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Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Philadelphia Phillies
How likely was 2012 the beginning of the end of Roy Halladay?
The six straight seasons of 220-plus innings finally took their toll in 2012. The velocities of Doc's cut and sinking fastballs were down notably both before and after his first DL stint in seven years. The lat strain in Halladay's right shoulder carved out a month and a half from his game log. The discovery of an injury almost provided a sigh of relief: At least there was some other explanation besides the pure deterioration of his ability.
Halladay, 35 in May, should still be in possession of some stored energy. His decline didn't begin last spring training, however, when reports of his pitches' lack of bite and spunk first surfaced. The media and fans second-guessed the Phillies' staff and their decision to let the right-hander push through those warning signs then, but Doc is a stubborn man. He may have needed to hit a wall like this.
Besides, the 2010 campaign in which he pitched a career-high 250 2/3 regular season frames, plus another 22 in the postseason, is almost certainly when his downfall began. Halladay's velocities decreased a little in 2011, according to Brooks Baseball, and his rate of pitches per inning increased by more than half a pitch, even though his rate of batters faced per frame remained virtually unchanged. The perennial Cy Young Award candidate was putting up his usually excellent numbers but laboring a bit more to do so.
Halladay has been a master of efficiency for years, thanks to his level of prep. But when the work became much harder, he unraveled in a hurry. It may have been shocking, to him. Some of that ability is now gone.
But he's had some time to come to terms with it, and he's still perhaps the hardest-working hurler in baseball. He'll have a difficult time putting up top-five figures, but now that he's familiar with the warning signs and his body has had some time to recover, he can still be very good. And roto players will notice that the blow to his air of invincibility is rather big.
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.
What does Michael Young have left?
Primarily, plenty of playing time available to him, which wasn't going to be the case as long as he remained with the Texas Rangers. Young hit .265 or worse in May, June, July and August of last season. Manager Ron Washington was unwaveringly loyal to him then but made it clear that he wouldn't be in 2013. Young, 36, will play under a skipper who's similar to Wash in terms of devotion, and the Phillies don't have any prospects at his position who are even remotely the caliber of Texas'.
Frankly, though, Young probably needed a change of scenery. He receives too much credit from some in the media for "the way he goes about his business." He and his club also endured a lot of criticism for, at this stage of his career, his shortcomings as a hitter, which were magnified because of the backdrop of the rest of the Rangers' offense as well as Washington's unwillingness to drop him down or even remove him from the lineup.
Young's bat speed is lacking, and his grounder-to-fly rate increased from 1.79 in 2011 to 2.22 last season. He's never been a power hitter, and he certainly isn't one now. But Derek Jeter learned to survive with a similarly deteriorating profile, and Young still has a great deal of knowledge about his craft. He's no longer very good, but he can still be pretty solid. No one wants a solid player these days?
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