With the season winding to a close (inauspiciously perhaps, but with a trip to the post-season secured at the very least), it's time to look back at one of the best regular seasons in Philadelphia Phillies history, and the players who made it possible. And as has been the case with each of the contending Phillies teams of recent years, as it normally is with successful baseball squads, it's not a handful of star players carrying a lesser squad of scrubs—each player has made a contribution of some sort. So it seems only fair when casting our ballot for Phillies team MVP that we go 25 deep, to reward the little guys as well as the big guys, though naturally it's the big ones you'll see towards the top.
Of course, more than 25 players have taken the field for the Phillies this year, so we apologize (with varying degrees of sincerity) to the following players we had to omit from our ballot, in alphabetical order: Danys Baez, Joe Blanton, John Bowker, Andrew Carpenter, Jose Contreras, Justin de Fratus, Eric Kratz, Scott Mathieson, Brandon Moss, Pete Orr, Juan Perez, J.C. Romero, Dane Sardinha, Joe Savery, Brian Schneider, Michael Schwimmer, and Mike Zagurski. Some of you we may be seeing on this ballot in future years, and some of you we may never be seeing again, but all of your service time in the Red and White has been registered, and will not be forgotten. (Not by Baseball Reference, anyway.)
25. Michael Martinez
Michael's offensive numbers aren't exactly pretty—a slash line of .199/.261/.286 (BA/OBP/SLG), just 59 total bases each year—and the less we see of him in the post-season, the better. Still, he was a valuable defensive fill-in at a quartet of positions (2nd, 3rd, SS and CF) where there always seemed to be at least one injury necessitating his presence, and even had his moments on offense, getting an RBI single in his debut with the Phils at season's beginning and hitting a go-ahead three-run homer in the seventh inning against the Padres in July.
24. Ben Francisco
I thought I got a steal when Benny Fresh fell to me cheap in my fantasy league this year—I figured Domonic Brown would be a little slow out of the gate, and that Benny would get a lot of playing time in right as a result. Well, that happened, but Francisco didn't produce in the PT—he hit for subpar average and power, played mediocre defense and even ran the bases lousy. Still, his OPS is a not-awful .705 thanks to a quality walk rate, and as a third or fourth man off the bench, he's not a bad option going into the post-season. These playoffs might be the last we see of Ben as a Fightin, however.
23. Ross Gload
An underappreciated contributor to the Phils' offense last season, Gload's production cratered this year, dropping from .281/.328/.484 to .257/.276/.327. These days, he's only really useful as a late-inning contact hitter off the bench, though in such a role, he's still had his uses—like earlier this September against the Braves, when he ended the game with a pinch-hit one-bagger off Peter Moylan.
22. David Herndon
A Rule 5 project who struggled most of 2010, Herndon proved this year that he definitely has worth, finding success in relatively low-leverage 6th-and-7th-inning situations and helping to keep the bullpen stable amidst the injuries to Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras. His peripherals still kind of stink—a 1.38 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of less than two, suggesting that he may have gotten a little lucky over the course of the season—though we would certainly take a 3.38 ERA over 56 innings this season no matter how we got them.
21. Domonic Brown
Once viewed as the nation's finest minor-league prospect, is Domonic still the key to the future of the Phillies? It's tough to say, as most of us probably thought he'd have more of an impact on the team by now, but he did again show flashes of brilliance before being sent back down to Triple A with the arrival of Hunter Pence, where he struggled, with some wondering if he'd lost his confidence. Supposedly he should still have the inside track on being the starting left fielder out of training camp in 2012, though John Mayberry Jr. may have something to say about that.
20. Wilson Valdez
It never exactly warms your heart to see him coming up in the lineup, and he only managed 19 extra-base hits over the course of 290 plate appearances this season, but even more so than Martinez, Valdez was invaluable as a strong defensive fill-in for our oft-injured infield. And no Phillies fan will ever forget what he did against the Reds on May 25th, when he pitched a scoreless inning of relief against the heart of Cincinnati's order, allowing Raul Ibanez to end the game with a walk-off sac fly in the inning's bottom.
19. Brad Lidge
This is probably a little bit high for a guy who only has 17.1 IP all year, but a 1.56 ERA in 23 appearances—for a guy who pretty much only has one pitch at this point—is quite impressive. Charlie was smart enough not to try to re-install Lidge as closer upon his return to the Fightins in late July, and he's mostly excelled in lower-leverage relief work. Sometimes he seems back to his '08 form of bending as far as he can possibly can without breaking—the game against the Marlins where Raul saved the day by throwing Omar Infante out at home was a good example of his old-school tightrope act—but for the moment, at least, he appears to be getting the job done like in '08 as well. Mostly.
18. Raul Ibanez
When he went about two weeks without a hit in late April, we all wondered the same thing—is this the end for Rauuuul? The answer: Sort of, but not quite. Raul had, by most measurements, a shitty year. His OBP is a deplorable .289, his strikeout to walk ratio is somehow over 3:1, and his defense is ever deteriorating, with some advanced metrics ranking him among the worst defenders in the game. All that said, he was far from useless—he's gonna end up with at least 20 homers (second most on the team!) and 82 RBIs, including a walk-off hit or two and a very big grand slam to help the Phils clinch the East a week ago—a victory we take less and less for granted with every game the Fightins drop afterwards. This is undoubtedly the end of Raul's time in the Red and White, but there will certainly be no grumbling from us on his way out.
17. Michael Stutes
Stuuuuuuuuuutes. Watching this guy break off curveballs that hitters just had no clue what to do with was one of the highlights of mid-season, and though his numbers invariably climbed over the course of the season, it was a very promising debut for a guy who could be a key member of our bullpen for seasons still to come. Plus, an interesting back story and a hell of a last name—we really hope the guy sticks.
16. Roy Oswalt
After all this talk about the Four Aces going into the season, not only was Little Roy not our fourth most important starter this year, he might not have even been our fifth. Which of course, is largely not his fault—back and neck issues plagued Roy much of the season, and he ended with less starts and IP than he's had in any year since 2003. But fact is, when he was on, his numbers were not fantastic. Both his ERA (3.86) and especially his WHIP (1.368) were career highs, and his strikeout rate (6.0 per 9) was his lowest yet. His big-game reputation and his recent performance against the Cardinals in the clincher ensure that he'll be the fourth starter in the playoffs, and he probably should be, but personally at least, I'd be lying if I said I felt anywhere near as comfortable with him on the mound in a big game as Cole, Cliff or Big Roy.
15. Placido Polanco
The value of a contact hitter like Polly is ever so tied up in his batting average, and with his .277 clip this year—his lowest since the '90s—his value is slipping a little precariously. An OPS of .678 just isn't very good for a starter at third base, and if he continues to slip next year, it could be a real problem. Still, Polanco's been a much more stable option on offense than any of our 3B alternatives, and his defense, as always, has been superlative at the hot corner, giving him value even when his bat wasn't doing much talking. Down one, with men on first and second and two out, he's still one of the guys you most want at the plate, but he might be something of a question mark for the team moving forward.
14. Kyle Kendrick
Yeah, who'da guessed? The forgotten man of the Phils' pitching rotation was actually an invaluable member of the Fightins this season, both as a long man out of the pen and as a spot-starter, posting the lowest ERA (3.17) and lowest WHIP (1.223) of his career to date. It might not be fair to give Kyle the edge over Oswalt—KK's surface numbers are better, but Oswalt has superior peripherals and pitched more—but given what an afterthought Kendrick was to this team going into the season, and given the consistency and reliability he's provided us in both his roles this season (no more than 3 ER in any appearance since July 1), I think he deserves a little credit. Thanks for hanging around, Kyle.
13. John Mayberry, Jr.
The year's most pleasant surprise, in just 277 plate appearances, John Mayberry Jr. hit more home runs this year (15) than Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins, as well as more than nearly all our other bench options combined. It seemed like it would be another frustrating season of weak contact and fluky power for JMJ, but after rejoining the team in early July, he went on a tear, racking up 12 RBIs in his first six games back, and beat that with an electric early September, homering in three of the first four games of the month, forcing his way into regular PT. JMJ might make the outfield situation crowded next season, with Shane and Hunter ingrained in center and right and DomBro the heir apparent in left, but in the words of Marlo Stanfield, that sound like one of them good problems.
12. Antonio Bastardo
Tony Bastard's season was a good one that flirted with greatness, as he threatened the all-time record of lowest batting-average against for a pitcher in a single season, before giving up hits in each of his last five outings. Antonio will still end the season with a WHIP under one and an ERA in the mid-high 2's, and spent valuable time filling in as closer while Ryan Madson (and, uh, everyone else) was on the shelf in early summer. We just hope he'll be able to break out of his late-season funk in time for the playoffs, and be that dominant setup guy we now know for sure he can be.
11. Chase Utley
Chase, out of the top ten. It just feels wrong. Alas, this really just wasn't Chase's season, as he posted what were, not counting his late-season debut in 2003, career lows in just about every offensive category. As is always the case with Chase, a good walk rate, efficient base-running and stellar defense made him a solid contributor even when he wasn't getting much out of the lumber, but fact of the matter is, he's just not that fearsome a presence in the three-hole this year. A lot of it may be attributable to injuries—obviously he missed nearly half the season with knee troubles, and his numbers since coming back from his concussion (8 for 39 in 12 games, with zero XBH) have been a little underwhelming—and a good post-season could certainly make up for a lot of it. But man, would it be nice to have the old Chase back for a little while.
10. Vance Worley
All right, so maybe JMJ was only the year's second-most-pleasant surprise. After one awful performance at Citi Field—which I was lucky enough to actually witness in person—Worley was the most righteous of dudes for the rest of the season as a starter, going 9-2 with a 2.83 ERA and nearly a 3:1 K/BB ratio, and starting in an incredible 14 consecutive Phillies wins. There might not have been a more thrilling sight this year than one of Worley's fastballs creeping back over the plate on a hitter for a called third strike, time and time again. He probably won't start in the playoffs, and he probably won't get Rookie of the Year, but the fact that he's in the discussion for either is fairly incredible.
9. Jimmy Rollins
Before going down with a groin strain in late August, Jimmy Rollins was, if not the team's Most Valuable Player, then certainly its most reliable. His numbers weren't eye-popping, but he was posting decent average, decent power, one of his best-ever walk rates, excellent base-running, and of course, invaluable defense up the middle. Then came the pulled groin, and since his return, it's been much less rosy—only nine hits in his first 46 at bats, with just one of them for extra bases, though in his last two games he's six for nine. Still, when healthy, J-Roll proved just how valuable he still can be to this team, and how difficult he might be to replace should he end up walking this off-season.
8. Ryan Madson
Dispelling the notion that some awesome middle relievers just don't have the mentality to be a closer—the very point that he seemed to prove just two seasons ago—Ryan Madson started the season third on the closer depth chart, but quickly became the team's unquestioned #1, and one of the best door-shutters in the NL. He had a couple rough nights in a row against the Nats at the end of August, but aside from that, he's been one of the team's most consistent contributors, finishing the season with over 30 saves, an ERA in the mid-2's and a strikeout rate of about one per inning. Not quite Lidge in '08, perhaps, but very much the next-best thing, which for a team whose starters often didn't even need relieving, was absolutely good enough.
7. Carlos Ruiz
The one regular on the team who just seemed to get stronger as the year went on, Chooch battled hard to get his averages back up to respectability, which is certainly where they currently reside—a .290/.379/.390 slash line is nothing to sneeze at for a National League catcher. Plus, how many times have Brian McCann or Yadier Molina been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrat
ed? We couldn't ask for a better backstop than Ruiz to caddy for our historically boss pitching staff, and we can't wait for Choochtober to be upon us once more.
6. Hunter Pence
Boy, has this guy been fun to have around. Aside from the obvious energy that he brought to the clubhouse and to the stadium, he's also straight up just been the team's best hitter since coming over from Houston at the trade deadline. He's hit safely in 41 of the 51 games he's played in since coming over, as well as socking ten homers, playing decent defense and even walking way more than he's used to. His bad-ball-hitting tendencies can be infuriating on some swinging third strikes, but the joy of watching him smack a high fastball into the seats was virtually unparalleled this year. When the Phils traded two of their most legit prospects for Pence in July, a lot of people cried that they were giving up too much for him, but even if both Singleton and Cosart go on to have awesome careers, Pence gave us something this season that those guys may never have gotten a chance to—he filled in the primary hole in the Phils' lineup (a right-handed five-hole hitter, something the team was sorely lacking), in a year where the team has a real chance to win the World Series. I don't think you can put a price on that.
5. Ryan Howard
And once again with Ryan, the question arises: Should we focus on the good or the bad? The good: He leads the team in homers (33) and RBIs (115), and had a real shot at the NL title for the latter had he not sat out most of the last week with injury. The bad? Dropping rates in each of his three slash lines—the second straight year his OBP and slugging have fallen—and a $125 million contract extension that still hasn't even kicked in yet. Yes, it's going to get ugly for Ryan Howard in Philadelphia before all is said and done, but he was still one of the team's most valuable players this year, giving them that consistent power threat that, especially before Hunter showed up, the team just wasn't getting anywhere else with Werth gone, Ibanez getting older and Chase battling injuries and ineffectiveness. Let's focus on the good while we still can.
4. Cole Hamels
2009 feels a lot longer than two years ago now, doesn't it? Since that down year for Cole, he's picked up where he left off in 2008 and then some, resuming his status as one of the NL's most dominant pitchers. This year, he's posting career bests in ERA (2.75), K/BB ratio (4.39) and WHIP (0.981, also a league-best), and he still has a chance to tie his career high of 15 wins. What's more, with 8 more strikeouts this season—possible if he gets another start after Saturday's, unlikely if he doesn't—he could make the Phillies the first team since the friggin' early '70s to have three pitchers with 200 or more strikeouts. He may be just the slightest cut below Lee and Halladay on this staff, but if you can think of a better third starter on a team this century, I'd like to hear it.
3. Shane Victorino
After years of being one of the team's most important supporting players, this year Shane was just one of the team's most important players, period. He's tapered off considerably as of late—a sub-Mendoza batting average in September has unfortunately dragged his numbers down—but he was still easily the team's best all-around offensive player this year, a hitter with the lead-off skills to hit for average (.278 now, after spending most of the season around .300) and show off his speed (15 triples, 19 steals in 22 attempts), but who also currently boasts nearly the same slugging percentage as Ryan Howard (.487 to his .489, after being well over .500 much of the year). And oh, the defense. It's nearly gotten to the point now where you just know that if there's a fly ball anywhere in the vicinity of center field, it's already an out. Like Harry used to say about Garry Maddox, two-thirds of the earth is covered by water, and the other one-third is covered by Shane Victorino.
2. Roy Halladay
To steal a Dan LeBatard quote about LeBron James: He's the best pitcher in baseball...but he might not be the best pitcher on this team. Roy Halladay, as exepcted, was absolutely awesome this year, posting at or near his career bests in just about every important statistical category and likely finishing in the top five in the NL in nearly every such category: Wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, WHIP, complete games, and perhaps most importantly Wins Above Replacement, with which he leads the league with his 7.1—though Clayton Kershaw's flashier numbers will almost certainly result in Halladay losing out on a second-straight Cy Young. Only the thinnest of margins, and perhaps not even that, separates him from the #1 guy on our list, and if you wanted to flip the two, you'll get no argument from us. The Doctor was absolutely in in 2011.
1. Cliff Lee
So why does Clifton Phifer Lee get the edge over Doc? Well, it's certainly not because his numbers are vastly superior. In fact, the stat lines for the two are practically carbon copies of one another. Wins? 19 to 16, Doc. Ks? 232 to 220, Cliff. ERA? 2.35 to 2.38, Doc. WHIP? 1.032 to 1.040, Cliff. You could go back and forth all day and still not come up with a decisive winner between the two. No, Cliff gets the slightest of edges simply because—not to get too Bill Simmons on you here—this was his season. He and Halladay had virtually the same numbers, but it's Lee's performance this year that we'll really remember. It was Lee who showed up unexpectedly in our free agent haul, setting the most hyped season perhaps in team history (which, by the way, they've somehow lived up to so far) in motion. It was Lee who set CBP on fire with a couple swings of his bat, ending the season with more home runs than Ross Gload or Wilson Valdez. And it was Lee who posted not one, but two thirty-inning scoreless streaks over the course of the summer, doing so without even really breaking a sweat. Roy may have been the more consistent presence of the two, but Cliff was the guy who set our hearts aflutter. For that, we dub him the Most Valuable Player of the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies.