Rubén’s Final Exam: Grading the Phillies’ 2011-12 Offseason [Poll]
Postseason baseball has been awesome this year. The play-in game, however unfair a concept, certainly didn’t make the playoffs any less interesting. All four division series went 5 games, Raul Ibanez stole A-Rod’s emergency stash of mojo, the Nats blew a 2-run lead in what could have been the final inning of the NLDS, and Chipper Jones’ last professional baseball game featured this…
But as delightful as the experience has been so far, it is, of course, bittersweet. Our Phillies have been toast since July, and though their late playoff push was encouraging, it ultimately did little to pacify an increasingly irritated fan base. The Eagles are floundering, there’s no hockey, and the Sixers are missing their biggest acquisition. We need some catharsis. I’m here to help.
Some of the problems that led to the Phillies’ 81-81 finish were apparent from the start of spring training. Although nobody could forsee Doc’s malady or Cliff’s poor luck, there were obvious issues at left field, all four infield spots, and in the bullpen. It was Amaro’s job to fill these gaps. Now with 162 games-worth of hindsight at my disposal, I’m going to revisit Amaro’s most important offseason acquisitions and issue his final report card.
There’s a decent chance he’ll get held back a grade.
Jonathan Papelbon (70.0 Innings Pitched) – It seems like every year, Amaro just has to have one BIG acquisition. Welcome to Philly, Paps. (Terrible nickname. Forget I said that.)
Papsy JPap Cinco Papelbon signed a 4-year, 50 gazillion dollar deal after 6 stellar seasons and 4 All Star games with the BoSox. He didn’t disappoint. In 42 opportunities, Papelbon recorded 38 saves and a 2.44 ERA. While that last mark doesn’t look particularly impressive in light of Fernando Rodney’s or Craig Kimbrel’s ridiculous seasons, consider the following (sorry, it’s about to get a technical): Papelbon finished with a .302 Batting-Average-on-balls-in-play (BAbip), so barring injury his performance is most likely repeatable. 11 of the 12 closers* with a lower ERA than Papelbon had a sub-.300 BAbip (the league average every year is .300), and huge outliers like Rodney (.225 BAbip) and Huston Street (.181 BAbip) are very unlikely to be able to repeat their unreal 2012 ERAs. Papelbon has been remarkably consistent in his career, recording 35+ saves in 6 of his 7 seasons. He has to work on limiting walks (18), but if he keeps up this performance over the life of his deal, it will maybe almost be worth it. The only problem is his salary. At $11M in 2012 and $13M for the next 3 years, his contract precluded the acquisition of a quality 7th/8th inning pitcher in 2011, which must be factored into his grade.
Chad Qualls (31.1 IP) – 4.60 ERA, 1.532 WHIP, 7 homeruns given up. I’d say his appearances looked like batting practice, but I’ve seen pitching machines with a better change up. Qualls made me miss David Herndon. This is what happens when you pay your closer $50 million.
Raul Valdes (31.0 IP) – Before coming to Philadelphia on a minor-league contract, Valdes had his most extensive major league action with the New York Mets in 2010. The 34 year old lefty was called up in mid-May and didn’t give up an earned run until his 8th appearance, but disappeared for much of the summer before getting on Rich Dubee’s good side again in early August. In all, Valdes’ numbers are impressive for a career minor-league junkballer. In 27 games, he put up a 2.90 ERA with 35 strikeouts and just 5 walks. While his .217 BAbip against suggests he won’t have quite as much success next season, the 7.0 strikeout/walk ratio is impressive. Yes, 31.0 innings is a small sample size, but that ratio was good for 10th best in the league (Cliff Lee was 9th). Valdes was a nice find for Amaro.
Dontrelle Willis (haha) – The 2003 Rookie of the Year turned wild-pitch specialist signed for $1 million as a bullpen arm. Released in March, retired in July.
Needs to fill – SS, 1B (backup), 2B (backup), 3B
Jimmy Rollins (SS, 699 Plate Appearances) – Rollins re-upped with the Phillies, signing a 3-year $33M contract with a 4th year option that could keep him here through 2015. Rollins had a poor start to the season at the plate but rebounded in the summer, retaining his spot as one of the best power-hitting shortstops in the league. Considering the dearth of talent of Rollins’ caliber at his price point, Amaro really couldn’t have done much better here. It was a fair contract for both sides, and really a no-brainer.
Ty Wigginton (1B/3B, 360 PA) – Wigginton was acquired from Colorado to add some pop to the lineup in Ryan Howard’s absence. It didn’t quite work out that way. Wigginton hit for a miserable .235 AVG/.314 OBP/.375 SLG and was an absolute nightmare in the field. He actually had a respectable .991 fielding percentage at 1st base, with 4 errors in in 417.1 innings. But at 3rd, Wiggy was about as useful as a lawn flamingo. He recorded 8 costly errors in just 22 games at the hot corner, finishing with a putrid fielding percentage of .833. Wigginton earned $4 million for his efforts, half of which was paid by the Rockies.
Jim Thome (1B/PH, 71 PA) – As much as we love Ryan Howard, we’d all be lying to ourselves if we didn’t admit that every once in a while, late at night, we find ourselves making stop motion videos of a Jim Thome bobblehead wrecking a Mr. Met figurine… No? Just me? Anyway, point is, plenty of people were excited and intrigued by the move to bring him back. Rubén’s idea was that Thome would primarily be a power lefty pinch hitter, à la Matt Stars, and play 1st base about once a week. It sounded like a great fit. Jim still loved Philly, was still friends with Cholly, and could instantly inject Hall-of-Fame type power to a slugger-less lineup. Unfortunately both Rubén and Jim underestimated the effects of aging on Thome’s fielding capabilities. As a result, Thome played sparingly, and never got his bat really going until a long AL road trip during which he played DH and smacked a few bombs against the Twins. Thome’s value to the team was salvaged a bit by a midseason trade to the Baltimore Orioles for a couple mid-level catching and pitching prospects.
Needs to fill – LF
Juan Pierre (OF, 439 PA) – Looking to fill the gap left by Raul Ibanez’s departure, Amaro elected to pursue then-34 year old free agent Juan Pierre. He was signed to a 1-year, $800 k minor league deal and there was little fanfare for the move at the time. Although the old speedster had lost a step or two, never had any power nor a good arm from the outfield, Pierre would prove to be the team’s best signing. Hitting above .300 for the 6th time in his career, Pierre also led the team in stolen bases with 37 in 44 attempts, a career-best in stolen base success rate (84%). He also touched home 59 times, 2nd most on the team after Jimmy Rollins. Pierre is exactly the kind of cheap, effective free agent that the salary-laden Phillies need if they hope to succeed.
Laynce Nix (OF/1B, 127 PA) – Nix was supposed to platoon in left field and make some starts at first base, but injuries limited him to just 15 game appearances in June and July combined. His .246/.315/.412 batting line and 16 RBI didn’t help matters much, either. Nix is only earning an average of $1.25M per season, so his poor year didn’t hurt the team that badly. It’s hard to blame the GM for injuries. Nix has a chance to bounce back next year, but his .357 BABip in 2012 indicates that a big improvement is less likely because his poor numbers were actually bolstered by some good luck. When all the bounces are going your way and you still hit sub-.250, you might be in trouble.
While Amaro’s two most-expensive acquisitions played very well, the rest of this incoming crop of players suffered as a result. It sure looks like Rollins earned his money this year, but even Papelbon’s continued excellence might never make up for his exorbitant salary. His contract made it impossible to hire higher-quality depth. Every GM will make a bad signing or two each year – it just goes with the territory – but like the rest of the team, Amaro’s miscues were proportionate to his successes. This is a lesson in building a mediocre team with a huge payroll.
Final Grade: C
Not bad enough to get fired, not good enough to survive another slip up.
Posted on October 22, 2012, in Hank Mushinski, Phillies, Posts, Stats Posts and tagged Chad Qualls, Craig Kimbrel, Dontrelle Willis, Fernando Rodney, Hot Stove, Jim Thome, Jimmy Rollins, Jonathan Papelbon, Juan Pierre, Laynce Nix, Offseason, Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies, Raul Valdes, Ruben Amaro, Ty Wigginton. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.