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Ruf Hits First Major-League HR in Phillies’ Win

Posted by Corey Seidman, Tue, September 25, 2012 10:19 PM Comments: 14

Cole Hamels lasted just five innings but won his career-high 16th game.

Starting for the first time since being called up to the Phillies, Darin Ruf homered in his first at-bat for his first major-league hit and home run. He was completely ignored in the dugout by his teammates for the next 10 minutes in one of the funnier moments of the Phillies’ season, only being congratulated after the inning finally ended.

The Phils (78-76) won, 6-3, despite getting only five innings out of Cole Hamels.

Hamels needed 99 pitches to get through five laborious frames, but the reward was his career-high 16th win. Hamels improved to 16-6 with a 3.11 ERA.

The major blow for the Phillies was Carlos Ruiz‘ three-run homer, which gave the Phillies a comfortable 5-1 cushion in the third inning. Ruiz is hitting .327 with 16 homers and 65 RBI.

Domonic Brown crushed a ball to right field in the sixth for a solo shot, his fifth of the season. Brown is just 8-for-34 (.235) over his last 10 games, but three of the hits are home runs and one was a double.

The Phillies’ bullpen shut the Nationals down for four innings. Josh Lindblom pitched a scoreless sixth, Antonio Bastardo and Justin De Fratus combined for a 1-2-3 seventh and Phillippe Aumont tossed a perfect eighth. Jonathan Papelbon finished it off in the ninth, striking out two to pick up his 37th save. He has a 2.26 ERA.

The series continues Wednesday night with Kyle Kendrick against the infamous John Lannan, who is 2-12 with a 5.79 ERA in his career against the Phillies.


If Only Halladay Was Halladay This Season…

Posted by Corey Seidman, Tue, September 25, 2012 07:00 AM Comments: 11

Roy Halladay has a 4.78 ERA in 13 starts since returning from the DL.

No Chase Utley for 76 games. No Ryan Howard for 84 games. Worst eighth-inning ERA in baseball for most of the season. Costly, poor defense from Placido Polanco’s replacements at third base.

It’s crazy to say, but through all of it, the Phillies would still be right in the wild-card race if they got just a bit more out of Roy Halladay.

Halladay has made 24 starts this season. The Phillies have absolutely no reason to send him out on the mound again, so he’ll hopefully finish the 2012 season with those 24 starts. Only 15 were quality starts.

The dominance just wasn’t there. In 2010, Halladay had 15 starts in which he gave up one or no runs. Last year, he had 13. This year? Try five.

There were seven games this season where Doc allowed four or more runs. If you reduce that to, say, four games, the Phillies are probably three wins better, and a mere game or two behind the second wild-card spot.

I’m not a big fan of “if this happened, then this would have happened” line of thinking that leads to statements like “if Halladay didn’t give up that first-inning homer the Phillies would have won, 2-1!” That standpoint takes for granted that Halladay would have been throwing different pitches in different situations if the first-inning homer never occurred.

So, yeah, maybe if Halladay pitched better the Phillies wouldn’t have been far enough out of the playoff race to sell at the deadline. Maybe they wouldn’t have played pressure-free baseball and thrived doing it.

But looking at the standings and his numbers as of Sept. 24, it really sinks in just how much Halladay’s mediocrity affected the Phillies this season. It was said the past two years that the one player the Phils couldn’t afford to lose was Doc.

This season, they didn’t just lose him for seven weeks with a lat strain. They lost him for five months after a brilliant April, when he transformed from the Ace of Aces to just another pitcher with a solid strikeout rate and a 4.00-plus ERA.

It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. It’s hard to believe that Halladay won’t always be what he was in 2010 and 2011. But the problems he’s dealing with – a tired shoulder, changes in his rotator cuff, less life on his cutter and sinker, less speed on his fastball – are legitimate issues that pop up at this point in a pitcher’s career.

It happened to Greg Maddux, a no-doubt Hall of Famer who had a 4.13 ERA over his last six seasons. It can happen to anybody.

The Phillies are hoping that this was just a blip on Halladay’s otherwise clean radar screen. That he comes back next year and doesn’t miss in the middle of the plate and allow so many early home runs. That he stops trying to nibble and maintains the brilliant walk rates of seasons past.

If not … well, it’s easy to imagine a team so heavily reliant on pitching playing the “What if?” game again next fall.


Phils Should Pursue Mike Adams For Real This Time

Posted by Corey Seidman, Thu, August 09, 2012 03:02 PM Comments: 37

The Phillies’ bullpen has been an unmitigated disaster in 2012.

Just look at these numbers:

MLB Rank
19 27th
Blown Saves
Blown Ties

Groundball %


HR per 9 IP

The unit is better with the addition of Josh Lindblom, but the ‘pen still lacks a true eighth-inning reliever or a specialist from either side.

Hopes were high for Antonio Bastardo, but the pitcher we saw for the first five months of 2011 is gone, probably never to return. Bastardo since Sept. 1, 2011 has a 6.39 ERA, a 1.51 WHIP and 28 walks in 43.2 innings. He can’t throw strike one… he’s done it to just 83 of the 158 batters he’s faced this year.

What is the Phillies’ answer here? Do they sign a reliever or two this winter? Do they stick with the young guns?

Solving bullpen problems isn’t easy. Teams throw money around every winter at relievers coming off good and sometimes lucky seasons. Other clubs hope their homegrown parts develop. The Phillies took both approaches this season, paying a ton of money to one man (Jonathan Papelbon) and keeping the rest of the pen inexpensive with youngsters.

It hasn’t worked.

A free agent after the season, Mike Adams from 2009-11 had a 1.42 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP.

Look at all the games given away by early-year setup men Chad Qualls and Bastardo. Now imagine if that role was occupied by Ryan Madson or Mike Adams.

Both are free agents this winter. Madson is recovering from Tommy John surgery that will prevent him from making a single appearance this season for the Reds. Adams hasn’t been completely untouchable in Texas as he was in San Diego, but he still has a 2.97 ERA and decent strikeout and walk numbers.

The Phillies have money to spend this off-season, thanks to the deadline trade of Hunter Pence. They can afford to give Adams a three-year deal in the $18-21 million range, and that just might be the best option.

Before the new-wavy baseball community jumps down my throat for the mere suggestion that actual money should be spent on an actual reliever, consider the following points…

An 8th-9th inning combination of Adams and Papelbon would instantly be one of three-best back ends of a bullpen in either league. Adams from 2009-11 had a 1.42 ERA, a 0.85 WHIP and 192 strikeouts to 45 walks in 177.2 innings.

If you sign Adams to that type of deal, you’d have $19-20 million committed to two relievers, but you wouldn’t need to spend money anywhere else in the ‘pen. You could move forward with Papelbon and Adams, then piece together the rest of the relief corps with Lindblom, Bastardo and choices from the Diekman-De Fratus-Schwimer-Stutes-Herndon group. Sign a lefty specialist for about $1 million and you’re set.

Yes, Adams is 34 years old. But he’s a relief pitcher. These guys age differently. The best years of Darren Oliver’s career came in his age 36-40 seasons. And Adams has significantly less wear-and-tear than most elite relievers – he made only 61 major-league appearances before turning 29.

You also have to look at this winter’s free-agent class. You can spend money on an upgrade in center field, but there is practically nothing to choose from at third base and nothing worth splurging on in a corner outfield position. Considering that the only real way to upgrade third base is through a trade, would you complain if the Phillies’ two biggest signings this winter were Michael Bourn and Adams?

As far as interest goes, we know the Phillies have wanted Adams in the past. They pursued him at the 2011 trade deadline before unloading four prospects for Pence.

After what we’ve seen this season, you simply cannot overlook the need to vastly improve this bullpen. And Ruben Amaro has to be proactive… you can’t waste another year with this core hoping that young, unproven relievers pitch well. Ordinarily, I would never condone spending $19-20 million on two relievers. But the Papelbon hole has already been dug, and the Phils still need more help.

If you don’t want to commit that much money to Adams, there’s still Madson. He’ll have to take a lesser deal coming off Tommy John surgery and is really in no position to demand a closing job. The problem is that the Phillies have bad blood with Madson’s camp, most notably Scott Boras, after their reported handshake agreement for a four-year, $44 million contract fell through last winter. Unless the Phillies’ offer far exceeds what he can find anywhere else, it’s hard to imagine a scorned Madson coming back.

The top of the Phillies’ roster is still excellent, and it puts them in position to compete in 2013 if certain holes are filled and bad luck turns back to middling or good luck.

But the market dictates which holes can be filled, and Amaro won’t be able to solve every problem this off-season.

You can solve center field and the bullpen, so those should be the two priorities. And if you’re going to bring in outside help, you might as well pay for the best option.

I’d commit that money to Mike Adams to hold all the leads the Phillies lost this year in the eighth inning. Would you?


Phils Blank D-backs Behind Vintage Halladay

Posted by Corey Seidman, Sat, August 04, 2012 11:50 PM Comments: 15

Roy Halladay began the season 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, then went 1-6 with a 5.43 ERA over his next 12 starts, pitching more like Luke Hochevar than the two-time Cy Young winner he is.

On Saturday, Doc finally looked like Doc again, allowing just four baserunners in seven shutout innings as the Phillies beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-0.

Only two D-backs reached scoring position off Halladay, who worked out of a one-out jam by striking out Jason Kubel and inducing a Paul Goldschmidt groundout with a man on third in the sixth inning. Four of Halladay’s seven innings went 1-2-3.

Erik Kratz was the offensive hero of the night for the Phils. He hit a 360-foot solo homer to left field off of Joe Saunders to lead off the third inning, and in the fourth followed a Domonic Brown walk with a base on balls of his own to bring in the Phils’ second run. The Phillies added another run in the eighth when Brown singled in Kevin Frandsen with two outs.

Josh Lindblom worked a solid eighth inning, striking out two Diamondbacks. Aside from Kubel’s bomb Friday night, Lindblom has looked very good in three outings for the Phillies. Jonathan Papelbon followed with a 15-pitch ninth for his 24th save of the season.

The Phillies are 48-59, a half-game behind the Marlins for fourth place in the NL East. But records don’t matter much over these final two months — only positive signs do. And the Phillies saw several of them on Saturday night, as Halladay returned to form, Brown was both patient and effective at the plate and Kratz continued to show that he is a legitimate backup catcher in this league. He’ll need to continue to produce at the plate with Carlos Ruiz out 4-6 weeks with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.


Rosenthal: D’backs Attempting Blockbuster for SP

Posted by Corey Seidman, Tue, July 31, 2012 03:35 AM Comments: 22

From 2009-11, Justin Upton hit .288 with an .868 OPS.

According to Ken Rosenthal’s latest report, which went up around 3:05 a.m., the Arizona Diamondbacks are “trying to pull off a blockbuster trade for a premier starting pitcher.”

Rosenthal mentions that the D’backs have the tools to make such a deal happen. They have Justin Upton. They have young pitchers like Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Wade Miley.

The connection hasn’t yet been made, and there’s a very good chance I’ll look like an idiot by the time I wake up Tuesday for even suggesting this… but couldn’t a trade of Cliff Lee for Justin Upton work?

Lee is owed $87 million through the end of 2015. Upton is owed $40 million. The Phillies have reportedly been willing to eat a large chunk of Lee’s salary. Let’s say the Phils pick up $47 million of it, and the Diamondbacks basically get Lee for the same price they’d be paying Upton. Doesn’t it begin to make some sense?

Yes, Upton is 24, a whopping nine years younger than Lee. But the D’backs have soured on Upton. He’s hitting .270 this season with a sub-.400 slugging percentage, and if Arizona has proven one thing in 2012, it’s that it can score without Upton playing at a high level. If you can acquire a legitimate ace for the same price you’re paying your struggling rightfielder, don’t you try it?

Josh Johnson probably makes more sense under this scenario. He’s 28, five years younger than Lee, and is the only other “premiere” starting pitcher believed to be on the market. But then again, Johnson has missed 77 of 165 possible starts since 2007 with injuries. So the mileage and wear-and-tear on the two pitchers is essentially even.

What other available pitchers can be classified as “premiere?” James Shields is good, but not an elite SP, and I doubt the Rays are keen on picking up $40 million.

Felix Hernandez? Absolutely not. Stop it. He’s not on the market. The Mariners couldn’t make that more clear. Who else? Yovani Gallardo? Nah. Maybe Jon Lester, but the dude has a 5.49 ERA this season.

Lee can block a trade to 21 teams. Is Arizona one of those teams? That question hasn’t yet been answered.

A trade like this obviously makes sense for the Phillies. Acquiring Upton (those two words are so unrealistic to type) would solve the corner outfield problems and enable the Phils to comfortably shop Hunter Pence this winter. The Phils could sign a third-starter-type like Anibal Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy or Shaun Marcum and still have a solid rotation.

Financially, it would be a wash for the Phillies, but by shopping Pence they could clear a projected $15 million in 2013 payroll. And Upton’s contract is already set, whereas Pence is due to make over $14-15 million in his final arbitration year before commanding a four- or five-year deal in that range.

It all kind of makes sense when you travel down this road, which we’re only doing because Rosenthal doesn’t just throw things up against the wall. If he reports at 3 a.m. that the Diamondbacks are trying to make a blockbuster for a starting pitcher, you listen.

Cliff Lee would make the D’backs a much more complete team. They’re in the top 10 in baseball in most offensive categories, but are middle-of-the-pack in pitching. At 52-51, they’re only 3 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West.

I don’t know. Looser connections than this have been made.


Phillies Sluggish in Crucial Series Opener

Posted by Corey Seidman, Fri, July 27, 2012 10:26 PM Comments: 22

The Phillies really needed a win in their series opener Friday in Atlanta. It began a crucial six-game stretch against the Braves and Nationals that could be the final nail in the coffin if the Phils don’t perform well.

Cole Hamels was en route to a solid outing, but he lost his control in the second inning. He should have gotten out of the inning when Ben Sheets grounded the ball to third base, but it went under Mike Fontenot‘s glove. Third base defense has been a major issue in Placido Polanco‘s absence. Polly’s bat is non-existent at this point but when he’s not there, you see how important D is at the hot corner.

Hamels hung tough until the fifth, when Brian McCann hit a three-run homer. It’s the sixth straight game against the Phillies that McCann has homered. He has 16 RBI in those six games.

The Braves tacked on another run in the sixth to win, 6-1.

The Phillies scored their only run in their first two plate appearances of the night. Jimmy Rollins lined a single to right off Sheets (3-0, 0.50 ERA) and Shane Victorino followed with a laced double to right-center.

Rollins and Victorino were 4 for 8 with two doubles and two steals. The rest of the team went 3-for-26 with one extra-base hit.

The loss drops the Phillies to 45-55 and 10.5 games behind the Braves for the second NL wild card spot.


Want to Compete? Keep the Pitching, Trade Pence

Posted by Corey Seidman, Thu, July 26, 2012 09:00 AM Comments: 109

Six years, $144 million. That’s $24 million per year for Cole Hamels, the Phillies’ third $20-plus million pitcher and their fourth player making an eight-figure salary.

Conventional wisdom is that this move cripples the Phillies financially. They’re right up against the luxury tax this season and, with Hamels’ contract, have just under $140 million committed to nine players in 2013: Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Laynce Nix, Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins and Kyle Kendrick.

But is that completely true? Let’s break it down.

Carlos Ruiz, Ty Wigginton and Placido Polanco have options. Chooch will obviously be back, whether at his $5 million option or by way of an extension. Wigginton will probably be back, too, at $4 million. Polanco? It’s hard to make the case to keep him.

Let’s say that the Phillies just pick up Ruiz’s option and extend him during the season. Adding in the money for him, Wigginton, and the relative pennies paid to John Mayberry, Vance Worley, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, Justin De Fratus and Freddy Galvis, the Phils will be at about $148 million for 17 players.

They’ll still need a starting centerfielder and leftfielder, and they’ll need to plug someone into third base unless they plan on splitting duty there between Wigginton, a Mike Fontenot-type and perhaps Galvis.

Oh, and then there’s Hunter Pence, who enters his fourth and final year of arbitration this off-season. A very safe bet is that he commands a $15 million salary for 2013.

Continue reading Want to Compete? Keep the Pitching, Trade Pence


Deal or No Deal: Joe Blanton

Posted by Corey Seidman, Thu, July 19, 2012 11:00 AM Comments: 6

As the trade deadline approaches, Ian and Corey will provide their opinions to “Deal” or “Not Deal” various members of the Phillies roster, where best fits may lie, and who they should seek in return.

Today’s subject? The venerable Kentucky northpaw Joe Blanton.

No DealIan Riccaboni

Joe Blanton is quietly putting together a very nice year for the Phillies – his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP and xFIP) stats say that Blanton has performed considerably better (4.02 and 3.36, respectively) than his 4.79 ERA indicates.

In fact, his 2012 — 4.79 ERA, 7.8 K/9, 1.5 HR/9 –  is looking more and more like his very good 2009 (4.05 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 1.4 HR/9) as the season progresses. It is no secret to readers of Phillies Nation that Blanton has been doing many little things right throughout the season and, over halfway through the year, Blanton still maintains his NL lead in BB/9. Unfortunately, Phillies Nation readers and Phillies fans alike may have noticed that Blanton is second in the NL in home runs allowed, behind only Mike Minor.

These are not necessarily stats that may be sellable to an opposing GM. My case for not trading Blanton revolves around the fact that the Phils A) May not get appropriate value for an above-average pitcher having a very good season and B) he may have more value to them this year than the prospects they receive in return.

If I’m Ruben Amaro, Blanton may need the most over-the-top offer for me to deal. According to FanGraphs, Blanton has been worth $6.3 million this year to the Phillies; Blanton only has about $3.61 million left on his deal through the rest of the year – his salary no longer effects luxury tax considerations for this year and is affordable. More importantly, he has pitched and performed better than Kyle Kendrick in the rotation and, despite consciously realizing that the Phillies need to win, on average, 7 out of every 10 they play to reach the playoffs, Blanton gives the Phillies a solid starter regardless if the Phillies go into full fire sale mode or not.

Deal, Corey Seidman:

It’s not that I think Blanton will bring back anything significant in a trade, it’s just that there is no real reason to keep him. You’re probably going nowhere and you’re already paying Kyle Kendrick $4 million this season, why not just pick up whatever you can get for Blanton and roll with KK?

Under the new draft pick compensation system, the only way the Phils would pick up a pick for losing Blanton to another team in free agency would be if they offered him a salary that is the average of the top 125 salaries in the game. Right now, that’d mean offering Blanton between $12-13 million. The Phillies will not be doing that, so they won’t get a pick.

Just look at the Jim Thome trade. Thome is a 41-year-old DH on a one-year contract and he brought back the Orioles’ 12th- and 20th-ranked prospects (Baseball America) in Gabriel Lino and Kyle Simon.

Ian has a good point that Blanton’s value is lower than it should be because of his ERA, but I don’t necessarily think that means he should be kept for the sake of being kept. If you can bring back a lefthanded reliever with a high strikeout rate who might contribute in 2014 or 2015, why not do it?


At This Point, You Have to Trade Hamels

Posted by Corey Seidman, Wed, July 04, 2012 07:00 AM Comments: 23

The Phillies have three options with Cole Hamels, none of which is clear cut. It’s a great year to have a trade asset like Hamels — the added wild card teams in each league will make more teams buyers — but the Phillies are in a unique position.

The Phils were nine games under .500 entering play Tuesday at Citi Field. It was their worst record through 81 games since 1997 and, at 36-45, the most games they’ve been under .500 since the summer of 2006.

As poorly as they’ve played, the Phillies have also been plagued by bad luck (low BABIP on line drives, lots of one-run losses, etc.) and injuries. But the luck figures to turn a corner and Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are getting closer to returning. So there is no solution or trade to be made during the first week of July. The next few weeks will determine which of the following three routes the Phillies take…

1) Keep Hamels, re-sign him

Up until a few weeks ago, this was the most realistic scenario. Hamels is the best homegrown pitcher the Phillies have ever developed, and all of the trades and signings Ruben Amaro has made in recent years mean nothing if the Phils can’t hang onto their most prized piece.

But if you keep Hamels, you risk losing him in free agency without much compensation. The new collective bargaining agreement reduces the value of the draft picks teams get for losing top-tier free agents.

Just think about what took place last summer with the Mets and Jose Reyes. Reyes was experiencing a career year and had tons of trade value, but the Mets stood pat. It gained them nothing… they finished 77-85 and lost Reyes to free agency.

You don’t want that to happen with Hamels. You don’t want the Phillies to miss out on the chance to replenish a barren farm system just to go 78-84 or 80-82.

2) Trade Hamels
Cole Hamels will have no shortage of suitors. Some may argue that his value is reduced because a trading team would get little compensation if it can’t re-sign him this winter, but I just don’t see it.  There are 24 teams in contention right now  for either a division title or a wild card berth, and almost every single team needs pitching. On July 25, when there are 10 or more teams on the playoff precipice and a No. 1 starting pitcher is just sitting there on the trading block, compensation picks mean very little. Teams think about the future, sure. But they also think about now.

Hamels gives a team a chance to not just make the playoffs, but make/win a World Series. He would drastically improve the World Series hopes of the Reds, Cardinals, Red Sox, Rangers and Tigers and give a playoff jolt to the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and White Sox.

When you look at what type of package Hamels could command, the easy comparison is the C.C. Sabathia deal of 2008. The Indians dealt C.C. to the Brewers that year for power-hitting first baseman and top-25 overall prospect, Matt LaPorta, a first-round pitcher in Zach Jackson and highly-touted, athletic seventh-round outfielder Michael Brantley, who is now an Indians staple.

That is the type of package that makes sense for Hamels — two former first-rounders, one of which (LaPorta) who is/was seen as a can’t-miss prospect, and a high-upside bat. It doesn’t matter how LaPorta, Jackson and Brantley have progressed, because at the time the haul for Cleveland was very good.

Such a trade would upgrade the Phillies’ farm system, which is currently ranked 27th of 30 teams by Baseball America. The Phillies have very little going on offensively in the minor leagues. Six of their top eight prospects are pitchers, and the two who aren’t are Freddy Galvis and catcher Sebastian Valle.

If the Phillies trade Hamels, they could center a deal around a third baseman such as the Rangers’ Mike Olt, the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos or the Diamondbacks’ Matt Davidson. All three are top-100 prospects who are improving every year and can hit for average and power.

Third base is the Phils’ prime position of need. Placido Polanco‘s days are numbered, but the third base market is so weak this winter that it probably makes the most sense to pick up Polanco’s option for 2013. David Wright has an option that will be picked up (or he’ll be extended), Kevin Youkilis will be 34 and coming off a down year, and after that the next best available 3B is Mark Reynolds. Yeah.

If the Phillies do trade Hamels, the following is the best-case scenario…

3) Trade Hamels, then re-sign him

This idea has been brought up over the last few days and makes a ton of sense. Concede the season and trade Hamels, get much-needed young talent, then re-sign Hamels in order to make a push again next season. The Phillies are still a very good team when complete, and they could easily compete for an NL East title if all of the pieces are back and healthy for 2013. Engaging in a full rebuild is unnecessary at this time.

But the question arises: Would Hamels re-sign with a team that just traded him?

I don’t see why not. Hamels is a very intelligent, mindful, philosophical player. His quotes are always well thought-out and he clearly understands the business of baseball. I don’t know that he’d see a trade as a slap in the face, he’d see it as Amaro doing what he needs to do for the short- and long-term.

It has been asked if this has ever happened before — has a team ever traded a superstar at the deadline only to re-sign him that winter? No instances come to mind, but that instead speaks to the uniqueness of the Phillies’ situation. You don’t often see a team with such a poor record that is a legitimate World Series contender for the following season. You don’t often see a team that seeks to sell one summer only to buy several months later.

Ruben Amaro is in almost uncharted territory and has the ability to get very creative over the coming weeks. If the play on the field is leaving you uninspired, this trade season is a reason to keep your focus on the Phillies.

Our Ryan Dinger doesn’t agree with me. Check back Thursday morning for his take.


Howard’s Absence Has Killed the Myth

Posted by Corey Seidman, Sat, June 30, 2012 07:00 AM Comments: 20

Ryan Howard hadn’t run the bases in a competitive situation until arriving in Lakewood on Thursday. He hadn’t hit in a game that counted. Until Friday, he hadn’t fielded at game speed.

That the Phillies chose to allow Howard to play first base one night after he made his rehab debut was a positive sign. Howard in his postgame press conference Thursday said repeatedly that he didn’t know what the next step was. He didn’t know if he’d play two nights in a row. He didn’t know when he’d play the field. He had to talk the “guys upstairs.”

Then about 10 minutes later, Lakewood’s director of public relations entered the press room and announced that Howard would play first base Friday night.

The Phillies miss Ryan Howard. A lot.

This season has taught us a lot about the Phillies. One lesson is that, despite what WAR may and may not say, a platoon of mediocre first basemen is not equal to Howard. Forget about the strikeouts and the declining slash-lines. The prior notion that a league-average first baseman could produce as much as Howard is simply not true.

Phillies’ first basemen entered Friday with a season batting line of .261/.321/.417, with 11 homers and 41 RBI. They had 26 walks to 80 strikeouts.

In 2011, easily the worst season of Howard’s career, he hit .253/.352/.484 over the first 78 games, with 16 homers and 62 RBI. He had 41 walks to 88 strikeouts.

Those numbers are nearly identical to what Curtis Granderson is doing this season, and Granderson has been worth 10.8 offensive runs so far, according to Fangraphs. Phillies’ first basemen have been worth 1.4 offensive runs.

Howard had five more homers, 21 more RBI, 15 more walks and eight more strikeouts through 78 games than the Phillies’ 2012 first basemen. Thirty-one more points of OBP, 67 more points of slugging.

That difference of nearly 10 runs between Howard and the collection of Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, Jim Thome and John Mayberry could have come at any time. It could have come in the form of a first-inning three-run homer that allowed the Phils to cruise to a victory they didn’t get. It could have come in the form of an RBI single with a runner on third, where Mayberry or Wigginton flew out gently. With how awfully the Phils have performed in close games this season, no single run can be taken for granted.

Howard will return at July 17 or earlier, barring a setback. He is no longer worried about his Achilles’, he said Thursday night, only about recovering his timing at the plate, in the field and on the bases. He won’t be 100 percent during the second-half of the season, but 85 percent of Ryan Howard is still probably more valuable than the league-average production the Phils have received from first base.

Those prolonged myths about Howard being expendable because his WAR said so… those can be laid to rest.

He’s not Joey Votto, he’s not Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera. But he’s a difference-making bat who will give you between a .850 and .930 OPS over the next handful of seasons. Whether that’s worth $125 million, let’s debate it for the 767th time… another time.

Hopefully the first 78 games of the 2012 season explained why we’ve been foolish to take Ryan Howard for granted.

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