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Ghosts of Phillies Past: Hunter Pence and Turk Wendell

August 5, 2011

Since acquiring Hunter Pence at the trading deadline last Friday, the Phillies have been on a tear, winning seven in a row.

The pitching has been a given all year, but with the addition of Pence, the lineup has also been performing well.

Featured Phillie of the Week: Hunter Pence

We’ll take a look at this year’s big trade deadline acquisition: Hunter Pence.

The price may have been high, as they had to trade away their two highest rated prospects (along with two others) to get him.  But so far, the deal looks like a good one. 

It was no secret that the Phillies lineup was unbalanced in favor of left-handers, and Pence’s right-handed bat helps counter that.  Now, when opposing managers make late game pitching change, they are either going to have to make an additional move, or at least one of the Phillies hitters is going to get a favorable matchup.

It might just be a coincidence (they were facing the sub par Pirates and Rockies pitching staffs), but the left-handed hitters sandwiching Pence – Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez – have both performed well since his arrival.

And in addition to his mere presence helping the other hitters, Pence has performed strongly in his own right, batting .360 with 5 RBIs in his 6 games as a Phillie.

Ghost of Phillies Past: Turk Wendell

The Phillies have been masterful at the trade deadline in recent seasons.  Not only have they picked up stars like Cliff Lee and Hunter Pence, they have also gotten lesser, but still vital contributors like Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs.

This wasn’t always the case.

Under former GM Ed Wade, the Phillies tried to improve themselves at the trade deadline, yet their efforts usually failed miserably.

Perhaps Wade’s worst acquisition was that of relief pitcher Turk Wendell in 2001.

Before coming to the Phillies, Wendell had a reputation throughout baseball as a “character.”  When he first came up to the major leagues, he would go through a bizarre routine which included eating licorice while pitching and brushing his teeth between innings.

Eventually, he toned down the antics and developed into a solid relief pitcher.  He was a key reliever for the Mets on their pennant winning team in 2000.

The 2001 Phillies surprised the baseball world by contending for the NL East title.  As the trade deadline approached, Wade thought that the bullpen was showing signs of fatigue, and so he traded with the Mets for Wendell and fellow reliever Dennis Cook.

In theory, bringing in a solid reliever like Wendell should have helped the bullpen.  The problem was that Wendell had been used heavily by the Mets that season, and was probably more worn out than the Phillies relievers had been.

Wendell was awful for the Phillies, recording a 7.47 ERA.  A large part of his problem was his lack of control as he walked 15 batters in 15 innings.  Thanks in part to his horrible performance, the Phillies relievers pitched poorly after the trade deadline, and were a large part of why the team failed to make the playoffs.

Wendell went on to miss the 2002 season with an elbow injury.  He managed to rebound and have a solid 2003 season, but the lasting memory of his Phillies tenure is his dreadful 2001 performance.

Final Analysis

Ed Wade’s failings at midseason deals are a large reason why the Phillies never made the playoffs under his watch, and why he is now the teams ex-general manager.  In the following years, he would make further moves to acquire bullpen help, picking up pitchers such as Felix Rodriguez and Mike Williams.  None of the moves ever worked out especially well.

We’ve clearly come a long way since those days.  Now, instead of getting questionable relief pitchers, the Phillies seem to bring in All-Star caliber reinforcements every year.

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