We know about the moves the Phillies made themselves to improve, like the additions of Jonathan Papelbon, Ty Wigginton, and Laynce Nix, but moves, or lack therof, by other teams have helped the Phillies just as much.
Albert Pujols: 10 years, 240 million. Gone. Prince Fielder: 9 years, 214 million. Gone. Both of these players now call the AL their home, which means that the Phillies will not have to deal with either of them for more than one series each year, and not in the playoffs, unless it’s the World Series.
Think about the effect this has on the overall quality of competition the Phillies pitchers will have to face. They will play the Cardinals and Brewers a total of 14 times in 2012, and none against the Angels or Tigers. Fielder hit an incredible .440/.533/.560 against the Phillies last year, while Pujols hit .356/.408/.533. Now that both of them are gone, the Phillies pitchers can breathe a sigh of relief.
This means that guys like Kyle Kendrick, David Herndon, Michael Stutes, and Vance Worley–all guys who are young (except Kendrick)–can pitch with more confidence when facing the Brewers or Cardinals because of the absence of Fielder and Pujols. Confidence is a powerful thing, just look what it did to Kendrick last year.
Another effect that the absence of these these two power hitters will be the Cy Young race. Aside from the Phillies seeing these guys less, the rest of the NL will as well, meaning that Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy, all the pitchers on the Giants, and others, will theoretically have even better stats in 2012. Here’s a look at each of the 2011 Cy Young candidates career numbers and career numbers against Pujols and Fielder:
As you can see, with the exception of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, each pitcher’s career OPS against is lower than their OPS against when facing either Fielder or Pujols. Both Halladay and Lee have the two best numbers against Pujols, but the two worst against Fielder. None of that will matter, anymore, however. We can expect to see a multitude of good pitching in the NL this year, with possibly even another record breaking year for the pitchers.
But there’s more. With Fielder and Pujols in their respective lineups, the Brewers and Cardinals had a guy that made everyone around him better. Guys like Casey McGehee, Corey Hart, David Freese, and Colby Rasmus all benefited from having the big guys in the lineup. Whether pitchers would give attack them with more strikes in fear of giving up a walk, or whether having Fielder and Pujols in the lineup just gave them more confidence, these guys were unquestionably better players with Fielder and Pujols.
But now without them in the lineup, the ripple effect will hurt every player on the roster. It’s easy to play alongside an MVP candidate, but not so much when that production must be made up once they’re gone. If I had to guess, I’d say that the Brewers and Cardinals will go from being the top two teams in in NL Central to being maybe the 2nd and 3rd best teams. One of them, if not both, will not make the playoffs in 2012, and the absence of the two big first basemen will make the regular season a whole lot easier for not only the Phillies, but the rest of the NL.
The Phillies three aces just got a little more “ace-ier”, and the Phils offensive woes just got a little easier to deal with.