dec 14, 2011 02:07 AM
 
saint09
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On paper, St Louis would beat Chunichi in a 7 game series. But until they play off on the field, it seems more accurate to refer to refer to St Louis as North American club champions or MLB Champions. Still a massive accomplishment, right?

For crying out loud, even Barcelona (the club soccer team) don't refer to themselves upon winning the Champions League.

But I'm down with Ben's idea: "Milky Way Champions" it is...

Dec 14, 2011 04:08 AM
rating: -6
 
saint09
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I meant to say Barcelona don't refer to themselves as "World Champions" upon winning the Champions League.

Dec 14, 2011 04:10 AM
rating: -4
 
Hoff

yeah because there is a club world championship, and the euro league team doesn't always win.

If there was a club world championship for baseball there is just no chance the mlb club doesn't win nearly every time.

Dec 14, 2011 05:51 AM
rating: 1
 
saint09

There absolutely is a chance the American team wouldn't win. The underdog sometimes wins.

Dec 14, 2011 12:25 PM
rating: -1
 
randolph3030

Because there are, at least plausible, alternatives to Barca from leagues not involved in the UCL. Be it Santos, Internacional, Boca, Sao Paolo, Corinthians.

There are no plausible alternatives to the MLB champion. When (5? 10, any?) the top players in the world choose to play in a league other than MLB, then the discussion of the legitimacy of the "world champion" claim can begin. Mike Tyson was not required to fight every living person to establish himself as the World Champ, nor should the Cardinals.

Dec 14, 2011 08:00 AM
rating: 3
 
Dan W.

Maybe we should start calling them the "World Champions of American Baseball," just to confuse matters further. Then when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim win the World Series each of the next ten years, we can have a heavy qualified mess on our hands.

Dec 14, 2011 08:37 AM
rating: 1
 
saint09
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It's simply inaccurate, presumptuous, (and arrogant) to refer to yourself as world champion when you didn't win a world tournament.

On paper, davenport translated, whatever: the "best" team doesn't win, especially in baseball.

Until that world club tournament happens, which it won't, it's just silly to call yourself World Champion.

Dec 14, 2011 12:43 PM
rating: -5
 
Behemoth

The difference between the Cards and the best NPB teams is probably about the same as the difference between Barca and the best non-European sides, in that you might lose a one-off game, but there is a considerable gulf in quality between the two sides in both cases.

Dec 14, 2011 15:58 PM
rating: 0
 
randolph3030

I disagree. The difference in soccer is much smaller. For instance, Barca and Santos of Brazil are both in the CWC in Japan right now. Santos features three players who would walk into most top clubs in the world in Neymar, Elano and Ganso. You can't say that about any Japanese team. Tony Blanco bats cleanup for the Dragons for goodness sake.

Also, there is historical precedent of clubs from outside of Europe being among the best, if not the best, in the world from Santos with Pele, River Plate with Di Stefano, etc. There has simply never been a time when any team outside of MLB (Negro Leagues? Maybe?) has been even close.

It may be presumptuous, but its also an unassailable truth that MLB teams are simply better.

Dec 14, 2011 18:53 PM
rating: 0
 
randolph3030

I dig that futility infielder Mike Tyson got linked, I had forgotten he existed.

Dec 15, 2011 07:46 AM
rating: 0
 
rcrary

I'm about as unpatriotic as it's possible to be (and recognize anyway the US to have been in massive decline as a power for decades), but I've always found this complaint to be rather silly. So I'm not terribly sympathetic to it.

"World Champion" seems to me to be evolved from "World Series Champion". People may want to ask why it's the "World" Series in the first place, but I don't think we get anywhere interesting with that line of inquiry. Other sports, I imagine, followed baseball's lead.

jessehoffins makes a good point about the existence of a club world championship in soccer, but not baseball.

Dec 14, 2011 07:29 AM
rating: 0
 
saint09

And in football? Basketball? This is an American thing and I don't think it evolved from the World Series.

Dec 14, 2011 12:45 PM
rating: -2
 
rcrary

regardless of its origins, it does easily fit in with standard-issue American exceptionalism, it just doesn't bother me like other examples do

Dec 14, 2011 18:09 PM
rating: -2
 
John Carter

I don't mind you expressing your view - even though I strongly disagree with you and you are getting completely whopped in the argument here - and, yet, you don't give up. However, I do object when you start denying historical facts without obviously any knowledge on the subject.

Dec 15, 2011 07:38 AM
rating: 1
 
MWSchneider

I don't know if this is true, but I read somewhere that it was called "World" Series because it was initially sponsored by the New York World newspaper. If this is true, it wasn't originally jingoism.

Clearly, the Packers are World Champions because no one else except Canada plays anything close to American football and I don't anyone seriously thinks the Grey Cup champion would have a chance in hell against the Packers. I agree, though, that the situation is different in baseball and, conceivably a Japanese team could win a short series against the Cardinals, especially since the Cards probably aren't really the best team in major league baseball.

I do find your statement about the US being in decline as a world power for decades to be a little odd. What is your definiton as a world power? I mean, whether you like the idea or not, it's pretty hard not to call the U.S. a world power.

Dec 14, 2011 14:03 PM
rating: 1
 
saint09

That wasn't my comment.

Dec 14, 2011 14:29 PM
rating: -1
 
rcrary

Oh, of course, the US is still a world power. But the period of U.S. economic dominance was roughly the end of WWII till about 1967-1973, thereabouts. Around the time we went off the gold standard (the end of the Bretton Woods system). Economic decline sets in from then. Political decline is trickier, but suffice it to say that truly powerful countries don't have to engage in the kinds of wars the US has engaged in over the last 25 years. Those are signs of weakness, not strength.

Though obviously this isn't the place to get into the details.

Dec 14, 2011 18:06 PM
rating: -3
 
saint09

Wow, -10. A new record?

A -10 suggests others feel it is appropriate to refer to yourselves as World Champions when you played in a US Only club tournament.

How sad.

Dec 15, 2011 15:51 PM
rating: -3
 
BurrRutledge

Got it. Ichiro came to the U.S. because he wanted to pit his skills against "American Club Teams." Not because he had nothing left to prove against the level of competition in Japan.

Dec 15, 2011 16:23 PM
rating: 0
 
saint09

Agreed the standard is higher top to bottom in MLB. Never was in dispute.

The issue is referring to yourself as World Champion when you didn't win a World Club tournament.

Calling yourself World Champion when you didn't earn that title is such an arrogant leap.

And in the NFL? It's just plain silly.




Dec 15, 2011 17:51 PM
rating: -1
 
BurrRutledge

If there were a World Championship to play in, then I agree it would be arrogant to claim the title without actually winning the event.

Are you suggesting the World Baseball Classic or the Olympics should measure the "World Champs?" (Let's agree not to be absurd.)

Dec 15, 2011 18:00 PM
rating: 0
 
saint09

Declaring yourself World Champion if there was actually a World Tournament to play in, when you actually didn't win the tournament... that's not arrogant, it's just stupid, right? The US, DR, and Korea cannot claim to be a baseball World Champion. Japan can. Twice over.

To clarify, based on your first statement: Therefore, since there is not a World Baseball Club Championship available, it is not arrogant to declare yourself World Champion when you win the MLB Championship? I gather this is the general consensus and, again, I obviously disagree. I believe it's arrogant and presumptuous.

I'm not sure I understand your follow on question: Yes, the winners of the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics (in all sports), similar to the World Cup of Soccer, are justified in declaring themselves World Champions.

If your question is whether I think the WBC or the Olympics are the best forum to decide the World Champion (picking between the two), if every player agreed to make themselves available, I think the WBC would be the right forum. A spectacular event.

I love the WBC and wish everyone did play, so as to crown a true World Champion with no asterisks (like the "well, the best US players chose not to play" argument that is put forward.)

Dec 15, 2011 21:54 PM
rating: -2
 
BurrRutledge

There's a fine line between arrogance and confidence. One of the major differences tends to be that arrogance focuses solely on strengths without acknowledging weaknesses. You have admitted that MLB's superior level of competition is "never in doubt." So, we're all confident about this.

The undisputed fact is that MLB is the highest level of competition. MLB is the World Championship.

This is simply confidence, supported by all the facts. Maybe at some point in the future there would be a case for calling it arrogance, but today is not that day.

Dec 16, 2011 08:34 AM
rating: 0
 
kasgard

C'mon man. Major American sports teams being referred to as "World Champion" is as American as apple pie. I know what you mean in a literal sense but America IS #1 as a nation, and our basketball, football, and baseball team champions are World champions. And who cares what the Chunichi Dragons or the Liechtenstein badminton champions refer to themselves as. And if that makes me an "ugly, arrogant" American, I'll proudly admit guilt.

Dec 14, 2011 01:56 AM
rating: -3
 
rcrary

How weird to say, as if reporting a fact, that America *IS* #1 as a nation", and as if even means anything

Dec 14, 2011 07:22 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

Totally agree with Kasgard. Chunichi couldn't go more than five games with the Cards anyway.

Dec 14, 2011 02:29 AM
rating: 0
 
saint09

It sounds arrogant. At least you admit guilt Kasgard.

And while I'm not losing sleep over it, as am American who lives overseas, I can tell you it is a common source of ribbing from my "mates.". "the Packers are world champions? Nice! They beat who again? Oh. Pittsburgh.".

America is number 1 as a nation? Really? At what? (please save the "patriotic" angle in any reply.). Because it's certainly not baseball. I'll concede Football. (American football, that is.)

http://web.worldbaseballclassic.com/index.jsp

Dec 14, 2011 03:51 AM
rating: -2
 
amazin_mess
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LOL....yes, because we all know every single great American player plays in the WBC.

I see your WBC and raise you a Diasuke Matsuzaka. Japanese players rarely translate. NO....Chinichi could not beat the world champs.

Stay overseas, please.

Dec 14, 2011 04:38 AM
rating: -6
 
BurrRutledge

In Hong Kong, 1980, I was my Little League team's MVP. In '81 and '82, I earned the same recognition on my team stateside.

I am clearly baseball's Little League World Champion.

I don't think anybody in the U.S. or elsewhere would argue if Barcelona wished to declare themselves World Champs. If Chunichi played 162 games in MLB and then another dozen in the post-season, they would have some claim to that title.

Can somebody run a Davenport Translation to see if Pittsburgh would be competitive in Japan over the last decade? Not that I'm suggesting they'd win the league.

Dec 14, 2011 05:04 AM
rating: 0
 
Jack Thomas

Thome seems an odd fit for PHI once Howard if healthy. They both kill RHP -- Not so well v. LHP. I wonder what the over/under on how many games Thome plays at 1B? Has to be some reason he has not played a game at 1B since 2007.
An old team getting older?

Dec 14, 2011 05:05 AM
rating: 0
 
mranney

" The farm system isn't ready to provide immediate help,"

Where does Dom Brown fit in the team's plans now-a-days ?

Dec 14, 2011 07:40 AM
rating: 0
 
KaiserD2

Manuel could have gone further. If you review the history of the last 16 years carefully it is clear that the three-round playoff system is very unlikely to leave the best team as World Champion. I'm not a Yankee fan, but they have been good enough to have been in the World Series far more often than they have been. Four eight-team divisions (aproximately) would be better.

Dec 14, 2011 09:48 AM
rating: 0
 
MWSchneider

If we were in the pre-1969 series, the Yankees and Braves would have met a lot more than twice in the World Series.

Dec 14, 2011 14:11 PM
rating: 0
 
MWSchneider

If you actually had a world championship in baseball akin to the World Cup in soccer, there is a good chance the US would not win. But if you are talking about whether the Major League champion is the best baseball team in the world (ignoring, for the moment, whether the best team in MLB actually wins the World Series), it likely is. For the most part, the best baseball players in the world come to play in the Major Leagues; that's not jingoism, that's just a fact.

Dec 14, 2011 14:09 PM
rating: 2
 
rcrary

This is a good point. This is probably why it doesn't bother me.

Dec 14, 2011 18:10 PM
rating: 0
 
Doug Thorburn

"If you actually had a world championship in baseball akin to the World Cup in soccer..."

World Baseball Classic, anyone?

Dec 15, 2011 11:29 AM
rating: 1
 
saint09

Precisely. And on paper, the two strongest teams, the DR and the USA, haven't gotten a sniff of a World Title. I appreciate the format is less games/smaller sample sizes, and I trust that over 100 games, the US would still beat Japan, say, 65/35 (back of the envelope calc there.) The World Champs are the Japanese.

And the original point was that calling any MLB World Series winner the "World Champs" is a misnomer and, in my view, arrogant. Until there is a World Club championship, I think just calling themselves "Champions" is sufficient and appropriate.

Dec 15, 2011 15:50 PM
rating: -1
 
BurrRutledge

To qualify for the World Series, a team has to endure a 162-game summertime event called the MLB Regular Season.

Any of the four playoff qualifiers from the Regular Season is declared World Champion.

If you know of teams who want to pony up to join the MLB franchise and compete for title of World Champ, MLB can be contacted here:

The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball
Allan H. (Bud) Selig, Commissioner
Address: 245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor
City: New York, State: NY Zip Code: 10167
Phone: 212-931-7800
Fax: 212-949-5654

Dec 16, 2011 10:28 AM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Any of the four playoff qualifiers from each league in the Regular Season is declared World Champion.

Dec 16, 2011 10:49 AM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Jeez... somebody hit me.

One of the four playoff qualifiers from each league's Regular Season is declared World Champion, by virtue of winning the three-round elimination World Series playoff.

As a side note, I think it would be totally awesome to see other leagues around the world qualify teams to play in the World Series and compete for the title.

Dec 16, 2011 11:02 AM
rating: 1
 
Wharton93

The Phillies were not trying to win their 2nd world series in three years. They were trying to win their 2nd WS in four years. They won in 2008, and lost in 2009 and 2010.

Dec 14, 2011 20:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Wharton93

Sorry, didn't mean to imply they lost the WS in 2009 and 2010 (although they lose it in 2009). I meant that they didn't win it in 2009 or 2010 (or 2011). Hence, they were trying to win their 2nd in 4 years (not 3).

Dec 14, 2011 20:59 PM
rating: 0
 
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