Lack of Above-Average Positional Talent Haunts Phillies – Phillies Nation

Lack of Above-Average Positional Talent Haunts Phillies

The Phillies, on most nights, start six position players that were drafted and developed through the Philadelphia minor league ranks, by far, the most in baseball. It takes only a quick review of batting averages, on-base percentages, and the Phillies won/loss record to demonstrate that this has become a detriment. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. In 2008, five of eight Phillies’ positional starters had been drafted or signed by the Phillies. And it wasn’t uncommon in 2008, and even 2009, 2010, and possibly 2011, to hear national broadcasters in the playoffs comment that the Phillies were among the best franchises in developing talent.

Oh, how things have changed.

Since 2006, the Phillies have not produced an above-average regular position player for even just one season since Michael Bourn and Carlos Ruiz were called up. An above-average regular is defined as a player worth two or more fWAR. Of course, home-grown position players have had great seasons in that span: Jimmy Rollins won the 2007 MVP, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were multiple-time All-Stars, and Ruiz has been among the National League’s most consistent catchers. But no player that the Phillies have drafted, kept or traded, has had one season of two wins or more.

Above Average MLBers

Note: 2014 is estimated at 59% of 2 fWAR or 1.19 WAR.

As you can see from the chart above, these type of players aren’t exactly uncommon. In an average year over the last eight seasons, you could expect any given team to have about four and a half players that are above average, so a team will have either four or five of these players. As you can see with the dotted green line, the Phillies, at one point, had many, many above-average players and have since struggled to replace them.

The easiest response to this would be to say that the Phillies traded away all of their young talent to acquire players like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. While the Phillies certainly did trade away a number of young players, and in some cases, top prospects, not one position player has had a season above two fWAR either. There are a handful of players that have a chance to break this streak: the departed Travis d’Arnaud, Domingo Santana, and Jonathan Singleton all are expected to be above-average Major Leaguers while Domonic Brown posted a 1.7 WAR season last year. Cody Asche is in the midst of a negative-win season.

What’s interesting is where the average and below-average players are found. For instance, Rollins and Utley have been a combined 15 of 16 in above-average seasons from 2007-2014, meaning the Phillies home-grown veterans up the middle have continue to have delivered. Similarly, veteran catcher Ruiz has been above average in five of the last eight seasons. Where the Phillies have struggled to replace production is the outfield. It is this production that creates the complex decision of whether or not to hold on to veterans or attempt to receive valuable prospects in return.

Without even having to worry above having to find top-notch talent in three of the most talent-scarce positions, the Phillies haven’t developed anyone anywhere else on the diamond. Sure, many would point to misses on draft picks like Anthony Hewitt and Zach Collier in 2008 but the issue goes back further. Marti Wolever, Phils Director of Scouting, and company have not drafted an above-average Major League regular since Bourn in 2003.

Yes, it has been 11 years the Phillies have drafted an above-average regular. And an even crazier 16 years since the Phillies found an above-average international free agent.

I will cede the following: a team drafting a high schooler has six years to get them to the Majors and five years, for simplicity’s sake, a player 19 years or older. Excluding anyone from 2010 on, there is a gap of eight drafts where the Phillies whiffed on drafting and developing a Major League regular. This includes players they traded away. In that time, the Phillies also did not find and develop an international player to above-averageness, either.

So, what exactly is the problem? Well, there were a few chicken and egg situations. Or at least some situations that became chicken and egg.

First, the Phillies lost their first round pick in 2009 by signing Raul Ibanez. This was the first instance of the development drought rearing its ugly head: the Phillies had no in-house replacement in left field and chose to sign a Type-A free agent, costing them their pick. And while the Phillies lost their first rounders in 2011 and 2012 for signing Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon, respectively when they chose to upgrade upon in-house pitching options, the signings complicated finding position players. As this cycle repeated, it made it more difficult to determine where it started.

Secondly, as the team’s general manager demonstrated the weekend Jimmy Rollins broke the hit record and didn’t quite understand the difference between at-bats and plate appearances, the Phillies have only a passing knowledge of modern baseball analytics, relying primarily on scouting. The strange aversion and arrogance toward using every possible tool for analysis has slowly choked the teams’ chances for extended success like a boa constrictor searching for the neck of its prey.

Third, there is an an element of trading a player a year too late rather than a year too early or adding unnecessary extra years or options to already above-market contracts. Deals for Ibanez and Placido Polanco were predicted to be one year too long and both vindicated nay sayers by producing subpar final years. In the cases of Papelbon and Marlon Byrd, additional vesting options are scaring teams off from discussing the veteran Phils in trade talks.

For Phillies fans, the problem runs beyond General Manager Ruben Amaro yet, some of the blame must be put on Amaro because the problem continues on his watch. The same scouting director that selected Utley in 2000, Howard in 2001, Cole Hamels in 2002, and Bourn in 2003 has gone on an unprecedented cold streak, missing on higher probability picks and failing to nab an above-average position player in the draft in 13 years and failing to sign an above-average international player in 16.

In an odd way, credit should go to Amaro for dealing talent that did not develop and turning them into pieces that helped them remain competitive. d’Arnaud, Santana, and Singleton have the best chances to become above-average Major Leaguers with Jonathan Villar having an outside shot of those who were traded away. But with the cupboard bare and the Phillies in the basement, this is not a time to celebrate such an achievement. No, it’s time to talk about why the Phillies haven’t had a new, above-average Major Leaguer since Bourn and Ruiz became Major Leaguers.



  1. Hogey's Role

    July 21, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but can’t some of these misses also be related to the fact we were drafting high school kids for raw potential more so than college talent with somewhat of a more substantial track record…. I know this philosophy changed somewhat this year.

    • Christian Stech

      July 21, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      There are some that the writer failed to mention that our minor league GM traded away. This would be Cosart, and Happ. He also traded away good outfield of Pence in RF, Singelton in CF and Shane moved to LF.

      • Hogey's Role

        July 21, 2014 at 2:30 pm

        Cosset has the chance to be pretty good, there are times that he’s looked brilliant and other times not so much…. Happ has never regained or shown the promise that he did when he was pitching for us….

        The pence trade all in all was a bad trade, I would say the worst thing Ruben has done by far as gm, that said I understand why he dealt pence and victories and I supported those moves, however what he got in return has not worked out for us…

        And idk if you are referring to Jonathan singleton as playing cf, but that’s a little far stretched as he’s a first baseman….

        I’ve said it repeatedly that the pence trade would and will hurt us especially Domingo Santana who projects as a corner outfielder, and in my opinion is the most talented piece in that trade we gave up….

        The halladay and lee trades we didn’t lose much other than d’arnaud, who still hasn’t proved much… The oswalt trade hurt a little bit with Jonathan collar, but he still hasn’t produced…
        At the time we were trying to win and we had a good run, we just didn’t replenish the system the way we would have hoped to

      • Hogey's Role

        July 21, 2014 at 2:31 pm

        Cosart has the chance to be…….

        Damn iPhone

  2. George

    July 21, 2014 at 9:49 am

    I agree with Hogey here. A “raw potential” kid doesn’t always work out. A college guy at least is facing a slightly higher level of competition than a high schooler.

    One thing I believe that is over-emphasized when signing draft picks is the Phils’ limited use of so called analytics. You can’t analize much except raw talent (speed, arm stength, bat speed, swing mechanics, etc.) when a player has only maybe 3 years of experience, and that experience is against competion that is mostly comprised of players who will never even be drafted.

    When your home talent provides as much as the Utleys, Rollinses, and others did, you can take a few chances on raw talent picks. Part of what has happened, though, is that the Phils kept at that draft strategy for too long. After so many Hewitts and Colliers, you would think they’d have learned a little sooner, but when you have home grown talent like the Phils of 2005-2010, maybe you don’t see as great a need. Maybe, too, you don’t see devastating injuries like blown Achilles tendons or degenerative knees. Maybe had those injuries been predictible, the draft strategy would have changed sooner.

    • Double Trouble Del

      July 21, 2014 at 10:07 am

      George, I was in the process of crafting a response similar to yours. I always go back to the example of an Albert Pujols who, I believe, was selected in the 13th round of the 1999 draft. The art or science of scouting has been poorly practiced by the directors of player development in the Phils’ organization. They have either not scouted enough or had too limited a view of the talent pool to find a gem. Meanwhile, more than likely because they don’t want to admit their misjudgments (or perhaps due to pressure from the Phillies front office), they stick with players like Dom Brown, Tyson Gillies, Anthony Hewitt, Zach Collier or Larry Greene, to the extent that they haven’t drafted for THEIR replacements hence the dearth of outfield talent currently plaguing the team.

    • Ryne Duren

      July 21, 2014 at 10:17 am

      Both of you gentlemen have it correct! I agree college talent is already playing at the AA level. The Phils if they do draft college level talent send them right to low a ball. If that was me I’d feel like why are they sticking me down here? Do you think that might play a roll as to why some guys might not do well? I also think that the handling of their minor talent isn’t that good. When a young guy sees the parent club not doing well I would be like, I have to do better or they’ll never call me up. Hence they press and their numbers end up not good, which hampers them even more. I mean that’s not an excuse for these guys because at some point they have to man up and play their game and let the chips fall were they may. Or in a lot of cases they just don’t have what it takes! And to me that’s on the talent evaluator of the Phillies. Which I think they are lacking big time.
      This organization needs changes top to bottom before they can right the ship. There is a couple of guys I think they got lucky on. Crawford, Quinn etc. Even Giles! never heard of him till this year.

      • miketink

        July 27, 2014 at 1:56 pm

        I am a Dodger fan who lives in the Philadelphia area. The Dodgers start their college draft players at low A or below. I think this is common which would imply that college ball is not at the AA level. Occasionally a highly thought of college pitcher might start at high A or AA especially a relief pitcher but not a position player. College position players who do really well might make it to high A by the end of their first year

  3. Puba

    July 21, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Going to college doesn’t necessarily make you more of a prospect. They’re all risky. College pitchers, although they face a higher level of competition, often have more wear on their arms than a high school kid and therefore have more chance to develop injuries. College hitters sometimes pan out, like a chase utley or pedroia, but not always. College guys are a safer pick, sure, but a pick with potentially with less upside. High schoolers are less safe but if someone is talented enough and gets enough of a bonus they usually forego college.The competition may be better in college, depending on what conference you play in (playing at Temple is not the same as playing in the SEC conference), but look at the biggest names in the game and a good portion of them probably were drafted out of high school. If you can play, you can play. But, just to start the conversation: Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton, Tim Lincecum, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter, A-Rod**, Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder, Josh Beckett, Matt Holiday, and a lot more. There are a lot of college drafted players who succeed obviously, but I think whether a team takes a chance on high schoolers depends on the state of the team at the time. Ideally, you’d draft the most talented player on the board, because it’s going to take 3-5 years before they make the big club anyway. But if mike trout or giancarlo stanton is sitting there on draft day it would be foolish to pass on them simply because they’re still in high school

    • Geoff

      July 22, 2014 at 8:53 am

      It’s about risk management. The chance the picks fails completely is less with a college kid. Less upside usually. Well, the Phillies after years of not being able to find any high school picks to work need more sure things.

  4. Eric

    July 21, 2014 at 11:30 am

    What a great article. This issue needs to be exposed. I’ve been hoping someone would bring this up in such a detailed and thoughtful way because it is the number one problem with this organization and I’d love to hear the Phillies front office respond to it. Their drafting record and player development failures are a disgrace.

    I heard an interview with Bill Giles last week and his excuse was that during the championship run they didn’t get any “meaningful” draft picks. What a bunch of BS. I’m sure we could produce a list of hall of famers that weren’t drafted in the first round. There is plenty of talent available if you know what your doing or at least get lucky once in a while. Its simply mind boggling that they have been this bad for more than a decade.

    Let’s hope the recent couple of drafts reverse the trend because I’m sick about this team and the outlook for the next several years.

  5. Lefty

    July 21, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Nice piece Ian, thanks.

    I’m too lazy to do the work, but I am left wondering how many 2 War players the other teams have produced in comparison. I mean- is it a ridiculous number or do they each have in the area of maybe one every three years or something like that?

    • Scotty Ingerton

      July 21, 2014 at 12:35 pm

      In their past 10 drafts preceding 2013, the Phillies rank last in combined WAR of their draftees.

      “According to Baseball Reference, the combined WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of Phillies draft picks over the past 10 years is 20.7, which is a remarkable 24.6 points lower than the 29th ranked Blue Jays (45.3).

      The Red Sox (142.7), Braves (133.3) and Angels (124.4) are the top three teams.”

      The first thing that the next GM needs to do is to rebuild the scouting department in my opinion.

      • schmenkman

        July 21, 2014 at 12:47 pm

        They’ve had a lot of misses, but they haven’t been helped by 1) picking later because of good records, and 2) having the fewest first round picks of any team in baseball from 2000 through 2013. Even with those two considerations they probably wouldn’t rank well, but I don’t think there’s been a review yet of drafting success which compares teams’ actual performance with *expected* performance, given the number of picks and their draft position. Average value of draft picks drops off dramatically by the second half of the first round.

        I had written up something last winter, fwiw:

      • Lefty

        July 21, 2014 at 12:54 pm

        These quotes are not good

        “I think Marti has done a very good job,” Amaro said. “We’ve got players who are on this field right now — like [Darin] Ruf, [Ryan] Howard and others — that are products of Marti’s Drafts. Guys like [David] Buchanan and others. Those are guys that have made an impact on the organization. Is there room for improvement?

        “We want to do better in all of our areas. I think we’ve done pretty darn well, but there is room for improvement anywhere.”

        Not good at all

      • Lefty

        July 21, 2014 at 12:58 pm

        What I meant by that was that you can’t fix a problem if you’re not convinced you have one.

      • Double Trouble Del

        July 21, 2014 at 1:22 pm

        Most GMs will not throw their staff under the bus because it reflects poorly on themselves not only for retaining that staffer but for being perceived as disloyal.

      • George

        July 21, 2014 at 2:55 pm

        Lefty, I would think that Amaro’s comment that “We want to do better in all of our areas.” indicates that he is not entirely satisfied, and that there is a problem somewhere along the line with the development people.

        And, as Double Trouble Del points out, calling out one’s personnel in public is not a very nice or effective way to do business.

      • Lefty

        July 21, 2014 at 3:44 pm

        Good point by both of you- what else would he say publicly? Still troubling to wonder if he believes it.

      • c. schreiber

        July 21, 2014 at 8:06 pm

        Amen Scotty!!!

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