Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Grading the 2014 Phillies: "Stay or Go?" - Part II: Offense

The Phillies continue to try and trade some of their veterans and there is now a sense of urgency with pitchers, catchers, and injured players reporting in less than one month. Therefore, I give you part two of the “Stay or Go?” game: Offense/ Defense. We begin with catchers, starting with the primary.

Carlos Ruiz is certainly doing his part to get wins. When healthy, he plays in ~70% of the Phils’ games and does every aspect well: good rapport with pitchers, keeps balls in dirt in front of him, nabs a good chunk of base stealers, and even hits well anywhere in the line-up. You can’t ask more from a catcher. We may be slightly overpaying for him, especially with not being contenders, but he is welcomed to stay. Grade: B+/ A-.

We will discuss the back-ups to Ruiz, beginning with his primary back-up Wil Nieves. For a back-up to hit well over .200 while doing his part behind the dish is certainly a welcomed return on a one-year deal. It certainly will help further the development of Rupp, Joseph & Valle if Nieves is re-signed. Cameron Rupp may be ready to take the primary back-up role, especially with his knack for throwing out base-runners, but I don’t think he’s ready to take the lead position when Ruiz is injured. It should be interesting to watch. I have no clue who will be next to reach the majors. Tommy Joseph (AA/ AAA), Sebastian Valle (AA/ AAA), and Andrew Knapp (A) come to mind, but they’re at least 1.5 years from a call-up. So, both Nieves & Rupp get a yes to a return and combined “B” for 2014. Now, onto the rest of the line-up in defensive (3-9) order, so first basemen are next.

Ryan Howard remained on the field in 2014 after missing big chunks of 2012 & 2013 to Achillies & knee injuries, respectfully. He appeared in 153 games: 95 RBI, 23 HRs, .223 AVG, 190 Ks, .690 OPS. On the surface, 95 RBIs is ok production by one player, especially considering Howard had family issues and that it takes awhile to recover from leg injuries (per Larry Andersen).  His .288 BABIP is ok (near-avg.). So, what went wrong? His 29.3% strike-out rate and 16% RBI/ROB rates, the former of which was closer to 33% w/ RISP. Not only did he fail with the bat beyond 95 RBIs being ok, he does nothing else much right: part of his -1.1 WAR is terrible plate discipline & base-running plus novice-level defense (except he still limits errors). I predict a bounce-back year offensively for the former ROY & MVP in 2015: the family issues are resolved & he's back from injury. Ryne still should play him less (every other day consistently, pending lefty pitching) and maybe move him down. If Howard bounces back, that should up his trade value a bit for the deadlines, although his history & contract make trading him virtually impossible. Grade: "F+/D-"

What in the heck are the Phillies doing with Darin Ruf? Why is he only playing 1-3 days per week instead of 5-6 days per week? What was the whole point of benching Howard those three days? “To see what others can do” according to Sandberg, but then Rube apparently nixed that idea – we know now that he was trying to get Howard’s trade value up. It’s still frustrating! Phillies front office and coaches… you’ve seen Howard plenty now and Ruf can play both corner spots (see OF section for more on that). Please give Ruf playing opportunities. Grade: unable to determine due to injury, recovery mismanagement, and lack of playing time.

Next for evaluation are the infield bench players, Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. Like Ruf, they fell victim to rehab mismanagement and/ or lack of playing time. With Rollins gone, Galvis looks to be the "everyday shortstop." I think he may do well as the primary shortstop (5 games per week), so do put him out there. Hernandez tore up the Winter Leagues. With that momentum plus defensive versatility (CF, 2B, 3B, SS), I welcome him to the bench. Grade: "Pass"/ "No Grade"

Come May 28th, Chase Utley seemed well on his way to a .290 AVG with .300 seemingly within reach. Unfortunately, too much playing time wore down our only 2014 All-Star. I think, with at least one day of rest per week and sliding up to the two-hole, he can still produce for us to a .285 AVG. He definitely earned the $15MM he makes per year, especially considering he still plays the game right and the blame falls on Ryne for playing him too much. Grade: B+ (I’m hoping he stays). Now, we discuss our third basemen.

Keep in mind that Cody Asche has only been in the majors 1.5 seasons. The University of Nebraska product came into the majors with a .300 AVG in the minors over the equivalent of two full seasons. Could he have benefit from more time at AAA? Probably. Did the Phillies play him often enough after his call-up? I think so, although a bit of a mental break from time to time would help. I like Asche, especially in a platoon, but the jury’s still out on whether he can play every day or not. Grade: Pass.

Maikel Franco started the year in AAA and really started slow. But in the 2nd half, with help from none other than Charlie Manuel, he tore it up. To use the front office’s words, the 21-year-old Venezuelan “forced” them to call him up in Sept. He played in 16 GM, made just under 60 PAs, had a .404 OPS, and only one error. Scouts say he’s better than Asche overall. Right now, he is behind Asche, which is fine for a 21-Y.O., so more time in AAA will benefit not only Franco but Asche as well (As I said, "the jury is still out on" Asche as an everyday player.). Furthermore, if Franco spends more than five weeks in AAA, his free agency time will come one year later than if he'd opened the year in the majors. However, if Franco can continue hitting at the pace from which he left off - he’s doing/ did in winter ball - I would welcome him up hear anytime, as early as Opening Day. Grade (incl. minors): Pass. Now, instead of discussing more of the Rollins trade & his replacements, we go onto the outfield.

Marlon Byrd did what was asked of him, and that was to stabilize right field offensively & defensively. He struck out a lot, but I didn’t notice it being a detriment this year. I would have loved to see him back, but in a rebuilding year, a trade was the right move. This opens up right field to Domonic Brown, his natural position in A & AA, which should (and has to) benefit him mentally. Left field is open to Ruf or  perhaps some of the utility guys (Hernandez, Asche) or, if the Phillies want to slide him over, Revere (Please do, Ryne!). Ben Revere did well offensively, considering he batted >.300 overall and stole 49 bags despite slow starts & finishes to the season and screws in his ankle. Now that he's no longer screwed up, he should be (1) more consistent despite another slow start and (2) able to more easily use his speed to stretch 1B into 2B. We have Grady Sizemore back, giving us four OFs, and to round out the MLB depth, the Phillies have five players competing for one (or two, if Howard goes) sports: Jordan Danks (off waivers from White Sox), Rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera (another who tore up the winter league) and - on minor league deals - Jeff Francoeur, Brian Bogusevic & Xavier Paul. And now, the 2014 Phillies Outfielders' scores: Brown: D-/F+… 2015 will be make or break; Revere: B-; Byrd: A-; Sizemore: Pass.

With the rebuild underway, the Phillies should be competitive in 2016 and definitely by 2017. We have prospects coming up this year (Franco & Nola) and more at AA (most of our top pitching prospects plus Crawford in 2nd half), who will come up in late 2016/ early-to-mid 2017. I agree with Gillick’s assessment of the rebuild (2017) and look forward to continued progress (not continued success) with our prospects. I said the rotation would be the rebuilding theme this year, but with Rollins & Byrd gone, it looks like I can say the offense can get started, too. Good luck in 2015, guys!

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