Originally written on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 11/15/14
Over the course of five seasons, from 2007 to 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies won 473 games, a .584 clip.  Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard emerged in the field. Cole Hamels rose from prospect to top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee were prominent acquisitions.  After winning 102 games in 2011, Jonathan Papelbon was signed to solidify the bullpen with a top closer and give the Phillies a potent weapon at the end of games, with postseason heroics in mind. 2012 didn’t go as planned. Halladay was not his usual self, Cliff Lee lacked the run support to crack 10 wins despite a 3.16 ERA, and the formerly potent combination of Utley and Howard played a combined 154 games. 2013 was more of the same, only the wins fell once more to 73, their lowest total since 2000. Pat Gillick gave way as general manager to Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel, near the end of 2013, was replaced with Ryan Sandberg, but the legacy of the Phillies remains in tact. Is that enough to close 2013 on a positive note, or is the team taking the wrong cues during their first rebuild in a decade? Bullpen Jonathan Papelbon may no longer be the elite closer of a few years ago, having passed that particular torch to Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, and Greg Holland and others, but he’s still putting together a solid second-half of his career, although there are some concerns. There was some interest in Papelbon at the trade deadline, but the Phillies rebuffed inquiries. Papelbon's strikeouts were down 10 percent, 32.4% to 22.4% from 2012 to 2013; coming in at less than 10 strikeouts per nine innings for the first time since a 9.88 K/9 mark in 2006. His velocity is falling, placing him in the low 90s rather than the mid-to-high 90s of seasons past. And he’s still owed $26 million over two seasons.  There was some interest in Papelbon at the trade deadline, but the Phillies rebuffed inquiries. On a good team in 2014, Papelbon is an asset, but a sub-.500 team doesn’t need a closer on the decline making top dollar. Veteran reliever Mike Adams had a down year at 34 with a 3.96 ERA in just 25 innings. After averaging just 5.7 hits allowed per nine innings from 2006-2011, Adams allowed 9.6 in 2012 and 8.3 this season. Converted starter Antonio Bastardo has found a home in the bullpen. His strikeouts fell to 9.9 per nine innings from lofty heights of 14 K/9 in 2012, but 48 appearances adding up to just 42.2 innings over the course of a season limited his impact. A walk rate in the mid-fours doesn’t help either. Chad Durbin, Jake Diekman, and Jeremy Horst all contributed serviceable innings in the ‘pen, but none were spectacular or putting pressure on Papelbon for his job or peace of mind for the front office as “the guy” waiting in the wings should they trade their big name. Rotation The three-headed monster of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels the Phillies rode to 102 wins in 2011 was reduced to a pair of aces in 2013 as Halladay missed a large chunk of the season with a shoulder injury and pitched to his worst numbers in a decade, including a whooping 6.82 ERA, when he could take the mound. His 62 innings were the fewest of his career since making two starts in 1998. Doc is a free agent this winter, but has expressed interest in working things out with the Phillies for a bounceback 2014 campaign. The three-headed monster of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels the Phillies rode to 102 wins in 2011 was reduced to a pair of aces in 2013 as Halladay missed a large chunk of the season with a shoulder injury and pitched to his worst numbers in a decade. Lee remained excellent, striking out exactly a batter per inning and leading the league as both the stingiest issuer of unintentional walks and owner of the highest strikeout to walk percentage for the second time in as many years. Hamels, the second lefty among the big three, had a slow start to the season, posting a 4.05 ERA before the All-Star Break vs. a 2.97 mark in the second half. Fifteen first-half homers allowed against six to conclude the season played a part in his down year. Just the fact that this year was seen as disappointing shows the expectations for Hamels, who was extended for 7 years, $153 million during the season. Jonathan Pettibone, John Lannen, and Kyle Kendrick pitched like back-end guys. Offense In their heyday, the trio of Rollins, Utley, and Howard was a core to build around. At times, the Phillies were an American League lineup that seemed to have gotten lost in the National League. With the big bats in their decline phases, there just isn’t enough left of the core to build around. Chase Utley is still The Man when he can take the field, even if .284/.348/.475 is a step down from his 2005-2009 peak. The problem is he’s just not in the lineup. This season Utley played in 132 games, his most since 2009. Even with the Royals and Rays desperate for up-the-middle offense during their playoff pushes the Phils kept their second baseman in the fold, signing him to an extension rather than cashing in his value for a few prospects.  Whatever rebuilding effort the Phillies are making will be a continuation of the Utley Era. To say 2013 was the worst year of Jimmy Rollins’ career is almost an understatement. His .252/.318/.348 was good for his lowest OPS and OPS+, an advanced metric that takes ballparks into account. Twenty-three steals was his lowest total during a full season since 2003. Six home runs is a career low, even fewer than the 8 he hit during an injury-shortened 2010 campaign. Rollins is signed through 2014 but has an option for 2015 that can be triggered with 600 plate appearances next season or 1,100 in 2013 and 14 combined (plus some language about ending the season on the DL). Their top shortstop prospect, Roman Quinn, who entered the season as the number two prospect in the organization by Baseball America, played 67 games in A ball this year and hit .238/.323/.346. There was some sunlight peaking through the clouds: Dominic Brown. Brown finally got his chance, an extended look in the majors, and he capitalized. The big power threat for the Phillies most of the past decade has been Ryan Howard. Like Utley, the injury bug has been feasting on the big first baseman, limiting Howard to just 151 games in 2012 and 2013 combined. That his .266/.319/.465 line was actually a bounceback season after a disastrous 2012 when Howard was returning from the torn achilles he suffered during the 2011 playoffs is telling. What’s more telling is that the Phillies should have learned that Howard is simply no longer a full-time player. In 230 plate appearances against right-handed pitching this season Howard posted a very credible .302/.357/.522 line. It was the lefties (.173/.218/.321) that dragged his season down.  Howard has struggled against lefties his entire career (.224/.300/.428) but this season may teach the Phillies that his at bats against southpaws are bailing out the other team, and that a platoon partner could make the remaining 3-years and $75 million dollars at least a bit more palatable. There was some sunlight peaking through the clouds: Dominic Brown. Brown finally got his chance, an extended look in the majors, and he capitalized: .272/.324/.494 with 27 home runs put the 25 year-old back on the map. It took longer than many experts in and out of the game thought it would, but Brown looks ready to assume his place in the lineup for the next few years. Conclusion The Phillies had a rough year for the second straight season. However, Chase Utley was more-or-less healthy and will have a normal offseason to work out, which is good since he’ll be sticking around for a few years. Ryan Howard reached new lows trying to hit lefties while Roy Halladay may be close to the end, if not there already. Dominic Brown emerged as a young bat to build around with Ben Revere hitting a batting-average-heavy .305/.338/.352 while solidifying center field. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels remain about as strong a top two as any team has. This year wasn’t good, but there is potential to be better next season. Targeting a few free agents to fill out the roster, maybe a Saltalamacchia behind the plate and a platoon partner for Ryan Howard, and you almost can see the resurgence the team talks about, although the Braves and Nationals have significant head starts talent wise at the moment. And, since they want to follow the Red Sox model of “reload” rather than “rebuild” they have one more commonality: they’ll be picking seventh in the 2014 draft, exactly where Boston drafted after their troubled 2012.
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