I just realized that back in November when the Phillies traded away Jim Thome, we were so excited to see Gillick’s first move as GM that we didn’t give Aaron Rowand a proper introduction. Let’s take care of that right now. First, it must be stated that many people, including myself, believe that the new Phils centerfield will play a major role this season both on and off the field. Back in Chicago, White Sox fans were sad to see Rowand depart and Carl Everett has even claimed the Sox won’t be able to repeat due a change in clubhouse chemistry without Rowand (and himself of course). This is typical of what we hear about Rowand – he’s got a great attitude – but less discussed are his numbers which, while not overly impressive, should be sufficient.
Rowand was a first round draft pick of the Sox in the 1998 draft, selected 35th overall. He came up in 2001 and has played all three outfield positions but has since settled in center, playing 157 games there last season. There shouldn’t be many questions about his defense, he compiled a .992 fielding percentage last year and has a lifetime .988 FP. He has some speed too, as he swiped 17 bases in 2004 and 16 in 2005. This will be especially useful with the loss of Kenny Lofton.
Offensively, Rowand had a career year in 2004 belting 24 home runs and driving in 69 with a .310/.361/.544 AVG/OBP/SLG. Although he tailed off a bit last season, he maintained his RBI numbers while batting fifth for the Sox the majority of the season. His lifetime line reads .283/.337/.451. The number that has been on the rise in recent years however is not a good one – strikeouts. Rowand struck out 116 times last season up from 91 in 2004 and way up from only 21 in 2003 (though he did play in 50 less games that season). As the graph below indicates, he also has a poor BB/K ratio which can be seen from his Spring Training numbers thus far; he walked just 32 times last season.
This then brings up the point as to where to place Rowand in the batting order. Charlie Manuel certainly has plenty of options. Rowand, as mentioned above, batted mostly in the 5 spot but also hit 3rd and 7th in the White Sox’s World Series lineup. Manuel will have to take into consideration his speed, his more or less league average OBP, and the fact that he’s a righty. David Pinto, while musing on the spot switch-hitting Abraham Nunez should have in the lineup, says Rowand would be the better choice to bat second, which is where he is being rumored to open the season. Again going to Baseball Musings for advice, I inputted the Phillies lineup into the handy dandy Lineup Analysis tool and was told the best Phillies lineup has Rowand batting 6th. This is probably where I would put Rowand as well, keeping Nunez or Bell seventh. Still, some have even mentioned the possibility of platooning Rowand with Shane Victorino in the number 2 spot.
No matter where Rowand bats, he should have a positive impact on the Phils this season. His youth should help him to easily integrate with his new team and his playoff experience will be an asset in the clubhouse. Though not the offensive powerhouse, the rest of the lineup should be able to pick up the slack. His outfield defense will be key and I’m sure Phillies fans will appreciate his hard-nosed style of play. Although he has struggled some in Spring Training, he should be ready to play come April at which time I’ll be excited to finally see the Phillies with an everyday centerfielder.