If you were told in March that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard would combine for 173 RBI, that Marlon Byrd would knock in 85 runs, that Cole Hamels would have the best season of his career, Jonathan Papelbon would save 39 games and that the bullpen would be among the best in baseball, thoughts of playoffs would dance through your head.
However, 2014 was very similar to 2013. The Phillies limped to the finish line with the same win total, 73. But the issues going into the upcoming season are even bigger. GM Ruben Amaro can’t say ‘if the Phillies remain healthy, we’ll be fine.’ The infield core of Utley, Howard and Jimmy Rollins each played in at least 138 games. Rollins, who missed much of September due to a strained hamstring, would have played in at least 8 more games, if there was a possibility of the playoffs. But it didn’t matter.
Much went wrong for the Phillies, most notably the starting rotation, save Hamels and the Phillies offense. It’s time for the Phillies grades for 2014. Fortunately the player’s parents don’t have to sign off on this report card.
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz
Ruiz had a decent season for an aging catcher. Chooch contributed Ruiz-esque numbers on the side of the plate and was his usual self behind the dish. Like his veteran teammates, health wasn’t an issue. The pitchers, especially the young bullpen arms, love throwing to Ruiz.Grade: B
First Base: Ryan Howard
Yes, the Big Piece drove in 95 runs and clubbed 23 homers but there are a myriad of issues for the guy, who finished fourth in the NL in RBI. Howard led the league in strikeouts with 190. He was in the top five in futility with men on base. The 2006 NL MVP can’t play first base anymore. He has serious lower body issues. The silver lining for Howard is that he didn’t get hurt and appeared in 153 games. The unfortunate part for the Phillies is that Howard was healthy enough to play in 153 games. Just kidding. The reality is that Howard, who never received enough credit for his work ethic, had a great career and was never the same after the Achillies injury that punctuated the 2011 season. Big, aging sluggers lose it quickly. Where have you gone Mo Vaughan?Grade: D
Second Base: Chase Utley
Utley almost won the NL Player of the Month award in April. HIs first two months were amazing. Utley had 24 doubles by the end of June. However, he only hit a dozen two-baggers in the second half. The most surprising stat is that Utley played in 155 games. That was part of the problem. Fans expected Ryne Sandberg, unlike Charlie Manuel, to give Utley more rest. However, Sandberg wants to win and there isn’t anyone on the bench that can approximate what the potential Hall of Famer, who was the Phillies lone All-Star, is capable of. The odds are that Utley’s numbers would have been better if he wasn’t worn out by the end of July. However, he had a better season than anyone could have imagined. Grade: B
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins
Sure, Rollins finished with a .243 average but he made a surprising comeback after a season when he appeared to fall off an offensive cliff. Rollins, who appeared to be reduced to warning track power in 2013, belted 17 homers and drove in 55 runs. The most impressive number is his career high 64 walks. He also worked many deep counts. The positive takeaway is that Rollins proved that he could change his game, unlike Howard, who never reacted to the shift, which is puzzling since baseball is a game of adjustments. And then there is Rollins’ glove, which is still very good. His defense and conditioning will keep Rollins in the game for at least five years, barring injury. Grade: B-
Third Base: Cody Asche
Asche picked it up offensively and defensively but the Phillies needed a difference maker at third and the rookie wasn’t that at the hot corner. Maikel Franco is the future at third. If Asche can amp it up at the plate, perhaps he can be a corner outfielder or a sub. Grade: C-
Right Field: Marlon Byrd
Byrd was a good free agent pickup. Despite finishing in the top five in the NL in strikeouts, Byrd was productive at the plate. The burly veteran drove in 85 runs. He led the team in homers (25) and slugging (.445). Byrd proved to be the best outfielder by far. Byrd-man is also a consummate professional. Grade: B
Center Field: Ben Revere
Revere led the team with a .306 batting average and he stole 49 bases. However, he has no power and can’t draw walks since every pitcher comes right at him. The criticism of him not taking bases on balls is ridiculous because what pitcher wouldn’t throw him strikes? Revere has a poor arm but his throws were better since he adopted a better grip, which is surprising that it took him this long to make that adjustment. If the Phillies were a better team and the speedy, slap-hitting Revere could play in left, he’d be much more effective but again the Phillies are haunted by their lack of depth. Grade: C
Left Field: Domonic Brown
During spring training, Hall of Fame scribe Paul Hagen told yours truly that he believed the Phillies would deal Brown after the season since they wouldn’t be able to afford him after the 2014 season. Well, expect Brown to be dealt for another reason. Anticipate a deal in which Brown is traded for another player, who needs a change of scenery. It’s amazing how far Brown has fallen.After making the 2013 NL All-Star team Brown has appeared to lose it. After hitting 27 homers in 2013, he only managed to knock ten balls out of the park. His slugging was an anemic .349 and his defense was atrocious. What’s difficult to swallow is that Brown appears to have all the physical tools. Will he turn it around with another team?Grade: F
That’s a pretty remarkable mark considering Hamels, who posted a 1.15 WHIP, had the best season of his career. King Cole, who received no support, was exceptional. HIs 2.45 ERA belies his 9-9 mark. Cliff Lee missed most of the season, handicapping the franchise. When Hamels didn’t pitch, a fifth starter was out on the bump. Rookie David Buchanan has some tenacity and promise.Four-fifths of the rotation was as much to blame as the offense for a terrible season. Grade: D
Who would ever guess that the bullpen arms would emerge? Ken Giles, who finished with a 0.79 WHIP, was a revelation. Jake Diekman and Justin DeFratus improved and were strong as set-up men. Jonathan Papelbon was very good on the mound but he was a problem off the hill with his infamous crotch grab. Papelbon couldn’t save himself from criticism. Antonio Bastardo took another step back but overall, the pen impressed with only one player over 27. Grade: A-