PLAYER TO WATCH
The two-time defending National League champions have a new ace—righthander Roy Halladay, the former Cy Young winner acquired in a trade with Toronto—but the most watched member of the rotation might be their old ace, lefthander Cole Hamels. "We need both of them," says closer Brad Lidge. "That's the best duo in baseball when they're at their best."
Hamels was far from his best last season, when his ERA spiked from 3.09 to a career high 4.32, and a year after he was the World Series MVP, he was shelled in four postseason starts (7.58 ERA). It was a curious dropoff for a pitcher whose strikeout-to-walk ratio was essentially unchanged from 2008. Hamels attributes the decline not to bad luck (his opponents' batting average on balls in play was among the league's highest, at .325) or to a tired arm (including the postseason, he logged an NL-high 262 1/3 innings in '08), but rather to opposing hitters catching on to the fastball-changeup combination he has relied on his entire career. "I need hitters to think more," he says.
This spring he worked to improve his curveball and add a cutter. Says Hamels, "My changeup is always going to be my best pitch. But after watching the Andy Pettittes and Cliff Lees have so much success with the cutter, I think adding that pitch and throwing the curve in there occasionally is going to make the changeup even better."
Percentage of Phillies base runners who scored in 2009, the highest ratio in the NL. That efficiency—due largely to a league-best 224 home runs—made Philadelphia the NL's highest-scoring team despite an OBP (.334) only three points above the league average.
Having reacquired Placido Polanco to play third base, the Phillies are hurting themselves by batting Jimmy Rollins leadoff, Polanco second and Shane Victorino seventh. Philadelphia's biggest offensive problem a year ago was Rollins's .296 OBP in the leadoff spot; his prolific outmaking meant that the power of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard was too often wasted with no one on base. Even at his best—and he should be much closer to his career OBP of .329 this year—Rollins has never gotten on base enough for a leadoff man. Of the three potential leadoff hitters, Victorino is projected to have the highest OBP in '10; batting him seventh is a waste of that skill. The Phillies should bat Victorino first, Rollins second (his power, speed and lower ground ball rate make up for Polanco's small projected OBP edge) and Polanco seventh.
WITH 2009 STATISTICS
Manager Charlie Manuel
6TH SEASON WITH PHILLIES
1710 2.79 1.13
10 11 4.32 1.29
12 8 4.05 1.32
12 4 2.93 1.24
12 10 4.94 1.36
0 31 7.21 1.81
5 10 3.26 1.23
RAY STUBBLEBINE/REUTERS (HAMELS)
COLE COMFORT A rebound year from Hamels would help the Phillies return to the World Series.
CHUCK SOLOMON (VICTORINO)