2008 MLB Preview: Top of the NL East

Ryan Howard, David Wright, John Smoltz

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

I decided to change it up a little bit for the last 3 teams of MLB Preview – The Mets, Braves and Phillies. Since this is a Philly blog, people are most interested in how these 3 teams stack up in what should be one of the closest division races in baseball. What I’m going to do is rank their players, not by position, but by “best hitter vs. best hitter,” “2nd best hitter vs. 2nd best hitter,” etc… Then, at the end, I plan to come to some sort of logical and meaningful conclusion.

Best Hitter

  1. Ryan Howard, Phillies
  2. David Wright, Mets
  3. Chipper Jones, Braves

Comment: Howard and Wright are neck and neck, but the way Howard has been hitting this spring, I expect we will see the 2006 version of Howard.

2nd Best

  1. Mark Teixeira, Braves
  2. Chase Utley, Phillies
  3. Carlos Beltran, Mets

Comment: How well did Teixeira play after coming over the Braves? Well, if he hits at the rate he did in his 56 games for the team, he will hit .317 with 51 HR and 168 RBI over a full season. Wow.

3rd Best

  1. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
  2. Jose Reyes, Mets
  3. Jeff Francouer, Braves

Comment: I’m going to give the reigning NL MVP the benefit of the doubt, but I could see him having a slightly disappointing season this year.

4th Best

  1. Brian McCann, Braves
  2. Pat Burrell, Phillies
  3. Carlos Delgado, Mets

Comment: McCann is due for a breakout year, we know what we will get from Burrell (.270, 30 HR, 95 RBI) and Delgado has a lot of injuries to recover from before he’s going to be a productive hitter.

5th Best

  1. Ryan Church, Mets
  2. Matt Diaz, Braves
  3. Geoff Jenkins, Phillies

Comment: I actually like the acquisition of Church for the Mets (though they might regret losing Lastings Milledge in the long run). Church’s 43 doubles in 470 ABs last year is very impressive.

6th Best

  1. Kelly Johnson, Braves
  2. Shane Victorino, Phillies
  3. Moises Alou, Mets

Comment: Johnson was way under the radar with the season he had last year. He had a .832 OPS at second base, which is great for that position. Victorino and his SBs are not far behind him though and Alou might have been in first if I didn’t think he will be hurt all year.

7th Best

  1. Yunel Escobar, Braves
  2. Pedro Feliz, Phillies
  3. Luis Castillo, Mets

Comment: Escobar is good enough that the Braves had no problems giving up all-star shortstop Edgar Renteria in the offseason. He hit .326 in 319 ABs last year. He is not a power hitter, but could get 40+ doubles this year.

8th Best

  1. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
  2. Mark Kotsay, Braves
  3. Brian Schneider, Mets

Comment: Ruiz is far and away the best of this bunch – it’ll be interesting to see what he will do this year with the starting spot all to himself.

Bench

  1. Phillies (Chris Coste, Greg Dobbs, Jayson Werth, So Taguchi)
  2. Mets (Ramon Castro, Marlon Anderson, Endy Chavez, Damion Easley)
  3. Braves (Ruben Gotay, Brayan Pena, Martin Prado, Gregor Blanco)

Comment: Both the Mets and Phillies have great benches – I give the edge to the Phillies because their 4 players drove in 156 runs last year, vs. 99 for the Mets guys.

1st Starter

  1. Johan Santana, Mets
  2. Brett Myers, Phillies
  3. John Smoltz, Braves

Comment: Santana is obvious – but I chose Myers over Smoltz because Smoltz is starting the year on the DL and at 40, he might be slowing down. Also, Myers has looked phenomenal in the spring.

2nd Starter

  1. Cole Hamels, Phillies
  2. Tim Hudson, Braves
  3. Pedro Martinez, Mets

Comment: Word is that Pedro has looked great this spring. Considering he’s pitched 160 innings total the last 2 years, I’ll believe it when I see it.

3rd Starter

  1. John Maine, Mets
  2. Tom Glavine, Braves
  3. Jamie Moyer, Phillies

Comment: There is a huge gap here between Maine and the two old lefties. As much as I love Jamie Moyer, I see him having another year flirting with a 5.00 ERA.

4th Starter

  1. Oliver Perez, Mets
  2. Jair Jurrjens, Braves
  3. Kyle Kendrick, Phillies

Comment: Phillies fans don’t think much of Perez because he was always wild when he pitched against us, but he actually finished the year 9th in the NL in ERA. As for Kendrick, I believe he will be in the minor leagues by mid-May.

5th Starter

  1. Orlando Hernandez, Mets
  2. Adam Eaton, Phillies
  3. Mike Hampton, Braves

Comment: I think Kris Benson will probably take this spot when he’s ready – but I have to think Eaton can’t be AS bad as he was last year. As for Hampton, I don’t think he’ll be able to stay healthy, hence his spot at the bottom.

Closer

  1. Billy Wagner, Mets
  2. Rafael Soriano, Braves
  3. Brad Lidge, Philies

Comment: I hate Billy Wagner. He’s a liar and a baby. That’s my comment.

Set-Up Man

  1. Peter Moylan, Braves
  2. Tom Gordon, Phillies
  3. Aaron Heilman, Mets

Comment: Peter who? Moylan had 1.80 ERA last year for the Braves over 90.1 IP, while Heilman had SEVEN losses, which is entirely too many for a reliever.

7th Inning Man

  1. J.C. Romero, Phillies
  2. Manny Acosta, Braves
  3. Pedro Feliciano, Mets

Comment: If Romero can keep his walks down, he can be dominant, as he showed down the stretch for the Phils last year. The Phillies bet $12 million in the offseason that he can.

Rest of Bullpen

  1. Mets (Joe Smith, Scott Schoenweis, Jorge Sosa)
  2. Phillies (Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey)
  3. Braves (Blaine Boyer, Chris Resop, Wil Ohman)

Comment: All three of these teams could use some improvement here. Ryan Madson has looked really good in the spring for the Phillies, and it would be a huge boost to the team if he can stay healthy and effective for the entire year.

OVERALL

Let’s go ahead and assign some arbitrary numbers to these rankings and see what we come up with. For the line-ups, bullpen and bench I’ll award 3 points for each 1st place, 2 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd. Since the starting rotation is only 5 players and is extremely important, we’ll award 6 points for each 1st, 4 for 2nd and 2 for 3rd. Here’s what we come up with for that.

Line-Up

T-1. Phillies, 18 points
T-1. Braves, 18 points
    3. Mets, 12 points

Starting Rotation

  1. Mets, 26 points
  2. Phillies, 18 points
  3. Braves, 16 points

Bullpen/Bench

  1. Phillies, 11 points
  2. Mets, 10 points
  3. Braves, 9 points

Overall

  1. Mets, 48 points
  2. Phillies, 47 points
  3. Braves, 43 points

MEANINGFUL CONCLUSIONS

Braves- 3rd Place. I don’t really understand the obsession with the Braves resurgence this year (most of the ESPN analysts have picked them 2nd). They will have an improved line-up even w/o Andruw Jones, and their starting rotation is full of some good names (Smoltz, Glavine, Hudson, Hampton) but Tom Glavine’s last appearance on the mound was the biggest choke of his career, Smoltz is already on the DL and Hampton hasn’t been healthy since 2005.

Phillies- 2nd Place. The Phils have the best offense in the National League and that alone will win them a lot of games. However, 3 through 5 in their rotation absolutely terrifies me. I still can’t understand how Kyle Lohse ended up with the Cardinals for 4.5 million and we couldn’t pony up 7-8 million for one season. A lot also hinges on Brad Lidge coming back healthy, which it looks like he will. Regardless of the question marks, the Phillies have no holes in their line-up and a deep bench in case anyone gets hurt. I think they will win the Wild Card this year.

Mets- 1st place. It’s hard to make an argument against a team that lost the division on the last day of the season and then went out and got the best pitcher in baseball. What sets the Mets apart from the Braves and Phillies is the the combination of a true ace at the top, and depth at the bottom of their rotation. Their offense isn’t quite as good, or deep, but Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran is nothing to scoff at.

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Philly Ramblings

         

While I’ve been engulfed in my MLB Preview, a whole bunch of things have happened in Philly sports that I felt I should comment on, but didn’t have the time to write a whole post on. So I’m gonna do what I can here in bullet point form. Please hold back your excitement.

– The Asante Samuel signing was very interesting to me. It was a typical Eagles move to draft/sign someone at a position that they did not need help. However, I’m certainly happy this guy is an Eagle. He is an upgrade over Lito Sheppard in that he will stay on the field. He can hit better than Lito and provides the same, if not slightly better, play-making ability. However, considering the money they put forth, I really hope they can get a good deal for Lito and turn it into another impact player.

– I personally don’t think Randy Moss had any intention of ever signing with us. I think he was just using us to beef up the Pats offer. However, the best thing to come from this is that it shows that Eagles do actually know they need a big-play receiver. The word is that they want Larry Fitzgerald, but the Cardinals are inclined to keep him despite his absurd salary. Personally? I’d give them whatever they want. Lito, 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick? STEEP price, but if we get Fitz, we go to the Super Bowl. (Note: Gcobb.com is reporting today that the Eagles will make strong pushes for both Roy Williams and Chad Johnson)

– So the Eagles have added Samuel and Chris Clemons (who appears to be a real good pass rusher) to the defense. They have Lito to trade for a piece of the puzzle, and each of their draft picks. They need to package their remaining assets into 1 or 2 impact players for next year and it will be an extremely successful offseason.

– Cole Hamels is acting (and talking) like a damn child. The only thing that is clear in this situation is that he (and Prince Fielder and Nick Markakis and Jonathan Paplebon) do not understand how the MLB salary process works. This is a process that the players association has signed off on for years. When you are arbitration eligible, you can plead your case, until then, let’s just try to get through 200 innings without getting hurt before running our mouths about “respect.” I love Cole Hamels, but as you can tell, his little cry-fest really ticked me off.

– Speaking of the Phillies, I’m officially terrified of Kyle Kendrick and whoever our 5th starter turns out to be. I am rooting for Kris Benson to be healthy and “win” the 5th spot.

– I think Ryan Howard is going to be out of control good this year and that Jimmy Rollins won’t be able to put up the performance he did last year. I have nothing to back this up.

– I never really commented on the Phillies off-season because it abruptly ended when the Mets traded for Santana and everything we did seemed insignificant. However, I like nearly every move they made. Jenkins, Feliz, Lidge, Taguchi, Bruntlett, C. Durbin and Benson aren’t going to set the world on fire, but they are all slight upgrades (if healthy) over the people in their position last year (with the exception of the Rowand for Jenkins swap). The real reason the Phillies have been unable to make a move is our terribly thin farm-system. There were a lot of quality pitchers on the market that would couldn’t even get in the discussion with because we came up well short on the quality and quantity of prospects the teams were looking for in return. Overall Offseason Grade: B+.

– Couldn’t agree with Dannie more that people need to start watching the Sixers. They are young, exciting, and leave everything on the court. In the beginning of the year, I had them as one of the 5 worst teams in the NBA, but through sheer grit and determination, it looks like they are going to make the playoffs, and I’m kind of really really excited to see a playoff game again – even if the Pistons stomp all over us.

– You are killing me St. Joes. Absolutely killing me. Looks like the fate of Big-5 might rest in someone knocking off Xavier and winning the A-10. At this point, Temple might be the best bet.

Pat Burrell: Man or Machine? And Other Pressing Spring Training Issues

  1. The Young Guys – I always like to use Spring Training as a time to get a feel for the pitchers that have no chance of making the roster this year, but could have an impact on the future. I’ll always remember Spring Training 2004, when a 19-year old Cole Hamels struck-out Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Tony Clark in succession causing Jeter to say that Hamels already had one of the best change-ups in baseball. Now, he’s our #1 starter and a potential star. The names to look at this spring are Carlos Carrasco, Joe Savery and Josh Outman. All 3 may be up in the rotation in the near future. Don’t look at their stat lines though, or listen to what the Phillies say about them – look for quotes of what opposing hitters and coaching say, they will be the most honest.
  2. The Current Guys – I think that all Phillies fans need to appreciate what we have in Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. All 3 are in their prime, are MVP candidates, are home-grown talent, and are already the best Phillies ever at their positions. For the next 3-4 years, we will have one of the best infields in MLB history, and after that, we will all be remembering the “good ol’ days” when we had it. Appreciate it now, because it’s rare, and you are going to miss it later.
  3. The Question Marks – Do I even have enough space to ask all the questions? Let’s see…
  • What can we expect of Brett Myers as a starter?
  • Is Brad Lidge healthy – mentally and physically?
  • Can Cole Hamels pitch 200 innings for the first time?
  • Can Adam Eaton really be THAT bad again? And if he can, can Kris Benson, Chad Durbin or Travis Blackley be slightly better?
  • Can Kyle Kendrick prove the doubters wrong? (note: The prevailing idea among baseball ‘scientists’ is that a pitcher with Kendrick’s strike-out rate and hit-rate cannot be better than a 5th starter in the league. They have piles of numbers to back this up. Hopefully they are wrong.)
  • Which Jamie Moyer are we getting?
  • Will Rollins’ suffer the same MVP hangover Howard did in ’07?
  • Will Howard cut down his strikeouts and hit the ball to all fields like he did in ’06?
  • Will Howard’s contract situation affect his play?
  • What on earth can we realistically expect from Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz?
  • How will J.C. Romero pitch now that he has his contract?
  • How will Tom Gordon pitch now that his arm has been re-attached?
  • Can Ryan Madson NOT give up back-to-back walk-off HR’s to start the season this year?
  • At what point will we sign Roberto Hernandez, Antonio Alfonceca or Jose Mesa? June? August?
  • Pat Burrell: Man or Machine?
  • Can THIS be the team that brings us 25-year olds our FIRST championship?
  1. The Bottom Line – Spring Training gets everyone all fired up for the season, but really, it’s much like pre-season anything in that it will only tell you who in injured and who is not. Occasionally, there will be player who plays so well that they surprisingly make the team. Greg Dobbs in 2007, Chris Coste in 2006, Eddie Oropesa in 2001 among many others. These are always the best stories to follow and the papers are always all over them – largely because of how much Philly likes an underdog. But really, once we get to about the 10th spring training game, I just get ancy and want the real games to begin. When they do, we’ll finally start getting answers to those questions.

Phillies Position Analysis: 3rd Base

Previous Analysis: C, 1B, 2B, SS

Opening Day Starter (2003-2008)

2008- Pedro Feliz
2007- Wes Helms
2006- Abraham Nunez
2005- David Bell
2004- David Bell
2003- David Bell

2007 Recap

The Phillies shortcomings at 3rd base have been a hot point for the last several years. Last year, the Phillies got the least production from 3rd base of any team in the NL. Since they made up for it by having elite production from their middle infield positions, all our 3rd basemen had to do was play solid defense, but unfortunately, they weren’t very good at that either. As a threesome, Abraham Nunez, Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs had less HR than Shane Victorino (11) and a lower OPS (.688) than four PITCHERS (Micah Owings, Dontrelle Willis, Kip Wells and Yovani Gallardo).

What We Need in ’08:

You can read my initial reaction the the signing of Pedro Feliz here. What I would like to see from Feliz this year is about 25 HR, 80 RBI, below 80 strikeouts, a good average with runners in scoring position, and most importantly, some really good defense at the hot corner helping our starting pitchers.

3B of the future? Ever since Scott Rolen left, we have been waiting for another young promising 3rd baseman to come up through our farm system. We drafted Mike Constanzo hoping he might be that player, but for all his power potential, he struck out a lot, was a poor fielder and was subsequently traded to the Astros in the Brad Lidge deal. Right now, the only possible 3rd base prospect in our system is an 18-year old we drafted last year that has a long way to go, Travis Mattair.

NL East 3B Rankings

  1. David Wright, Mets
  2. Chipper Jones, Braves
  3. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
  4. Pedro Feliz, Phillies
  5. Jorge Cantu, Marlins

Top 3 3B for MLB in ’08

  1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
  2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  3. Wright, Mets

Top 3 3B 25 and under in ’08

  1. Cabrera, Tigers, 25
  2. Wright, Mets, 25
  3. Zimmerman, Nationals, 23

Best Season Ever by a Phillies (or any) 3B: Mike Schmidt, 1980 (.286 AVG, 48 HR, 121 RBI, .380 OBP, .624 SLG%, 1.004 OPS)

OK, so one could definitely argue that Alex Rodriguez’ 2007 season was the greatest ever for a 3B, but you have to look at these seasons within the context of when they were played. There are 11 main statistical offensive categories (Runs, Hits, HR, RBI, Extra-Base Hits, Stolen Bases, BA, OBP%, SLG%, OPS, Total Bases). Both 2007 A-Rod and 1980 Schmidt led their respective leagues in 6 (and both were top-5 in 8). However, the distance between Schmidt and the rest of the pack was greater than A-Rod and the rest of the pack. They both led the league in HR, RBI, SLG, OPS and TB. Below is a chart of the distance between them and the 2nd place finisher in the league.

 

Distance From 2nd Place in…

 

HR

RBI

Total Bases

SLG%

OPS

Rodriguez, 2007

8

17

22

.018

.001

Schmidt, 1980

13

12

45

.095

.102

As you can see, Schmidt was further away from the rest of the competition than A-Rod was, particularly in terms of SLG% and OPS. In the other category he led the league in, extra-base hits, he had 16 more than anyone else, the 19th highest differential ever. You can certainly make the case for A-Rod of 2007 (his run total was ridiculous), but given that Schmidt also was a better defensive player, and unlike A-Rod, took home the World Championship, I got to give it to Michael Jack.

Welcome Pedro Feliz! Respectable Third-Baseman!

I was about to start writing up my analysis of the Phillies 3rd base position and I looked in disgust at the list of opening day starters the last couple years. Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, David Bell. It took all my energy not to punch through my computer screen when I saw those three names written together. However, before I could write a single word, I checked ESPN.com for the 1,156th time today, and just my luck, we’ve signed Pedro Feliz! Now don’t get me wrong, Feliz is not the 2nd coming of Mike Schmidt or Scott Rolen, but he IS a significant upgrade at third base. Why?

  1. His name isn’t Wes Helms
  2. He plays not a good, but a GREAT defensive 3rd base. According the The Fielding Bible, he was the best defensive 3rd baseman in all of baseball last year. I don’t know much about how fielding metrics work, but I know The Fielding Bible is a very respectable resource, and if you are first, well, you don’t suck.
  3. He hit 20 HR and had 72 RBI while playing primarily in a pitchers park last year. In 2006, he hit 22 HR and had 98 RBI. With Dobbs getting ABs against tough righties, we suddenly have a good offensive tandem at 3rd.
  4. He does NOT have a great BA, and does NOT walk a lot (these are his 2 biggest negatives), BUT, he also does not strike out a lot (only 70 K in 557 AB last year) and this team desperately needs to lower the amount of strikeouts in their line-up.

Frankly, I love this move. He upgrades us both offensively and defensively, doesn’t strike-out a lot and hit .310 with runners in scoring position last year (.324 with RISP and 2 outs). He is exactly what we need, someone to help defensively and not make bad outs offensively, while providing some pop and RBI at the bottom of the order.

Here is what the projected 2008 Opening Day line-up looks like, in my opinion, easily the best in the NL

1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
2. Shane Victorino, CF
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Pat Burrell, LF
6. Geoff Jenkins, RF
7. Pedro Feliz, 3B
8. Carlos Ruiz, C

Phillies Position Analysis: Short-Stop

Previous Analysis: C, 1B, 2B

Opening Day Starter (2003-2008)

     2008 – Jimmy Rollins
     2007 – Jimmy Rollins
     2006 – Jimmy Rollins
     2005 – Jimmy Rollins
     2004 – Jimmy Rollins
     2003 – Jimmy Rollins

2007 Recap

      It’s been fun doing the last 3 position analyses, because the Phillies are currently sporting their best 1B, 2B and SS in team history. If we had a 3B who could stand up straight, I might have been able to write a post arguing we have the best infield in major league history. 
       Before we get (briefly) into the Jimmy Rollins/Matt Holliday MVP debate, I want to point out where Rollins’ season ranks all-time among SS. Last post, I talked about how Utley COULD have had an all-time season, but in this case, Rollins DID.

Single Season Ranks All-Time Among SS

      Extra Base Hits – 2nd
      Triples – 2nd
      Runs – 3rd
      Total Bases – 4th
      Hits – 12th

      As for the MVP, there were many people who thought the Rockies’ Matt Holliday deserved the award. These people are not idiots, but I do disagree with them. Here are my 3 main points.

  1. Unique Season – Showing a rarely seen blend of power, speed and base running, Rollins was the only player in MLB history to have 200 H, 130 R, 30 HR and 40 SB in a season. He, along with Curtis Granderson, became the 2nd and 3rd players to ever have 20 HR, 2B, 3B and SB in a season.
  2. Coors Field – Both Holliday and Rollins played in hitter-friendly parks. When you look at them on an even playing field, the road, their numbers are not that much different. (Rollins’ numbers are on top, Holliday’s on the bottom)

AB

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
369 70 108 25 9 12 47 28 50 21 5 .293 .352 .507 .859
309 53 93 22 1 11 55 35 68 7 3 .301 .374 .485 .859

          Rollins had 17 more runs, 15 more hits, 10 more extra-base hits, a higher SLG% and the same OPS. The only thing Holliday had him on was RBI, BA and OBP. Holliday’s SLG% on the road was 40th in the NL, behind non-MVP candidates Cliff Floyd, Kelly Johnson, Jayson Werth, Corey Hart, etc etc…

3. Intangibles – Rollins had 94 RBI from the LEAD-OFF position, he won a Gold Glove at a far more important defensive position, was one of the best base runners in the league and both teams finished with pretty much the same record. He also made fewer bad outs, with 41 less strikeouts and 12 less double-play balls (in far more ABs, mind you.)

You can make the case for Holliday, but the right man won.

 What We Need in ’08

          Jimmy Rollins has a way of creating expectations. Last year, after the can’t-miss acquisition of Freddy Garcia, he famously called the Phillies “the team to beat in the NL East.” Turned out he was right – about the 2nd part atleast. This off-season, he has already said that this team will “win 100 games” this year and that the new goal he has set for himself is to become “one of the greatest of all-time.” So for ’08? We just need Jimmy to be as correct in his predictions as he was last year.

SS of the Future? Rollins isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the best SS prospect in our system is Jason Donald. He hit over .300 with 71 RBI, 31 2B, 8 3B and 12 HR last year in 130 games in A-ball.

NL East SS Rankings

1. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
2. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
3. Jose Reyes, Mets
4. Yunel Escobar, Braves
5. Cristian Guzman, Nationals

Top 3 SS for MLB for ’08

1. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
2. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
3. Derek Jeter, Yankees

Top 3 SS 25 or under for ’08

1. Ramirez, Marlins, 24
2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies, 23
3. Reyes, Mets, 24

Best Season for a Phillies SS: Rollins, 2007 (.296 BA, 30 HR, 94 RBI, 38 2B, 20 3B, 41 SB, .531 SLG %, .875 OPS, Gold Glove, MVP)

Best Season Ever for a SS: Alex Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners, 1996 (.358 BA, 141 Runs, 215 Hits, 54 2B, 36 HR, 123 RBI, 15 SB, .414 OBP, .631 SLG%, 1.045 OPS)

A-Rod might have had better power numbers at short during other seasons, but this one is the best because he did things that at the time, no one had seen a SS, or a 20-year old, do before. This season revolutionized the position and showed that it was possible to be athletic enough to handle the toughest defensive position on the field and still put up great offensive numbers. At age 20, he won the batting title, while scoring more runs, hitting more doubles and accumulating more total bases than anyone in the AL.

Phillies Position Analysis: Second Base

Previous Analysis: C, 1B

Opening Day Starter (2003-2008)

           2008- Chase Utley

           2007- Chase Utley

           2006- Chase Utley

           2005- Placido Polanco

           2004- Placido Polanco

           2003- Placido Polanco

2007 Recap

           Chase Utley was the frontrunner to win the NL MVP award before John Lanaan got a little too excited in his first MLB start and popped him in the hand with a fastball. At the time, he was on pace for a historic season for a second basemen. Just how historic? Well, lets take a look – because that’s what I do in my free time.

            Had Utley continued on the pace he was at through 100 games of the season before his injury, and assuming he rested for about 5 games, his numbers would have looked like this: .336 BA, 125 R, 212 H, 65 2B, 5 3B, 27 HR, 130 RBI, 11 SB, .414 OBP, .581 SLG, .995 OPS, 367 Total Bases, 96 Extra-Base Hits.          

            When you look at single season records for 2nd basemen, the rankings usually consists of about 5-10 straight Rogers Hornsby seasons (more on him later) at the top, so you have to take that into account. Below are Utley’s would-be all-time single season rankings, with the number in parentheses representing his ranking if you only count Hornsby once. (Did that make sense at all?)

                     2B – 1st (1st, and 2nd all time, first since 1936 with 60 doubles)

                     RBI – 5th (3rd)

                     SLG – 11th (4th)

                     OPS – 12th (5th)

                     Total Bases – 7th (3rd)

                     Extra-Base Hits – 2nd (2nd)

               Essentially, Utley was on pace for one of the all-time great seasons for a second-basemen, behind only Hornsby and a couple Joe Morgan seasons from the mid-70s. He also might have been able to make a run at the all-time doubles record. Unfortunately, this can only be hypothetical because of that errant pitch that found the back of his hand.

What We Need In ‘08

                This is easy, no analysis needed: we just need Utley healthy. He is the best pure hitter on the team, and with the past two NL MVP’s residing in the same line-up, that’s saying something. He has rare bat speed, which means he can make up for timing issues that might put other players in a long slump. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll produce at a high level. I don’t think it would surpise anyone to see him bring home the city’s 3rd straight MVP award in 2008.

Second Basemen of the Future? Well, it’s clearly Utley, but the Phillies best offensive prospect in the minors also plays 2nd base. Adrian Cardenas, 20, has drawn comparisons to Utley because of his great bat. He is a couple years away and may be moved to a different position if he proves he is too good to keep off the field. He is definitely one to keep an eye on in 2008.

NL East 2B Rankings

  1. Chase Utley, Phillies
  2. Dan Uggla, Marlins
  3. Kelly Johnson, Braves
  4. Luis Castillo, Mets
  5. Ronnie Belliard, Nationals

Top 3 2B in MLB for ‘08

  1. Chase Utley, Phillies
  2. Brandon Phillips, Reds
  3. Robinson Cano, Yankees

Top 3 2B 25 or under for ‘08

  1. Cano, 25
  2. Howie Kendrick, 24, Angels
  3. Rickie Weeks, 25, Brewers

Best Season for a Phillies Second-Baseman: Utley, 2007 (.332 BA, 22 HR, 103 RBI, 48 2B, .566 SLG %, .976 OPS)

Best Season Ever By a Second-Baseman: Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals, 1922 (.401 BA, 42 HR, 152 RBI, 250 H, 141 Runs, .722 SLG%, .459 OBP, 450 Total Bases)

            This was just an obscene season by any measure. You think Utley played well this season? Even with the “would-be” Utley numbers, Hornsby had 22 more RBI, almost EIGHTY-THREE more total bases despite the fact Utley would have been chasing the doubles mark, about 150 points higher on slugging percentage alone, 20 more HR, etc, etc.

             Led the NL in 11 categories. 2nd most total bases in a season in the history of baseball. One of 2 players (Chuck Klein) to put up 150 RBI, 250 H and 140 Runs in a season, but Klein didn’t hit over .400 while doing it. As second basemen go, there is Hornsby, and everyone else. His single season ranks for 2nd basemen in the 1922 season are as follows:

  – Total Bases – 1st (the closest person not named Hornsby, Alfonso Soriano, is 69 back)

  – RBI- 1st

  – Extra Base Hits – 1st

  – Hits – 1st

  – HR – 2nd (Davey Johnson, 1973 hit 43 for the Braves. Bet you didn’t know that)

  – SLG % – 2nd (behind himself)

  – OPS – 3rd (he holds 8 of the top 9 spots in this category)

  – BA – 3rd (he’s also 2nd and 3rd)

  – Runs- 6th (His 1929 season, 156 runs, is first)

  – OBP – 9th (and 1st-3rd)