If you were to pinpoint the goat for 2014 on the 25-man roster of the Philadelphia Phillies before the season, you would have selected Jonathan Papelbon. He would have been the favorite to wear the horns of scorn.
Please, scroll down for this edition of Genuine Insight: Questions of Production.
This article represents the thinking of a baseball man in my opinion. Reading people is the answer to their decisions: past, present and future. Also, there is a humanizing element.
Barring reviews submitted to sites with a larger readership, there will be a published storyline each week.
Questions of Production:
While every six-month tour is unpredictable, it doesn’t take Phillies fans long to form an opinion despite the ups and downs of a 162-game schedule.
The current Phillies squad left Clearwater with low expectations, and one reason was the combination of five players. Which according to some of the faithful meant the Phils could only record 73 victories. If so, how can they be a disappointment? If anything, these underdogs could be a surprise.
The tempered excitement in late March revolved around five stars: Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and especially Papelbon with his lack of velocity. Among the many downsides of these players, the factors voiced most often are age and a diminished skill set. Also, Byrd and Ruiz have had an MLB banned-substance suspension. Basically, those descriptions indicate past-their-prime studs and unmovable bloated contracts that Ruben Amaro Jr. could have avoided.
According to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com before the current losing spell, Papelbon was collecting postgame handshakes, albeit not with a fireballer’s style. The scribe believed the meltdown on April 3 in Texas may have been a difference-maker for the hammer. However, the thinking here was that someone ordered a new approach to lock down wins.
This article covers the fans’ perception of the general manager and the five pros.
The Leadoff Hitter:
Rollins, the if king, is the topic of many heated and never-ending debates. He would excel if he would take more pitches, if he would hustle to first base, if he would use his speed, and if he would be a strong leader. Hypothetically, if he cares about the fans, he would not exercise his no-trade rights for the good of the club.
Suggestions for J-Roll have included batting near the bottom of the lineup. And among the many things he should do are bunting for hits, not popping up, and not swinging for home runs.
In his career year of 2007, he averaged .296 with 30 long balls, 94 RBI, 139 runs and 41 SB out of 47 attempts. That stated, his best numbers since ’07 have been .277 (’08), 23 homers (’12), 77 RBI (’08), 102 runs (’12) and 47 SB out of 50 opportunities (’09).
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The Free-Agent Signing:
According to many of the faithful, Byrd’s second time in town was another poor decision by Amaro and a waste of $16 million. How could the GM have preferred the former Phillies’ farm product over Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz, Michael Morse and Cory Hart. However, the head honcho considered defense and frequent questioners did not. For the most part, Beltran’s days as an effective right fielder are near the end. Cruz is a DH and a left fielder, Morse plays left field, and Hart is a DH. Of the five possibilities, only Byrd prevents runs with his glove.
At this point, the new right fielder has surprisingly played in the most contests of any regular. Last season, he hit .291 with 24 long balls and 88 RBI and his production is on target for similar results.
The Middle of the Order:
For the last two summers combined, Howard appeared in 151 games with 546 at-bats and averaged .244 with 25 homers, 99 RBI and 194 punch-outs. He did that despite recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon in ’12 and requiring season-ending knee surgery after three months of ’13. However, many believed he could not even match those stats this year. When you ask his detractors about accepting .250, 30 home runs and 100 RBI, they scoff that his usual is not good enough.
What is Howard’s output? For his last full campaign (2011), his statistics were .253, 33 long balls, 116 RBI and 172 strikeouts. But the expectations now are 150 punch-outs with more productive outs and better defense.
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The Third Choice:
During the offseason, the complaints were that Ruiz was too old and had questionable production, and management had failed to have a young replacement ready because of deals in recent years. That stated, the more desirable receivers available were Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. In other words, Ruiz was the best of the rest.
Chooch finished 2012 at .325 with 16 long balls and 68 RBI. By comparison, during his limited 2013 he averaged .268 with five homers and 37 RBI.
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Papelbon was on the trading block from last July through spring training. Hazarding a guess on the Phillies’ digestive tract, the opinion here is that the organization would have swallowed $8 million of the $26 million for this summer and next to dump him. But nobody wanted him for $8 million–period. Meanwhile, Heath Bell had more suitors.
After Papelbon’s blown save in early April, the Internet crashed below an ocean of venom. Then, he righted the ship. Of course, if Cinco Ocho fails in consecutive opportunities, the natives will grumble. And calls for a replacement will begin progressively growing louder.
During his first season here, Papelbon locked down 38 victories out of 42 attempts with a 2.44 ERA. Last year, he had a 2.92 ERA with 29 saves out of 36 chances, but the Braves almost literally knocked him off the mound in his final appearance. Now, he is mixing his pitches, consistently maintaining 92-93 mph on the radar gun, and even punching out opponents with high 93-mph heaters. Remarkably, the fireballer has turned into a pitcher before our eyes.
Most likely, Rollins, Byrd, Howard, Ruiz and Papelbon will encounter more rough patches during this campaign; and each will hear the boos and the assessments of their demise, which is locally the safest prediction for 2014 baseball.
Can you identify with them? Occasionally, you make hard-to-believe promises (Rollins), have to prove you still have it (Byrd), get performance reviews (Howard), do your job without appreciation (Ruiz), and blame others for your shortcomings (Papelbon).
As an underdog, these red pinstripes are a team that will give everybody countless reasons to gripe and cheer.
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