Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 2011 Phillies - Autopsy Edition

I have given myself exactly 12 hours to sleep and ponder the big question - what now?  This isn't like 2007 when the Phillies were just happy to be there after a miracle comeback. It also doesn't feel the same as losses from 2009 (World Series) and 2010 (NLCS), especially now, given that the team is a year older and it looks as if Ryan Howard will be missing substantial time with a potentially torn left Achilles tendon.  I am going to do this in the form of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Don't Overreact...

The Good

1) 102 wins - most in franchise history and a truly remarkable season to follow from start to finish.  Lots of great comebacks and the sheer domination of winning five consecutive division titles.  It is dynastic, even if the final result isn't the desired one.

2) The starting pitching - there were ups and downs, but this was still one of the best rotations assembled in recent history.  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels were a feared trio and will be so again next season.  Halladay was simply brilliant throughout; Lee had two historically dominant months, and Hamels was at his absolute best.  Roy Oswalt upon return pitched well and Vance Worley was somewhat of a revelation.  With everyone at full strength, this rotation will carry the team next season.

3) Ryan Madson - I think he completely shut down the conversation as to whether he possesses the non-existent entity known as the 'Closer's Mentality'.  He may have thrown his final pitch with the Phillies last night, as he is a free agent and a Scott Boras client.

4) Shane Victorino - led the team in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and had hit over .300 for most of the season until his September slump.  One of the team's MVP's for the season

5) Chase Utley - he didn't return until late May, but his presence paid instant dividends for the Phillies as they started scoring a lot more runs and received a spark that they just didn't have when they had to trot out Wilson Valdez in the lineup every single day.  Utley is still the Phillies best all-around player and hopefully he will be able to play a full season in a healthy fashion.

The Bad

1) Ryan Howard's Contract - the injury on the final out of the 2011 Phillies' season brought into sharper focus the folly of Ruben Amaro's contact extension to Ryan Howard that doesn't actually begin until 2012.  The five year, $125 million contract begins in Howard's age 32 season and with a potentially torn Achilles tendon, the whole 2012 season may be thrown down the toilet.  He is regressing and has looked downright lost at the plate.  He can still carry the team at times, but not at a clip of an average of $25 million per season.  This one is on Rube, not the Big Piece.

2) Front Office Decisions - the Phillies' front office has some major decisions due this offseason.  Jimmy Rollins is a free agent, and so is Ryan Madson.  Roy Oswalt needs to have his option reviewed.  Cole Hamels has one year of arbitration left before he hits free agency.  Raul Ibanez is set to walk and needs replacing.  The movable parts of the bullpen need a major overhaul.  History says that the Phillies FO is in no way like the Eagles' FO.  The Eagles in the past 12-15 years have always seemed to have a finger on when it was time to bring a guy on and time to let go.  Ruben Amaro and co. need to build that particular sense, but given some of the personnel decisions and contracts handed out, this seems unlikely.

3) Third Base - when the Phillies signed Placido Polanco to a three year deal prior to the 2010 season, I was horrified and thought he should only have gotten two years plus a third year option.  Polanco hit around .400 in the month of April (.398 to be exact), but then went on to hit around .240 for the rest of the season.  The younger Polanco was your quintessential number two hitter - get on base, make contact, and so forth.  Now, he is a complete liability, and it shined forth in the last few months of the season and the Cardinals series.  Do they eat his 2012 salary and get a replacement, or do they live on a prayer?

The Ugly Don't Overreact

1) Early Playoff Exit - yes, it is frustrating, angering, infuriating, and a host of other negatives to watch the team scuffle as it couldn't close out a Wild-Card St. Louis team.  HOWEVER, these kinds of things are going to happen in a short playoff series.  Losing three out of five during the season may turn a couple of heads, but will never cause the sheer panic that ensues when a team loses three of five during the playoffs postseason.  Small sample sizes abound, hence the epitaph on the tombstone above.

2) Carlos Ruiz - he had a forgettable series at the plate and behind it.  His role on the team overall cannot be overstated, though.  The notion of the small sample size occurs here too - slumps happen.  Just ask Mike Schmidt about the 1983 World Series (he went 1-20).  Prior to this year, he had a career postseason OBP of .412.  Not too shabby.  

3) Hunter Pence - I wasn't a big fan of the trade that brought him to Philadelphia, but once it became clear that the die was cast, I started rooting for him to succeed enthusiastically.  He also had a forgettable series - no extra base hits, just four singles.  Like Ruiz, slumps happen, and unless there are structural issues (like Polanco), slumps will give way to hot streaks. Pence will be around for at least two more years, so he will most likely have the opportunity to make up for it in the future.

Unfortunately, it has all come to an end, in an ugly fashion.  But there is still much to which we can look forward.  Next season will bring its excitement and the roller-coaster ride known as the baseball season.  The Phillies are still the team to beat in the National League East, and so long as the pitching holds up, they will be right back here next season playing in the Division Series.

Hope Springs Eternal.

If anyone has any further Good, Bad, or Don't Overreact, put them in the comment thread or email me.

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