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October 2 2006

The 865 runs that the Phillies scored this season led the National League.  It was the sixth-straight season the Phillies improved their ranking in runs scored among NL teams, and they did it despite the mid-season loss of Bobby Abreu.  There are a lot of factors that contributed to this, but the biggest one was the monster season of Ryan Howard.

In 2005, Bobby Abreu had a typically excellent season for the Phillies, posting a 286/405/474 line while hitting 24 home runs and knocking in 102 runs.  Chase Utley hit 291/376/540 with 28 home runs and 105 RBI in 2005, and had a similar season in 2006, hitting 309/379/527 with 32 homers and 102 RBI.  Ryan Howard, however, exploded in '06.  After hitting 288/356/567 with 22 home runs and 63 RBI in just 312 at-bats in 2005 he did major damage in his first full-time action in 2006, posting a 313/425/659 line with an absurd 58 home runs and 149 RBI.

Not to be forgotten is that Abreu played a big part in helping the Phillies score runs in 2006.  He played 98 games for the Phillies, hitting 277/427/434 and driving in 65 runs.  On the season with the Yankees and the Phillies combined, he created 117 runs, which was more than Rollins and would have been third-best had he been with the Phillies all year.  In his 98 games with the Phillies he created 72 runs.  We still haven't seen a recent Phillies offense that hasn't benefited from the presence of Abreu.

Here's a look back at the runs the Phillies have scored in the last five years and the players that have led the recent teams in runs created:

 

Phillies runs and top run producers, 2001-2006

       
Year Runs NL-Rank Top 3 in Runs Created
       
2006 865 1 Howard-155
      Utley-130
      Rollins-115
       
2005 807 2 Abreu-122
      Utley-111
      Burrell-110
       
2004 840 3 Abreu-143
      Thome-114
      Rollins-108
       
2003 791 5 Thome-128
      Abreu-114
      Lieberthal-83
       
2002 710 7 Abreu-125
      Burrell-117
      Rolen-100
       
2001 746 9 Abreu-126
      Rolen-109
      Rollins-97

Ryan Howard was an absolute beast this year, and his mighty bat led the Phillies to new places.  After creating 60 runs for the Phils in '05, he added nearly 100 more in 2006. Chase Utley's final numbers for 2006 were very similar to his output for 2005.  Overall, his runs created increased dramatically, 130 in '06 compared to 111 in '05, but that is mostly due to getting more than 100 more at-bats without Polanco around this season than he did last.  He got 658 at-bats in 2006 compared to 543 in '05.  His runs created per 27 outs increased just slightly, up from 7.38 in '05 to 7.44 in '06.

In 2006, both Utley and Howard created more runs than Abreu did in 2005.

As you look at the numbers above it's nearly impossible not to notice Abreu.  Coming into the season he had led the Phillies in runs created in four of five years, and in the year he didn't he finished second behind Jim Thome -- that year Thome hit 47 home runs for the Phils.   Under appreciated is the tremendous offensive output for Abreu in 2004, he was fourth in the National League in runs created that season.  Abreu absurdly finished 24th in voting for NL-MVP that season, getting fewer votes than Johnny Estrada, Mark Loretta or Juan Pierre.  The point is that Abreu is an elite hitter, and he's been a crucial part of the Phillies offense ever since 1998.  Until this year.  This year, two thirds of the way through the season they replaced him with Jeff Conine.

There is absolutely no way on earth that you replace Bobby Abreu with Jeff Conine and improve your offense without getting a ton of new production someplace else.  And the Phillies did.  Ryan Howard.

There's a thing, though, and here it is:  Ryan Howard isn't going to hit 58 home runs and drive in 149 runs every year.  Is he?  Here's how the list of people who have ever hit more than 58 home runs in a season goes:  Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds.  This season, Howard created more runs than any other player in all of baseball.  If he does that every year the Phillies are going to be just fine.

The bad news is he won't.

The good news is that Howard got a lot of help this season, and not just from Utley and Abreu.  Jimmy Rollins had the best offensive year of his career, posting a career-high 811 OPS, up 41 points from last season's 771.  Pat Burrell's numbers for the year turned out to be solid, although his 92 runs created was just good for 41st best in the league.  His 6.93 runs created per 27 outs was 16th best in the NL, better than Rollins'  5.94, which was 34th best in the league.  Rollins created more runs overall by getting 191 more plate appearances.  Between Howard, Utley and Burrell, the Phillies had three of the top 16 hitters in the league if you go by runs created per 27 outs.  Among those who didn't see enough action to qualify for the batting title, Dellucci's 301 plate appearances, nearly all of which came against righties, were even a little better than Burrell's (Dellucci was at 7.13 RC/27).  Coste's 6.76 RC/27 in 213 plate appearances was a little better than Rollins' 5.94.

The other bad news is it sure looks like any runs that Dellucci produces next year will be for another team.  Coste was magnificent for the Phillies this season, but he gets my vote for most likely not to hit 328/376/505 next season.  The Phils seem to be willing to get rid of Burrell and his big contract.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that if you look at the three guys who led the Phillies in runs created this year, Howard, Utley and Rollins, they may be the only three you can count on to be back for 2007 as an everyday player.  Just about everything in the Phillies offense seems to be in a state of flux.  Do they have a single outfielder you're confident will be here next year and starting on opening day?  Victorino?  Who might be playing third base?  Catching?

For years the Phillies offense has been good and getting better.  Where it goes from here is hard to tell, simply because we just don't know who the Phillies offense is going to be next year.  They have a solid core of three to build around that's going to be out there for a while, and the only thing that's going to slow it down is injury.  And the one thing we do know for sure is that it has a new frontman.

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