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2006 Season Grades: Starting Position Players

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The frustration of watching numerous former Phillies play and succeed deep into the postseason has led me to contemplate and evaluate the current crop of Phillies players.  Let's start off with the starting position players.

Ryan Howard, First Base, A+: Far exceeding everyone's expectations, Howard had an MVP-caliber sophomore season, with a redonkulous .355/.509/.751 line after the All-Star Break.  Phillies fans are rarely privy to a young star blowing up like this, and there's no real reason to think Howard won't be a great player for the next several seasons.

Chase Utley, Second Base, A-: Fell short of an "A" because of marked inconsistency and a poor August, Utley is still far and away the best second baseman in the game.  Like Howard, we are privileged to be seeing Utley's peak.  Also a reliable if not spectacular glove.

Jimmy Rollins, Shortstop, B+: It's not his fault he's miscast as a leadoff hitter.   Rollins had a terrific power season, finishing seventh in the National League with 79 extra base hits (compare to Derek Jeter's 56 XBHs), including a career-high .812 OPS and 25 home runs.  Rollins also swiped 36 bases in 40 attempts, for a phenomenal 90% success rate.  His OBP of .334 is lowish but acceptable, and his above-average to good defense make Rollins, at 27, one of the very best shortstops in the league.

Abraham Nunez, Third Base, F: What else can be said about the second-worst position player (min. 300 PAs) in MLB this season (his .577 OPS was "topped" only by Neifi Perez's .575 OPS)?  That the Phillies led the National League in runs scored while dragging this anchor around is testament to the prodigious abilities of the top part of the batting order.  His anecdotally sweet defense absolutely cannot make up for his horrendous offensive production.

David Bell, Third Base, C, incomplete: Okay, I'll say it: David Bell wasn't terrible for the Phillies this season.  His trade to Milwaukee in July led to much rejoicing among the Phillies Phaithful, many of whom wanted a do-over when they got to experience the incomparable joys of Abraham Nunez.  His .743 OPS was tolerable, and topped his successor's by over .150.

Mike Lieberthal, Catcher, C+: Catchers have to be evaluated in comparison to their peers.  Despite injuries and being regulated to semi-starter status by the likes of Sal Fasano and later Chris Coste, Lieby managed to hit nine homers in 67 games, and dropped a .785 OPS.  He's not the player he was in 1999, but among other catchers in the league Lieberthal did a decent job this season.  Assuming Lieberthal is gone next season, I think it's fair to say that the Phillies had a pretty solid catcher for the past decade and they'll be fortunate to match his production going forward.

Pat Burrell, Left Field, B-: "Frustrating" and "disappointing" are two of the more gentle words used by Phillies fans to describe Burrell these days.  His struggles with runners in scoring position and other Clutchiness Metrics in 2006 are well-documented, but less discussed are his superior OBP and the possible impact of injuries on his ability to swing the bat.  After dumping both Abreu and Thome in the past year, the team has lost its big OBP thumpers, and trading Burrell would complete the exodus.  A strong, accurate throwing arm helps compensate for a pronounced lack of speed in the outfield.

Pat Burrell is far from perfect, particular in 2006.  But I think the ostracism and scapegoating he has endured are patently unfair, especially in light of the turd that played half the season at third base.

Aaron Rowand, Center Field, D+: Wow, did we get sold a bill of goods on this guy.  Face-mangling catches notwithstanding, Rowand's defense was a letdown after his historically great 2005 season in Chicago.  A .745 OPS from a center fielder can be hurtful, too.  More importantly, the guy's seeming disregard for his own safety or the safety of others (see: Chase Utley collision) makes Aaron Rowand a menace to the team's ability to stay healthy and to score runs.

Shane Victorino, Center Field, C+: What would happen if the Phillies got another player to be Aaron Rowand instead?  Victorino showed the speed, hustle, grit and defensive skill that were reputed to be Rowand's strengths at a fraction of the cost.  Somewhat disappointing power numbers (.414 SLG) and stolen base totals (four bags in seven attempts for the former Hawaiian high school track star) are offset by a solid .346 OBP.  Victorino may be the team's best lead-off option this coming season, if the team is smart and installs him full-time in centerfield and keeps him away from a corner outfield spot where his lack of power will be a pronounced detriment to the team.

Bobby Abreu, Right Field, B+, incomplete: Farewell, Bobby.  Yes, his power badly and inexplicably faded starting late last season, but he kept his OBP numbers ridiculously high and he was still a terrific basestealer.  Even if he was overpaid, a .427 OBP will prove extremely difficult to replace in the long term.  And sure, he was a crummy outfielder but his offense did, does, and will make up for his subpar defense.

David Dellucci, Outfield, B: Who's the real David Dellucci?  The beast who raked and and got on-base like crazy for most of the summer, or the lump who looked helpless in April and September?  Used almost exclusively against right-handed pitching, Dellucci hasn't and likely won't get a chance to hit lefties in Philadelphia.

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