Trading Up: Phillies Better in 2010?

Continuity has been the hallmark of recent Phillies teams. Of the eight likely lineup regulars when the 2010 season begins, four of them—Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino—will be making their fourth straight Opening Day start.  Two more, Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz, will be notching their third straight, and Raul Ibanez will be making his second in a row. The only newbie is Placido Polanco, and even he has suited up in Phillies openers before.

But that isn’t to say that GM Ruben Amaro hasn’t changed the mix in a fairly significant way coming off two straight National League pennants. Of the full 25 man roster from the 2009 World Series, more than a quarter have moved on: Cliff Lee to the Mariners, Pedro Feliz to the Astros, Scott Eyre to retirement, Matt Stairs to the Padres, Eric Bruntlett to the Nationals, Pedro Martinez and Chan Ho Park and Paul Bako to destinations as yet undetermined. Most of the bench has been overhauled, along with a decent chunk of the bullpen and those spots in the lineup and rotation.

We’ve chewed over their replacements all winter: Roy Halladay for Lee, Polanco for Feliz, Ross Gload for Stairs, Danys Baez and Jose Contreras for Eyre and Park, and so on. But the big question is, taken as a whole, did this set of moves likely improve the 2010 Phillies compared to their immediate predecessor?

According to the key metric of Baseball Prospectus--projected VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) for 2010--the answer is not just yes, but HELL YEAH:

New Phillie

Projected VORP

Old Phillie

Projected VORP

Difference

Placido Polanco

26.7

Pedro Feliz

3.0

23.7

Brian Schneider

8.1

Paul Bako

(0.0)

8.1

Ross Gload

1.9

Matt Stairs

(0.1)

1.8

Juan Castro

(-0.2)

Eric Bruntlett

-0.3

0.1

Roy Halladay

49.8

Cliff Lee

33.5

16.3

Danys Baez

5.9

Chan Ho Park

(0.8)

5.1

Jose Contreras

4.7

Scott Eyre

(0.5)

4.2

TOTAL

 

 

 

59.3

I have to admit that these results surprised me. That's almost six wins, probably more than enough to counter expected decline from J.A. Happ or Ibanez showing his age or Jayson Werth giving back some of his 2009 gains. (Of course, this doesn't factor in the possibility of a Brad Lidge bounceback, or Jimmy Rollins edging back toward his 2005-2008 norms.) It isn't a perfect comp, because PECOTA doesn't even have 2010 forecasts for Bako, Stairs, Park and Eyre—I used their 2010 projections from old player cards—and Pedro is nowhere to be found. But literally every single move the Phillies made this winter projects out as an upgrade. That's fairly stunning.

By contrast, consider the Atlanta Braves, whom I regard as the biggest in-division threat to the Phillies in 2010. While Atlanta's chances likely depend more on how quickly young homegrown talent like Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen and Jason Heyward mature into stars than the performance of guys they brought in, nonetheless PECOTA projects little to no gain as the back of the Atlanta bullpen shifts from Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez to Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, and a substantial dropoff from traded starter Javier Vazquez to reinstated rotation man Kenshin Kawakami.

None of which is to say that the Phillies are bulletproof heading into 2010. The core of the team has enjoyed uncommon good health over the last two seasons; as the 2009 Mets could attest, a reversal of fortune on that front can wreck a season pretty quickly. The needed resurgences of Lidge and Cole Hamels might happen, or they might not; if either falters, the Phils will be in for a dogfight, and if they both fail to rebound I wouldn't bet on a fourth straight NL East crown. But what we can say with confidence is that the personnel changes to the team over the last three months have been pretty much entirely to the good.  

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