June 13, 2010

What's wrong with the Philadelphia Phillies?

Welp, pretty much everything.

Bob Brookover's piece in today's Philadelphia Inquirer touches on the two more prominent theories:

a) Jimmy Rollins' injury

b) Mick Billmeyer's binoculars

I've got at least two cents on both. Yes, Jimmy's injury has hurt. Shane Victorino's put up a .258/.318/.467 line, which is not gonna cut it from the leadoff spot. His basic stats (10 homers, 36 runs, 36 RBIs) look good, but we now know that they only mean so much.

His career OBP is almost 25 points higher than his 2010 number; so is his career average. His OPS this year is actually above his career norms, but that's just because of the added power...which they don't particularly need from the leadoff hitter. I can't tell you how many first pitches he's swung at; if someone out there's recording that kind of stat, I'd love to see it. Simply put, he's not getting the job done.

And he's not the leader Jimmy Rollins is. Use whatever cliché you want: He's the straw that stirs the drink, he's head of the pack, he's the lace on their nightgown, the point after touchdown. Whatever you want to call it, Jimmy Rollins is one of the more talented, charismatic, inspiring Phillies, and they're a far worse team without him.

Of course, Jimmy's absence doesn't explain the poor play from Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth. It's not like Jimmy is Christopher Lloyd from Angels in the Outfield, guiding their bats with his ghostly powers and lifting Matt McConaughey into the air to make a brilliant catch; all he does is get on base in front of them. Their struggles, for the most part, are their own.

And that brings us to the second theory: BinocularGate. Or whatever the hell they're calling it now. Brookover's scout says that he "saw Chase Utley off balance more in three games recently than I have in the last three years. That gets your attention." He implies a correlation between that and the loss of Billmeyer's binoculars, and to his (very minor) defense, the numbers match up.

The Phillies averaged 5.4 runs a game before the binoculars incident and 3.4 runs a game after. Utley was hitting .314 beforehand; he's now down to .259. Chase Utley should NEVER hit .259; that gets my attention.

But a more telling observation, I think, is something Keith Hernandez said during one of the last Phillies/Mets games. He said that Utley's swing looked odd, that he wasn't getting his hips around, and that he thinks Chase is playing injured. To me, this makes much more sense than "Chase no longer has inside information on how to hit major league pitching." A reoccurring hip injury is a distinct possibility, and we all know Chase would play injured.

But again, that doesn't explain this team-wide slump. Were the Phillies stealing signs? Probably. Could it POSSIBLY have been the number one reason for their success, something they relied on so deeply that they instantly fell apart without it? I find that so very hard to believe. I understand that the dates line up, and I honestly can't tell you why these guys are hitting so poorly. But until someone related to the team acknowledges that (or I guess if they suck this entire season and never ever recover, which is unlikely), I'm not buying it.

Instead, could it be as simple as injuries and contract-related matters? Maybe. Ruiz is dinged up, Polanco has a bad elbow, Chase looks hurt; Howard is trying to justify a giant contract, Werth is trying to earn one. The simplest explanation is often the best one, and this makes much more sense than "they miss their friend Jimmy" or "they're all cyborgs who need Mick Billmeyer's pitching data entry every game to hit home runs." All I know is that they better figure it out, and soon. If they don't, Roy Halladay (and his 1.96 ERA) is gonna put his foot through someone's head.

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