If you would have told me back in March that I'd be writing this piece in September, I would have looked at you funny. But, here we are. The Phillies never really clicked this year after winning 102 games last year, and took a step backwards in nearly every facet of the game. Injuries also played a huge role on this team, with pretty much every relevant player aside from franchise stalwarts Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels missing time this year. Throw it all in a blender, and what do you have? A .500 team in the NL East.
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
What Went Right: CHOOOOOOOOOOOOCH. Catcher Carlos Ruiz had a career year at age 33, and gave the Phillies their best season from a catcher since the heyday of Mike Lieberthal a decade ago. Jimmy Rollins made his three year contract extension looked like a bargain, homering 23 times and stealing 30 bases after three straight disappointing years. Juan Pierre, Kevin Frandsen, and Erik Kratz came out of nowhere to play big roles for the team, with Pierre actually transitioning into a starting role in the outfield. In his half season of play, Chase Utley looked like the Chase Utley of old, walking more than he struck out, homering 11 times and stealing ten bases. On the mound, the rotation was good, but not nearly as good as last season.
What Went Wrong: Injuries murdered this team. For the first half of the year without Utley and Ryan Howard, the Phillies essentially had no contingency plan, rolling with the all-glove no-bat Freddy Galvis at second (until he fractured his back and was suspended for PED use) and career bench bat Ty Wigginton at first. Upon his return, Howard struggled more than he ever has despite a high RBI total, striking out in more than a third of his at bats along with posting career worst numbers in pretty much every offensive category, including walk rate, ISO, and OBP. Domonic Brown got a callup after Shane Victorino was traded, and struggled (again) in the majors, bringing his long-term future in Philly into question (again). Placido Polanco was a disaster at third base and was wrought with injuries for half of the year. The starting rotation was good, but not great like last year. The starters' ERA jumped by a full run, and every one of the starting five missed time during the season except for Cole Hamels, including Vance Worley being shut down in September with elbow chips. Roy Halladay has dealt with numerous injuries, including the most troubling one just this week: a sore shoulder. The bullpen was pretty awful aside from new closer Jonathan Papelbon, who is actually having the second worst season of his career in terms of fWAR.
Most Surprising Player: Coming into 2012, Carlos Ruiz's career high in home runs was nine. Of course, he's nearly doubled that in just 109 games this season. Ruiz's ISO this season is also 50% higher than his career mark, and he's also still providing fantastic defense behind the plate for the Phillies. Of course, his power will probably come down to earth next year, if that 15.8% HR/FB and .334 BABIP are any indication. GM Ruben Amaro's treatment of Ruiz will be telling to see if he learned anything from the Howard extension. Ruiz will be 34 before the start of next season, had a career year this year, and has a bargain basement $5 million club option for 2013. It's not necessary to hand him more than say, a two year contract extension for more than $8 million a year, and Amaro needs to be a little more judicious with his money after throwing it around like it grows on trees (which you could argue it does with the cashcow that is Citizens Bank Park).
Most Disappointing Player: I'm actually going to tempt the gods and say…Roy Halladay. In his first two years in Philly, Halladay was a Cy Young winner and a runner-up, had a 2.40 ERA between the two seasons, struck out 200 batters in each season, and threw over 230 innings each season. This year, the ERA has jumped by two full runs to 4.40. He's only thrown 151 1/3 innings and struck out 125, while his walks actually remained consistent (in total, not rate) at 33. He went from a 6.75 strikeout to walk ratio over the last two years to 3.79 this year. Halladay will be 35 next May, and with the shoulder soreness he's experiencing right now, Phillies fans will be holding their breath across the country.
Prospects Up: 2010 first round pick Jesse Biddle looks like one of the top pitching prospects in baseball at age 20, striking out a batter per inning in high-A Clearwater and showing some fantastic stuff. Sebastian Valle showed no plate discipline to speak of behind the plate in AA and AAA, but had a nice power streak. He may have lost some luster after the acquistion of Tommy Joseph in the Hunter Pence trade to the Giants. Extremely raw third baseman Maikel Franco improved tremendously in his first full year at A-ball with Lakewood, showing solid pop and good plate discipline. Tyler Cloyd posted a fantastic 15-1 record in the minors with a 2.26 ERA, but his lack of an out pitch resulted in him getting pummeled for eight homers in 33 major league innings. Finally, there's the case of Darin Ruf, who was way too old for the AA Eastern League at 26, but showed power that is impressive no matter his age, homering 38 times on the season.
Prospects Down: In his first taste of AA, Trevor May's strikeout rate dropped to a "pedestrian" batter per inning in Reading, while he still struggled with his walks and had a newfound issue with the gopher ball. Brody Colvin did OK for Clearwater, but walked more hitters than he struck out in seven starts at Reading. 2011 first round pick Larry Greene showed absolutely none of his tremendous raw power this year in low-A Williamsport, and while he did walk a good bit, he struck out at a Howard-esque clip.
The Future: This is the last stand for this Phillies team. Utley is a free agent after 2013, as are Ruiz and Halladay, who has a vesting option for 2014 that likely will not vest due to the provision requiring him to combine to throw 415 innings between 2012 and 2013 (meaning that he'd need to throw somewhere in the neighborhood of 260 innings next season, a near impossibility in this age of baseball). The 2013 Phillies team will still have holes at third base (where Polanco's option will most certainly be declined), and potentially at all three outfield spots due to Pierre's impending free agency and the lackluster 2012 performances of Brown, Nate Schierholtz, and John Mayberry Jr. The worst part for the Phillies is that prior to any options being extended or free agents signed, the team already has $133 million commited to payroll next season and $97.5 million in 2014 (on just five players, nonetheless). With a farm system that is lacking major league ready bats aside from Ruf and a free agent market that is looking extremely light at third base, the Phillies are in a position where Amaro might panic and overpay one of the center fielders on the market, which would be the equivalent of patching a gunshot wound with a band-aid. Things could *really* turn bad next season if health is once again an issue, which it likely will be given the age of all of Philadephia's core players.