PHILADELPHIA (CBS)–Before thinking about booking that hotel room in October for the World Series, before making plans to get those mid-weekdays off for another autumn championship parade, before you get all Phillied-up and canonize this team as the best in baseball before playing a game (as many already have), it might be a good idea to start rethinking a few things about the 2011 Phillies.
You have an old team here. Possibly older than anyone realizes.
The Phillies will have without a doubt the best starting pitching in Major League Baseball this season, but they’ll also be trotting out the oldest regular-season starting lineup in franchise history with an average age of 32.3 years—with 29-year-old Ben Francisco starting in right field, which looks very likely to happen over the 23-year-old Domonic Brown (when the Phillies will have an average age of 31.6 for their regulars).
The second-oldest starting regular lineup in Phillies’ history was the 1983 Wheeze Kids Phillies (according to Baseball-Reference.com), with an average age of 31.9 years. Some players on that team, like Pete Rose and Joe Morgan, were near the end of their careers. Rose and Morgan, who were 42 and 39, respectively, yanked up the average age of a team that still had players in their prime, like the 33-year-old Mike Schmidt, who hit 40 home runs and drove in 109 that season.
This Phillies team, however, features a nucleus all roughly in that 32-to-34 age range—with 38-year-old left fielder Raul Ibanez pulling up this current team’s average (Ibanez will turn 39 on June 2 and his 2010 totals of 16 homers and 83 RBIs were his lowest since 2004 in Seattle, though Ibanez hit a career-high .304 that season).
The Phillies are also a team that’s been slipping offensively. Winning a World Series title, still indelible to the Philadelphia fanbase, has a way of glossing over a few cracks here and there. But there have been some ignored fissures.
Last year, Philadelphia finished second in the National League in runs scored, with 772 behind No. 1 Cincinnati (790 runs). Run production throughout Major League Baseball was down overall in 2010, but the 772 runs scored by the Phillies was their lowest amount since 2002 (710), when the Phillies went 80-81 and finished eighth in runs scored in the National League.
The 772 was also a drastic drop off from 2009 (No. 1 in the NL with 820 runs), and it doesn’t bode well when looking back at what this nucleus did in 2008 (No. 3 in the NL with 799), 2007 (No. 1 in the NL with a franchise-best 892 runs scored), 2006 (No. 1 in the NL with 865), 2005 (No. 2 with 807) and 2004 (No. 3 in the NL with 840).
In fact, prior to 2010, the Phillies scored 800 runs or more in five of the previous six years—the best offensive production in franchise history.
The two players that have made the most precipitous drops have been Chase Utley, who turned 32 on December 17, and Jimmy Rollins, who also turned 32, on November 27.
Both had sub par 2010s–by their standards–combating injuries.
Rollins, who’s in a contract year, was limited in 2010 due to an injured calf and pulled hamstring, appearing in a career-low 88 games, if you take away the 14 games he played when he was originally called up in 2000.
Utley was hampered by a torn thumb ligament that required mid-season injuries in 2010, playing in just 155 games and watching his run production fall from 16 homers and 65 RBIs, well down from 31 homers and 93 runs batted in over 156 games in 2009.
“We’re all getting older and when you get older, you’re more likely to get hurt easier,” Rollins said during the offseason. “We all have to take better care of ourselves, and I know I’ve been doing different things to make sure my legs can handle a full season. We all get that sense of urgency that these next few years are all very important to us. We can’t waste that pitching.”
The fact is-this team hasn’t won anything since 2008. It’s a team that’s been filled with hubris over the last two years resting on that World Series championship. It’s a creaky bunch that realizes the prism of opportunity is rapidly closing for a fanbase that deserves more than just another National League East Division title.
Phillies eight projected 2011 starters
(32.3 Ave. age)
(31.6 Ave. age)
Reported by Joseph Santoliquito, CBS Philly