January 20, 2011
We all have questions about the 2011 season and Alex Remington luckily has some answers. Like he did last season, The Stew's resident stats guru will address baseball's big questions as opening day approaches.
The Situation: Everyone knows that the Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff got better this offseason: They replaced the injured Jamie Moyer(notes) with the best free agent on the market, Cliff Lee(notes), and created a four-man rotation for the ages.
But when it comes to offense, it wasn't all roses in the brotherly city, as they let Jayson Werth(notes), their best hitter from 2010, walk on free agency. This was no big surprise given how much money Werth wanted, but it was still a blow. Since his arrival in 2007, he has the team's third-best hitter behind Chase Utley(notes) and Ryan Howard(notes), and they won four division titles and one championship with him in the lineup after having missed the playoffs every year since 1993. Top prospect Domonic Brown(notes) plays right field, but he doesn't seem ready for the challenge just yet.
The Question: Just how much will the Phillies miss Jayson Werth's offense in 2011?
The Analysis: The Phillies' right-field situation involves a couple of names right now with the most prominent being Ben Francisco(notes), a part-timer who had a decent season last year, and top prospect Domonic Brown, who struggled in a showcase last year following Raul Ibanez's(notes) injury. Right now, Ben Francisco is the putative right fielder, and the Phillies reportedly would prefer to have Brown start the season in AAA.
As Matt Gelb wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Francisco will enter spring training as the favorite to earn a majority of the playing time in right field. He could win the job outright, or the Phillies could opt for a platoon involving some combination of Francisco, Domonic Brown, Ross Gload(notes), and John Mayberry(notes) Jr.
Gload is a known quantity and that quantity is not good: While he had the second-best season of his career last year while collecting 128 at-bats in 94 games, he's a pinch-hitter who has neither the bat nor the glove to merit significant playing time.
Francisco, likewise, is a known quantity: He has produced very similar numbers the past two years in part-time action and is an almost completely average hitter and fielder.
Mayberry, meanwhile, is a relatively unknown quantity, a left-handed, 27-year-old minor league slugger with nice power but poor plate discipline who hasn't yet received much playing time. The Phillies will likely try to give him a chance to prove himself while Brown gets additional seasoning in Triple-A.
Werth is a big loss for the ballclub, a five-win player with a booming bat and solid glove. Francisco is worth about a win, and considering the flaws in his possible platoon partners, it's hard to imagine that any conceivable platoon could be worth more than a win or two for the Phillies.
They're all keeping the seat warm for Brown, of course, but Brown isn't ready yet — he only played 28 games at Triple-A, and only 102 games at Double-A before his callup, and his unreadiness was demonstrated by his weak numbers: a .612 OPS and 24 strikeouts in 70 at-bats. He's virtually assured to see significant playing time in 2011, but it's hard to imagine that he'll be significantly better than Ben Francisco in 2011. He could be a monster in 2012, but he's just not ready yet. So, while he gets in his time on the farm, the Phillies probably won't do much better than a Francisco/Mayberry platoon, with a spot start from Gload here and there. That platoon could be worth two wins (or possibly three, if Mayberry goes absolutely nuts or Brown comes on with a vengeance later in the year), but it will still be a significant downgrade from Werth.
The Forecast for 2011: The Phillies stand to lose two to three wins worth of offense. Fortunately for them, though, they more than made up for that in their rotation — Cliff Lee was worth 6 1/2 wins more than Jamie Moyer in 2010, and figures to be about as valuable again in 2011. So, on paper, even though the offense is three wins worse, the team is actually three wins better, thanks to the man with the golden arm. That's a scary prospect to other National League teams, considering that the Phillies already won 97 games last year. So, how much will the Phillies miss Jayson Werth's offense? They'll probably be too busy winning a lot of 3-1 games to notice.