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Philadelphia Phillies: The Best Player In Team History, Position By Position

Over the course of the past few seasons and offseasons, you’ve probably heard it said quite a few times. “It’s a great time to be a Phillies fan.” While that indeed is the case, it got me to thinking—where do some of today’s Phillies’ stars rank among the greatest Phillies of all time? How many Phillies could be called the greatest at their position in the history of this lengthy franchise? Are there any who could be called the greatest?

With so many options to consider, a few factors weighed heavily on these rankings. The overall success of a player’s career was taken into consideration, but his career with the Phillies played an enormous part in these rankings. For example. if a player played three tremendous seasons in Philadelphia, but excelled with another team for the majority of his career, he will be taken into consideration, but have a tough time overcoming a player who had a long, productive career in Philadelphia.

So, who are the greatest Phillies, position by position, of all time? Without further adieu, here are the greatest players to ever put on a Phillies’ uniform at their respective positions.

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Too Soon To "Raul" Him Out: Raul Ibanez Poised for Improved 2011 with Phillies

The injury bug was biting in Philadelphia in 2010 and the fallout was dramatic. Over the course of the regular season, three quarters of the Philadelphia Phillies’ everyday regulars spent time on the disabled list for extended periods of time. With injuries to players like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz severely limiting manager Charlie Manuel’s ability to put his best lineup on the field daily, two regular players deserve credit for staying off of the disabled list in 2010—outfielders Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez.

However, with Werth having moved on to sign his mega-deal with the division rival Washington Nationals, the Phillies’ bill of health is looking fairly uncertain. Assuming that top prospect Domonic Brown emerges as the everyday right fielder for the 2011 season, he and Ibanez will be the only two Phillies that did not serve time on the disabled list last year, and even that could be a bit misleading.

All things considered, Ibanez had a good season in 2010, despite an unsettling decrease in his power totals. He posted an average slash line of .275/.349/.444, with 16 home runs and 83 RBI. For all of you stat buffs out there, that’s good enough for an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .793—eighth among qualifying left fielders in all of baseball.

As for his defense? Also relatively average. Taking a glance at standard defensive metrics, Ibanez played left field with relative ease. He made just two errors, helping him to a fielding percentage of .991—fourth among qualifying left fielders in 2010.

However, some advanced defensive metrics aren’t as fond of Ibanez’s play in the field. His ultimate zone rating (UZR) of minus-6.9 in left field for the Phillies was sixth among qualifying left fielders. Seeing as how the first five players on that list all posted positive ratings, being ranked sixth isn’t all too impressive.

Even still, the numbers Ibanez posted in 2010 were considered a down year to Phillies fans who expected him to replicate the highlights of his 2009 season—power and defense. With that in mind, he didn’t come close to matching the 34 home runs or 3.9 UZR from the year prior.

However, that isn’t the same as saying that the Phillies haven’t received their fair share of value out of the left fielder. According to the popular baseball statistics site, FanGraphs, the Phillies are actually getting what they paid for, and then some. By taking all stats—standard and advanced—into account, FanGraphs is able to calculate a player’s wins above replacement (WAR), and turn that into a player’s suggested value. Over the past two seasons, the Phillies have paid Ibanez $18 million. His suggested value over those two seasons? FanGraphs believes he was worth right around $24.7 million.

Despite that, fans were calling for Ibanez’s head by May after the left fielder got off to one of the slowest starts of his career. In the month of April, Ibanez posted an ugly slash line of .229/.341/.348, with just one home run.

While most people credited his slow start as being just that—a slow start—there was actually much more to it than that. Despite not spending time on the disabled list last season, Ibanez was far from healthy. Following the 2009 season, Ibanez underwent surgery to repair several abdominal tears, and was forced to train differently in the offseason as he recovered. He entered spring training before the 2010 season looking less than healthy, and his performance suffered.

By July, he was back on track. He posted a much better slash line of .337/.419/.533, with four home runs, before a wrist injury in August added yet another bothersome hitch to his swing. After a down month in the heat of the summer, he returned to being one of the Phillies’ most productive outfielders in September.

While some people were ready to write his 2010 season off as Ibanez being a streaky hitter, a couple of untimely injuries may have interrupted the flow of his game. In a recent interview with Comcast Sports Net in Philadelphia, he set out to put the 2010 season behind him, and prove that his new training regimen was going to put him back on the map in Philadelphia for the 2011 season.

When asked if he felt the pressure to perform in a contract year, the city of Philadelphia and with championship expectations, the bearded Ibanez told that he wasn’t feeling any pressure at all. “To me, pressure is a single mom trying to work two jobs trying to feed a family. I think that that’s pressure. I think that this is fun. Being in the situation that we’re in, it’s an amazing time to be a Phillie. It’s an amazing time to be a Phillies fan.”

He makes a few interesting points there. It certainly is a great time to be a Phillies fan. Having added Cliff Lee to a rotation that was already considered one of the best in baseball, high expectations are numerous. With those expectations come a certain amount of pressure, but like Ibanez said, the Phillies are handling that pressure in different ways.

As filmed by, Ibanez has taken to a rigorous training regiment to prove that he’s worth the $11.5 million the Phillies are set to pay him for his services in 2011. A healthy Ibanez could go a long way in helping the Phillies offense to rebound in 2011. Replacing Werth is not going to be a simple task, but a productive, bearded Ibanez is certainly a start.

Is he going to replicate his 2009 season? Probably not. That is a best-case scenario that the Phillies aren’t expecting. However, Ibanez is no longer an aging corner outfielder coming off of offseason surgery either. He’s training like he has something to prove this season, and like many members of the Phillies offense, he does.

While there’s certainly nothing he can do about that whole aging thing, Ibanez’s impressive offseason regiment has fans looking forward to the 2011 season, if they hadn’t been already. He’s positioned himself to put his 2010 woes behind him, and return to being one of the National League’s top left fielders in 2011.

The Phillies could certainly use that production, and Ibanez is ready to provide.

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MLB Rumors: 10 Shortstops Who Could Replace Jimmy Rollins After 2011

Since his debut in 2000, Jimmy Rollins has been the driving force for the Philadelphia Phillies both on and off the field. He’s the rare type of ball player that doesn’t come along all too often. He has been a vocal leader off the field, and has the talent on the field to back that up.

Though he had been one of the best shortstop’s in the game in years prior, Rollins catapulted himself into Phillies’ lore in 2007. Before playing a single game, he told the media, “The Mets had a chance to win the World Series last year [2006]. Last year is over. I think we’re the team to beat in the National League East, finally. But, that’s only on paper.”

Rollins and the Phillies quickly took care of that last part. In 2007, Rollins had the best season of his career, posting a slash line of .296 / .344 / .531, with 30 home runs and 41 stolen bases, on his way to narrowly being voted in as the National League MVP. The Phillies, of course, would stun the Mets in September before being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

Following their elimination, Rollins predicted that the Phillies would win 100 games and go deeper into the playoffs the following season, and they haven’t looked back since.

After seeing the level of talent that their young shortstop possessed, and how hard it was to find an All-Star caliber short stop around the league, the Phillies quickly extended their young star. In June of 2005, the Phillies signed Rollins to a five year, $40 million extension.

Now 32, Rollins is entering the final year of that extension with the Phillies, and things aren’t looking all too great for the veteran shortstop. He has been plagued by injuries over the last few seasons, and as a result, his performance suffered. Combined with the current state of the Phillies’ payroll, and their options seem to be limited at the shortstop position moving forward. Surely, they wouldn’t want to commit to another injury plagued shortstop, like Jose Reyes, who would cost more annually than Rollins did.

Rollins, who is set to earn $8.5 million in the upcoming season, will likely set the bar. If he isn’t able to rebuild value for himself, it may be time for the Phillies and their prodigy shortstop to part ways. With that in mind, who could replace Rollins following the 2011 season?

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Carlos Ruiz is the Best Catcher in the NL East: The Chooch Conspiracy

There has been no lack of chatter about the Philadelphia Phillies’ rotation this offseason. After adding Cliff Lee to a staff that already included Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the anticipation for Opening Day in the city of Philadelphia became all that more unbearable. While that certainly is true—the Phillies have the league’s best rotation—we must read between the lines as well.

Within the National League East exists another top rotation. Entering the season, the Atlanta Braves boast a rotation that features two wily veterans in Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe, and thee young pitchers who feel like they still have something to prove: Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Mike Minor.

While they aren’t the Phillies’ rotation, they could be a potent group of starting pitchers as well.

So with that in mind, what do both of these teams, who will feature 10 different starting pitchers, reside in different cities and wear different uniforms have in common? They both have talented catchers that don’t receive nearly enough credit for the work they do both offensively and defensively—Carlos Ruiz and Brian McCann.

McCann, 26, struggled with his vision in 2010, and his offensive production took a direct hit. He posted a slash line of .269/.375/.453 with 21 home runs.

While, out of the catcher’s position, those are excellent offensive numbers, they represent a slight decline for McCann. His batting average from 2010 was the lowest of his career, and only his on-base percentage represented an increase from his 2009 totals.

The Braves catcher played good defense as well. He allowed just five passed balls while throwing out 36 would-be base stealers.

Even so, he allowed 84 stolen bases—the second highest total of his career—and with his vision and large frame, some wonder how long he can remain behind the plate, though, the Braves don’t seem concerned, as that won’t have any effect on their immediate future.

Up north, Ruiz, 32, has blossomed into a fine catcher for the Phillies. In 2010, he appeared in the most games of his career, catching 121 games for the club as they won their fourth straight division title. On top of that, he posted the greatest offensive numbers of his career, compiling a slash line of .302/.400/.447 with 8 home runs.

He was even better defensively, to the point where one scout called him the second best defensive catcher in the National League, behind defensive guru and catching prodigy Yadier Molina.

He allowed the fourth fewest stolen bases in baseball, among qualifying catchers, throwing out 20 would-be base stealers and allowing just 50 to successfully swipe a bag. He allowed just four passed balls and made five errors—a vast difference from the 14 made by McCann, the most as a catcher.

With those numbers in mind, it’s not easy to see why Ruiz would be the better catcher. In a simplistic view, it’s a fair split—McCann is the superior offensive catcher, while Ruiz is the superior defensive catcher. It can’t be that simple though, right? A full analysis shows that one catcher is more valuable to a club than the other.

This is not one of those situations where one players is “leaps and bounds” better than the other. In fact, it’s an extremely close race between Ruiz and McCann, but there are a few tell-tale statistics that should shed a little light on the situation.

In an era where the catcher is usually denoted as the weakest hitter on the diamond, both Ruiz and McCann have interesting offensive qualities. Normally, when people look at what McCann brings to the table, the first thing they’ll reference is his impressive power from behind the plate—something that not many major league catchers can offer. In 2010, McCann’s 21 home runs were the second most in major league baseball by a catcher.

However, power is quickly becoming the primary asset of McCann’s game. Since his breakout season in 2006, where he posted an impressive slash line of .333/.388/.572 with 24 home runs, his numbers have been steadily declining.

Excluding a slight rise in a few categories in 2008, all of his major offensive numbers outside of his on-base percentage have been on the decline. He also experienced a jump in his strikeouts—up to 20.5 K percentage.

Over the course of the past few seasons, McCann has gone from one of the game’s most well-rounded offensive catchers to a slightly above average power threat. On the other hand, Ruiz has developed into the more well-rounded offensive player.

In 2010, just four catchers that appeared in more than 100 games managed to bat above .300—Ruiz, Joe Mauer, Buster Posey and Victor Martinez. Considering that two of those men are the highest paid catchers in baseball, and Posey just took home the National League Rookie of the Year Award, that isn’t bad company.

A look at Ruiz’s on-base percentage shows that he was in even more select company in another statistic. He and Twins super-catcher Mauer were the only two catchers in baseball to post an OBP of .400 or higher. One professional baseball scout was recently quoted as saying, “I think he’s [Ruiz] is the best catcher in the game—other than [Joe] Mauer, who’s on a different planet.”

As we continue to analyze Ruiz’s numbers, it seems like that scout may be on to something.

Ruiz, who batted eighth in the Phillies order a majority of the season, was the only player in the lineup to have a batting average above .300. As the eighth hitter in the order, his job was to get on base in front of the pitcher, and no eight-hole hitter in baseball did a better job than Ruiz in doing just that.

Combined with his incredible OBP, which placed him behind Albert Pujols and in front of Ryan Zimmerman on the major league leaderboard, Ruiz also drew a lot of walks out of the eight hole. His walk percentage was 12.7 (55 walks overall).

Offensively, it isn’t hard to see that although McCann may have him edged in the “flashy” department, Ruiz has become the overall better hitter. Outside of the power department, Ruiz has shown excellent plate vision and strike-zone discipline, as well as the ability to get on base by any means necessary—be it by walk or hit.

Defensively, as we have already reviewed, both men can hold their own behind the plate. However, when comparing the staffs that the catchers must work with throughout the season, it’s a simple task seeing who has the tougher job.

In 2010, Ruiz’s job was no simple task. He handled a number of Cy Young caliber pitchers, and handled them well. Perhaps the most potent pitcher-catcher combination in the league, Ruiz and Halladay combined to throw two no-hitters, one of course being a perfect game.

Halladay, who is known to thrown a number of different pitches from a number of different arm angles, is not an easy pitcher to catch, but Halladay attributed Ruiz with much of his success. When the NL Cy Young feels comfortable throwing to you, you know you’re doing something right.

Taking a look at the rest of the Phillies’ staff in 2011, Ruiz is the only man for the job. After joining the Phillies in 2009, Lee posted a record of 7-4, with an ERA of 3.34, but those numbers are deceiving. Under Ruiz’s watch, Lee’s ERA could have easily been around 2.83, as his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) suggests.

Along with the front two starters in that rotation are three pitchers in baseball who are known for having late breaking pitches—Hamels, Oswalt and Brad Lidge. Having caught Hamels and Lidge the longest, their breaking pitches have become old news for Ruiz. Hamels, who is known for his “Bugs Bunny” change-up and late-breaking slurve is not an easy pitcher to catch.

Combined with Lidge’s slider, which Ruiz has mastered the defense of, and it’s not hard to understand why guys are comfortable throwing to him—the man catches everything.

The newest addition to the rotation, in terms of Phillies’ debuts, is Oswalt. Over the course of his career, Oswalt was known primarily as a two-pitch horse. He threw a fastball in the low- to mid-90s and a curveball that would buckle your knees regardless of whether you were sitting on it or not.

However, after arriving in Philadelphia, Oswalt began throwing another knee-buckler after watching Ruiz block Lidge’s slider in the dirt. Combining his slow, looping curveball with the downward movement of a change-up, Oswalt began throwing what he called a “Vulcan change-up.” With his added change-up, the revitalized Oswalt posted a record of 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA, finishing with arguably one of the best seasons of his career.

Simplified, we’re forced to wonder if some of these guys would be as good as they are now without Ruiz behind the plate. Outside of Halladay, who will have a Halladay-esque season regardless of who the catcher is, that is a debatable topic. But we’ll save that for another time.

In the long run, you’ll hear that McCann is the better catcher than Ruiz often, but don’t let a simple offensive statistic like home runs fool you—Ruiz is a well-rounded catcher that will give any catcher in the game, outside of Mauer, who, is apparently on another planet, a run for his money.

At the end of the day, the catcher’s job is to handle his pitching staff, and outside of Molina, no catcher comes close to Ruiz in that regard. While McCann is a great catcher, and certainly, the second best in the National League East, his offensive production is certainly not enough to value him over a rare, underrated talent like Ruiz.

Simply put, the Phillies staff would not be the Phillies staff without him. On the other hand, if the Braves were forced to move McCann out from behind the plate and replace him with an average defender, who would miss him back there?

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Kyle Kendrick: Trade Bait or a Necessary Cog in the Machine?

Ever since the Philadelphia Phillies signed free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee in December, rumors have been flying about the city of Philadelphia regarding the status of interim right-handed starter, Joe Blanton.

Set to make $17 million over the course of the next two seasons, should the Phillies explore a trade for their fifth starteror is he better served in their rotation?

To make things short and sweet, Blanton is better off wearing a Philly uniform, at least for the 2011 season.

Giving a quick survey of the trade market, the last of his suitors that would be willing to take on his contract in full seemingly went off the board when the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins signed free-agent right handers Brad Penny and Carl Pavano, respectively, and the Washington Nationals acquired former Chicago Cubs’ starter, Tom Gorzelanny.

Now, trading Blanton becomes a counter-productive scenario. In order for the Phillies to move him, their trading partner will require that they pay a portion of his salary. To do that, the Phillies would require a prospect in return. That seemingly removes potential suitors like the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles from the equation.

If they are forced to pay a large sum of Blanton’s contract, what is the point in trading him? They are better served paying him to be the fifth starter in Philadelphia rather than the third or fourth starter with another team.

Though Ruben Amaro is the type of general manager that likes to dwell in the shadows until the last possible moment, using smokescreens and sly tactics as a plot to operate in his own style this time, he may be telling the truth—he’s not comfortable trading Blanton because his options have run dry.

The need for an expensive, middle-of-the-rotation right hander just isn’t all that great.

So what can the Phillies do to shed payroll? After all, as Ken Rosenthal of first reported, the Phillies will need to create some payroll flexibility in case they need to make a spur of the moment trade at the trade deadline.

And trading another right-handed starting pitcher, Kyle Kendrick, could become a top priority for the Phillies.

At first glance, the now-former fifth starter seems to have little trade value. In 2010, Kendrick made 31 starts for the Phillies, posting a record of 11-10 to go along with an ERA of 4.73.

Kendrick is an extreme “pitch to contact” pitcher, as he posted the lowest strikeout rate (4.18 K/9) among qualifying starting pitchers. Though he showed relatively good control, he also showed that he was prone to the home run, and his ground-ball rate had decreased from the year prior.

Though his win total is a product of extremely high run support (he finished second in baseball in this category, with the Phillies’ offense averaging a whopping 8.47 runs per Kendrick’s starts), he has shown a number of positive tendencies as well.

Though he has a tough time striking hitters out, he posted a good BB/9 of 2.44, and the opposition hit .277 against him. His greatest strength, however, may be his durability.

In three full season with the Phillies (in 2009, he appeared in just nine major league games), he has logged 483.2 innings, starting 83 games and never missing significant time with injury.

Kendrick, who was eligible for arbitration this off-season, settled on a $2.45 million contract with the Phillies, who now have two viable options for the 26-year-old right hander—move him to the bullpen or trade him.

Surprisingly enough, there would be a role for Kendrick in the Phillies’ bullpen.

He would become the long reliever, and push the interim long reliever, David Herndon, to Triple-A. With a rotation that features inning eaters Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, Kendrick would see very few innings in 2011—which overall, may be a good thing.

He would be available for a spot-start should that situation present itself, and in the event of an injury, provide the Phillies with valuable depth. However, they could choose to use him differently out of the bullpen as well.

Though a “specialist” usually denotes a tough left-handed reliever, Kendrick could become a “right-handed specialist” of sorts. Though his numbers against right-handed hitters aren’t all too flashy, they are remarkably better than those against left-handed hitters.

Kendrick’s sinker is particularly tough against right-handed hitters (50.5 percent ground-ball rate), and in total, they managed to hit just .247 against him. Using him against select right-handed hitters isn’t all that impossible to fathom.

However, the Phillies may be able to receive more value out of Kendrick in a trade.

Earlier in the week, the Detroit Tigers established a market precedent for a pitcher like Kendrick, when they traded Armando Galarraga to the Arizona Diamondbacks for fringe prospects, Kevin Eichorn and Ryan Robowski.

Galarraga, 29, is widely regarded as a very similar pitcher to Kedrick.

In 2010, despite pitching a perfect game (we can save that debate for another time), he posted a mediocre record of 4-9, with an ERA of 4.49 and compiled similar strikeout, walk, and home run rates.

In all fairness, Kendrick is actually the more proven, established pitcher.

According to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, a “handful” of teams showed interest in Galarraga before the Diamondbacks acquired him. Though the D’backs are probably off the board, there would be interest in a very similar pitcher in Kendrick.

So if the Phillies really wanted to move Kendrick, they would be justified in receiving a couple of fringe prospects for the right-hander. Moving his salary, however, (Galarraga is due to make $2.3 million) could be another issue.

So where do the Phillies stand with Kendrick? Before the trade deadline last season, the Phillies seemed to have lost all hope in the former promising starter. After a falling out with pitching coach, Rich Dubee, the Phillies designated Kendrick for assignment, only to recall him just a day later because of an injury.

While that depth can never be a bad thing, the Phillies have other starting pitchers that they can turn to in the event of an injury in 2011.

Before the Phillies signed Lee, people around the city of Philadelphia were calling for 23-year-old right hander, Vance Worley, to be given a chance in the rotation.

In 13 innings with the big league club last season, he displayed good control and the ability to strike hitters out, posting a record of 1-1 with an ERA of 1.38 (3.16 FIP).

Other pitchers that could start games for the Phillies in the event of an injury include David Herndon, who posted a record of 1-3 with an ERA of 4.30 out of the bullpen last season and prospects including Drew Carpenter, Drew Naylor, JC Ramirez and, if necessary, Antonio Bastardo.

Though they aren’t currently on the Phillies’ 40-man roster, pitchers Nate Bump, Michael Stutes and Michael Schwimmer could all make spot starts for the Phillies in 2011.

So, the depth is there. The Phillies must make a decision on whether they want to keep Kendrick in the system “just in case,” or if they are better served by moving his contract and receiving a couple of decent prospects in return.

Moving Kendrick may not create the same wiggle room that moving Blanton would, but his time in Philadelphia has run short.

In the long run, a trade may be beneficial for both Kendrick and the Phillies.

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2011 MLB: Why Chase Utley Means More To the Phillies than Ryan Howard

For most teams, reaching the 2011 National League Championship Series would be considered a successful season but not for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies have won their division in four-straight seasons and appeared in two consecutive World Series, and anything but a World Series championship is a failure.

Looking back on the 2010 season, it is surprising the Phillies even made it that far. Plagued by injuries and inconsistency, the postseason in general was in doubt in Philadelphia. Two of those injuries, in particular, really crippled the Phillies’ offense.

On Jun. 29, 2010, the injury bug struck Phillies’ second baseman Chase Utley in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. While sliding headfirst into second base, Utley caught his thumb on the bag while the weight of his body pulled against it.

Though he stayed in the game, it was later revealed that Utley’s thumb had torn ligaments and that he would miss six to eight weeks after surgery.

In the Utley way, though, he returned sooner than anticipated, but his swing suffered. Though he finished with a strong September, Utley hit just .208 in the month of August. Like most of the Phillies, he struggled through the postseason and will be fully healthy come spring training.

A little over a month after Utley’s injury, first baseman Ryan Howard hit the disabled list as well.

In a game against the Washington Nationals, Howard was late rounding second base on his way to third, and in an attempt to get back to the base, rolled his ankle over the bag.

In a report from earlier this month, the ankle still has not healed entirely. Though he returned for the final month of the season and the postseason and had some success, his trademark power was noticeably absent come October.

With pitchers and catchers set to report for spring training in just over two weeks, Howard’s health is still in the air.

Even still, both Utley and Howard will report to camp ready to play baseball, and if the Phillies are going to reach their third World Series in the last four seasons, those two men are going to have to have seasons they are accustomed to having.

Still, that leaves us to wonder — if the Phillies want to win the World Series in 2011, whose resurgence is going to mean more to the team? The next few slides will explain why Utley is going to be an absolute necessity if the Phillies’ offense is going to get back on track this season.

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Philadelphia Phillies: Why the Young Domonic Brown Should Start the Year in AAA

When the Philadelphia Phillies selected outfielder Domonic Brown in the 20th round of the 2006 First Year Player Draft, they had no idea just what kind of steal they made.

Originally from Florida, the Phillies were one of the only teams to keep track of the young high school star when he moved to Georgia. After watching him play, they were so convinced in his baseball potential that they paid him a $200k signing bonus to play baseball in their organization, rather than going to college to play football.

Six years later, it’s safe to say the Phillies made a sound investment.

After a few solid years in the Phillies’ lower minor league system, Brown really broke onto the scene in 2010, splitting time with the Reading Phillies and Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and putting up an incredible slash line of .332 / .391 / .582, with 20 home runs, 68 RBI, and 17 stolen bases, demonstrating all of baseball’s “five tools.” With production like that under his minor league belt, the Phillies couldn’t hold him back much longer. When Shane Victorino hit the Disabled List in late July, the Phillies’ promoted Brown to the big club.

He made his debut on July 28, 2010, against the Arizona Diamondbacks, before an ecstatic Phillies’ crowd. Starting in right field, he put together an impressive debut, doubling to deep right in his first at-bat as the ball just missed going over the wall. When the day was done, Brown was two-for-three, with a double, a single, two RBIs and two runs scored to his name. Sadly, his season took a turn for the worst after that.

When Victorino returned from the Disabled List, Brown moved on to the Phillies’ bench. Though the team considered sending him back to AAA, he was regarded a better option off of the bench than a struggling Greg Dobbs, who was ultimately sent packing.

In hindsight, it probably was not the best decision by the team. The left hander struggled to find a groove, posting a collective slash line of .210 / .257 / .355, with two home runs and 13 RBI in 70 plate appearances.

That’s hardly a reason to sour on a prospect, however.

After all, when Ryan Howard made his debut with the Phillies in 2004, his “light tower power” was nowhere to be found, as he hit just two home runs in 19 games. It was much the same story for second baseman Chase Utley, who posted a slash line of .239 / .322 / .373, with two home runs for the Phillies in 43 games in 2003. However, that didn’t stop the Phillies from trading their incumbent second baseman Placido Polanco to the Detriot Tigers to make room for him.

More often than not, that’s the way things shake out for top prospects. Teams understand that transitioning to the Major League level and facing more advanced pitching is not simple.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that their talent won’t translate to the big leagues, as Howard and Utley have proved, along with a countless number of other top prospects. If teams can understand, we must do the same. Why then, should Brown begin the season in AAA?

When Jayson Werth hit free agency, the Phillies knew that there was little hope to re-sign him. He was, by far, the second best outfielder on the market, after Carl Crawford. After grooming Brown for so many years in the minor leagues, the Phillies hoped that Werth’s replacement would come from within the organization and would replicate his production without a hitch.

After watching Brown be completely overwhelmed by major league pitching in 2010, the Phillies clearly weren’t comfortable giving him the everyday job. They made an offer to Werth, and though it was a competitive offer, reportedly in line with what the Boston Red Sox offered the slugger, it was nowhere near what the Washington Nationals paid for the outfielder.

With a lack of other suitable options on the free agent market, it’s now apparent that Werth’s heir apparent will come from within the organization after all—whether or not that heir is Brown is another question entirely.

Brown’s struggles at the major league level were certainly not from a lack of talent. As reviewed on MLB Network’s Hot Stove, it was a lack of consistent playing time that really hurt Brown and for obvious reasons. Young players like him need to play everyday. Baseball is a sport of repetition, after all.

By the end of the season, sitting on the bench had influenced Brown’s swing in a negative way. The way he held his hands, his lack of timing, his stride—several integral parts of his swing had been thrown out of whack. He may have been able to get away with several tiny flaws in AAA, but not in the majors, where every hitter is reviewed and studied and when game time comes around, attacked in a specific way.

While using Brown solely against right-handed pitching was a necessary cog in the machine that was the Phillies’ bench, not exposing him to left-handed pitching is going to hurt him and Philadelphia in the future. Instead, they intend to use him again in a role that would see him face a majority of right-handed pitching—a platoon role, with right-handed hitter Ben Francisco.

Once again, the Phillies’ thinking, for the present, is spot on. According to’s Todd Zolecki, Francisco and Brown are the pre-Spring Training favorites to break camp with the big-league club in right field. It makes sense. Brown, who completely destroyed right-handed pitching in the minor leagues, would team up with Francisco, who posted a strong .901 OPS against left-handed pitchers in 2010. It seems like a fantasy outfielder dreamed up in a video game, if both players slug to their potential. However, it is an extremely near-sighted move by the Phillies.

In order for that platoon to succeed, Brown will have had to have corrected his swing by Opening Day, and at this point, that seems highly unlikely. Like many young players, Brown made a trip to the Dominican Republic earlier in the offseason to play winter ball. He hit just .069, after collecting just two hits in 20 at-bats. Clearly, there are problems with his swing that the team is overlooking because of his potential. However, that isn’t the same as saying Brown has flamed out as a top prospect. Things like this take time to correct. It’s like breaking an ankle—walking again is a slow process, but we all know you can do it.

The Phillies, however, are cooking with a recipe for disaster.

There are two things you never want to force a young hitter into. One is changing his swing. A lot of times, slumps like these are a matter of comfort for a young hitter. It may take a month to fix, but eventually, he’ll find his groove again. It’s not going to take a drastic change to fix his swing. He just needs time.

The second is forcing a young hitter to correct his swing at the major league level. Despite what some people are led to believe, pitchers in the MLB are the elite of elites. These are men that are paid millions of dollars to expose a hitter’s weakness and like lions lying in wait, will jump all over that weakness in due time. Veteran hitters are able to go through slumps and rebound because of the experience they’ve acquired. However, baseball can be an intimidating sport for a young man.

If the Phillies want to avoid a prospect catastrophe, they’ll send Brown to AAA to begin the season, unless he can somehow correct his swing before Opening Day. Allowing him to play every day, against both right-handed and left-handed pitching, will be the key. If they allow him to play comfortably in AAA and call him up when he’s at his hottest, avoiding slumps like those experienced in 2010 won’t be a problem.

What about the “situation” in right field, you wonder?

There really never was a situation at all. An experienced left-handed hitter like Ross Gload would have no problem in a platoon. Used specifically against right-handed pitchers in 2010 as the team’s top left-handed threat off the bench, Gload had an OPS of .818 against lefties.

Combined with Francisco’s right-handed prowess, they combine for a one-year stopgap that isn’t all too shabby. Who knows? As I mentioned in this piece, the Phillies may have a budding superstar on their hands in Francisco. That makes starting Brown in AAA a smart, easy decision for the Phillies. Even if they sign a lefty outfielder on the cheap, like Scott Podsednik, finding successful left-handed hitters isn’t much of a challenge. On the other hand, finding a superstar is. With Brown in AAA, they’ll have options. If the platoon fails, they’ll have Brown to call on, and if it succeeds, Francisco will likely have played a large part in that success.

After all, with Raul Ibanez’s contract expiring after the 2011 season, the Phillies will have multiple holes in their outfield to fill, and in a perfect world, Francisco and Brown will make for a potent pair of corner outfielders. It all starts with a simple decision this year—let Brown start in AAA.

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MLB Rumors: Vladimir Guerrero, 10 Free Agents Pricing Themselves Out of Market

We are officially well into the winter doldrums. The luster of the World Series has long since faded, and the free agent market’s most prized possessions have all signed with new teams. But while the media will marvel in the news surrounding the likes of Washington’s big spending, reeling in Jayson Werth, or the Phillies under-market signing of Cliff Lee. However, many free agents are still looking for new homes.

Who’s to blame?

Today’s free agent market is summarized by the old euphemism, “Dream big, or go home.” Players who had great seasons wait the market out until the last possible moment, sometimes landing that big deal from a desperate team, a la Rafael Soriano signing with the New York Yankees, but more often than not, those players are forced to take deals they aren’t so happy with.

Is it a result of greed? Is there simply no market for a player, or are they valuing themselves much more greatly than what the rest of the league considers a fair price? The following free agents remain without homes, but we wonder why. Though there has been considerable interest in their services, they’ve yet to latch on with a new team. Have the following players actually priced themselves out of the market?

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Worth Mad Money? Why the Phillies Should Extend Ryan Madson Now

When the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they did so primarily on the strength of their bullpen. With a weak starting rotation, the Phillies shortened games by bringing in reliever after reliever that could shut down the opposition for a single inning. One of those relievers was right-hander, Ryan Madson.

Since then, Madson has honed his skills and continued developing into an elite reliever. Under the tutelage of pitching coach, Rich Dubee, and fellow relievers like closer, Brad Lidge, Madson has developed into one of the game’s most dominant set-up men. Regulated to the eighth inning, Madson has become the major foundation for a bullpen that was once known as “the Bridge to Lidge.”

With free agency looming in the near future, the Phillies find themselves in a peculiar situation. With the potential of losing both Madson and Lidge after this season, the Phillies need to act now and sign Madson to a contract extension sooner, rather than later.

In 2010, Madson was easily one of the league’s most effective set-up me. He posted a record of 6-2 with an ERA of 2.55 and dominated nearly every controllable aspect of the game when he was in it. He struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings, while walking just over two. In fact, his 10.87 K/9 was the 12th best in the National League, and he matched that with a BB/9 of just 2.21, 10th best in the National League. Plain and simple, it was just a challenge to hit him. Opponents hit just .219 against Madson, and over the course of the entire season, he logged a WHIP of just 1.04, 10th best in the National League among relievers.

What makes Madson so good? On the surface, it seems to be the natural progression of a professional ball player. As he’s garnered experience at the major league level, he’s become one of the league’s top relievers. However, Madson boasts an impressive repertoire of pitches, the best of which is a fastball / change-up combo.

The most common use of his fastball is of the four-seam variety, averaging 93mph in the strikezone, with the ability to touch anywhere between 95-98mph on the gun. Mix that in with a phenomenal change-up that, at one point in time, was classified as a curveball, and it becomes simple to see why Madson has become a strikeout artist.

However, a further look at the data collected on Madson’s pitches from 2010 may explain the boost in his numbers.

In 2009, a season that saw Madson post a record of 5-5 with an ERA if 3.26, Madson threw his fastball a career high 65.5 percent of the time and mixed in his change-up 25 percent of the time. Having thrown just two pitches a total of 90.5 percent of the time, it’s simple to see why opposing hitters were able to sit on one of his two best pitches—the fastball or the change-up.

In 2010, he made a complete change to his style, lowering the use of his fastball to just 39.8 percent, while continuing the use of his best pitch—the change-up. At the suggestion of Dubee, Madson began using two other pitches in his arsenal—the slider and cutter—with more frequency. Now having above average control over four pitches, as opposed to two, Madson was able to post a career high in his rate of strikeouts and FIP and generate 1.3 WAR as a reliever.

With the Phillies potentially losing their strongest relievers after the season, they should implore to offering Madson a contract extension now. But where should they begin?

In 2009, Madson agreed to sign a three-year, $12 million contract with the Phillies, so in any deal, he will look to top that. Represented by Scott Boras, Madson will not be an easy sign and even tougher to convince to sign a contract extension. With one of the craftiest agents in baseball in tow, and by taking a quick glance at his career numbers, Boras would have no problem marketing his client as a closer, raising his value considerably. The Phillies, when negotiating a contract extension, would have no part of that.

When Lidge went down with several injuries in 2009 and 2010, Madson became the team’s closer by commission. Many within Philadelphia questioned the reliever’s mental make-up, as he blew an incredible 11 saves in limited opportunities over that span. While he has been, without a doubt, one of the best set-up men around, the Phillies would not entertain the fact that Boras will attempt to market him as a closer. Before he hits the open market and has the opportunity to close elsewhere, the Phillies would be wise to offer him a lucrative contract extension. There are no guarantees in the open market, as Lidge has proved.

One of the most notable comparisons was a deal signed this offseason. As the best set-up man on the market in 2010, Joaquin Benoit cashed in with the Detroit Tigers, signing a three-year, $16.5 million deal. Though the deal was seen as an overpay by the Tigers, Benoit posted many stats that almost mirror Madson’s 2010 season and may have set his market.

With the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, Benoit posted a record of 1-2, with an ERA of 1.34 as the Rays set-up man. Though he posted K/9 (11.19), BB/9 (1.64), FIP (2.43) and WAR’s (1.5) that were all superior to Madson’s numbers, the Phillies’ right hander has one thing that Benoit did not—Boras.

Unless the Phillies are willing to offer a deal that pays his client market value, he won’t be interested in signing. Having previewed the market, however, he will have noticed the relief class of 2012 is extremely strong, featuring more closers than teams in need. Anyone that even remotely understands business knows that a greater supply than demand does not usually mean good business.

The Phillies could offer Madson a deal of three years, $17 million; a deal that is almost exactly the same as Benoit’s deal. Both parties benefit from a contract extension. Madson is comfortable going into the season, and the Phillies have some consistency going forward. With Lidge’s 2012 contract option surely to hefty to exercise, the Phillies have a safety net should their venture for a closer on the open market fail.

If the Phillies are going to compete moving forward, Madson is a much more valuable commodity than originally meets the eye, and the Phillies could benefit by extending him a contract offer now.

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Bullpen Bonanza: Projecting the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies Bullpen

Winning the World Series requires the perfect balance between pitching and hitting.

When the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they did so on the strength of their bullpen, anchored by Brad Lidge, and an offense that went unrivaled in the National League.

When they returned to the World Series in 2009, the balance wasn’t perfect. Lidge crumbled, and the bullpen followed suit. The powerful offense wasn’t able to keep up with the bullpen’s woes.

In 2010, the tide turned. The bullpen was strong, at least at the back end, by the time the playoffs rolled around, but the injured, slumping offense drifted into oblivion.

What will the balance look like in 2011?

The offense will gain some internal boosts. Despite losing Jayson Werth, perennial All-Stars like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins look to stay healthy and return to form. Players like Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez look to capitalize on healthy seasons once again, and Carlos Ruiz looks to continue his 2010 success.

Though the right field puzzle remains in pieces, the Phillies play host to a few breakout candidates in Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown.

Health will be the key, and if the Phillies remain healthy, the offense will not be a concern.

The rotation, with aces galore, has already taken shape, and the bullpen is beginning to follow suit. With many roles already filled, health will play a major role in this area as well. Relievers like Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, who had great success during last year’s stretch run, will look to solidify a bullpen that has been somewhat of an Achilles heel in the past.

In order to obtain balance, the Phillies’ bullpen must match the strength of a healthy offense. Can it be done?

Here is an in-depth look at the Phillies’ bullpen as it projects to shape up in the 2011 season.

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