Phillies in Progress: Starting Lineup

Posted by Mike Frohwirth

The Phillies are off to a great start, playing .692 ball (18W, 8L), good for the best record in the National League. With identical records at home and on the road, the Phils lead the NL East by one and one-half games. Philadelphia has been succesful in fattening their record against an array of weak opponents, while overcoming a disproportionate number of injuries. The Phillies have weathered the injury storm well, but will likely need better health going forward, in order to hold their position atop the NL East. They're also going to need some more support from their Starting Eight, than they have received to date.

Before we look at the Phils' Starting Eight, there are a few things to consider:

  • Sample sizes are still small. We can compare players to their past selves, and see how they have matched up against their counterparts from other teams, but it is still too early to be drawing any meaningful conclusions.
  • Consider the context. Offense is down throughout MLB. The Phils' offense hasn't appeared very impressive, yet they are fourth in the NL in runs scored.
  • Don't forget the injuries. All-Star 2B Chase Utley has been replaced by offensive neophyte Wilson (Don't call me Winston!) Valdez, which is a huge drop-off in talent. (Perhaps similar to the drop-off between Cliff Lee and Eddie Bonine? Sorry, Eddie!) Highly-touted OF prospect Domonic Brown has only recently returned to action in the minor leagues; he, presumably, would have received many of the plate appearances that instead went to outfielders John Mayberry, Jr., Ben Francisco, and (possibly) Raul Ibanez.
  • The Phillies prioritized pitching over offense, in the offseason. The Phillies were able to make one large offseason signing, and remain within budget/under the luxury tax threshold. They chose Cliff Lee, rather than a big bat, such as Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford. A drop in offensive output was to be expected.

Carlos Ruiz, C: (71 PA) .226/.310/.371, .300 wOBA, 8.5 BB%, 16.1 K%, .145 ISO, .235 BABIP

Ruiz has seen a substantial drop from his '10 slash line of .302/.400/.447 (.366 wOBA). His 2010 stats were boosted by an unsustainably high BABIP of .335. (Remember, batters tend to post BABIPs similar to their own career BABIPs. Ruiz has a lifetime BABIP of .278.) Ruiz' 2011 stats have been crippled by an unsustainably low .235 BABIP. If Ruiz' BABIP regresses to his career mean, he could get his '11 wOBA up into the .325 range. Among the thirteen NL catchers with a minimum of sixty plate appearances, Ruiz ranks ninth in wOBA.

Ryan Howard, 1B: (114 PA) .290/.351/.560, .386 wOBA, 7.9 BB%, 29.0 K%, .270 ISO, .332 BABIP

Howard's splits in 2010: .276/.353/.505 (.367 wOBA, .229 ISO). Howard's career BABIP is .328, so he hasn't really benefitted from BABIP luck. Howard's .386 wOBA ranks fifth, among NL first basemen. Howard has helped carry the offense, and that ISO spike (Note: small sample size Alert!) is good to see.

Wilson Valdez, 2B: (73 PA) .239/.282/.284, .264 wOBA, 5.5 BB%, 16.4 K%, .045 ISO, .286 BABIP

In his "career year" of 2010, Valdez posted a split of .258/.306/.360 (.294 wOBA, .102 ISO, .287 BABIP). Despite a BABIP close to his career year, and higher than his career mark of .274, Valdez has been putrid. It's hard to believe that .045 ISO is not a typo. A 5.5 BB%, batting ahead of the pitcher, is also frighteningly low. Among the eighteen NL second basemen with sixty plate appearances, Valdez is thirteenth in wOBA, and last in ISO. Hopefully, Chase Utley will be back in May. Until Utley returns, let's hope for more Pete Orr.

Jimmy Rollins, SS: (116 PA) .282/.362/.359, .336 wOBA, 11.2 BB%, 11.7 K%, .078 ISO, .311 BABIP

Rollins' 2010 line: .243/.320/.374 (.317 wOBA, .246 BABIP, .131 ISO). Rollins' stats have been boosted by a BABIP more in line with his careel level of .290. His power continues to decrease, which is troubling as he is currently batting 3rd. The sixth spot in the lineup would likely be a better fit, upon Utley's return. Rollins ranks seventh in wOBA, among the seventeen NL shortstops with at least sixty plate appearances.

Placido Polanco, 3B (114 PA) .398/.447/.524, .434 wOBA, 8.8 BB%, 4.9 K%, .126 ISO, .402 BABIP

Polanco's stats in 2010: .298/.339/.386 (.328 wOBA, 5.3 BB%, 8.5 K% .088 ISO, .312 BABIP). Polanco has cut his strikeouts, increased his walks, and is letting his BABIP do the work. That .402 BABIP is insanely unsustainable, given his career BABIP of .314. Polanco's wOBA places him second, among the nineteen NL third basemen with sixty plate appearances. Polanco's success isn't going to last, but he had a great month when the team needed it.

Raul Ibanez, LF: (97 PA) .161/.247/.218, .224 wOBA, 9.3 BB%, 29.9 K%, .057 ISO, .217 BABIP

Ibanez' splits in 2010: .275/.349/.444 (.341 wOBA, 10.7 BB%, 19.3 K%, .169 ISO, .311 BABIP.) Ibanez hasn't been helped by that unsustainably low .217 BABIP (career BABIP: .305). Ibanez has the lowest wOBA, among the nineteen NL left fielders with at least sixty plate appearances. Defensively, Ibanez is well below average. Expect him to lose playing time to John Mayberry, Jr.

Shane Victorino, CF: (115 PA) .288/.351/.490, .375 wOBA, 7.8 BB%, 16.3 K%, .202 ISO, .313 BABIP

Victorino's 2010 splits: .259/.327/.429 (.339 wOBA, .170 ISO, .273 BABIP). Victorino's stats have been boosted by a BABIP more in line with his career rate of .301. Victorino's wOBA is the third-highest in the NL, among centerfielders with sixty plate appearances.

Ben Francisco, RF: (107 PA) .266/.346/.447, .346 wOBA, 8.4 BB%, 16.0 K%, ,181 ISO, .276 BABIP

Francisco has been very average, which is exactly what the Phillies expected. Wouldn't be a surprise to see Francisco platoon with Ibanez in LF, with highly-prized rookie Domonic Brown getting the majority of the starts in right field.

What do the Phillies need to do?

  • Survive until reinforcements arrive. Utley and Brown could both be in the starting lineup by early June. The Phils need to continue to score just enough until then, while their outstanding pitching does the rest.
  • Minimize the negative effects of Ibanez and Valdez. Platooning Ibanez with Mayberry, Jr., and giving Pete Orr more time over Valdez should provide incremental improvements.
  • Hope Ruiz and Ibanez see their BABIPs regress to the mean, and hope Polanco's doesn't. It's probable that all three will experience BABIP regression.
  • Don't change the batting order (until Utley/Brown return). The typical order is exactly how it should be (remember the #1, #2, and #4 spots are the most important).
  • Try to be more patient. Taking more pitches could lead to shorter outings for opposing starting pitchers, and more time against weaker middle relievers. (This doesn't seem too likely; this Phillies' team loves to HACK!)