May 6, 2011 at 8:00 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
Last night the Braves took a plane, train, or plantain to Philadelphia to take on the Phillies for a 3-game set. The Braves will face the same trio of starting pitchers in Philadelphia that they did in Atlanta earlier in the year, so good news: no Roy Halladay. Bad news: they still have to face Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt in some order. The Braves have a decision to make regarding their Sunday starter. Seeing as Mike Minor pitched a full complement of innings last night he’s not available for a spot start, so they’re probably looking at going with either Tommy Hanson or Tim Hudson on 3 days rest. While that business is sorted out we’ve brought in Bill Baer, the proprietor of SweetSpot’s Phillies’ blog: Crashburn Alley, to answer a few questions about the Phillies in preparation for the upcoming series.
1. Obligatory Chase Utley question: last time we talked there was no timetable for Utley’s return. Recently we’ve heard he’ll be heading out on a rehab assignment soon, so it seems like he’s close to returning. How big is it going to be for the Phillies to get him back?
He’ll be going down to Florida for extended spring training. After that, he could begin rehab. I’ll be happy if he’s back before the All-Star break, but I’m not counting on it. Getting him back and producing at his previous high level will be huge, as the Phillies’ current options at second base — a platoon of Wilson Valdez and Pete Orr — is very lackluster, roughly replacement level. On average, Utley is a 6-7 WAR player, so you get an idea just how much he means to the team.
Even when he’s not hitting, which is rare, Utley is the best defensive second baseman in baseball (when healthy) and runs the bases quite well.
2. The bullpen has suffered two key injuries in Lidge and Contreras but the results have been just fine. Is this a testament to how good Madson, Bastardo, and the like are, or is it just early? Or have the starters/offense just been so good that they don’t really need the bullpen very much?
It’s both. Madson seems to be criminally underrated by the Phillies and by the fans. Because he got a little unlucky in a very small sample of games over the last couple seasons when he was asked to close, it took injuries to both Lidge and Contreras for him to earn a shot at redemption. Madson is one of the best relievers in the game right now, but hardly anyone would believe you if you told them that.
Bastardo has impressed me so far, sample size be damned. If he can harness his control issues, I am very comfortable with the Phillies’ bullpen in future years, assuming they do the right thing and sign Madson to an extension.
You’re right that the Phillies haven’t needed the bullpen much. A Phillies starter has gone seven innings or more in 16 of 30 games. On average, National League starters accounted for 65.8 percent of innings. Phillies starters have accounted for 71 percent of innings.
3. Speaking of the starting staff, they are rolling so far. Is this how good you expected it to be? Better? Worse?
About as good. Halladay, Lee, and Hamels each rank in the top-eight in SIERA among starters with at least 30 innings, and Oswalt should end up in the top 20-30 by the end of the season. Joe Blanton, on the mend from an elbow injury, has been super unlucky. His 5.92 ERA is extremely misleading. I actually think the rotation has performed slightly worse than expected, all things considered. And by the way, Cole Hamels was my pre-season pick to win the Cy Young. Don’t look past him. I know you didn’t, Peter, but he doesn’t get enough national attention.
4. Raul Ibanez hasn’t been very good thus far but he’s shown a few things as of late. What do you make of his 2011 campaign to date and what do you expect going forward? Possibly related: who has been the biggest pleasant surprise and the biggest disappointment for the 2011 Phillies.
I made a bold prediction during the off-season, saying that Ibanez would finish 2011 with a .360 wOBA. I may or may not have been under the effects of hallucinogenic drugs then, I don’t recall. Although he’s come around, and although he has a reputation as a streaky hitter, I’m not expecting a .360 wOBA anymore. I’ll be happy with a league average wOBA (.315) when all is said and done. Then, I expect him to retire after the season.
Who has been the biggest surprise? I’d say either Bastardo or John Mayberry Jr. I was critical of Mayberry going into the season, saying he could only hit left-handers and could not hit breaking pitches, but he has proven me wrong thus far. He’s done enough to justify the increased playing time. If Ibanez goes into another funk, I think Charlie Manuel will be quick to implement a platoon in left field. He’s kept Ibanez on the bench against left-handed starters recently, but there is no official platoon yet.
The most disappointing? That’d probably be Ibanez. Nobody expected him to contend for the NL MVP award, but his April was just abysmal, bad beyond anyone’s expectation.
5. Domonic Brown: off the DL, back to the minors. When can we (and by “we” I mean my fantasy team) expect him back?
I’ve been citing this whenever someone asks me about Dom Brown: in the past, Keith Law has estimated that it takes 12-18 months for a hitter to regain his power after a hamate bone injury. However, Brown hit two home runs immediately upon his return to live baseball in Single-A Clearwater. He’s yet to hit one since moving to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but if Brown doesn’t have to wait the suggested 12-18 months, that is extremely good news and it makes his path back to the Majors a lot easier.
If Brown performs well with the Iron Pigs and has no setbacks, I’d expect to see him back before the end of May. I would also expect him to be part of a platoon in right field at first, with Ben Francisco starting against lefties and Brown against the right-handers. Part of me wants Brown getting all of the AB’s in right field, moving Francisco into a platoon with Ibanez, but a platoon in both corners may be the best option.
6. What is Pete Orr doing on the roster? Does he have pictures? We used to have this theory that the Braves kept Pete Orr around because he had incriminating pictures of someone related to a front office executive, is that the case here?
Pete Orr is on the roster simply to keep the @PeteOrrFacts Twitter account intact. For reals, though, Orr is on the roster as the team’s fifth infielder and happened to fit nicely in a platoon with Valdez. If Amaro climbs aboard the team bus, then gets a phone call notifying him that Utley is ready, he would kick Orr off the bus himself with his bare hands and some steel-toed boots.
7. Cole Hamels hit a triple. Discuss.
Dude can hit, no joke. I’ve been waiting for him to hit a homer for several years now, but I guess that honor belongs solely to Joe Blanton when it’s World Series time.
Thanks to Bill for his thoughtful answers and for indulging my silliness. Be sure to check out Crashburn Alley for some Phillies-centric analysis throughout the series and in the future, they’re the best in the business.
UPDATE: The counterpart of this Q&A can be found here.