How much difference does a manager make to a baseball team? Conventional wisdom suggests that managers are not that important, a bad manager can lose you more games than a good manager can win you; 2005 will be an interesting test of that piece of baseball wisdom. Jekyll, aka the fiery Larry Bowa, is gone; Hyde, in the guise of Charlie Manuel, is in. Will that change be the catalyst for the Phillies to finally win the division? I have seen a number of suggestions that the Phillies will do better in 2005 with their new manager, but this writer says the Phils will not win the NL East.
The Phillies entered 2004 optimistic that they could finally topple the Braves. This made 2004 similar to 2003, 2002, and 2001, and 2005. The Phillies have won 86 games in three of the last four years but could never get over the hump and catch Atlanta. As a team they can never seem to fire on all cylinders, one year Pat Burrell goes in the tank, then when he recovers Marlon Byrd goes south. The pitching staff has been setback by injuries to their young pitchers and free agents brought in to provide stability, Kevin Milwood, were inconsistent. The last five years have been very frustrating for Philly fans.
In 2004 the new Citizens Bank Park added to the excitement and, although Larry Bowa was rumoured to be on thin ice after 2003, the feeling was this was their year. Dave Till suggested in last years preview that if the Phils got off to a slow start they might do well to fire Bowa and replace him with someone with the opposite style, say Cito Gaston. The Phils finished three games out of the wild card and they could conceivably have made the playoffs if Bowa had been fired mid-season. But Ed Wade waited until the end of the year and that chance was gone. Instead of Cito they brought in another mild mannered manager in Charlie Manuel. The players might feel happier under Manuel but what can he do to improve the pitching? Better pitching is the key to the Phils chances in 2005.
The demise of the House of Bowa included his coaches, chief among them pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. Has anyone’s stock fallen as fast as Kerrigan’s? When Kerrigan was the pitching coach in Boston he was regarded, along with Leo Mazzone, as one of the best pitching coaches in baseball. When Jimy Williams was fired as manager of the Red Sox, and Kerrigan was appointed manager, it looked like it was onwards and upwards for Joe. But he came across badly in that first Red Sox press conference and it has been all downhill from there. The Red Sox were 17 and 26 under Joe and he was an ex-manager after 43 games. When Philadelphia hired him as pitching coach they expected all their young pitchers to bloom under his tutelage but none of them have. The results have been disappointing and Kerrigan is never mentioned in the same sentence as Leo Mazzone any more (except for this preview).
Significant Comings and Goings
Bye bye Eric Milton, signed as a free agent with Cincinnati
Bye bye Kevin Millwood, signed as a free agent with Cleveland
Jon Lieber was signed as a free agent
Kenny Lofton was acquired from the Yankees for Felix Rodriguez
Cory Lidle was re-signed as a free agent
Terry Adams returned as a free agent
Charlie Manuel managed the Cleveland Indians from 2000 through 2002. The Indians won 90 and 91 games in Manuel’s two full years but were playing at a .448 clip in 2002 when the axe fell on Manuel. Joel Skinner replaced Manuel but the club did not play better that season, or under Eric Wedge in 2003, making it look as though the team was the problem in 2002 not Charlie Manuel.
In 2003 the Phillies scored 791 runs and allowed 697, a differential of plus 94.
In 2004 the Phillies scored 840 runs and allowed 781, a differential of plus 59.
2004 was the first season for the new ballpark. The Vet had been a pitchers park whereas the new park is a hitter’s park. The run index went from 92 at The Vet to 109 at “The Bank”, an increase of 18%. The new park increased home runs by 47% compared to the Vet. When we look at the runs scored and allowed data for 2004 it looks like the offense improved and the defense declined over 2003. Based on the park data it looks like both the offense and pitching declined slightly. Run scoring increased by 6%, but the park factor increased run scoring by 18%, 9% overall with half the games on the road. Offense declined therefore by 3%. Similarly the Phils allowed 12% more runs, versus 9% expected, also a decline of 3%. If Ed Wade looked at the numbers in this way he would see that both offense and pitching needed to be improved.
If you graded the Phil’s hitters based on their best seasons you would have a great lineup, but the Phils hitters are one of the more inconsistent groups in baseball. Compared to 2003, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell and David Bell all improved their OPS by around 100 points in 2004. But at the same time Marlon Byrd and Mike Lieberthal saw their OPS decline, despite the more offensive ballpark. Bobby Abreu and Jim Thome carry the offense, but can Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Mike Lieberthal, et. al. make the jump to carry more of the load and be above average offensive threats? As long as players like Marlon Byrd and Doug Glanville drag down the offense it is tough to be much better.
How do you predict the Phils offense for 2005? Which Marlon Byrd will we see? Which David Bell? Jimmy Rollins? Pat Burrell? I certainly don’t know.
Mike Leiberthal had his career year in 2003. His numbers declined in 2004, despite the move to the better hitters park. Lieberthals shortfall was mostly in his batting average, declining from .313 to .271.
Year BA OBP SLG 2003 .313 .373 .453 2004 .271 .335 .447
Lieberthal’s is 33 years old and his 2004 performance is more indicative of what to expect.
Jim Thome’s 42 home runs last year was somewhat of a disappointment. That sounds wrong but Thome hit 47 in 2003 when the Phils played at The Vet. The drop to 42 home runs last year was partially due to less playing time. When Thome signed with the Phils in 2003 there were some concerns with the health of his back, and how the old carpet at The Vet would impact it. In 2003 Thome played 159 games, but last year he dropped to 143 games. While Thome has not had major injuries he does get smaller injuries and usually misses some time each year, Thome’s 159 games played in 2003 was a career high, while the 143 games in 2004 was his fewest played since 1998. Thome is 34 and probably has one great season left in him, it could be 2005.
Second base could be a competition between Chase Utley and Plocido Polanco, or Polanco could be at third if David Bell is unable to play. Utley had a good rookie year last year, hitting 13 home runs to go with his .266 batting average, but there are some concerns over his defence at second. Polanco is the super-sub who was a free agent over the winter but received no offers so he is back with the Phillies for one more year. Polanco will be playing for a big three year contract so look for a big season from him.
Jimmy Rollins had a big bounce back year in 2004. This was his fourth year in the league and 2004 was the first year his OPS was above league average.
Year BA OBP SLG 2003 .263 .320 .387 2004 .289 .348 .445
David Bell had a terrible 2003 when he had a bad back. 2004 his back, and his game, were better. Now Bell has another bad back, the Phils hope it is not too serious but if it is the Phils will be stretched. Polanco is the backup for Bell if he is injured.
Year BA OBP SLG 2003 .195 .296 .283 2004 .291 .363 .458
Most of you are familiar with the Pat Burrell story, as a 25 year old in 2002 Burrell hit .282 with 37 home runs and 89 walks. Then, inexplicably, Burrell hit bottom in 2003. 2004 was a good recovery year and it will be interesting to see what impact Bowa’s absence will have on Burrell. In 2004 Pat was slightly above league average, but the Phils need the all-star Burrell back in 2005.
Year BA OBP SLG 2003 .209 .309 .404 2004 .257 .365 .455
Marlon Byrd defined the term sophomore slump in 2004. His numbers were bad across the board, so Kenny Lofton was brought in for 2005. Here are Byrd’s numbers:
Year BA OBP SLG 2003 .303 .366 .418 2004 .228 .287 .321
Kenny Lofton will be 38 in May and is now a slasher with little power. Lofton hits the ball on the ground and hopes it gets through the infield. Lofton’s numbers are OK, he is better than the 2004 Byrd, but worse than the 2003 Byrd.
Bobby Abreu was one of the best players in the NL in 2004, fifth in NL RCAA per Lee Sinins ATM reports, just write his name in the lineup every day.
Pitching and Defense
The Phillies starting pitching, over the past four years, has never developed to its expected potential. Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Omar Dall, Dave Coggin, Bruce Chen and Brandon Duckworth have all appeared in the starting rotation but none of them have developed into “stud” pitchers. Dall, Coggin, Chen and Duckworth are no longer in the lineup and only Dall has gone on to have some success after Philadephia. Wolf and Padilla have been injured while Brett Myers is still unproven and Kevin Millwood never progressed. All in all it is not a pretty picture for Phils fans.
The Phillies 2004 rotation was:
Eric Milton 34 starts 4.75 ERA Kevin Millwood 25 starts 4.85 ERA Randy Wolf 23 starts 4.28 ERA Brett Myers 31 starts 5.52 ERA Vicente Padilla 20 starts 4.53 ERA
Milton and Millwood are gone with their above average ERA’s. Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle replace them.
The 2005 rotation can be considered high risk. Cory Lidle has been very inconsistent over the last few years as Toronto fans know. Lidle does not have outstanding stuff and his margin of error is low. Lidle produced a good second half of the season in 2004 but the Blue Jays know it is dangerous to assume a good streak is an indication of more good things to follow. Vicente Padilla has had his attitude questioned by management, is injury prone, and is currently returning from a spring training injury. Brett Myers has not established consistency and scouts question his makeup. Myers loses his concentration easily which causes him to “blow up good”. Randy Wolf was shut down in August last year due to an arm injury but is usually one of the better pitchers. Jon Lieber is probably the safest bet, pitchers in their second year after major surgery usually improve. With big question marks over three fifths of the rotation it is hard to be optimistic.
The Phillies bullpen is a strength. Billy Wagner was a big signing before last season but he had to shut it down with injuries twice in 2004, but he is back and ready for 2005 and is still an elite closer. Ryan Madson was a rookie last year but it did not show, he had a 2.34 ERA over 77 innings and was better than the numbers looked, he was hit hard in two starts. Rheal Cormier provides the punch from the left side and Tim Worrell, the coulda-been Blue Jay, was also efficient.
Ex-Jay Terry Adams returns for 2005 having been a standout in Philly in 2003. He is hoping familiar surroundings bring back his 2.35 ERA.
Ryan Howard is the prototype big slugger. He is listed at 6’4”, 230 pounds, and he is not able to play anywhere other than first base. Jim Thome is blocking him and the Phils will have to do something by the end of 2005. Howard is strikeout prone (179 K’s in 524 AB’s in 2004), as are many sluggers, it is still to be determined if he can adjust to major league pitching.
Gavin Floyd appeared in six games, four starts, for Philadelphia last season as a 21 year old and showed great promise with a 3.49 ERA. He might need another half season in AAA to refine his pitches but he almost ready. If Padilla is unable to start the season Floyd would get the spot. Floyd sports an average fastball and changeup, but Baseball America rates Floyd’s 12-6 curveball as one of the best in the minors.
Cole Hamels was the pitcher who got into a bar fight at the start of spring training, broke his hand, and will miss the first part of the season. Hamels has been injury prone, missing most of 2004, so another injury is a bad sign, both professionally, and as a reflection on his character. He definitely needs to prove himself in 2005 once he returns in June.
The 2005 NL East is a strong division. The Marlins and Mets have improved over the off-season and the Braves are perennial division winners, making the NL East one of the toughest divisions in the major leagues. Charlie Manuel will try to succeed where Larry Bowa failed, but his nice guy approach might not be enough to hide the shortcomings of the team. Can the Phillies be confident in their inconsistent hitters? What about their pitching? The Phillies are a very difficult team to predict, any forecast is high risk. High risk is also high reward so there is a scenario where the Phils challenge for the title: Burrell, Byrd, Rollins and Bell all hit well, and Lidle, Lieber, Wolf and Padilla produce good seasons. But the more likely scenario is more inconsistency from the hitters, more injuries from the pitchers, and a .500 finish for the city of brotherly love.