January 11 2007

Yesterday I looked at the Phillies' outfield from last season and made a guess at how many fewer runs the Phils would score in '07 if all the outfield at-bats went to Burrell, Rowand and Victorino and those players produced offense at the same level they had in 2006.  On to the infield and behind the plate.

What happens at third base this season is critical.  When you compare the 2007 team to the '06 team, it's the one place the offense can make up for what they've lost in the outfield and behind the plate.  Let's pretend for a moment that the Phillies are going to get the same offensive production at first, second and short, where they are returning the same starting players as they did in '06.  The changes are at third and at catcher.  That in mind, here was the first question I took a shot at:  If Wes Helms got every at-bat at third base and Rod Barajas got every at-bat at catcher, and they both produced offense at the same level they did last year, how many more runs would the Phillies' infield and catcher create in '07?

A warning here:  the numbers for this first estimate are ridiculous.  Brace yourself.  Wes Helms only got 240 at-bats last season and they were amazing.  He slugged .575.  If he had managed enough plate appearance to qualify for the batting title and slugged .575 he would have finished sixth in the National League, ahead of almost everyone, including Miguel Cabrera, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.  When you combine that with 251 at-bats at third from Abraham Nunez in which he hit 223/329/283, things get out of hand quickly.  You've been warned.

First, I calculated the runs the Phillies created by their third baseman last season and came up with 67.  For the catchers I came up with 83.  Then I adjusted Wes Helms' numbers from last season to give him the same number of plate appearances as all Phillies third baseman had last season and calculated his runs created:  121.  Again, that number is absurd -- it would have made him one of the ten most productive hitters in the NL last season.  121 seemed pretty useless so I recalculated the number of runs Helms would have created had he gotten every plate appearance at third and created runs at the same level he had over his 1,602 at-bat career.  That came up with a much more reasonable 85.  For Barajas, I adjusted his numbers from last season to give him the same number of plate appearances as the Phillies' catchers got and calculated his runs created:  70.  So, if the adjusted question is, if the Phillies get the same offense at first, second and short next season, and Wes Helms got every at-bat at third and Rod Barajas got every at-bat behind the plate, and Helms produces offense at the rate he has over his career and Barajas produces offense at the rate he did last season, would the Phillies score more runs or less runs?  My guess would be five runs more (155 (85+70) minus 150 (67+83)).

Again, just like yesterday, there is zero chance that Helms will get every at-bat at third base and Barajas will get every at-bat behind the plate.  Nunez will play a lot at third.  Too much, no doubt, and will likely bring the offensive production for the team down at the position.  Pretty much anyone other than Barajas who sees time behind the plate will have a significant chance to bring up the team's numbers at catcher.

On the plus side, the plus five number was estimated using Helms' career numbers, which are much less impressive than what he did last season.  For his career he's a 268/331/447 hitter and there's a good chance he will surpass those numbers next season.  Just like he's not going to be as good as he was last year over an entire season, he's probably going to be at least a little better than his career numbers.  In 2006, the Phillies gave about 54% of their third base innings to David Bell and about 43% to Abraham Nunez -- for the Phillies to be anywhere near as effective offensively this season they are either going to have to give far less time to Nunez at third or Nunez is going to have to produce much more offense than he has over his career.

Perhaps the most alarming suggestion of anything from the past two days is the possibility that the Phillies would lose more offense by replacing last year's catchers with Rod Barajas than they would replacing last year's right fielders with Shane Victorino.  Mike Lieberthal and Chris Coste got the most innings behind the plate for the Phils last year.  Lieberthal saw about 33% of the action and Coste about 30%.  While playing catcher Lieberthal got 202 at-bats and hit 277/321/480.  Coste hit 326/376/503 in 187 at-bats.  Lieberthal's .801 was the lesser of the pair as Coste posted a .879 -- Barajas has never posted an .800 OPS in a year and was at .708 for the season in '06.  Also notable is that both Lieberthal and Coste hit for more power while catching than Abreu did while playing right field.  Abreu slugged .434 as a right fielder while Lieberthal slugged .480 as a catcher and Coste slugged .503 as a catcher.

And then there's the big assumption that the Phillies will get as much offensive production from Howard, Utley and Rollins, which is highly unlikely.  The trio averaged 38 home runs and 111 RBI last season.  Howard could hit 20 fewer home runs this season and still be among the best offensive players at his position in the NL.  The list of players who have ever had two seasons in which they hit 58 or more home runs and drove in 149 or more runs is very short -- Babe Ruth and Sammy Sosa.  Rollins had career highs in home runs and RBI last season, nearly doubling his previous high in home runs.

Article here mentions Pat Gillick's glory on the field, back in the days when "timepitched" was a word.  It was a simpler time.

Ryan Franklin signed with the Cardinals.

John Thomson apparently is not a Paul Lo Duca fan.

This article from the Phillies' web site reviews catchers in the organization.

The Nats could have some problems next year that can't even be overcome by not having Frank Robinson as their manager.  Nook Logan looks like the everyday center fielder and Cristian Guzman the number two hitter.  The depth chart on their team web site suggests Kory Casto is their first option in left field -- and all from the team that allowed the most runs in the NL last season.

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