Monday, December 19, 2011
Are the Phillies getting too old?
By David Schoenfield
Jimmy Rollins didn't get the five-year contract he was allegedly seeking. He didn't even get a guaranteed four-year contract. Rollins and the Phillies have agreed on a three-year deal with a vesting option for a fourth year.
Bringing back shortstop Jimmy Rollins means the Phillies will continue to field one of the oldest lineups in the majors.
Rollins will be 33 for the 2012 season. Assuming he stays healthy the first three years, the fourth season will take him through his age-36 season. With Chase Utley -- he's the same age as Rollins -- also signed for two more seasons, my first thought about the Rollins contract: Has a team won with a middle infield that old?
Well, the answer is ... yes. In 2011. By the postseason, the Cardinals' primary double-play combo was 33-year-old Nick Punto and 33-year-old Rafael Furcal. They weren't the primary regulars during the season, as Skip Schumacher and Ryan Theriot (both 31) got the most innings at second and shortstop. Still, that's a rarity; over the past five seasons, the only playoff teams where both members of the double-play combo were older than 30 were the 2010 and '11 Phillies, the 2009 Twins (Punto and Orlando Cabrera) and the 2009 Dodgers (Orlando Hudson and Furcal).
Overall, the ages of Rollins and Utley don't bother me too much for the next couple of seasons, as both are superior athletes who remain solid hitters for their positions. Neither are as good as they were in 2007, when the Phillies' began their impressive run of five straight playoff appearances. This is apparent in their OPS+ totals since 2007:
The other issue, of course, is the ability of both to remain healthy. Rollins has missed 94 games the past two seasons, Utley 106. Rollins missed 74 games in 2010 with a variety of calf, hamstring and foot injuries, and missed three weeks in 2011 with a pulled groin. Utley missed time in 2010 with a thumb injury and in 2011 with a knee problem. You can argue that those were freak injuries, that Utley is recoved from his knee injury, that Rollins played 142 games in 2011. Maybe that's true, but this is what happens to most players as they age.
The other issue for the Phillies is that they had the oldest lineup in the majors in 2011, averaging 31.5 years of age (weighted for number of plate appearances). Placido Polanco will be 36, Rollins, Utley and Carlos Ruiz will be 33, Ryan Howard 32, Shane Victorino 31. They will replace 39-year-old Raul Ibanez with younger legs in left field and they'll have Hunter Pence for a full season, but the offensive declines of Rollins and Utley mirror the decline of a once-feared attack:
Phillies' runs scored:
With Ryan Howard likely out for three months and nearly all the other regulars a year older, is there reason to be optimistic that the Phillies will score more runs in 2011? And, no, Ty Wigginton isn't the answer to "yes."
Of course, despite that declining offense, the Phillies have increased their victory total each season during their playoff run: from 89 to 92 to 93 to 97 to 102. It's an impressive accomplishment, but I think the Phillies will be hard-pressed to improve for a fifth year in a row.