If you’re not first, you’re last? If you would listen to a lot of baseball pundits during the offseason, you would think that they live by the slogan that Ricky Bobby made famous. After they discuss how great the Phillies pitching staff is going to be, they then question how the Phillies will score runs without Right Fielder Jayson Werth. Last season the Phillies finished second in the National League in runs; they did this while having almost their entire lineup miss significant time due to injury. The team did post its lowest run total since the 2002 season but they did finish second in the league in runs. I’m not a statistician but finishing second is not that bad. And the last time I checked, it’s a lineup that still includes Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.
The loss of the bat of Jayson Werth will not be easy to overcome. Over the last 2 seasons, Werth has been one of the Phillies best hitters. Werth was also a power hitting right hander in a heavily left handed lineup. Last season Werth put up some great numbers, he ended the season with 27 home runs, 87 RBI’s, .296 avg. and had a .921 OPS. Those are very solid numbers and hard to replace but it is not irreplaceable production. Most of the criticism Werth received last year was due to his apparent lack of hitting in the clutch and the numbers support this claim. Werth hit 18 of his 27 homeruns last season with the bases empty. And last season with runners in scoring position (RISP), Werth batted just .187. When Werth was at the plate with RISP and 2 outs, he hit just .139. Those numbers are not just bad but they are terrible and you could say they are very “Abreu” like.
So who is going to replace Werth in right field this season? Going into spring training it looks like it is going to be Ben Francisco. If you average Francisco’s production per at bat and apply that to the Werth’s at bats last season. The numbers are not that far apart. If Francisco would have received identical at bats to Werth last season (554), he would have had 18 home runs and 87 RBI’s. Last season Francisco had an RBI every 6.39 at bats, while Werth averaged a RBI every 6.52 at bats. I know you can’t simply multiply things to get the answer, but I think it gives a idea of what type of production we could expect from Ben. Now I don’t expect Francisco to put up the numbers that Werth did last season, but I believe a realistic season for Francisco would be 15 homeruns and 75 RBI’s. Don’t be surprised if the loss of Werth is not as big as the “experts” expect it to be.
Last season first baseman Ryan Howard had one of his worst season’s as a professional but he still finished 4th in the NL in RBI’s. Howard posted 31 home runs and 107 RBI’s despite missing a few weeks with an ankle injury in August. At the time of his injury, he was just starting to enter the time of year where his production in the highest. I believe if he would have not twisted his ankle in Washington, he would have led the league in RBI’s. The fact remains that Howard is one of the prominent power hitters in the game and he puts fear in most pitchers when he steps to the plate. The other player at the middle of the Phillies lineup also missed time due to an injury. A thumb injury forced Utley to miss about 8 weeks on route to his worst statistical season as an everyday player. It was Utley’s first season as a starter that he failed to have more than 20 home runs and 90 RBI’s. It wasn’t long ago that Utley was in the talk for the greatest offensive 2nd baseman of all time. Chase turned 32 in December but is only entering his 7th season as an everyday player in the majors. As the legendary Harry Kalas would have said, “Chase Utley, You are the man!!” I would expect Utley’s 2011 season stat line will look a lot more like his career averages.
Last year leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins did something in the first few games that shocked all of Philly. He actually showed patience at the plate and drew walks! In 3 of the first 4 games of the season, Rollins walked twice in each of the games. He looked a lot like the player who won the MVP in the 2007 season. I know it is a very small sample size but in the 1st 6 games of the season , Jimmy was on fire! (In 23 at bats, here are his numbers, 3 homeruns, 7 RBI’s, 2 stolen bases, .391 avg, .516 OBP, .636 SLG and 1.255 OBS) Then the first game in Philly, Rollins was pulled from the lineup due to a right calf strain. This injury lingered the entire season and limited Rollins to 88 games. But there have been whispers in the offseason that Rollins has taken a new initiative to get into better shape, he apparently realizes he isn’t getting any younger and will have to take better care of himself to remain playing at a high level.
The rest of the Phillies lineup isn’t bad either. Placido Polanco hit .298 despite playing the majority of the year with an elbow injury. After getting hit in the elbow with a pitch by Tim Hudson, Polanco lost his ability to hit for any power. Now Polly isn’t going to hit a lot of home runs, but he should be able to post at least double digit home runs at the Bank. The elbow limited him for the majority of the season and should be a better player in 2011. The rest of the lineup also includes 2009 all stars Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez. Ibanez showed signs of life after a horrible start to the season; he has also ramped up his off season conditioning and should have a bounce back season. The only player in their everyday lineup I have failed to mention is Phan Phavorite Carlos “CHOOOOOCH” Ruiz. Chooch might have been the Phillies best hitter last season and might be the most underrated player in all of baseball. Ruiz seems to be improving in every season he plays, while he it isn’t likely he will bat .302 again. It is not out of the question to expect him to bat in the .285 range.
Almost all of the Phillies players in there everyday lineup are in their 30’s but since when is the early 30’s considered old. The core of the Phillies lineup is in the middle of their primes and there is no reason to expect them not to have their typical seasons. Last season the Phillies were able to finish second in the NL, despite having injuries to almost every player. Despite what people may think, the slogan" if you’re not first you’re last" doesn’t make any sense. I’m not going to guarantee that the all of the Phillies are going to instantly have career years, but if their best players have their “average” seasons. This is one of the best offensive teams in the league. I would be shocked if this team doesn’t at least finish in the top 5 in the NL in runs. And when you add that type of production to the potential of the Starters, watch out 2001 Seattle Mariners, but the Phillies season will not end the same way!