Heading into 2012, not many people expected the Philadelphia Phillies to be significantly worse than they had been the previous year. It’s tough to maintain the 102 wins the 2011 club put up just in the regular season, but the team was returning nearly all of its big stars – Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, and the big three pitchers, plus Jonathan Papelbon as the closer.
Ryan Howard had torn his Achilles tendon in the final contest of the 2011 playoffs, a blow that would definitely hurt the team, but the team was still expected to remain in contention for a sixth consecutive NL East division title.
Instead, the Phillies have stumbled to a horrific 37-50 start, a .425 winning percentage that puts them in dead-last in the division by 14 games. No team is within five games of the Phillies in the division, even though much of the Phillies’ roster is the same as it was last year. The following 10 reasons are why the ’12 Phillies haven’t enjoyed the same success as they did in ’11.
10. Plate Discipline
This year’s Phillies haven’t showed nearly the plate discipline in 2012 that they did in 2011. The team registered a 8.6 walk rate and 16.3 strikeout rate in 2011. This year, those totals have dropped to 6.4 for the walk rate and risen to 16.7 for the strikeouts.
The loss of Howard and Utley has greatly contributed to those drops but there have been more players showing little patience than just that. Jimmy Rollins walked 58 times and struck out 59 times in 2011. This year, he’s at 28 and 53.
Pence walked 11 percent of the time last year and struck out 16.1 percent; this year, those figures are at 8.7 and 18.0. Victorino’s numbers are down, and even MVP candidate Carlos Ruiz has gone from a 10.2 walk rate to just 5.5. Excluding Howard and Utley – who really haven’t played in ’12 – all six offensive starters have seen a drop in their walk rate from last year.
9. Cliff Lee
The reason Cliff Lee is “only” ninth on this list is that he hasn’t been nearly as bad as his 1-5 record or 3.98 ERA in 2012. Lee posted a 2.35 mark in 2011, a total substantially better than he’s put up this year, but other than that, he hasn’t been much different.
Lee’s 2012 numbers: 9.1 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 1.192 WHIP
Lee’s 2011 numbers: 9.2 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 1.027 WHIP
That’s not enough to explain a 17-8 record last year and a 1-5 record thus far this year. Lee left 81.4 percent of runners on base last year; that figure is down to just 71.6 this year. He’s had more bloop hits and grounders go for hits this year than last year (.330 BABIP in 2012 compared to .291 in 2011). And he’s blown too many leads so far this year. But other than that, he hasn’t been as bad as his winning percentage or ERA.
8. Home Field Advantage
The Phillies have seen great success at their home ballpark over the last several seasons. Last year, the Phillies won 52 home games, posting a winning percentage of .642 that was 25 points higher than their road winning percentage. In 2010, the Phillies won 54 home games, posting a .643 winning percentage that was 92 points higher than their road winning percentage.
This year, the Phillies have a miserable .386 winning percentage. They have won just 17 home games. That’s a pitiful total and after overtaking the Philadelphia Eagles as the main team in this city, the Phillies are in danger of giving it back.
7. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian is playing for a new contract in 2012. At least, he’s supposed to be playing for a new contract. In reality, Victorino has really disappointed, and he’s a big reason why the Phillies’ offense is struggling so much.
With Howard and Utley each missing about half the season, it would have been nice if Victorino had stepped up his play a little to compensate. But he’s been downright awful compared to expectations. Victorino hit .279/.355/.491 last year with a .847 OPS; this year, he is at .245/.311/.369 with a .680 OPS.
Victorino went from 16 triples last year to just two this year, and while he definitely wasn’t going to reach 16 again, two is disappointing. His batting average is significantly down, and while his home runs are on par with last year and his steals are up, his overall percentages are below what he should be putting up.
6. One Run Games
Along with the home field struggles, the Phillies have seen a significant drop in their winning percentage in one-run games. There’s definitely a certain degree of luck to one-run contests. The 2008 Phillies that won the World Series were 4-0 in one-run games in October.
Last year’s St. Louis Cardinals won 12 of their final 15 regular season one-run contests, and went 5-2 in the playoffs in one-run games. Since 2004, teams to win the World Series are 25-6 in the playoffs in one-run games, a pretty impressive .806 winning percentage.
The Phillies this year are atrocious in one-run games. They’re 9-17, a .346 winning percentage. In games that go into extra innings, they’re 2-7. That number will surely straighten out, but it’s probably too late in the season for it to mean anything for the Phillies.
5. The Division
The NL East is significantly tougher in 2012 than it was in 2011. Not tough enough that it excuses the Phillies’ 37-50 record, but tough enough that a second or third place record at this point would be understanding.
The Washington Nationals have Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez back, and they’re on the verge of being a powerhouse. The Atlanta Braves have an extremely talented young team and the New York Mets are still hanging around, largely because of the improbable season from R.A. Dickey. The Phillies have exactly a .333 winning percentage against all four other division teams, a major reason why the team is mired in last place.
4. Roy Halladay
Missing six starts of Roy Halladay’s has really hurt the Phillies. What has also hurt is the fact that in the 11 starts in which he has pitched, Halladay has been uncharacteristically off.
After posting a .675 winning percentage, 2.59 ERA, 1.065 WHIP, and 6.14 strikeout to walk ratio from 2008 through 2011, Halladay is at a .444 winning percentage, a 3.98 ERA, 1.147 WHIP, and 4.00 strikeout to walk ratio. Those are still numbers that many pitchers in the league would love to have (other than the winning percentage), but it’s not Halladay-esque numbers.
The Phillies need their Doc to be at full force in the second half of the season.
3. The Fourth and Fifth Starters
I can’t emphasize enough how much the Phillies having to start Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton (a struggling Blanton, no less) in 40 percent of their games hurts them.
Kendrick is 2-8 with a 4.89 ERA, and a 1.481 WHIP, plus a 0.5 WHIP that rates him as one of the worst starting pitchers in the game. He has given up at least five earned runs in five of his 13 starts.
And Blanton has been even worse, with a 7-8 record, 4.98 ERA, and a league-leading 20 home runs surrendered. He’s given up at least four earned runs in 10 of his 18 starts and he’s given up multiple home runs in five of his last 10 starts.
Last year, the Phillies started Vance Worley (11-3, 3.01 ERA) as their fourth starter and Kyle Kendrick (8-6, 3.22 ERA), who vastly overachieved all season. When your fourth and fifth starters post ERAs under 3.25, you’re in good shape. This year, the Phillies are experiencing what many other teams go through with their fourth and fifth starters.
2. The Bullpen
I think a good bullpen in baseball is a lot like a good special teams unit in football – you can do all you want to prepare what should be a good unit, but you need a lot of luck to excel and it can often make or break your season.
When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they were fortunate to have one of the greatest seasons ever from Brad Lidge, who went a perfect 41-for-41 in saves during the regular season (plus seven more in the playoffs), plus a great setup season from Chad Durbin (2.87 ERA) and very solid campaigns from Ryan Madson (3.05 ERA, 2.91 K:BB), Clay Condrey (3.26 ERA), J.C. Romero (2.75 ERA), and Rudy Seanez (3.53 ERA).
Last year, Madson thrived as the closer (32-of-34 on saves), while Antonio Bastardo put up a season for the ages (6-1, 2.64 ERA, 4.3 H/9, 10.9 K/9, 0.931 WHIP), Lidge was remarkably impressive down the stretch (1.40 ERA), Michael Stutes emerged as a contributor (3.63 ERA, 8.4 K/9), and even David Herndon was adequate (3.32 ERA despite awful peripheral numbers).
This year, Papelbon is an All-Star, but there’s not much to brag about after that. Chad Qualls (4.60 ERA, 1.532 WHIP) was so awful he was designated for assignment. Bastardo has regressed mightily (5.34 ERA, 5.7 BB/9) and neither Stutes, Contreras, nor Herndon has really seen much action. Michael Schwimer has been forced into almost the setup role, and he’s just not that good, and Joe Savery (8.53 ERA) has been brutal.
The Phillies have the second-worst ERA out of the bullpen (4.76) and the fifth-worst WAR (0.3). As a unit, they’ve induced the lowest percentage of ground balls and they’ve given up one of the highest percentages of home runs.
1. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley
I combined the two because they’re pretty much a package deal. The Phillies have really missed Howard and Utley this year – Howard as a left-handed power bat at the cleanup spot in the lineup, a player who can still hit 35-40 home runs despite what kind of a ridiculous contract he may be receiving. Utley is a complete five-tool baseball player who may be dropping off but still possesses the ability to dominate as he did in the NLDS last year (.438 average, .688 slugging percentage).
Howard’s torn Achilles tendon probably hasn’t hurt the Phillies too much – the first basemen without him this year have accounted for a .247/.307/.416 statline with 24 home runs, 94 RBIs, and 0.9 WAR. Last year by the break, Howard had a .257/.353/.475 statline with 18 home runs, 72 RBIs, and a 0.8 WAR.
That doesn’t mean I think the Phillies didn’t miss Howard, but maybe not as much as everyone would think. Still, if they had had Howard all season, Ty Wigginton could have been available to play third base more considering he has a much better bat then Polanco.
The drop from Utley to Freddy Galvis has been monumental, as Galvis and the other second basemen this season have a .244 batting average, seven home runs, 41 RBIs, and just a 0.3 WAR. Utley accounted for 2.9 WAR last season in just 103 games. It’s impossible to project just how much having Howard and Utley in the lineup would have helped the Phillies this season.
They probably wouldn’t be in first place right now with Howard, Utley, and Halladay healthy all season. Many of the starters have still struggled immensely, and it may just not be the Phillies’ year. At this point, it looks like it may be too late for anything to happen in 2012, which means there’s the offseason for the team to do what they can do keep themselves still competitive in 2013.