Saturday, March 1, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: Philadelphia Phillies

"Know Thy Enemy: Philadelphia Phillies" is second in a twenty-eight part series of season previews. Today our Philadelphia Phillies Bureau Chief, Bryan Shelly, pays us a visit and is kind enough to offer his thoughts on the Phils' 2008 campaign. Take it away, Professor Shelly!

One sentence sums up everything you need to know about the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies. They are a bad organization that has stumbled into having three transcendent talents reach their peak at the same time.

Originally I wrote a single-spaced full page describing the incredible, historical incompetence that continues to plague our hometown nine. Self flagellation is one of the many charming vices in which Philadelphia sports fans revel, but I would have lost the rest of you with self-pity taken to the nth degree. All you need to know about the organization is summed up by that wonderful incident two years ago, when co-owner Bill Giles got liquored up and told every reporter in ear shot that Brett Myers was just trying to help his wife. That captures everything about Phils management. That’s what this organization is.

For all their faults, one thing the Phils got spectacularly right was player development for about eight years starting in the mid Nineties. Former GM Ed Wade gets a lot of crap, and rightfully so, but he did a good job with the farm system. What it failed to yield in quantity of worthwhile major league players it more than made up for with a crop of future All Stars. Mike Lieberthal and Scot Rolen represented Wade’s first generation of talent to hit the big club, but by the time the organization got its act together on other fronts Lieberthal was done and Rolen irreversibly alienated.

We’re well into Wade’s second generation of stars, which has provided Phils fans with the most hope they’ve had since the early 1980s. The three Golden Children are Rollins, Howard, and Utley. I know Jimmy Rollins shouldn’t have won the MVP, and I don’t care even a little. Every SABRmetric inkling I have shuts down when I watch this guy play. The Phillies have never had that Ricky Henderson, thoroughly black swagger at the top of their lineup. Dude even wears those rainbow mirrored Oakleys. That stuff may not affect how the team performs, but it’s damn fun to watch. That he’s got the production to go with his Jeterness has made him the absolute toast of the town, and yet he’s not even good enough to be the Black Jesus.

That honor would go to Ryan Howard, the first legitimate, no excuses masher we’ve had in Philly since Greg Luzinski. The Luzinski comparison was all too apt last year, as Howard set the major league record for single-season strikeouts. One hopes he spent the off-season working on the adjustments pitchers made after his transcendent 2006 and that he gets back to hitting line drives and balls to the opposite field. Either way, the Phils are good to go at first. Watching Howard, I understand the anticipation, if not the confidence, that Sox fans must feel when Papi steps to the plate.

We have the last two NL MVPs on our team, and neither one is the best player in the infield. Chase Utley is the best second baseman in baseball and, barring injuries, headed to the Hall of Fame, end of story. Had he not missed 30 games, everybody’s MVP vote would have been a lot easier last season.

The organization’s Ugly Duckling is Pat Burrell, the most unjustly maligned Phillie since we ran Rolen out of town. To be fair, we were sold a bill of goods with Burrell, who the organization assured us would own the career home run record by the time he was 29. He is what he is, which is a valuable left fielder who likes to walk and will therefore never gain the love of the fans who think running into a wall should get you to Cooperstown. Pencil Burrell in for his usual 30 VORP and 30,000 irate calls to WIP screaming about that his batting average is too low and that he can’t hit in the clutch.

The rest of the lineup is nothing special and doesn’t need to be. Shane Victorino is overrated in Philly, but he more than makes up for average offensive numbers with his play in center. The rest of the world looks at Jayson Werth and sees a platoon player, but the Phils’ brass sees a starter. Pedro Feliz is this year’s third base experiment, and in Citizens Bank Park he’ll probably hit more homers than he draws walks. I can’t name our catcher off the top of my head, so I see no reason for you to trouble yourself. Overall, the Phils haven’t done enough to compensate for the loss of Aaron Rowand’s career year, but the team will score plenty.

As with all bad organizations, the trick is the pitching. Wade’s farm system yielded the top two starters, Cole Hamels and the loathsome Myers. In an ideal world (aka the American League), Hamels would be a number 2 and Meyers a number 3, but having them as your 1-2 punch in the National League is more than adequate. Our number 3 is Kyle Kendrick, last year’s feel-good story who came out of nowhere to save the season. Few think he can pitch to last year’s 3.87 ERA, but he probably is capable of a 4.50, which is good enough with this offense. The problem comes at the back end of the rotation. Jamie Moyer is approximately 103 years old. He’s a local product (Souderton, stand up) who has had a great career, which makes him impossible to boo, which tears at the town’s collective soul. Unfortunately, his post-All Star E.R.A. was north of 6 last year. Our number 5 is Adam Eaton. No, really. I’m not kidding. Adam Eaton. Now do you understand why Philadelphia fans are insane? The “plan” for the bullpen is for 94 year old Tom Gordon to pitch the 8th, the already hurt and completely reliable Brad “Moonshot” Lidge to close, and a bunch of guys no one can distinguish to all have career years at the same time.

The Phils deserve a lot more credit than I or any other Philadelphia partisan wants to bestow upon them. They’ve been consistently competitive for six straight seasons. In 2007, they gave us a miraculous pennant race and bragging rights over Mets’ fans for years. Most importantly, they’ve given us Jimmy, Ryan, and Chase. Yet the organization keeps surrounding the core with the Pedro Felizes and Adam Eatons of the world. Now that the Mets have Santana, it’s hard to not think wild card and hope to get hot in October. That isn’t the mindset you want to take into a season. The greatest fear every Phils fan has is that the organization is lousy enough to waste the opportunity of a generation that the three superstars provide. Knowing the organization, most Phils fans have already accepted this fear as an unfolding reality.

Bryan Shelly is ashamed to admit he's booed Burrell on numerous occasions.


Takao said...

complaint part the first.

"That honor would go to Ryan Howard, the first legitimate, no excuses masher we’ve had in Philly since Greg Luzinski"

Mike F**king Schmidt? the best player in baseball between Mays and Bonds?

Shame on you.

Also, Wyerth is still a platoon player. Geoff Jenkins will be platooning with him.

Anonymous said...

Masher=three true outcomes guy who gets the two good ones quite a bit and does little else. Schmidt was the whole package and deserves to transcend this category.

Concede the Geoff Jenkins part. That's what happens when I write season previews a month before Opening Day.

Charlie Hayes said...

Come on Shells, you're selling Carlos Ruiz short. He's a better than league average catcher who's only getting better. He'll never be an All-Star, but you do him a disservice here.