What Would the Ultimate Starting Eight Look Like When the Phillies Are Healthy?

With the 2012 baseball season approximately one-third over, the Philadelphia Phillies are floundering in last place in the National League East. They’re 28-30, on the heels of a five-game losing streak, and on the verge of getting swept by the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Phillies are also doing everything they can to keep their heads above water, because they’re certainly not being helped by the injury bug. First baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley, easily the two most valuable hitters on the team, have not played yet this season due to injuries. And Freddy Galvis, Utley’s fill-in for all 58 games this season, was just placed on the disabled list with back pain.

The Phillies are already struggling to put together runs. They’re third in baseball in hits but just 15th in runs. That’s still average, but the team is one of the worst in baseball at hitting with runners in scoring position, and they’re still without a single victory in a game they were losing after seven innings this season.

So when the Phillies finally are completely healthy, likely in a month and a half or so, who will be the starting eight that the Phillies will send out each day?

Let’s tackle this position by position, listing all the possibilities.

At catcher, there is no possibility other than Carlos Ruiz. The 33-year old is enjoying the finest season of his major league career, batting .358 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs. He’s even thrived hitting out of the cleanup spot. Brian Schneider is a good backup when Ruiz needs a day off.

Ty Wigginton has done a great job at first base filling in for the injured Ryan Howard. He’s hitting .271 with six home runs and 26 RBIs, and he’s had a knack for coming up with clutch hits. But he’s not going to start over Howard. No chance.

Rookie Freddy Galvis has had an up and down season at second base, but overall, he’s done well for a player who didn’t even expect to be on the major league roster in 2012. He’s batting .226 with just a .254 on base percentage but he has 15 doubles and he’s played excellent defense. But like Wigginton at first, he’s not going to start. He’ll be replaced by Utley.

Jimmy Rollins is an interesting situation at shortstop. Fans were clamoring for the Phillies to re-sign him after the 2011 season but for the first quarter of the season, it appeared that the Phillies made a mistake, as Rollns’ average hovered around the .225 mark. He’s picked up recently though, and his hot surge has increased his batting average to .253. When Utley returns, the Phillies could move Galvis to his natural position of shortstop and start him over Rollins. But I wouldn’t do that, and I guarantee the Phillies won’t. As bad as Rollins was hitting early this season, it was still better than the rookie Galvis. Rollins will likely end the season with a .260 batting average, 12 homers, and 30 steals. That’s not a great season but that’s what we’ve come to expect from the 33-year old.

What to do at third base is an interesting question. Placido Polanco is the starter, and he’s hitting .289 this season, although his on base percentage is just .317 and he has no power. The other option would be starting Wigginton over Polanco at third, which would add more power to the lineup. However, Polanco has the highest fielding percentage for a third baseman in baseball history (.982), and Wigginton fields just (.951). I would keep Polanco at third but I wouldn’t hesitate to start Wigginton if Polanco needed a day off or was struggling.

In left field, the Phillies have used a platoon of Juan Pierre, John Mayberry Jr, and Laynce Nix. Pierre is batting .329 but has just a 102 OPS+ and I have every reason to believe that his batting average will drop significantly. After all, he’s hit higher than .293 just once in the past seven seasons. He also had absolutely no power, he’s a poor baserunner, and he is a terrible fielder. Oh, and he has maybe the worst throwing arm in baseball. Mayberry is batting just .231 with two home runs this season, but he showed his talent last season when he batted .273 with 15 homers. He’s also an upgrade over Pierre defensively. And the final option is Nix, who was hitting a sizzling .326 with a .587 slugging percentage before he was put on the DL. He’s still injured but when he returns, I predict he’ll regress to his norm, meaning he’ll be hitting about .270. So I’m going to go with Mayberry as my starting left fielder. That’s what the Phillies expected before the season began. Pierre wasn’t even expected to make the Opening Day roster and even though his numbers look great, his poor defense and baserunning abilities really have hurt the Phillies this season. He’d be my number two left fielder, and I would use Nix sparinginly in left or at first.

Center field is Shane Victorino‘s position, even though he’s having a down year. In the unlikely occurrence that he is traded in July, I would move Mayberry to center field and start Pierre in left.

Right field is Hunter Pence and he’s not going anywhere.

That gives you a starting eight of Ruiz, Howard, Utley, Rollins, Polanco, Mayberry, Victorino, and Pence. As for the lineup?

I’d bat Rollins leadoff, even though I don’t like it. I’d do it only because he mentally wouldn’t be able to produce if you batted him anywhere else. I’d bat Ruiz second, because all he does is get on base. Utley is my three hitter and Howard is fourth. Pence is five, which is a lot better than forcing him into a three spot. Put Victorino sixth, Mayberry seventh, Polanco eight, and the pitcher nine.

With that starting lineup, I think you’d see the Phillies get fewer hits than they have been this season, simply because you’re taking away Pierre and putting in Mayberry, plus Howard probably won’t have a batting average as high as Wigginton.

But you’d see more runs, and that’s what is important. You’d have realistically seven of the eight (everybody but Polanco) who could go deep if needed, and you’d have one big power hitter (Howard) right in the middle of the lineup.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I’d get rid of Jim Thome. I’d make Fontenot one of the top bats off the bench (all the guy does is get on base). And I wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of the guys who can play multiple positions (Wigginton, Mayberry, Galvis, Polanco).

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