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Here's the 2004 season preview for the Phabulous Phils. Enjoy.

86 wins, 76 lossesRuns scored: 791, 5th in the NL
Finished in 3rd place in NL EastRuns allowed: 697, 7th in the NL
Pythagorean W-L: 90-72

Players AcquiredPlayers Lost
Todd PrattDan Plesac
Tim WorrellKelly Stinnett
Roberto HernandezValerio De Los Santos
Doug GlanvilleTerry Adams
Shawn WootenAaron Myette
Billy WagnerMike Williams
Turk Wendell
Brandon Duckworth
Taylor Buchholz
Ezequiel Astacio

The Philadelphia Phillies are like a guy who sprints across a minefield at top speed. He's choosing a simple, direct way to reach his goal - and, well, if he gets blown up along the way, he gets blown up. In an era of caution - both fiscal and otherwise - you've got to admire this, if only from a discreet distance.

Since the other teams in the division are shedding salary, appear to be clueless, or both, this might be the year that the longsuffering Phillies Phans get to see their team go to the Big Dance. Of course, we were saying that last year too.

General Manager
Ed Wade built this team by taking big bites from the gourmet table of life, or rather from the salad bar of free agency. Bullpen a little weak? Heck, letís go sign a whole lot of middle relievers! Need a big bat in the middle of the order? Letís go throw a lot of money at Jim Thome! Can Atlanta no longer afford to pay Kevin Millwood? Hey, weíll take him!

While this approach has its flaws, as anyone who compares David Bellís salary with his performance can tell you, youíve got to give Wade credit for actually trying to win. And youíve got to give him credit for not being afraid to spend what it takes to bring top players to Philly. It might not work, but - from the fanís perspective, if not the investorsí - itís better than pinching pennies until they shriek. Iím kind of rooting for them now.

Lately, Iíve seen articles in which Larry Bowa claims that heís really not a bad guy, honestly, and that he isnít a raving lunatic with a hair-trigger temper that goes off at the slightest provocation. And itís probably true - if he was as bad as he is sometimes portrayed, heíd be doing time (or, like Billy Martin, heíd be dead). But have you ever noticed that no one ever feels compelled to write articles like this about other managers? You never see headlines such as the following:

Tosca Not a Volcano About To Erupt
Torre: I Can Be Trusted With Sharp Objects, Honestly!
Iíve Learned To Control My Impulse To Yell and Scream Like a Spoiled Child Pitching a Hissy Fit, Howe Reports

Whether Bowa is a help or a hindrance to the team is a debatable and unanswerable question, as strict scientific controls are not possible (you would need an exact duplicate of the Phillies with someone other than Bowa as manager). But it's safe to say that he's an intense manager. While some players thrive under intense managers, as they have a fire lit under them, others turn into quivering, self-doubting wrecks. When an intense manager is fired, the pressure dissipates, the players relax, and often perform better. If the Phillies stumble out of the gate, perhaps they should then fire Bowa and replace him with somebody more easy-going. Such as, for instance, Cito Gaston; discuss.

In 2003, Mike Lieberthal managed to stay healthy all year, and came through with career highs in average (.313) and on-base percentage (.373). At 31, he's probably got a couple of years left in him before his body breaks down like an old Edsel, but he won't be likely to produce at this level again. Behind him is Todd Pratt, the world's greatest backup catcher, who is good for 150 or so quality at-bats every year.

First Base
The first rule of signing free agents is this: don't buy cheaply. It's better to spend $13 million on one player and $1 million on another than to piddle away a few million here and there on so-so players. (A certain team located in the same state as the Phillies might want to take note of this advice.) When the Phillies decided last season that they needed a big bat, they went out and got Jim Thome. And they can't complain about his performance: after a slow start, the big man delivered 47 home runs (and a .385 on-base percentage). Expect more of the same.

Second Base
Placido Polanco, the only major-league infielder whose name sounds like that of a world-famous opera star, has a reputation as a good fielder who can't hit. But, to give him credit, he had a reasonable season in 2003, hitting .289 with medium-range power and occasional walks, and stealing 14 bases in 16 tries. He's not likely to be mistaken for Joe Morgan any time soon, but he puts up pretty good numbers for a second baseman. Backing him up is Tomas Perez, who hits better than most reserve infielders, but not quite good enough to be a regular.

Jimmy Rollins is one of those fascinating players that doesn't do anything particularly well, but doesn't do anything particularly badly. His on-base percentage, .320, is low, but not too bad for a shortstop. He's got about average range. He sort of runs OK (though he gets caught stealing too often). He's got decent doubles power. In other words, he doesn't particularly help or hurt the team. If Rollins winds up being the club's worst problem, they'll be doing well indeed.

Third Base
Speaking of the club's worst problem: David Bell, signed as a free agent last season, was expected to hit about .260 with medium-range power. Instead, he hit .195 with no power, and mercifully missed half the year. He's only 31, so he might bounce back, assuming he isn't one of Larry Bowa's whipping boys, but many players of his type go splat in their early thirties, and it's not as though he was all that good to begin with.

Left Field
No, I don't know what has happened, either. Before 2003, Pat Burrell looked like he was going to become a star. Heck, he was a star: in 2002, he had 37 home runs and a .376 on-base percentage. In 2003, he lost 73 points of batting average, 67 of OBP, and 140 of SLG. Or, to put it another way, he stunk. My guess is that a combination of bad luck and being one adjustment behind the curve caused him to slump, which caused him to get down on himself. Larry Bowa, who isn't exactly the most patient of men, undoubtedly didn't help the situation. He should return to form this year, as virtually nobody loses the ability to hit at age 26 after having had three productive years in the majors. If he can't emerge from the well, Ricky Ledee is his backup. Ledee has some power, but is just a little bit short of being good enough to play more regularly.

Center Field
Happily for the Phillies, Marlon Byrd did not sink under the weight of his own expectations in 2003. He compiled a healthy .366 on-base percentage, and had a roughly league-average range factor in centre field. Doug Glanville, who has been here before, has been signed to be his backup; Glanville is apparently a nice guy, which is good, as he doesn't bring anything else to the table.

Right Field
Bobby Abreu's best years are probably behind him now, but he's still an extremely valuable talent. The good news: he had 56 extra-base hits, batted .300, reached base over 40% of the time, and stole 22 bases. The bad news is that most of those totals are five-year lows for him - and, at 30, he's not likely to go up from here. I blame it all on the fact that I drafted him for my Roto team - that usually causes a decline in performance. If I keep him, he'll keep on declining; if I let him go, he'll bounce back. With great power comes great responsibility.

Starting Pitching
The rotation is widely expected to be Philly's strength, but what I noticed was not its strength but its consistency. Last year, the Phillies' front four starters - Vicente Padilla, Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, and Brett Myers - had ERA's of 3.62, 4.01, 4.23 and 4.43. While this won't earn any of them a Cy Young Award any time soon, all of these pitchers are likely to keep their team in the game, and that's all you really need from a starting pitcher. As their fifth starter, the Phils acquired Eric Milton, who was a solid (if mediocre) starter for four years before getting injured in 2002.

Philadelphia GM Ed Wade is fascinated by bullpen pitchers - every year, he goes out and orders two or three more of them from the Sears Roebuck Bullpen Pitcher Catalog. This year's deliveries are Billy Wagner (acquired in trade from Houston), Tim Worrell, and Roberto Hernandez. They replace last year's models, Valerio De Los Santos, Terry Adams, Mike Williams, Turk Wendell, Jose Mesa, and Dan Plesac (gone to, respectively, the Jays, Jays, Rays, Rocks, Bucs, and out to pasture). If you're counting, that's a total of eight closers and ex-closers. How can major league hitters stand a chance against all of that Magic Pixie Closer Dust?

On The Farm
The Phils don't have a lot of prospects on their 40-man roster, which is what you expect from a team trying to win right now. The only position player under 25 on the roster is Andy Machado, a 23-year-old shortstop who hit .196 at class-AA Reading. Despite his horrible average, Machado has leadoff potential: he drew 108 walks, giving him a .360 on-base percentage, and stole 49 bases in 64 tries. He'll have to hit at least a little bit to succeed, though (he said, obviously).

Chase Utley, 25, converted from third base back to second base, and hit .323 in class-AAA Scranton-Wilkes-Barre. He has some pop, too, collecting 18 home runs. He didn't do particularly well in a brief major league trial last year, though, so he won't get a real shot unless Polanco is stricken with a wasting disease, or he is returned to third and punts Bell off his spot.

Other minor-league Phillie Pharmhands of note: 28-year-old Jeff Inglin hit 24 big flies and drove in 103 at Reading. 24-year-old Ryan Howard hit .304 and went yard 23 times at class-A Clearwater, but whiffed 151 times. These guys are both rather old for their levels.

The Phils' best young pitching prospect, leaving out those already in Philadelphia, is Ryan Madson. Tall and thin (Baseball America lists him at 6'6" and 180), the 23-year-old Madson compiled a 3.50 ERA in class AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, striking out 138 in 157 innings while walking only 42. He'll likely succeed in Philadelphia, provided a strong wind doesn't knock him over. Behind Madson is Josh Hancock, a 26-year-old right-hander who struck out 122 and walked 46 in 165 2/3 innings in AAA. He also gave up 14 home runs, which suggests that Philadelphia might turn out to be a taterrific experience for him. At class-AA Reading, 23-year-old Keith Bucktrot pitched well in seven starts; he isn't really a top-drawer prospect, but I like his name.

In the lower minors, the top-ranked starter is probably Cole Hamels. Hamels, 20, started his pro career last year with the class-A Sally league's Lakewood BlueClaws (gotta love the name). In 13 starts, Hamels owned the league, going 6-1 with a microscopic 0.84 ERA. Promoted to class-A Clearwater, Hamels had a 2.73 ERA in five starts. He looks really good. Also at Clearwater is Gavin Floyd, 21, who was listed as the Phillies' #1 prospect by the Baseball America Prospect Report a year ago. This year, Floyd had a respectable 3.00 ERA in 24 appearances, 20 of which were starts. Elizardo Ramirez, 21, also on Baseball America's top 10 list last year, struggled a bit at Clearwater last year, giving up over a hit an inning with a low strikeout rate.

The Phillies are the class of the division, more or less by default. The Braves and Marlins are regressing in order to save money, the Mets don't realize they're mediocre, and the Expos are the unwanted orphans of baseball. The Phils are the only team in the NL East at the top of the success cycle, which should mean a trip to the post-season.
Philadelphia Phillies 2004 Team Preview | 24 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Gitz - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 01:13 AM EST (#74882) #
I read something interesting in BP about Jose Mesa: there were only seven games where Mesa entered the game either leading or tied that the Phillies eventually lost. According to BP, the average closer had between four and five such games. So basically Mesa was responsible for about 2.5 additional losses above and beyond what the "average" closer would do. One of Jose's biggest problems, which led to the thinking that he performed worse than he really did, was that he didn't just give up runs, he gave up RUNS. While the average closer gave up 1.7 runs when they gave up any runs at all (about 25% of the time; Mesa was 33 percent), Mesa was coughing up about three per time. The lesson: if you're going to fail, you may as well do it with gusto.

Problem is, Mesa didn't do it as much as you'd think, as the BP numbers suggest. This is not to say that Billy Wagner won't help; he just won't help as much as you'd think. (Well, not us, we sort of know better.)
_Ben - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 01:32 AM EST (#74883) #
I'm terrified for Pat Burrell, he looks like the next Ben Grieve, a few good years and now nothing. I also think Wagner's impact will be very psychological. Both the Phillies and other teams think that he is way better than Mesa and thus he will succeed more. Mike Lieberthal actually was hurt a few years ago and never really got back to where he was before the injury but I personally think he's back now and last year is basically an average year from him now. His OBP was the highest its been but his SLG was average for him. His defense is also pretty good. I'm a huge Jimmy Rollins fan and I'm not quite sure why. He is quite mediocre so I guess its just home town allegiance. Great preview though Dave, I enjoyed reading it.
_coliver - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 07:39 AM EST (#74884) #
Long live Tomas Perez!!!
_Bill Liming - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 08:19 AM EST (#74885) #
I have to agree with Ben about Lieberthal, last year looked about like what you can expect from him when healthy, though I suspect he'll drop some OBP this year and add a little more power since his split vs LHP was a bit off last year, especially in power. Todd Pratt probably shouldn't be listed as an acquisition either

I'm not as worried about Burrell, since the difference between his OK 2001 and his awful 2003 was primarily the 30 singles. The question becomes whether his 2002 was a measure of his true ability or primarily a fluke. I think it was closer to the former, though we'll find out for sure this year.

Polanco did take a step forward with the bat last year, but at age 27 that's not especially unusual. I think the review undersells him a bit, by EQA he was the 7th best 2B in the majors, and his glove probably moves him past everyone but Giles, Boone, and possibly Soriano. Given Utley's AAA numbers, I suspect the Phils will move Polanco to 3B again if Bell falters this year, but all things considerd he would probably have been the 6th or 7th best 3B in the majors last year, so that's not a huge issue, either.

You've got Rollins' performance pegged about right, the real question is, given his age and doubles power, does he have a breakout season in him at some point. I'd say it's certainly possible, though the last couple of years have eroded my faith a bit.

Since it looks like I'm starting to write my own review here, I think I'll just stop and do it for my own site. Good work.
_3RunHomer - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 09:57 AM EST (#74886) #
The most interesting Phillies question is ... who will they (mess) with this season? Look at this string of success:
Rolen - Thorough job. Started the trend.
Rollins - Good work. No progess. Lots of "help" from Bowa.
Burrell - Supremo! Take one established hitter and screw. Viola!

Abreu and Byrd are probably the next likely targets, with Byrd being easier but Abreu representing the real challenge. Run Bobby run!!
Craig B - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 10:14 AM EST (#74887) #
Abreu had an off year last year because he got very fat over the winter, and I think Bowa would have been justified in jumping right down his throat. To his credit, he didn't do it, and Abreu eventually came around. I'm as hard on Bowa as anyone, but he handled Abreu very well. I should remember to give him credit where cerdit is due.

That won't happen this year, Abreu stayed at his fighting weight all winter, and I think he wants to come back to prove himself. I am betting that the Phillies basically appealed to his pride as a player, and he's responding.
Coach - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 11:21 AM EST (#74888) #
Both the Phillies and other teams think that (Wagner) is way better than Mesa and thus he will succeed more.

Yeah, it's all in their heads. That nasty 100 mph stuff is just an illusion. I'm kidding; there is a psychological effect. If you go back a little more than ten years, who wasn't thrilled to see "Wild Thing" Mitch Williams coming out of the Phils' bullpen? The Jays, and their fans, sensed that something good was about to happen, and it usually did. It's the same with Mesa. Opponents aren't worried that it's do-or-die in the sixth and seventh innings; they're eagerly awaiting the ninth. Not only does Wagner do a much, much better job finishing games, his presence even before he starts warming up can put that slight extra pressure on in the middle innings.

If the Phillies stumble out of the gate, perhaps they should then fire Bowa and replace him with somebody more easy-going. Such as, for instance, Cito Gaston

Great suggestion, Dave, although I wouldn't have waited for them to stumble. I'm sure most of his players tuned out Bowa a long time ago, and someone who treats them like grownups and lets them play would be a welcome change. Cito is a perfect fit.

I think the Phillies are the best team in the NL, yet my dislike for Bowa has me rooting against them. They should win the division, but I hope Larry has a meltdown while they get swept in the first playoff round by my wild Cards.
Mike D - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 01:37 PM EST (#74889) #
Phantastic job, Dave. Please keep the rest of us advised on who makes your 2004 roto team -- for our sakes!
_Bill Liming - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 02:51 PM EST (#74890) #
For anyone who's interested, and feels like slowly pushing my counter towards quadruple digits, I went ahead and posted my take on the 2004 Phillies (COMN).
Coach - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 03:33 PM EST (#74891) #
Thanks, for sharing that with us, Bill, and for plugging Dave's piece on your site. It's a great year to be a Phillies fan. Sorry about your luck with the manager.
_Harry Heatherin - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 04:23 PM EST (#74892) #
Please keep the rest of us advised on who makes your 2004 roto team

Wellllll ... if you COMN, you can visit the official web site of the Phoenix League, an NL-only roto league that Dave and I have been in since 1985 - there is archival information galore, including all-time finishes and all-time players owned. This is never anything we are proud of. Dave is Team #2, I am Team #1 (2003 defending champion!).

Just so you can get an idea of the sort of players Dave tends to own.

I consider this a public service message (and since I build an maintain the website, please, be gentle in your criticisms....)
Dave Till - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 04:37 PM EST (#74893) #
Oh, great. Now no one will take me seriously ever again. :-)
_Harry Heatherin - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 04:38 PM EST (#74894) #
heh heh heh heh.
_Jurgen - Friday, March 12 2004 @ 04:00 AM EST (#74895) #
This is not to say that Billy Wagner won't help; he just won't help as much as you'd think.

What kind of crazy-upside-down-world is it when I'm agreeing with Gitz all the time?

Gitz, I think you're right (see above), but also because I'm not convinced the rest of the bullpen will be as good this year as they were last year. We might complain about the usage of most bullpen aces, aka "closers", but Wagner isn't really capable of going two innings, is he? And in those games where the Phillies don't blow their opponents out of the water, the problem will be getting to Wagner. Cormier was so far over his head last year you'd need to stand Loaiza on top of Livan to reach that high. Adams was also surprisingly good, but he's gone. Crazy Turk was effective, especially in the second half, but he'll be enjoying a Rockie Mountain high in '04. And who would have expected Plesac to return from the dead? Getting Worrell should help, but these aren't the Angels. Sounds like a favourite BP expression waiting to happen... regression to the mean.

Still, I have a hard time predicting that the Phillies won't be the best team in the NL.
Mike Green - Friday, March 12 2004 @ 09:36 AM EST (#74896) #
Actually, Jurgen, the song goes, I think, "when it starts to fall apart, it really falls apart".


Mike G
_Bill Liming - Friday, March 12 2004 @ 11:19 AM EST (#74897) #
About the bullpen, Cormier should regress, but probably not so much as to be worse than most of last year's options. I think Worrell is overpaid, but he's still likely to be better than average. Turk was actually pretty useless after June, and his peripherals before that weren't especially good, either. Even assuming Mesa didn't cost the Phils more than 2.5 wins over an average closer (I haven't read the BP article), Wagner's probably at least that much better than the average, which would have been enough to make the difference last year. And that's without considering the awful high leverage use of Williams after his acquistion. At least this year, if Wagner is hurt Worrell can be insersted into the role, since he's now "proven".

If Roberto Hernandez is the worst reliever they use this year (and I'm still hoping he pulls something important this spring), the bullpen as a group should be at least a little better and a lot more consistent, and with luck some of that will flow over into less stress on the starters.
Craig B - Friday, March 12 2004 @ 11:48 AM EST (#74898) #
If Roberto Hernandez is the worst reliever they use this year (and I'm still hoping he pulls something important this spring),

_Bill Liming - Friday, March 12 2004 @ 11:55 AM EST (#74899) #
Well, actually, I linked to a story from earlier in the spring on my blog about him pitching BP to Burrell and Burrel smoking a few. If they want to keep him around just to be Burrell's personal BP/confidence booster, I'm OK with that.

That, or deal him back to the Braves, if they'll let him pitch.
_Jurgen - Saturday, March 13 2004 @ 02:12 AM EST (#74900) #
Whoops. I mistyped.

Of course, it was the first half of the season Wendell was "good".

Cormier should regress, but probably not so much as to be worse than most of last year's options

But that's not the point. Sure, Cormier might not be horrible this year, but there's nobody who looks ready to step up and fill in those high leverage innings in place of him. Wagner aside, this is a very mediocre looking group of arms. The Phillies had a pretty good bullpen ERA last year. Even with Wagner, I doubt they will in '04.

The ninth inning won't be a problem for Philly anymore. The 7th and 8th just might.
_Bill Liming - Sunday, March 14 2004 @ 08:52 PM EST (#74901) #
I don't know, Cormier was probably a lot better than really necessary in 2003, regressing a bit isn't going to reduce his value that much in the 7th/8th. Between Worrell and Cormier, those innings shouldn't be a lot worse off, though I do fear that Roberto Hernandez could get too much PT. If one of Telemaco/Junge/Coggin/Hancock can step up and be decent (and push Hernandez towards the garbage innings) the Phils will be in good shape.
_John Neary - Sunday, March 14 2004 @ 10:19 PM EST (#74902) #
FWIW, Hernandez's PECOTA forecast (premium content) isn't as negative as one might think. His 50th percentile forecast is 33.2 IP, 33 H, 17 BB, 26 K, 4.27 ERA -- nothing special, but not bad for a sixth man, and entirely consistent with his eight-year streak of positive PRAA (or, if you prefer, ERA+ > 100) before 2003. He's as good a bet now as Jeff Tam was a year ago.
_Bill Liming - Sunday, March 14 2004 @ 10:46 PM EST (#74903) #
I'm probably guilty of some hyperbole with regard to Hernandez. As the last guy in the pen, he's probably OK and something of a known quantity. I'm just worried that he'll get much more important innings than that (see Mike Williams, 2003) beacuse of that veteran middle reliever presence.

If I'm Larry Bowa, I take Wagner, Cormier, Worrell, Coggin, Hernandez and Crowell north.

If I'm me, I take Wagner, Cormier, Worrell, Madson, and Coggin (or Telemaco if it doesn't look like Coggin's arm is up to repeated longer outings). I suppose, given the relative lack of guys on the Phils that need platoon/PH help, I might take Hernandez as an 11th pitcher.
_Mark - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 02:23 AM EST (#74904) #
Phillies can't take Crowell and/or Madson north.

They will not discard a former #1 draft pick (Coggin) or a very young LHP starter who already threw a ML no-hitter (B Smith).
_Bill Liming - Wednesday, March 31 2004 @ 09:55 AM EST (#74905) #
The Crowell pick was assuming a desire for another LHP in the pen.

I actually don't think they'd have hesitated with regards to losing Smith/Coggin/Telemaco if they weren't pitching well enough to make the team (and, in fact, they did expose Smith to waivers, which he surprisingly made it through).
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