Feb 14, 2013, 2:23 PM EST
There are a lot of “ifs” for the Phillies heading into this
season, perhaps none bigger than “if” Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy
Halladay are healthy and return to form. As long as the heart of the lineup and
ace of the staff can rebound, these aging Fightins should still pose a threat
even in a crowded National League East.
But those are three players, none of them younger than 33,
coming off of serious injuries and/or declining numbers. It might be
unreasonable to bet on any one of them replicating their award-winning and
All-Star seasons, let alone all of them. I think everybody understands that.
The good news is they might not have to.
Looking back on last year, there are some obvious, bare
minimum benchmarks for each of them. Utley needs to be available for more than
half of a season for starters, the 83 games he played in 2012 the lowest since
his first cup of coffee in the big leagues. Howard needs to get on base more
than his career-worst .295, and Halladay can’t allow an earned run average of
The real question is: what does each of them need to as
individuals to be considered successful in 2013? Because while it might be
unreasonable to expect them to revert to an All Star, MVP, or Cy Young, I’m not so
sure any of them has to attain quite that level of performance, either.
I’m not sure how much Utley’s numbers really need to improve
as much as he needs to be on the field more. For the first season in awhile, a lot of his stats were actually better than the year prior. Despite appearing
in 20 fewer games than ’11, Utley had just as many home runs (11) and one more
RBI (45). His OBP was also .21 points higher, up to .365 which is closer to what
he’s been throughout most of his career. Chase is probably past the days where he’s
going to post an OPS in the .900s, but with a full spring training and a year
of reasonably good health, a return to 2010 production (.832) is not out of the
question – it was .793 in ’12.
That – good health – is the key though. Utley hasn’t played above
115 games in a season since ’09. Production is generally not the issue here, it’s
whether or not he is well enough to put his cleats on most days. If Utley can play
between 130-140 games this season, the Phillies should be better off no matter
what. Early indications are he’s going to be able to do just that.
Yes, this past season was abysmal by any standards, not just Ryan
Howard’s, but what did everybody expect? He was still learning how to run again
when he came back from his torn Achilles tendon, and didn’t have much of a
spring training or rehab stretch to get the timing on that big swing of his
Then again, when you’re talking about the Big Piece, just his presence
alone is meaningful. In the 66 games Howard started for the Phillies last year,
the Phillies showed slightly improved run production, going from 4.14 per game
to 4.35 per game. The difference is not quite as marginal as it might seem, as
that’s a difference of 21 runs over the course of a season, which would’ve been
enough to bump up one spot to seventh in the NL in scoring – ahead of the
Atlanta Braves. The Phillies also had a 39-27 record with Howard in the lineup,
the .591 winning percentage a few points better than what they posted over the
second half (.587). Think had he been swinging the bat reasonably well.
So even stinky Howard is better than no Howard. With his
Achilles healed, there’s no reason to believe his numbers can’t bounce back to ’10-’11 territory – we’re talking 30-35 homers, 110+ RBI, with OBP and slugging percentages
hanging around .350 and .500 respectively. That might not mean living up to his
enormous contract, but it’s enough to help the Phils win a lot of baseball games, that’s for sure.
Doc is the guy we might have to be worried about the most.
He’ll turn 36 this season, making rapid decline increasingly likely, and the stats
in 2012 are already some of his worst in over a decade. The velocity on his
fastball dipped, and perhaps as a result he was trying harder to pitch around
batters rather than running through them. After leading the league in
strikeouts-to-walks ratio for four consecutive years, that number (.367) fell below
his career average, maybe the most telling number of any.
Of course, we can now confirm that Halladay was hurt all
along. He recently admitted to having a lower back issue which he says altered
his mechanics, and there was a lengthy trip on the disabled list for an arm problem
Doc is the kind of guy you can never count out because of
his intensity though, so by no means am I predicting he can’t return to ace
status in the twilight of his career. Many great pitchers remained among the most effective in the game into their late 30s. I’m also not sure they need him to be
exactly the same pitcher who won a Cy Young with the Phillies in 2010, and
finished as the runner-up in ’11. Cole Hamels is at the top of his game, and
despite the inconvenient lack of run support, Cliff Lee still had a fine ’12 –
plus Kyle Kendrick has become reliable at the back end of the staff.
Not even really going out on a limb, but a healthy Roy
Halladay can easily do a full point better on last year’s 4.49 ERA at least, and if
the Phillies are inclined to watch his innings, a quality bullpen should be
there to pick him up this season. Assuming Doc has everything sorted out with regards to his health, no
reason he shouldn’t win 16+ games again this year – and that’s if he’s not
chasing a third Cy Young award toward the end of the season.
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