Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Philadelphia Phillies
What's the outlook for Philly's aging triumvirate?
It all begins with shortstop Jimmy Rollins, in a number of ways. Offseason routines that have been concentrated on his flexibility and endurance have aided his ability to stay on the field for each of the past two seasons. Health is still a concern, but not to the degree that it was two years ago.
The 34-year-old switch-hitter's 23 home runs and 30 stolen bases last season offset the pain of his .250 batting average. Those results came in conjunction with his greatest homer-to-fly ration since 2007, however, and his rate of stolen base attempts is steadily in decline. Rollins' hit rate has been sub-standard for several years; it could rebound in 2013, but not likely by a significant margin. At his age, the important counting stats are much likelier to take a bit of a tumble, too. Don't plan to pay for anything more than a little less than what he delivered in 2012.
Second baseman Chase Utley is on schedule to do something he hasn't in each of the past two seasons: be in the opening day lineup ... or, hell, play in a spring exhibition. The 34-year-old has, reportedly, been participating in rigorous winter workouts, something that his balky knees prevented for any length of time in each of the past two seasons.
Fantasy owners who draft Utley should be more optimistic about the prospects of having him for nearly a full season. But how much good would it do them? The left-handed hitter has struggled against southpaws (.187 in 2011, .215 in 2012) recently. His BA indicators against lefty hurlers improved to marks better than his career rates in 2012, though, fueling hope. Utley's ceiling is no longer that of a 30-20 player in his heyday, but with 550 plate appearances - a reasonable number - 20 and 15 are certainly within reach. And other fantasy owners may not be willing to gamble much to get them.
The case of first baseman Ryan Howard, 33, doesn't look very puzzling. Clearly, the blame for some of last season's numbers in 292 plate appearances (.215 average, 14 home runs) fell on the time he missed while recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon. His already sketchy strikeout rate climbed to nearly 34 percent (career: 27.8 percent), and he drew a walk in a career-low 8.6 percent of his plate appearances.
Many will probably be willing to chalk up Howard's 2012 as evidence of his decline because of his poor approach in conjunction with his bad health and body type, however, and that could be a mistake. Howard continues to be maligned for his fitness, but he's in surprisingly - to many who've never seen him with his shirt off, apparently - good shape. His contact rate - granted, a piss-poor sub-70 percent - remained virtually unchanged, despite the plunge in whiff rate.
Howard won't win a batting title, but the slugger's approach and swing have always been unorthodox. His power is rooted naturally in opposite-field mayhem (lifetime 1.043 slugging percentage to left field), and he's proven that he can beat the shift on occasion. He's already taking live batting practice, an exercise he could perform rarely before he returned to action last year. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder told Charlie Manuel earlier this month that the ankle in his left leg, where he tore the tendon, feels strong.
Howard has never been a favorite of the statistical community, but those perceiving last year as part of his precipitous decline are probably jumping the gun. He wasn't close to 100 percent in 2012, at any time. He's no longer a .275-45-140 beast, but he has enough left for something like .250-30-100. The asking price will beg you to purchase him for the prospect of figures like those.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570. Follow @NicholasMinnix
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