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November 6, 2009

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Philadelphia Phillies

by Baseball Prospectus

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Baseball Prospectus' Pre-season Projection: 87-75, tied for second place
Actual record: 93-69, first place

The Phillies have a ton of question marks, but their core talent should keep them above water in what figures to be a highly-competitive NL East next year.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com's Take

What went wrong: The Phillies came within two victories of becoming the first National League team since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds to repeat as World Series champions, so they did a whole lot of things right. Ruben Amaro Jr. adeptly traded for Cliff Lee in his first year as general manager, a move that paid off immediately (and will continue to pay off next season), and the Phillies bludgeoned teams with the best lineup in the NL. The Phillies might have won another World Series, however, if not for the struggles of two guys who lifted them to the title in 2008-Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels.

Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: The Phillies have to figure out if they need help with the pitching staff. In all the reaction that followed Hamels' comment that he looked forward to the end of the season, what was lost was the fact that Hamels fully understands he needs to make adjustments-whether in his offseason preparation, or in his repertoire. He's 25 and will likely fix himself. It's not such a sure thing with Lidge, who had more blown saves last season than any closer in the majors. Because the Phillies are committed to paying Lidge $11.5 million for each of the next two seasons, the team will probably at least attempt to go into next year with Lidge penciled in as the closer-but it's possible Amaro will look to create some kind of safety net, perhaps acquiring another veteran who could serve as a set-up man but would be able to step into the role if Lidge flounders again. Either way, the Phillies are a deep and great team, and appear prepared to defend their National League title once more.

The Baseball Prospectus Take

Given the level of competition in Major League Baseball, making the playoffs is an incredibly tough task. Just ask the Phillies, who from 2001-06 essentially missed the playoffs by a Mordecai Brown handful of games each season before finally breaking through in the 2007 campaign. Tougher than qualifying for the postseason is actually winning a series, let alone two, let alone winning the World Series like the Phillies did last season. Fast-forward a year and after a couple of shrewd moves and top-notch offensive and defensive performances later, they found themselves back in familiar territory.

Though they fell short of their goal of repeating as world champs, the odds of even getting back to the playoffs were certainly stacked against them with Murphy's Law in full force. It seemed everything capable of going wrong did go wrong. Jimmy Rollins and Brad Lidge each turned in very disappointing seasons; Cole Hamels could not replicate the success of his stellar 2008 season; Brett Myers missed most of the year with a hip injury; J.C. Romero missed two months due to a suspension, returned, and effectively missed the rest of the year with an injury; Jamie Moyer battled extreme bouts of ineffectiveness and injury; and the dynamic lefty bench duo of Matt Stairs and Greg Dobbs struggled mightily, to name a few of the seemingly never-ending list of unfortunate occurrences. That does not sound like a recipe for success, but the team persevered, combining power, patience, and some of the most efficient basestealing in history with solid defense practically all around the diamond, and a more than capable staff of starters and relievers.-Eric Seidman, Baseball Prospectus

Key stat: .845

With big boppers like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez-not to mention the quite powerful Jimmy Rollins-the Phillies are known predominantly for knocking the ball all around the yard. However, an even more impressive aggregate statistic of theirs involves the running game, in particular stolen-base efficiency. Since 2007, when this core truly came together, they are the most efficient basestealing team in the Retrosheet era. In 2007, they stole 138 bases to go against just 19 times caught, a 87.9 percent success rate that tops all comers. The next season: 136 swipes against 25 times caught, producing an 84.5 percent rate that ranks in the top five. This season, the Phillies also led the league in stolen base success, exploiting the opposing battery on 119 occasions while being caught just 28 times, a relatively modest 80.9 percent rate of success. Put together, the Phillies have gone 393/465 over the past three seasons, an 84.5 percent rate of successfully swiping bags. Employing the type of power they have on staff goes a long way towards explaining their ability to compete at a high level, but this is not a one-dimensional team, and as they showed once again this past season, they can drive a team crazy by simply singling or taking a walk.-Eric Seidman, Baseball Prospectus

ESPN.com Rumor Central

Trades: Phillies fans that saw Pedro Martinez start Game Six in New York should dare to dream for a better option. That option could be Roy Halladay. The Phillies could build a package around J.A. Happ and pry Halladay from Toronto; then they'd have both Doc and Lee for a whole year. But the concern is that both are free agents after 2010, so the Phillies need to make sure they can keep at least one of the two arms around, or they'll have gutted their system for one last shot (at least for a while) at a World Series.

Free agency: The Phillies have to decide on whether to pick up a $5 million option on third baseman Pedro Feliz. If they don't, don't be surprised if they go after Adrian Beltre-a marvelous defender-or even Florida's Dan Uggla, who would provide pop, if not a Gold Glove at the hot corner.

Who 2 Watch 4: Kyle Drabek, RHP

By acquiring Cliff Lee and passing on Roy Halladay at the trade deadline, the Phillies kept their top three prospects in-house, and while it's difficult to find an immediate home for outfielders Domonic Brown and Michael Taylor, right-hander Kyle Drabek is moving quickly and teams can always find uses for arms. The organization's first-round pick in 2006, Drabek missed most of 2008 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but came out firing in 2009, reaching Double-A by midseason. His 91-94 mph fastball can get up to 97 mph, while his curveball is a true swing-and-miss pitch. There's some thought that he could get to the big leagues quicker as a reliever, but he'll remain a starter for now and begin 2010 on the verge of the big leagues.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Draft recap
Signed: 34 of 49
Spent: Just over $3 million
Hits: No first-round pick? Perhaps it's a good thing the Phillies didn't have a pick in the first round this season, after throwing $1.38 million at the ultra-raw Anthony Hewitt a year ago.
Miss: Kyrell Hudson, OF (106th overall): The Phillies took this year's version of Hewitt in the third this time around. Like Hewitt, Hudson is a great athlete with strength and speed, but, also like Hewitt, he comes with tons of questions, mostly about his bat.-Jason A. Churchill, ESPN.com

The Bottom Line

Though the Phillies are coming off their third consecutive division crown and back-to-back pennants, they are not flawless and will have several questions to address in the offseason. For starters, pun intended, what will they do with the likes of Jamie Moyer (under contract for next season) and free agent-to-be Pedro Martinez? Can they work out an extension with Cliff Lee? Do they exercise Pedro Feliz's modest $5 million option to provide stellar defense with a less-than-desirable bat, or consider free-agent alternatives like Adrian Beltre and Chone Figgins? With Lee, Hamels, and Happ set as the mainstays in the rotation, will they spring for another righty to provide more balance? Can Brad Lidge right his proverbial ship?

Ruben Amaro Jr. has a lot in his queue right now, but luckily, the core contributors to the team are all under contract for at least next season if not beyond. The answers to the aforementioned questions will likely only affect how far they can advance in the playoffs, not whether they have enough talent to make it back for a fourth straight season. Having surrendered second-tier prospects for Lee near the trading deadline, they still boast a strong farm system, and next season could begin the infusion cycle for farmhands like Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor, putting the 2008 World Series champs and 2009 runners-up in a position to be very good for a very long time.-Eric Seidman, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Related Content:  The Who,  Prospectus,  Phillies,  J.A. Happ,  Year Of The Injury

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