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Pence, Rollins, Victorino at Heart of Phillies’ Struggles


With only one day and one game left in the month of April, the Phillies find themselves south of .500 and in fourth place in the National League East.  

They are also ranked 25th (out of 30) or worse for every major offensive statistical category except for batting average (they are pretty adept at those non-productive singles).

Their struggles make a strong case for the $25 million that Ryan Howard collects each year as one of the league’s premier run producers.  They may also highlight the value of a heart-and-soul player like Chase Utley.

But, as we continue to watch games like Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Cubs, in which Matt Garza dismissed 18 straight Phillies hitters at one point, one thing becomes pretty clear.  Jimmy Rollins photo: Getty Images

There is a core of high-priced players who are simply not getting it done.  

And that core includes the three highest-paid offensive players not named Ryan Howard or Chase Utley.

For their $11 million investment in Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies are getting a player with a .222 batting average and 5 RBI through 22 games.  He has yet to triple or homer, and he is now taking his .264 on-base percentage back to the leadoff spot.  As the longest-tenured Phillie and one of the team’s undisputed leaders, it has been disappointing to see how little he has sparked the team in its time of greatest offensive need.
Hunter Pence photo: USA Today
Next in line, for both salary and criticism, has got to be Hunter Pence.  Pence is coming off a 5-for-35 week at the plate and is on pace for 162 strikeouts and only 22 walks.  

And before anyone offers the theory that Pence is really struggling without the protection of Ryan Howard, it should be noted that he frequently sported an OPS north of .800 while planted in an awful lineup as a Houston Astro.  For a player who was awarded $10.4 million in arbitration this winter, and likely to seek another raise next season, Pence needs to accept that he is not simply a complementary player in what has become an aging Phillies lineup.

Joining Rollins and Pence in their underachievement has been Shane Victorino, who also finds himself in a pretty major slump.  Victorino has three hits in his last 34 at-bats and has seen his average drop to .230.  In the absence of Howard and Utley, Victorino has failed to be the spark plug that could turn a few of the team’s ugly losses into low-scoring wins.   

I am reminded of a recent comment from a reader in which it was noted that Victorino predicted a league-leading total for triples in 2012.  After 22 games, it seems that Victorino is giving the rest of the league a pretty good head-start, as he has yet to register a three-base hit.   This sort of production will undoubtedly lead to one of the Phillies’ trickiest off-season decisions.  Is Victorino worthy of a long-term contract that is sure to be a raise from the $9.5 million per season that he is currently making.Shane Victorino photo:  Gene Puskar (A.P.)

So, if you are keeping score at home, Rollins, Pence, and Victorino are in a collective 9-for-84 slump.  For the month of April, they were outplayed by Juan Pierre, Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix (who combine to earn less than 20% as much).

The Phillies are currently a struggling baseball team that can only score runs when stringing together lots of singles.   Perhaps there is help on the way as Utley seems to be making progress with his physical therapy, and Howard may finally start doing some baseball activities this week.

But regardless of the status of Utley and Howard, there are high-priced players on the Phillies roster that are supposed to be better than what we are seeing.  Rollins, Pence and Victorino may be better as supporting cast types, but the fact is that they are being paid like players who should be expected to put up quality offensive numbers.

Now, the calendar turns to May, and the direction of the Phillies’ 2012 season could very well be determined by how much these three players turn things around.

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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Pence: USA Today
Rollins: Getty Images
Victorino:  Gene Puskar (A.P.)