Sep 9, 2013, 12:15 PM EDT
A rotating cast of Cesar Hernandez, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr. and Freddy Galvis (!) certainly isn’t what most Phillies fans would have ever pictured the team’s outfield looking like a couple years ago–hell, even at the beginning of this season–and though injuries (to Dom Brown and Ben Revere, namely) have much to do with this destabilization, there are days where you have to wonder how it ever came to this for the Fightins.
In the years that were good for this Phillies team, dating back to the days of Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell, the outfield was always a strength. But over the last three years or so, Ruben Amaro Jr. made the decision to cut bait with a number of the outfielders who helped power the team’s glory years–due to age, increasing expense, seeming decline, and a number of other reasons, most of which seemed pretty sound at the time.
However, as luck would have it, this season has brought back basically every one of those decisions to haunt Ruben Amaro Jr. (and us by extension). If you’re an MLB outfielder in 2013 and you once played for the Phillies, chances are you’re having your best season in years, if not ever. To wit:
Jayson Werth. The seven-year, $126-million contract that Raw Power signed with the Nats in the 2010 off-season–one which still gets him booed by a good percentage of the Phillie Phaithful upon return visits to the Bank–looked like a disaster in his first few seasons for Washington, in which Werth missed a combined 92 games and hit a combined 25 homers. This year, however, Jayson might be an MVP candidate if he hadn’t missed a month with a hamstring injury and if the Nats were doing a little better. He’s batting a career-high .323, with 21 homers and a near-.400 OBP, and when facing the Phillies he’s doing even better, batting .400/.466/.640 in 58 PAs against the Phils. Seven years at $18 mil a year is probably still a stretch for Jayson, now 34 years old, but man could we have used that outfield production this season.
Shane Victorino. As part of the Phils’ half-hearted teardown at the end of last season, Victorino and his expiring contract was jettisoned to the Dodgers for Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin. After Shane did nothing for the Dodgers in 53 games and LA missed the playoffs, and after he got off to a slow start this year for the Red Sox after signing a three-year, $39 million deal, it seemed like Ruben let go of Vic at just the right time. But the Flying Hawaiian has roared back with a vengeance in Boston, hitting .328 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in the month of August alone. Now he’s hitting nearly .300 for the season, with 14 homers and 20 steals, and according to Baseball-Reference WAR, he’s been worth a career-high 5.7 wins this season, seventh-highest in the whole AL. What’s more, on the Red Sox, Victorino is all but guaranteed to do something no one else on this list (or on the Phillies, natch) will do this season–play well into October.
Hunter Pence. The other casualty of the Phils’ partial rebuild at the end of last year was Hunter Pence, who had a sub-par end of season and post-season for the Giants after being dealt for Nate Schierholtz and a couple minor-leaguers at the deadline (though the Giants would win the World Series anyway, and Hunt had that weird three-RBI double where his bat hit the ball three times on one swing). Anyway, Pence is having a much better year in his second season in San Fran–his first real walk year–hitting .287 with 19 homers and a career-high 21 steals (against just two caught, remarkably). His defense has been less unanimously celebrated, but Fangraphs value says he’s having the best season of his career anyway, and his googly-eyed enthusiasm is certainly missed on and off the field in Philly.
Nate Schierholtz. The 28-year-old pro throw-in in the Pence deal performed unremarkably in his 37-game stint for the Phils at the end of last year, and was unsurprisingly let walk at the end of the season. For the Cubs, however, Nasty Nate has hit on a career power surge, knocking 20 dingers after never reaching double digits in any season prior. It’s hard to get too mad at Ruben for not seeing this one coming, but given some of the scrubs we’ve had cycle through our outfield this season–all of whom have performed as such–it’s especially irritating to see a career fourth or fifth outfielder like Schierholtz hitting at such a high level elsewhere.
Raul Ibanez. Perhaps the most surprising career resuscitation among the Phils’ ex-outfield crew is the year Raul Ibanez is having out in Seattle. The 19 homers he had (as well as the two post-season pinch-hit blasts) he had in part-time duty for the Yankees last year was impressive enough after he seemed to be on his last legs as a 39-year-old for the ’11 Phils, but this year he’s gone yard 27 times in one of the sport’s most hitter-oppressive ballparks, and at age 41, has posted the highest OPS+ of his entire career. Most remarkably, he’s now hit more homers in his 40s than he did in his entire 20s, officially giving Ibanez one of the weirdest career arcs of any slugger in baseball history.
Marlon Byrd. OK, it’s not really fair to count Byrd here–it’s been eight years and now six teams since Byrd was a Phillie, and he wasn’t a part of any of the division-winning squads of the late ’00s and early ’10s. But damn…even Marlon friggin’ Byrd is having a near-All-Star year? The dude was all but out of baseball last year, posting an OPS under .500 as a 34-year-old, surely reaching the end of the line for his respectable career. But somehow, he not only caught on with the Mets this year, he had the best season of his whole career, hitting .288 with 22 homers for New York before getting shipped in a post-deadline deal to the Pirates, where he’s hit .325 with six XBHs and eight RBIs in 11 games so far. It’s maybe the most bizarre story of the whole baseball season, and it serves as just one more jab to the gut for the Phillies and their crappy, crappy current outfield.
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