The Phillies are gearing up for the playoffs and they seem to be everybody’s choice to win the National League pennant and probably the World Series. But there’s also a growing concern about their lack of offense. And there should be a concern because the only man who can change that problem, won’t.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has had a lot of success with this team, including two National League pennants and a World Series championship. But one of Manuel’s greatest strengths is also his biggest weakness – his loyalty to his players. And that could eventually cost his team.
Charlie stands by his men no matter what. If they’re slumping he keeps them in the lineup. If one of his players has always been a lead-off hitter (Jimmy Rollins) then he remains the lead-off hitter, even if he’s only batting .268. If one of his players has always been in the key No.3 spot in the batting order (Chase Utley) then he remains the No.3 hitter even if he’s batting only .262.
This is where Manuel and Eagles coach Andy Reid are different. Reid wouldn’t allow sentiment to cloud his judgment. If one of his players isn’t getting the job done then he isn’t in the lineup – assuming, of course, there is a better alternative, so don’t talk to me about Casey Matthews or Jarrad Page. But Reid isn’t afraid to shake things up, as he did this week when he completely reshuffled his linebacker corps.
The Phillies don’t need to bench anybody, either. They just need to shuffle the batting order that Manuel always pencils in when everybody is healthy. If Reid was manager of this team – or if Manuel based his decisions on production rather than reputation – the Phillies’ batting order for Game 1 of the playoffs would look like this:
- Shane Victorino, CF
- Placido Polanco, 3B
- Hunter Pence, RF
- Ryan Howard, 1B
- Raul Ibanez (vs. righties) or John Mayberry (vs. lefties), LF
- Chase Utley, 2B
- Jimmy Rollins, SS
- Carlos Ruiz, C
- Roy Halladay, P
These changes wouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction to recent slumps. Rollins and Utley haven’t really produced for the last three seasons. Injuries have played a big part in that, but no matter the reason the fact remains that these former All-Stars are fading. They’re still capable of coming up with a big hit or a big game or maybe even a big series, but the proof – the statistics sheet – is hard to ignore.
Rollins has never been a prototype leadoff hitter, but his overall offense made up for that in the past – but not now. Since 2007, when he hit .296 with 30 homers and scored a league-leading 139 runs while winning the National League MVP award, Rollins numbers have consistently gone down. Since that incredible season, he’s hitting just .259 and his power numbers are down, also.
Utley used to be the prototype No. 3 hitter, somebody who could hit for average and power – but not now. The lack of power is the biggest concern, because power = RBI and RBI = victories. You can’t count Utley’s home run total because he’s missed a lot of games due to injury. But his slugging percentage has decreased every year since 2007 and his current slugging percentage of .427 is the lowest of his career, not counting his rookie season.
The decline of those two players is the main reason the Phillies, who scored 892 runs in 2007, are on pace to score 684 this year.
It seems clear, or at least it should seem clear, that Rollins and Utley aren’t the players they used to be. And because of that, the Phillies shouldn’t use them like they always have.
Victorino, on the other hand, has been the Phillies’ most consistent player this season, even though he’s struggling at the plate right now. Plus he has the speed you want at the top of the order.
And Pence’s numbers are far superior to Utley’s across the board, especially when it comes to banging the ball. Pence is not a true slugger, but he hits a home run every 29 at-bats whereas Utley hits one every 37 at-bats and Pence’s slugging percentage is 57 points higher. And, of course, his batting average is 52 points higher.
There’s another advantage to this change – the bottom of the Phillies’ order becomes much more intimidating to opposing pitchers, regardless of the statistics. After all, how many teams have a former MVP and a five-time All-Star as their Nos. 6 and 7 hitters?
It’s a change that needs to be made, but won’t be. Again, Reid wouldn’t hesitate to tinker with his lineup to make the best use of his personnel and sentiment be damned. And it’s not like Rollins and Utley would be benched, just moved. But Manuel is loyal to a fault and he also knows that Rollins and Utley would be upset if their roles were to change and, well, Charlie likes to be liked.
Those changes might not be the popular thing to do and for Manuel they wouldn’t be an easy thing to do, but they would be the right thing to do. And if it means another parade down Broad Street, well, Rollins can ride in the lead-off car and Utley can ride in the No. 3 car.