All the talk this off season about the Philadelphia Phillies has revolved around the four aces. We all know that this could be a starting rotation of epic proportions, but that is hardly the most interesting aspect of the 2011 Phillies. The lineup will be the reason the Phillies live up to their massive expectations. It doesn’t matter if the pitchers never give up a run, because I’ve never seen a team win a game by the score 0-0.
There is no doubt that the Phillies offense had a down year in general. They scored 0 or 1 run in 34 games last season. That is more than the Pittsburgh Pirates. They were hampered by injuries with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins all making trips to the disabled list. Here are some players that had down years by their standards. Their 2010 season will be compared to their 162 game season average:
|162 Game Avg.||162||749||682||108||186||40||11||17||72||37||8||55||86||.272||.328||.435||.764|
Now, his numbers will obviously be down because he only played 88 games in 2010, but look at his average, slugging percentage, and OPS. He is one of the best fielding shortstops in baseball, but offered very little to the Phillies lineup last season.
|162 Game Avg.||162||696||601||109||176||38||5||29||105||15||2||68||108||.293||.380||.514||.894|
Utley’s batting average was almost 20 points lower than his career average, but the telling stat to me is his amount of doubles. Utley is an absolute doubles machine, but only had five doubles in his last 34 games of 2010. What that tells me is that he rushed back from his thumb injury which sidelined him for the entire month of July and half of August.
|162 Game Avg.||162||697||599||102||167||29||3||47||138||2||1||86||192||.279||.372|
Howard’s production of 31 home runs and 108 RBIs would be great for most people in major league baseball. However, for a man making $25 million a season, those numbers simply aren’t high enough. He needs to be a 40+ HR and 125+ RBI guy every season for that price tag.
Now, there are a million things to discuss about this lineup. Raul Ibanez has been nothing short of average and is going to make $11,500,000 this season. He did however have a much better second half last season batting .309 with 9 HRs and 44 RBIs compared to .243 with 7 HRs and 39 RBIs in the first half. Ibanez is coming off a sports hernia surgery that set him back three or four months at the start of last season. Being fully healthy in 2011, could be crucial to the success of the Phillies.
RANDOM FACT: The Phillies have the oldest starting lineup in all of baseball.
Okay, so let’s answer some of the questions about this lineup.
Who will lead off?
The leadoff spot will dictate where the other players hit. There are only two viable options, Jimmy Rollins or Shane Victorino. Manager Charlie Manuel has been steadfast in his support for Rollins as his leadoff hitter, but should he be?
Ever since Rollins MVP season in 2007, his numbers have fallen each and every year:
In Victorino’s five full seasons with the Phillies, he has never had an OBP lower than .327.
Both are switch hitters, so no advantage there. Victorino thrived in the leadoff spot last season, hitting better out of that hole than any other:
Both Rollins and Victorino played a similar number of games last season, hitting out of the first position. Here is how they stacked up:
Victorino batted 35 points higher, had over 20 points higher on his OBP, stole 9 more bases, and scored 17 more runs than Rollins did out of the leadoff position.
To me, this is a no brainer. Shane Victorino needs to be the leadoff man for the Phillies. Do I think he will be in the first spot on opening day? No. Charlie Manuel is probably the most loyal manager in all of baseball, and I believe that he still thinks Rollins can get the job done.
If Rollins doesn’t leadoff, where should he hit?
In my opinion he needs to be in either the 5th or 6th hole in this lineup. He can be a spark plug lower in the lineup or even provide protection for Ryan Howard (we’ll get to more on that later). Rollins has played 1,494 games in his career. 1,134 of those, have been as a leadoff hitter. However, he has had success in his limited number of games batting 5th or 6th:
Unfortunately, Rollins may be towards the end of his career and his production at the plate has shown that. Manuel cannot get stubborn and leave him in the leadoff spot if he can’t get the job done.
Who will protect Ryan Howard?
In most cases, I think that protecting certain players is completely overrated, but it is worth talking about. Ryan Howard saw more off-speed pitches than anyone in Major League Baseball last season. If pitchers have to worry about the player behind Howard, they may be forced to attack him more often, which could be bad for opposing pitchers.
Jayson Werth provided most of that protection last season. Even though Werth was miserable with RISP, he still posted a respectable 27 HR and 85 RBI season. Werth, however, will be taking his talents to Washington DC this season and another Phillie will have to fill that void.
Some possible options, as we mentioned before, could be Rollins or Ibanez. A darkhorse to fill the five-hole could be rookie Domonic Brown, if he wins the RF job. Brown struggled in winter ball down in the Dominican Republic and don’t expect Manuel to throw the young kid into a position to have to protect one of the game’s premier power hitters. I like the way Ibanez fits into the five hole, if he can play like he did in the second half last season. My worry is that he is just another lefty in this lefty-filled lineup. I think Rollins fits in the five hole best, being a switch hitter and being able to provide a spark as a second leadoff hitter. Also, I think Rollins strives on challenges. Putting him in the five hole would be something that could motivate him into having good at bats all season long.
How do you break up the lefties?
This is going to be a serious concern with the Phillies this season. Manuel will have to do his best to break up the lefty hitters, so that they cannot be shut down any time there is a southpaw on the hill. Let’s just look at a random lineup the Phillies could post this season:
That could very well be the opening day lineup come April 1st. That means the heart of the lineup; batters 3rd through 6th are all lefty bats. This makes the Phillies very susceptible to a tough lefty reliever coming in and shutting the door on them in the late innings of games.
Placido Polanco can handle the bat with the best of them. He is a typical number two hitter. He can hit and run or hit behind a runner when needed. Manuel has batted him third and Utley second at points during last seasons, but I think Polanco is too good of a number two hitter to bat anywhere else.
So what is the best possible lineup for the Phillies?
In my opinion, it goes like this:
Okay, here are some thoughts about my lineup.
Victorino is the best option to leadoff, so that’s simple. As I said before, I can’t move Polanco from the two-hole, so that’s another no brainer. I am a proponent of having my best all-around hitter in the three-hole and my big mashing power hitter in the cleanup spot, so that explains Utley and Howard. Carlos Ruiz had a great season last year at the plate, but he is an eight-hole hitter who thrives on fastballs.
My lineup never puts three of the same sided hitters in a row and spreads out the switch hitters.
I do not expect this to be the lineup on opening day, unless someone forwards this to Charlie Manuel.