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2012 MLB Free Agency: 10 Players the Phillies Wish They Could Sign, but Can’t

With free agency in full gear, Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has already made a quick splash, signing former Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to a $50 million deal over four years. If Amaro had his way, I’m positive he’d make even more big signings. But with hefty commitments and only so many roster spots to go around, Amaro becomes handcuffed.

There are still tremendous free agents on the market that Amaro would love to sign but has virtually no chance at.

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Philadelphia Phillies: Cody Overbeck Not First Answer If Ryan Howard Misses Time

If the majority of fans had their way come spring, Cody Overbeck would be the favorite in-house substitute for Ryan Howard.

There’s options to choose from—from bringing up Overbeck or Matt Rizzotti, moving Utley to first while plugging in Valdez or Martinez at second or moving Mayberry to first and plugging in Domonic Brown in left.

Yet, the fans’ favorite choice could be the worst of the litter. 

There’s no doubt in my mind Overbeck would struggle in the majors. Many of his supporters see his .279/.331/.416 line in just under 250 plate appearances in Triple-A as enough evidence that he can adapt to tougher competition and continue his Double-A success(.275/.331/.532 in 257 plate appearances this year).

However, they fail to look deeper.

Two problems quickly jump out when looking at Overbeck’s Triple-A “success” last year. The first being his batting average of balls in play. It was a career-high .370.

Aside from a similar fluky half to start the 2010 season in High-A ball, his career BABIP has been a much more appropriate .300.

That begs the question: What would these fans think if his BABIP was more realistic?

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his true BABIP skill level there is .305 and all of those extra hits were merely singles. His line would come to .235/.290/.371.

That’s not as impressive. 

The other major problem for Major League success are his strikeout and walk rates. Guys who strikeout a ton and walk very little don’t often reach the majors. If they do, they do not last long.

Last year Overbeck struck out 27.2 percent of the time while walking just 4.9 percent of the time. That strikeout-to-walk ratio was seventh worst in the International League.

Players with those numbers simply do not do well in the majors. Players in the Major League last year (among 150 plate appearances), who struck out five times for every walk had an average OPS of .632.

Their wOBA was an average .276 and wRC+ was 70, meaning they were about 30 percent worse than an average major league player. For Phillies fans, this is the kind of output Wilson Valdez gives you offensively.

Putting such a player at first base, where hitting is at a premium, is a huge mistake. 

It’s a common theme in his career that he struggles with plate control and power in his stints at a particular level. In his first season at High-A ball, he walked just under 6 percent of the time while striking out over 27 percent. His power was not there either, with a .169 isolated slugging percentage.

The next year at the same level, he improved dramatically. He increased his walk rate to over 11 percent while cutting his strikeouts to 21 percent with a .251 isolated slugging. 

His two years at Double-A showed the same trend. In his second year at Reading, he dropped his strikeout-rate from 27 percent to less than 23 percent. He increased his isolated slugging from .182 to .258.

Relying on Overbeck to improve or provide adequate offense replacing Howard in the majors, would be a huge mistake. 

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Phillies Fans Need to Temper Expectations for the Team and Hunter Pence

Sure, Hunter Pence is an improvement right now. Even though offensively, I expected Brown and Pence to be roughly equal for rest of the season, Pence certainly is the better defensive player at this point. No Brown supporter will deny that. But the trade does not guarantee anything.

I’d be a lot more on board with the move if I knew our worst outfielder, not including Gload, was not going to be manning left field every night. I’d even be fine with moving Brown down to Triple-A if I knew it was John Mayberry Jr. going to be starting instead of Ibanez. But that’s not happening.

Back to Pence. Fans should be prepared when he hits a slump this season, which is bound to happen as his batting average of balls in play regresses to more normal levels. When that happens, I’m sure you’ll hear sports talk folk attributing it to “adjusting” to his new team.

Around this time you’ll also be hearing such questions as, “How does he hit in Citizens Bank Park?” “What are his numbers against the Braves?” “Does he hit the Giants well?”

I can tell you the answer quite easily. Despite whatever numbers you’ll read and look up in such splits, he’s going to hit pretty much the same as his overall career numbers suggest. Citizens Bank Park is a better hitter’s park than Minute Maid Park, but not as much as people think. In fact, so far this year, Minute Maid has been more hitter friendly than Citizens Bank. 

Sure, 3-for-22 with one walk and eight strikeouts against Tim Lincecum is not a good start, but 23 plate appearances is hardly enough of a sample. Chances are he’ll do better in the future—certainly not .800 OPS good, but better than .356.

Pence is a nice player, but not a great one. Since 2009, he’s a very respectable 15th among outfielders in fWAR with 9.9. Unfortunately among these top 15, his .351 wOBA is 14th, ahead of only Michael Bourn. If you prefer Baseball-Reference‘s WAR, he’s accumulated 7.7 wins over the same time period. If he was starting in right field from day one with the Phillies, they’d probably have an additional one or two wins.

That one or two wins should put things in perspective when entering the playoffs. For the sake of argument and giving him the benefit of the doubt, say he would have been worth two extra wins in those 105 team games. That comes to roughly .02 wins added per game. In a seven game series, his addition would add roughly .14 wins. That should help show that his addition does not make a drastic difference in a single playoff series.

Yes, the addition of Pence slightly increases the Phillies chances of reaching and winning the World Series, but in the crapshoot that is the playoffs, nothing is certain. Just ask the Cardinals.

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Don’t Worry. Cliff Lee Is Still a Dominant Pitcher.

After his May 31 start where he gave up six runs, two homers, and three walks in just over five innings, the over-reactors are in full force. Fortunately his name is not Cole Hamels, or people would be looking to cut him already.

As always when someone is doing worse or better, than normal, people will look to find a reason. In my opinion, when you start hearing a multitude of reasons, the chances are much greater that they really have no clue.

Lee’s current 3.98 ERA is no way indicative of his ability. In fact, I believe you can make a better argument that this year could be his best yet. With an xFIP of 2.63 and SIERA of 2.81, good for fourth and third in baseball, respectively, suggests he’s having a great year. They also beat last year’s career-best marks of 3.06 and 3.03.

The main cause for such a jump is his strikeout rate. Increasing over two batters per nine innings will tend to do that. His increased strikeout rate does not appear to be a fluke, either.

His swinging-strike percentage (9.8 percent) and contact percentage (79.5 percent) would be career bests over a full season.

As far as the primary luck stats go, his BABIP is over 40 points higher than his career norm and his home runs to fly ball ratio is a shade higher than normal.

However, I wanted to make it a priority delving into topics I hear people announce as being his problem, such as his control and release points.

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Why All the Hate for Domonic Brown?

Domonic Brown has been tearing up the minors once again and his return is inevitable. Still, there’s a large contingent of Phillies fans that have absolutely no faith in him because of his lackluster 70 plate appearances last year, a good portion of which came as a pinch hitter.

They’d rather just sit and hope the trio of Ibanez, Mayberry and Francisco hold the fort down.

In Ibanez’s case I find it hard to believe Brown can be any worse than a .232/.289/.360 line along with terrible defense. Only one player in baseball, Juan Pierre, has put up a worse WAR.

Sure, Brown struggled in his very limited time in the majors last year going .210/.257/.355 and 24 strikeouts. To many, apparently that is enough to label his a bust. Apparently, no other prospect who has started his career off poor has ever amounted to anything.

If you don’t start out like Pujols or Braun, you won’t be good. As we all know, Jeff Francouer and his .432/.439/.827 line his first 82 plate appearances is a bona fide star and future hall of famer.

Many players in the past have proven you can have a bad start to your career and still be a great player.

Willie Mays 32 26 .038 .219 .154
Mickey Mantle 56 51 .216 .273 .333
Eddie Matthews 61 58 .224 .262 .397
Ryne Sandberg 96 90 .189 .213 .278
Cal Ripken Jr. 40 39 .128 .150 .128
Rickey Henderson 201 179 .246 .301 .291
Pete Rose 45 38 .158 .273 .211

If it was up to Phillies fans’ criteria, Mike Schmidt would never have deserved to be a starter after hitting under .200 through his first two years and 483 plate appearances. He turned out to be a nice player.

The same goes for Chase Utley, whose .221/.277/.337 start in 94 plate appearances didn’t foretell a future best-in-the-league second baseman. 

With the Padres, Shane Victorino was awful in his first big league season as well—hitting .151/.232/.178 in 83 plate appearances. 

Young guys prospects like Domonic Brown need at bats. That’s the only way they will get better and prove how good they are. You don’t become a top prospect in baseball by accident. He has the athletic ability and skill to prove his shortsighted doubters wrong.

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