Off the field, the high-profile trainwreck known as the Philadelphia Phillies added doubts to an already shaken fan base. On the field, you need to dig through the archives and scour the back pages to locate the better morsels from 2006.
Tonight, the stars of the 2006 season, Chase Utley, Tom Gordon and derby king Ryan Howard, share the spotlight with some of the biggest names in baseball. As Howard showed last night, our best can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world. The oddest part is the scarlet hat on top.
Back home and above the fold, the Phillies’ principle owner said the Brett Myers thing didn’t happen, or at least, didn’t happen the way eyewitnesses and police thought it did. I won’t even touch this.
Instead of a midseason report card, in which I’m tempted to give the whole thing a failing grade, today’s space will be dedicated to giving some less-publicized developments their due.
Here's a sampling of what I've siphoned from the bone-dry tank:
Cole Hamels arrives in the big leagues
Huge news in May, and still huge today. This ranks right at the top, since 2006 has become all about the future. Hamels has struggled to find consistency, but so what? So do a lot of young pitchers.
There’s nothing more for Hamels to learn in the minor leagues, and in a fortunate twist in the timeline of his development, he arrived just before the wrecking balls are about to hit.
Hamels’ erratic location and situational pitch selection can be solved in the majors. Truthfully, there’s nobody to fill his spot in the rotation, forcing the Phillies to keep him, in spite of their better judgement.
Pitching from the stretch must also be solved in the majors. He misses too many bats in the minors to develop this part of his game.
The argument about bringing him up too fast does not apply. Every team is doing it this way, and Hamels is the right kind of pitcher to do it with. Gavin Floyd was not, but as we know, Gavin Floyd is weak.
Ryan Howard can hit lefties
There were two Ryan Howards this season. The first was an RBI singles hitter who waited through patient at bats against left-handers. The second was the home run hitter who struck out at an enormous rate and looked defeated against lefties.
Most of us already knew Howard had 40-50-home run potential. What we didn’t know, for sure, was how he’d develop against left-handed pitching. After 98 at bats, he’s hitting .235 with 5 homers, a marked improvement over last season.
Since his 2000 debut, there’s been a tendency from the Phillies insular broadcast team to list Jimmy Rollins as one of the game’s elite defensive shortstops. Meanwhile, fans have a tendency to turn a deaf ear to this praise because the 27-year-old hasn’t lived up to expectations as a lead-off hitter.
Stepping out of the bubble, more teams are sticking with young, light-hitting, slick fielding shortstops, to the point where the veteran Rollins should no longer stand out for his fielding.
Except for the fact that he still does.
Statistically, Rollins is back among the game’s best shortstops, after a year where he sunk into the middle of the pack. You’d never know by watching him, but it’s true: 2005 was his worst defensive year.
J-Roll is back to being the cornerstone of the Phillies defense, after a season when one could make a decent argument that David Bell was their best pound-for-pound infielder. This season, J-Roll is the only player that has shown competent defensive play throughout. If I had to make a second choice, my choice would be Pat Burrell. For all his limitations, he makes smart throws and does his best to cut off balls and avoid more trouble.
Scott Mathieson’s cup of coffee
Continuing with the theme of getting more young players involved, Mathieson and the Phils have to be happy with the way he pitched, specifically his last game against San Diego (8 IP, 3 ER). That kind of experience is sure to be worth just as much as a spending half the season blowing away Double-A hitters for a ridiculously bad Reading team.
33,581 a game, 11th in baseball. Contrarians argue that attendance is inflated by games with the Yankees, Red Sox and the Barry Bonds circus. Obviously, that’s part of it. Here’s the other part: word is getting out about the ballpark. It’s a great place to see a game, and the cheapest seats can be had for $12. There’s nothing more overrated than the stigma that it’s a hostile, unpleasant place to watch baseball and take the family. I’ve been there often, and even on the worst nights, it never gets terribly ugly. All things considered, the Phillies have drawn decent crowds, even in games with lesser teams like Pittsburgh and San Diego. They've also helped themselves with more promotions, such as the dollar dog nights.
The arms down on the farm
The Phillies aren’t sitting on the next Francisco Liriano, or even someone like Humberto Sanchez (Detroit - AAA), or Jason Hirsh (Houtson - AAA). However, they have a strong batch of talent at two levels, including Double-A Reading and Class-A Lakewood. Suddenly, the future of pitching isn’t quite so bleak.
Here’s what they’ve got:
Mathieson, RHP: 7-2, 3.21 ERA, 91 IP, 98 SO, .221 BAA
Gonzalez, LHP: 4-9, 4.08 ERA, 99.1 IP, 112 SO, .232 BAA
Happ, LHP: 1-1, 3.38 ERA, 10.2 IP (recent call-up)
Segovia, RHP: 6-4, 3.82, 70.2 IP, 18 BB, 46 SO, .244 BAA
An aside on Gonzalez, who is just 20-years-old. He’s got a long way to go in his development. He has issues with his control and cannot shake off bad innings.
It’s much too early to waive a red flag over one stat, but I’ll pass it along anyway: 16 homers surrendered at the half-way point, on pace to break a Reading record held by Robinson Tejeda (29 in 2004). Don’t look for Gonzalez in red pinstripes until late 2007 at the very earliest.
An aside on Segovia, who I haven’t seen pitch. The line on the 23-year-old former second-round pick reminds me of Carlos Silva’s when he was in Reading. In shortened time, eighteen walks is pretty Silvarian, and for the most part, he’s kept the ball in the yard with only seven long balls.
Here are the numbers from Lakewood, which is largely beyond my scope.
Maloney, LHP: 9-5, 1.61 ERA, 100.2 IP, 110 SO, 44 BB, 3 HR
Outman, LHP: 7-5, 3.61 94.2 IP, 54 BB, 94 SO, 3 HR
Carrasco, RHP: 6-5, 2.66 ERA, 94.2 IP, 35 BB, 95 SO, 4 HR
Kendrick, RHP: 3-2, 2.15 ERA, 46.0 IP, 54 SP, 15 BB, 0 HR