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January 3 2007

During the 2006 season, Nationals' outfielder Alfonso Soriano spent much of the year leading off.  He wound up hitting 46 home runs on the year, but 30 of his 46 home runs were solo shots.  Clearly Washington's inability to put someone ahead of Soriano who could get on base regularly cost them a significant amount of runs.  Buffoons!  Cretins!  What kind of an organization could allow themselves to have a player like that have so many of his long balls go for solo shots?

Doh.

Sadly enough, Rollins and Victorino just didn't get on base ahead of Chase Utley, and Utley wound up with a higher percentage of his home runs than Soriano going for solo shots.

Here's a look at the 14 NL players who hit at least 30 home runs last season, and how many of their home runs were solo home runs (non-30-HR guys Burrell and Rollins are thrown in just for giggles):

 

Player HR Solo HR % Solo HR
Howard 58 29 50.0
Pujols 49 22 44.9
Soriano 46 30 65.2
Berkman 45 20 44.4
Beltran 41 20 48.8
A Jones 41 22 53.7
A Dunn 40 23 57.5
Delgado 38 20 52.6
A Ramirez 38 19 50.0
J Bay 35 22 62.9
B Hall 35 19 54.3
M Holliday 34 19 55.9
A LaRoche 32 24 75.0
C Utley 32 21 65.6
       
Total 564 310 55.0
 . . .      
Burrell 29 15 51.7
Rollins 25 15 60.0

Permit me a moment to state the obvious:  if you're going to hit home runs you score a lot more when you do it with runners on base.  For example, with his 21 solo home runs Utley knocked in, wait for it, 21 runs.  With his 11 other home runs he drove in 27.  Of Ryan Howard's 58 home runs, 29 of them were solo shots and 29 came with runners on base.  On his 29 solo home runs he drove in 29 runs and on his 29 home runs that came with runners on base he drove in 69. 

The Phillies had four players that hit 20 or more home runs last season.  Of the four, leadoff man Jimmy Rollins came to the plate with the bases empty most often -- about 67% of his at-bats came with nobody aboard.  Utley was the second highest, about 57% of his at-bats came with the bases empty.  About 48% of Burrell's at-bats and 53% of Howard's at-bats came with no one on base.

The Phillies and their fans have spent much of the end of last year talking about who will hit behind Ryan Howard, but you have to wonder if the more serious issue facing the Phillies is who will hit in front of him.  Of the group of Howard, Utley, Rollins, Helms, Burrell, Rowand, Victorino, Werth and Barajas, there are three guys you can count on to on-base over .350 next season -- Howard, Utley and Burrell.  That cupboard is a little bare.  Helms is another guy who might be a contender -- he on-based .356 in '05 and .396 in '06 but got just 408 at-bats in the two years combined.  The only season he was a close to a full-time player was 2003 and he on-based .330.

The question for the Phillies is not an abstract one of whether Rollins and Victorino are good top of the order hitters or not.  They have to figure out how to make the best lineup with the players they have available.  Less important than whether they're "good" or not is whether they give the Phillies the best chance to win.  If Rollins is going to continue to hit 25 home runs a year and on-base below .340 it's hard to justify keeping him in the leadoff spot.  I don't think you should have a player that's going to hit that many home runs come up with the bases empty as often as he did last season.  Not to be forgotten, however, is that Rollins averaged under 12 home runs a year for the three full seasons he played between 2003 and 2005.

The Phillies and Manuel might consider making changes, but I'm pretty sure that when April rolls around it's going to be Rollins and Victorino at the top of the order.  And more solo home runs for Utley.

The Mets may be interested in Tomo Ohka.

Jose Hernandez looks to be headed back to Pittsburgh in a minor league deal.

This article claims that the Phillies are planning to give Ryan Howard about a $1 million raise for '07.  The article also indicates the Phillies have no interest in any of the "healthy, available free agent relievers as setup men" and points to Rick White as a an example of the kind of guy they're not interested in.  Arthur Rhodes is another free agent still out there, so if you consider him healthy and a setup man, he may be right out as well.

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