Mid-season thoughts, pt. 1: The future

There are a number of things to note about the Phillies as they currently stand.
It is unlikely they will make enough noise to make a serious run, though they’ve done crazy things before.

Here the focus is on different elements of individual players, in no particular order.
This post addresses seven Phillies who are less likely trade targets or not at all on the block – Revere, Brown, Howard, Delmon Young, Rollins, Hamels, and Kendrick.
See part 2 for notes on five players potentially on the trading block.

1. Ben Revere: his future

Ben Revere has quietly taken over the team lead in average. I noticed that yesterday afternoon right after he hit a 2-run triple with two outs. From Todd Zolecki:

While his slugging percentage is still slightly lower than last year, that isn’t necessarily as bad as some make it out to be (alright, his line was .295/.331/.342 at the day’s start — his average is .300 after 3 hits tonight).

What kind of hitter is everyone hoping Revere will become? A leadoff hitter. As long as he improves his OBP and gets timely hits like today’s triple, I’ll likely consider his slugging percentage more or less in passing.

Not only that, but he seems to be tracking the ball better in the field. That’s reassuring for the Phillies, who traded for Revere hoping he would be the center-fielder of the future.

2. Domonic Brown: a breakout year

Finally Domonic Brown has been given the chance to shine. After a monster May (I wrote about it here), Brown has cooled off just a bit. Brown has continued to contribute, however. With the home run and triple yesterday, his line improved slightly to .281/.326/.560.

Brown will participate in his first of hopefully many All-Star Games with the Phillies. If the Phillies think he will continue to produce at a high level, it may behoove them to start working on a deal now, because they don’t exactly have a great track record with his agent, Scott Boras.

3. Ryan Howard: the “Big Piece” in pieces

If the Phillies had any chance of trading Ryan Howard, it was likely contingent on his success during these next few weeks. Now that he’s on the DL again (for 6-8 weeks with a meniscus tear), it’s even more unlikely anyone is willing to deal for him. He’s become injury-prone and is not the hitter he once was. Count on that contract staying on the books.

4. Delmon Young: more or less meeting expectations

His fielding is still not great, but an interesting tidbit – his range factor (thanks, Baseball-Reference) is just about as good as it’s ever been for an extended period, at 2.15. Again, not great, but at least the Phillies are seeing a moderately better fielding Delmon Young than they could be.

Fielding aside, he’s starting to hit. Young entered today’s game .274/.325/.435, which is significantly improved from the kinds of numbers he was putting up earlier in the year. With those things in mind, an AL team with a need at DH could call. No teams currently come to mind, and teammate Michael Young would seem to fit that bill better (see part 2), but injuries happen.

Here are some thoughts I had when the Phillies signed Young. I noted others’ Hunter Pence comparisons, which aren’t actually very far off at this point in the season. Young has a slightly higher average, higher OBP, and moderately lower slugging percentage. Pence has more HR and RBI (and indeed RBI is an important stat) and has a better range factor and fielding percentage, but has fewer assists.

In fact, since they’re now playing the same position, it’s probably more of a fair comparison this year than it was in 2012. Pence is still more of a clutch hitter, but the comparison is not as flawed as previously thought. Keep in mind that Pence is making $13.8 million this year. Young’s total when the Phillies signed him, assuming he reached the built-in incentives, was $3.5 million.

5. Jimmy Rollins: power shortage

Jimmy Rollins has regressed in power; there’s not really a way around that. He’s still a great defensive shortstop, though, which has always been one of his strengths. Unfortunately, however, his baserunning has also fallen off. With only 9 stolen bases (including tonight’s game) and 6 times being caught stealing, Rollins has dropped off a long way, as he had 30 stolen bases last year.

That said, if someone is willing to take on what he’s owed in 2014 as well as the vesting option and give up some good prospects, it’s not totally out of the question for Rollins to be traded. Rollins is the longest-tenured Phillie, but if someone unexpectedly puts together a good package, there may be reason to think twice about keeping him.

6. Cole Hamels: 2009 again?

Remember the last time Cole Hamels had a great year, followed by a not-so-great year? Okay, it’s not the best of comparisons; Hamels was still a great pitcher in ’09, but getting a lot of bad breaks. The bottom line, though, is that Hamels is better than he’s currently pitching, and that will return. Hopefully the team can provide him enough consistent run support to allow him the space to return to his former self. He’s in the first year of a huge deal, and he will get better again and play closer to the caliber the contract commands.

7. Kyle Kendrick: consistency for the middle of the rotation

Amidst all the woes the Phillies have seen this year, Kyle Kendrick has been fairly solid. With an ERA of 3.90 — on par with how he finished last year — and has had two complete games, including a shutout. He’s inducing plenty of groundouts and keeping his team in games. Kendrick has done what is asked and expected of him as a reliable mid-to-late rotation arm. Kendrick has given up a large number of runs a few times this year, but also has 7 quality starts. He isn’t striking out a lot of guys, but his walk total has gone down. If Kendrick can become more consistent, he will continue to be valuable to the club.

Thoughts on Delmon Young

Amidst talks of the Phillies signing Scott Hairston or trading for Vernon Wells, they went out and made what could end up being a gem of a move.

Their one-year, $750K (with incentives for more) signing of Delmon Young is the definition of low-risk, high reward. If things don’t work out, they will not have spent a wad of money (Hairston is reportedly asking for 2 years, $8 million) or given up prospects.

I’ve seen comparisons of Young’s 2012 stats to those of former Phillie Hunter Pence.
While there are some reasons this is not a fair comparison (e.g. RBI, OBP, primary position), it’s an interesting argument.

Amazingly, Young had a better year in a few categories, but Pence will likely make far more than Young’s base $750K. With incentives, Young could get up to around $3.25 million, but one would rightly think his performance, if earning those incentives, will make it worth the extra cash.

Granted, Young was used heavily at DH last year, but if Young’s numbers can improve as he fights for the corner outfield spot, he will be well worth the contract.

If he improves in the right areas, he could also be good protection for Ryan Howard in the lineup, and a right-handed bat to split Chase Utley and Howard from whichever lefty bats in the 6 hole.

Three things Young will need to work at, whether or not he gets the starting job:

1. Plate Discipline
His career OBP is .317, and it was under .300 last year. He only walked 20 times in 151 games last year. He’ll need to learn when to take some pitches, especially if he is to be Howard’s protection.

2. Defense
Young is a slight defensive downgrade from Pence. His range factor and fielding percentage are slightly lower over his career, and he also didn’t play as much in the outfield last year.

3. Off-field Issues
I’ve listed this as “off-field issues,” but sometimes they show up on the field, too. Young would be best advised to keep a low profile and just work hard at the game. He’s made some mistakes, and he needs to keep his cool and not be a distraction in the clubhouse – or anywhere else.

It won’t be clear until the season starts to progress how good a move this is, but it’s the kind of minor move consistent with Ruben Amaro Jr.’s approach this offseason that has a chance to really improve the team.