Posts Tagged ‘Ghosts of Phillies Past’

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Ghosts of Phillies Past: Shane Victorino and Ricky Otero

August 12, 2011

Another hugely successful week for the Phillies.  All they’ve done is win five out of six, complete a 9-1 West Coast road trip, and gotten into a brawl with their new nemesis, the San Francisco Giants.

Phillie of the Week: Shane Victorino

At the forefront of the week’s action was center fielder Shane Victorino.  Despite being moved all throughout the lineup, Victorino is having the best season of his career. 

He is currently batting .312 with 12 home runs, but perhaps more importantly, the switch hitter is producing from both sides of the plate helping to keep the Phillies lineup balanced.  And as usual, he is providing his usual impressive base running and sterling defense in centerfield.

If you polled fans around the country about who their least favorite Phillie is, I’m guessing Victorino would be the most common answer.  While the rest of the Phillies seem to carry themselves in a businesslike manner, Victorino is somewhat demonstrative on the field.  This has occasionally drawn the ire of the Phillies’ opponents.

It probably wasn’t a coincidence that when the Giants wanted to make a statement on Friday, it was Victorino who was hit by a pitch.  Victorino didn’t take too kindly too the plunking, and incited a benches-clearing scuffle between the two teams.  Later on, Victorino had to be restrained as he repeatedly tried to charge into the fray.  Unfortunately, this resulted in a three game suspension which he is currently appealing.

Ghost of Phillies Past: Ricky Otero

In 1996, the Phillies had a different speedster manning center field.  Otero had been obtained in an offseason trade with the Mets, and after Lenny Dykstra went down with an injury, Otero was given a regular job.

Batting leadoff for much of the 1996 season, Otero was actually somewhat of a fan favorite at first.  He was considered “pesky” on the base paths, and his energetic style was a small highlight on a dismal team. 

Unfortunately, as one writer quipped, “Ricky can run, but he can’t hide.”  He batted a respectable .273 in 1996, but his .330 on-base percentage was far too low for a player who had almost no power.  In 411 at bats, he only managed 20 extra base hits.

And while he might have been “pesky” on the base paths, he wasn’t that effective as a base stealer.  Throughout his Phillies career, he was caught stealing 13 times against 16 stolen bases.  Not a good ratio for a player whose strength was his speed.

Once it became clear that Otero was never going to hit well enough to be a major league regular, he was replaced as the center fielder by prospect Wendell Magee.  Sadly, of the two players, Otero probably had the more successful Phillies career.

Final Analysis

With so many stars on the current Phillies, Victorino sometimes gets a bit overlooked.  That is a bit of a shame as Victorino has arguably been the team’s offensive MVP this season.

 It is almost taken for granted that center field is going to be a strength for the team.  That wasn’t always the case, as the team used to have to throw one-dimensional players like Otero out there and hope they contributed.

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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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Ghosts of Phillies Past: Cole Hamels and Shane Rawley

July 15, 2011

Not much Phillies action this past week with the All-Star break giving them four days off.  Naturally, my choice of featured Phillie for this week will be one of the three pitchers named to the All-Star team.

Featured Phillie of the Week: Cole Hamels

Hamels was deservedly selected to the NL’s All-Star pitching staff.  He had an outstanding first half of the season, going 11-4 with a 2.32 ERA.  And since his disappointing first start of the season, when he was knocked around by the Mets, he has arguably been the best pitcher in the league. 

Up to this season, Hamels has had a mostly great career – highlighted by his 2008 season when he was the World Series MVP.  However, due to several factors, his 2009 season was sub par.

As I talked about here, in 2010, he seemed determined to improve himself, and by season’s end, Hamels was performing like one of the best pitchers in baseball.  That success has carried over to 2011.  The 2011 version of Hamels seems far removed from what we saw in 2009.  He now has four dependable pitches – including his awesome changeup – and the requisite mental toughness to go along with it. 

He closed out the first half in top form by shutting down the Braves in the final game before the break.  He went 8 innings, only giving up three hits and one run.  Backed by a rare offensive outburst, he was able to cruise to an easy victory.

Unfortunately, due to a Major League Baseball rule, by pitching the final game before the break, he was ineligible to appear in the All-Star Game.  Hamels was disappointed by this, saying that Tuesday was his day to throw in the bullpen anyway, so there was no reason for him not to be eligible to pitch.

Regardless, the National League was able to win without him, thanks in part to the contributions of his fellow aces Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.

Ghost of Phillies Past: Shane Rawley

For my Ghost of Phillies Past, I will take a look at another Phillies lefthander who once made an All-Star Game.

Shane Rawley came to the Phillies in 1984 in a trade with the Yankees.  He had experienced moderate success in the American League, and he seemed like he might be a budding star.

He fit in nicely in the Phillies rotation behind Steve Carlton, and for the next couple of seasons, as Carlton’s career trailed off, he seemed to be emerging as the team’s new ace.

In 1986, he earned a trip to the All-Star Game, and in 1987, he became the first Phillie besides Carlton to be the team’s opening day starter since 1971.

Just as it looked like he was reaching the pinnacle of his career, things went downhill quickly.  He had an amazing start to the 1987 season, but dropped off severely in the second half.  His biggest problem appeared to be lack of control, as he was annually among the league leaders in walks allowed.

The career tailspin continued in 1988 as he went a disappointing 8-16 for a last place Phillies team.

In that offseason, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins for three players, most notably second baseman Tom Herr.  Sadly, the switch to the American League didn’t help turn around his career.  After a 5-12 season, Rawley’s major league career came to an end.

Final Analysis

Hamels has already had a better career than Rawley, being named to two All-Star teams and earning a World Series MVP.  He has experienced difficulty in his career and worked past it.  Now that he is entering the prime of his career, it would be shocking if he suffered a breakdown similar to Rawley’s.  I fully expect him to continue to be one of the league’s best pitchers.

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Ghosts of Phillies Past: Michael Stutes and Toby Borland

June 24, 2011

Welcome to the first edition of my new feature: Ghosts of Phillies Past. 

I wanted to illustrate the greatness of the current Phillies era, especially when compared to the franchise’s mostly sorry history.  In these days of division titles, four aces, and consecutive home sellouts, it might be easy to forget that the team’s outlook was not always so bright.. 

So I will take a (hopefully) weekly look at a current Phillie who has excelled, and also discuss a similar player from the past who didn’t quite encounter the same levels of success.

Featured Phillie of the Week

This week’s featured Phillie is relief pitcher Michael Stutes

Stutes has been one of the Phillies most dependable relievers this season.  Despite starting the season in the minors, Stutes has already appeared in 24 games with an excellent 2.38 ERA.  More importantly, manager Charlie Manuel seems to trust him as a late inning option, and he has come through in several high pressure situations.

This past week’s series in Seattle was a homecoming for the Oregon native, and he celebrated by pitching a scoreless inning and picking up the win in Saturday night’s victory over the Mariners.

He was less effective in Tuesday night’s game against the Cardinals, as he gave up a run.  However, the Phillies went on to score 9 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning, and as a result, Stutes earned his second win of the week.

Ghost of Phillies Past: Toby Borland

In comparison, I’ll take a look at another young Phillies reliever who was once thrust into a key bullpen spot.

Originally called up in the strike shortened 1994 season, right handed reliever Toby Borland didn’t impress anyone at first.  He seemed to have control issues, and could seemingly be counted on for at least one walked batter in every appearance.

The next season, after an ineffective start to the season, he was sent back to the minor leagues.  While in the minors, his coaches worked on improving his control.  One exercise they tried was to place a glove on a post on top of home plate.   Borland was instructed to practice simply hitting the glove with his pitches.

Amazingly, this exercise drastically improved his control.  When he returned to the big league club in 1995, his control was good enough that he became an effective reliever.  By season’s end, he was appearing in late-game situations, often as the team’s main setup man.

In 1996, the team hoped his success would continue, and he began the season as the team’s primary setup reliever.  Unfortunately, the improved control he had shown the year before abandoned him.  Part of the problem may have been that the 1996 Phillies were a bad team, and part of the problem may have been that Borland had simply overacheived the previous season.

Regardless of the cause, Borland’s tenure with the team ended after the 1996 season.  He stayed in the league a few more years, and even wound up back with the Phillies in 1998, but his second stint with the club was even less remarkable than his first.

Fun fact: Borland is the last Phillies player to wear number 42 before it was retired league wide in honor of Jackie Robinson

Final Word

With the injuries suffered by Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras, Stutes’ emergence has been a key to the team’s success thus far.  We can only hope that he is able to continue to excel and not quickly flame out like Borland did.