COMMENTARY | 2013 will be here in a matter of hours. While many of us will be making our New Year's resolutions to lose weight, quit bad habits or move to Hawai'i - I had a friend that actually said he would do that one year - it's time to look at some of the x-factors that will determine how the course of the Phillies' 2013 season will run.
Every team has a number of what if's that could make or break their season. Even teams with high expectations like the Nationals, Dodgers and Angels are one fractured fibula away from being in real trouble.
The Phillies have three big what if's in 2013 - Health, Patience and Potential.
Injuries to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard put the Phillies behind the eight ball early last season followed by a mid-season injury to Roy Halladay. Yes, they are in their mid-30's and many fans have written all three of them off as "washed up." But even if they are not the players they were two years ago, they still have a lot of value.
Despite posting a 4.49 ERA with no complete games in 2012, Roy Halladay ate up 156.1 innings in 25 starts (6+ innings per start). He also had a 20% strikeout percentage and a 1.22 WHIP. These aren't the kind of numbers you expect out of a two-time Cy Young award recipient, but he is still a quality starter if he's healthy.
Even with setbacks, Ryan Howard returned from an achilles injury in less than 12 months. He was clearly uncomfortable, never really reaching his normal form, yet he drove in 56 runs with 14 homers. A healthy Albert Pujols had 54 RBI and 16 home runs in that same span.
Chase Utley's knees will always be a big question mark no matter what he or his agent says. Forced out of the lineup until mid-season in 2011 and 2012, the status of Utley's knees will be a huge factor if the Phillies hope to rebound in 2013. He is their most consistent hitter but hasn't played in more than 115 games since 2009 when he hit .282 with 31 home runs and 93 RBI. A full season from Utley could pay huge dividends.
The Phillies lacked patience at the plate in 2012 ranking 13th in the National League in walks and 10th in On-Base Percentage. Much of this inadequacy can be attributed to the top of the order.
Leadoff hitters posted an overall OBP of .318 for the season - fourth worst on the team - while batters hitting second in the order posted a higher average and OBP, but had only 45 walks - second worst only to the pitcher's spot.
Jimmy Rollins, who has been the Phillies' primary leadoff hitter since 2001, posted just a .316 OBP last season with his highest strikeout total since 2003. The newly acquired Ben Revere, who could usurp Rollins as the leadoff hitter, posted a .333 OBP in 2012.
Believe it or not, the Phillies struck out less than anyone in the National League with three fewer strikeouts (1,094) than the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. If they can show a little more patience at the plate, especially at the top of the order, they can help the middle of the order tremendously.
As more time passes, the likelihood of the Phillies sticking with their current roster increases. This means they will go ahead with Revere as their everyday center fielder while Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf will have spring training to determine if they will join him as everyday players or be part of some kind of platoon with John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix.
If this turns out to be the case, the Phillies will be have a stark contrast to their team with an aging infield - Howard (33), Utley (34), Rollins (34) and Young (36) - to go along with a very young and inexperienced outfield - Ruf (26), Revere (24), Brown (25).
Darin Ruf led the minors in home runs last season with 38 and hopefully can bring that same kind of power to the majors. As a September call-up, Ruf hit .333 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI in 12 games. Ideally, the Phillies would like Ruf to develop into the right-handed power bat they have been chasing since Jayson Werth signed with Washington after the 2010 season.
Brown has had an up-and-down career going from an "untouchable" prospect in 2009 to potential bust having only played parts of three seasons (147 games) in the major leagues. Spring training will be a chance for Brown to prove he deserves to be the Phillies' opening day right fielder. If he is given the consistent vote of confidence and is able to stay healthy, it could lead to an improvement of his mediocre production.
In less than a full season's worth of plate appearances he has hit .236 with 12 home runs and 58 RBI. If his numbers do not improve, Brown would be used in a platoon role against right-handed pitchers. Against righties his numbers are slightly better than his career average - .250 BA, .327 OBP, .419 SLG.
These are undoubtedly some big what if's facing the Phillies and will lead to either a really good year or a really bad year. If the Phillies are unhealthy, remain impatient at the plate and their young players do not develop, this is a bottom-third team in the NL.
However, if Ruf becomes a legitimate power hitter, Brown blossoms, Utley, Howard and Halladay return to normal and Ben Revere applies his speed to the base paths, this team has a lot of potential.
Only time will tell.
Scott Lentz is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker from Philadelphia. He is a freelance contributor to Yahoo! Sports and TheGamingAdvisory.com. For more baseball talk or questions, follow Scott on Twitter: @scottlentz27.
All stats and figures courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
- Sports & Recreation
- Chase Utley
- Roy Halladay
- Ryan Howard