Rise and Fall with Rollins and Utley
Part 1 of a three-part series by Nick Carroll, with stats by Hank. Find Part 2 here. Click to enlarge all graphs below.
When Harry Kalas was singing “High Hopes” and Brett Myers and company was celebrating on the field at Citizens Bank Park on a Sunday afternoon in September 2007, something seemed to change in Philadelphia baseball.
The oft-downtrodden Phillies had reason to celebrate, and seemingly out of nowhere.
We all know the story. After the Phils overtook the New York Mets, they began an unprecedented run in team history.
They followed up with a World Series which was almost as unexpected and made another spirited run before falling two games short.
Two more years of substantial win totals came with disappointing playoff runs, but, at the very least, the Phillies put their stamp on a certain era of Major League Baseball, something this franchise had only done one other time – in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
I’ll admit I often fall into the trap of thinking that it all began on that Sunday afternoon when the Phillies finally overtook the Mets (or the Mets completed their collapse, either way). In reality, the wheels had been in motion for a decade.
Not that I’m particularly old or a veteran in my Phillies experience, but I feel it when I recall going to games at The Vet with a ticket I got from a package of hot dogs. In what now seems like lifetimes ago, the Phillies were downright terrible in the late 90’s. Even in 2000, the team traded for Andy Ashby and finally had some buzz. They marketed the rebuilt squad with bravado – “Bring It On.” That team lost 97 games and traded Curt Schilling in July.
I, like a lot of Phillies fans recently, haven’t really enjoyed watching this team much this season. It seems like a good time to mark that this team is no longer what it was over the last 11 years.
Now, throwing dirt on this era of success, 2000 becomes an interesting season to analyze.
The product on the field was a complete disappointment, but that team featured the building blocks of a world fucking champion.
Ed Wade, with Mike Arbuckle’s assistance, took Chase Utley that June. In September, Jimmy Rollins, another Wade/Arbuckle choice, arrived in Philadelphia.
The following season, the club got off to a hot start and challenged the Atlanta Braves through the end of the season. Since then, the Phillies won at least 80 games every year.
Chase Utley got to the Majors in 2003. Since then, the Phillies have been in the playoff race pretty much every year.
And as Rollins and Utley grew into their respective primes, the Phillies rose with them.
It’s somewhat easy to forget that, only a short time into the Phillies’ run at the top of baseball, both middle infielders were 29-years-old when they won the 2008 World Series.
This is where Hank’s work comes into play.
Both players peaked between 2007 and 2008. Their ascent mirrored the Phillies’ rise from basement dweller to playoff stalwart.
When evaluating the shortcomings of the Phillies in recent seasons, it’s been somewhat common for the Rollins and Utley to take some of the blame. The real problem is that this team still relies on the two to be the same as they were when they were each 29-years-old in order to have success.
That said, who could have seen this coming?
Domonic Brown represents the next era in Phillies baseball. Watching him emerge this season has been both exciting and refreshing. He’s also the first everyday player the Phillies developed and retained since Carlos Ruiz. Let me rephrase – Domonic Brown is the only everyday Phillie that was drafted or signed by the team since Wade left in 2005!
(Note: Brown was taken by Pat Gillick, with Arbuckle still in the front office.)
That the Phillies lack offense shouldn’t be surprising. This team just got old.
Rollins and Utley shouldn’t shoulder any blame for this team’s shortcomings. Rollins is still a very productive shortstop, and has been remarkably consistent despite dropping off from his his otherworldly ’07 season. Utley, when healthy, remains one of the game’s most successful second basemen (.267/.328/.472 is pretty…pretty…preeeeetttttty good). For middle-infielders, they’re still remarkably productive. But they’re no longer MVP-caliber. Nobody should expect them to be. At 34 years old, they’re well their athletic peaks.
Really, the Phillies rise and fall reflected Rollins’ and Utley’s career arcs. In 2013, this team needs a different complexion with its lineup. The middle infield could easily be productive players, in the twilight of each of their respective careers, for a competitive team. This lineup needed a more significant youthful injection over to continue its production. Instead, Ruben Amaro has trotted out the same team he inherited and applied Band-Aids with other, less productive aging vets.
While 2013 has come as a shock to many, we should have seen it coming. The lineup hasn’t changed. These players were going to tail off eventually. And without the proper management to prevent a precipitous drop off, the Phillies have finally fallen.