Anyone who watched the Philadelphia Phillies play in 2012 knows that the season was a disappointment for numerous reasons. The hitting wasn’t there. The pitching, more specifically the bullpen, faltered in the late innings. The cotton candy guy didn’t yell loud enough at home games. And so on.
What may have been the Phillies’ biggest ailment in 2012 is something that they used to be so good at: defense. Is it something the team can improve upon in 2013?
While nobody should read too much into spring training numbers, the Phillies do have 20 errors in 16 games, seventh worst in baseball, with their fielding percentage sixth worst. However, since errors and fielding percentage have sort of gone the way of the buffalo statistically in baseball, new formulas have been drawn up to get a better read of a team’s defensive prowess.
Defensive Efficiency Rating, a stat from Baseball Prospectus, measures the ratio of balls in play that turn into outs. Obviously, a team can’t make an error if they can’t get to the ball, and that stat attempts to measure that fact. The Phillies finished 22nd in DER in 2012, after being 10th in both 2011 and 2010. While Placido Polanco never carried a big bat to the plate, he did make a difference in the field in Philadelphia.
With Michael Young coming into the fold at third, how can the Phillies expect to be better at third base defensively? Young’s career UZR at 3B of -19.8 is certainly a cause for concern, because it’s not about the errors, it’s about the range — and Young has shown very little of it at third in his career. Freddy Galvis could be an option for the Phillies as a late-inning defensive replacement at third if Young struggles at the position.
Meanwhile, the Phillies outfield could employ Domonic Brown and Delmon Young in the outfield at the same time, which could be another recipe for disaster. Young hasn’t played right field since 2007, and the Phillies have already said there will be no attempt to play him in left. Brown could play both right and left field until Young returns from injury, which should be sometime in late April.
Add it all together, and it’s hard to imagine the Phillies defense being better in 2013 than it was in 2012. Employing slow-footed, quicksand-reacting fielders is no way to go through a season. Unfortunately, it appears that the Phillies will enter 2013 that way.
Jimmy Rollins is still a solid shortstop, and Chase Utley has shown that his range, which has been an ongoing concern with his health issues, is decent this spring. That said, with the defense that could be behind Phillies pitchers this year, those guys aren’t going to be able to cover everyone else’s backsides.
Defense was an issue for the Phillies last year, and it likely will be again in 2013.