(Posted by Mike Frohwirth)
(Spoiler Alert: This post was written on November 4th, 2011. It contains an account of the 2011 Phillies' season.)
For the Phillies, the 2010 season was a bad one for injuries. But if 2010 was a "bad" one for injuries, what was the 2011 season? "Dreadful?" "Ghastly?" I think I'll go with the word "horrific." The 2011 season saw second baseman Wilson Valdez and third baseman Pete Orr each receive over 500 plate appearances. Chase Utley and Placido Polanco each missed the majority of the season, and Brad Lidge's first MLB appearance was in August. Erik Kratz caught the second-most games, and regulars Valdez, Orr, and 1B Ryan Howard were the only position players from the Opening Day roster to avoid the Disabled List. When it came to health, the 2011 Phillies were historically unlucky.
Even as the injuries continued to mount, the Phillies continued to win. Unlike in previous seasons, slugging had little to do with the Phils' success, as only Ryan Howard (42 homers) and Ben Francisco (21) provided much in the way of power. When the Phillies scored, it was usually a result of their own brand of small ball. It wasn't an archaic, bunt-heavy small ball. The Phillies took walks, they moved runners with productive outs, and delivered their one-base hits in bunches. In winning fifty-three games by a single run, the 2011 Phillies exceeded their Pythagorean expected win total by twenty-two.
However, the competence of the Phillies' reserves probably wasn't the most surprising facet of the 2011 Phillies' success. It was the performance of the bullpen. Or, more precisely, Manager Charlie Manuel's brilliant performance-maximizing utilization of the bullpen. The strong starting rotation pitched deep into games, which allowed Manuel to play matchups in the late innings. Manuel adeptly manuevered his relievers, mixing and matching based on game situations. J.C. Romero was kept away from left-handed batters, while Danys Baez and Kyle Kendrick ate innings in games that had already been decided.
While there was some concern prior to Opening Day, when Manuel indicated that Jose Contreras would be the "closer", it was actually a stroke of enlightened genius by the skipper. Manuel used his best pitcher, Ryan Madson, in the most difficult late-inning situations, usually facing the middle of the opposing order. Neither Madson nor Contreras were wasted in games where the Phils led by more than three runs. When Brad Lidge returned in August, he didn't return to the closer's role. Manuel continued to use Madson and Contreras in the highest leverage situations, with Brad Lidge joining David Herndon as a medium leverage option. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and other MLB teams have already begun to imitate the Phillies' successful endgame strategy.
Of course, the 2011 Phillies will be most-remembered for the dominant performance of their starting rotation. The rotation boasted four twenty-game winners, with only Roy Oswalt (sixteen wins) falling short of that mark, due in part to his unlucky .328 BABIP. The talented quintet combined to pitch over one-thousand innings, and all five finished with top fifteen xFIPs (among qualified MLB starting pitchers). Without a doubt, the rotation deserves the lion's share of the credit for the team's success. But the satisfactory perfomance of the Phillies' reserves, and the paradigm-shifting deployment of the bullpen also played integral roles in the franchise's third World Championship.