I am not sure why the management of the Philadelphia Phillies have not been taking my advice on this. True, they have one of the best foursome of starting pitchers ever in the history of baseball– albeit, Roy Oswalt might be seriously hurt. But Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Holladay, are a trio for the history books. They will win a lot of games without much offense and the team right now has the best record in baseball.
But their offense this season is pitiful. You can’t have a great team where your corner outfielders are not producing. Raul Ibanez is way past his prime, Bren Francisco is not cutting it, and Dominic Brown might light fire, but that is far from clear. Had the team been smart in the preseason, they might have been able to have gotten Hunter Pence, Carlos Quentin, or Lance Berkman, and be ten games ahead of any other team in the majors. Those players are not available, but Ryan Ludwick still is… and he is the perfect fit for the Phillies.
Let’s start with his spectacular defense. Shane Victorino in center field is one of the great defensive outfielders in the game. And Werth, before he defected, was far above average. But Raul Ibanez, in left, is only getting older each day and is currently ranked one of the worst fielding left fielders in the game: He doesn’t make a lot of errors, but his range is now poor. And even if were hitting— which is he not– he should be relegated to part time or platoon work for his defensive work alone.
The Phillies are one of the best defensive teams in baseball: Short stop Jimmy Rollins is a former gold glover and still one of the premier defensive short stops in the game, Polanco at third is great, Utley is way above average, and Ruiz is one of the great defensive catchers in the game. Add Ludwick to Victorino in outfield and you have one of the best fielding teams in baseball, if not the best.
Opposing batters put the ball in play less than players facing any other teams— Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Madson, Bastardo, and Stutes strike out about one batter, or even more, for every inning they pitch.. Therefore, when defensive wizzards like Victorino and Ruiz and Rollins do their thing they have fewer runners on base to contend with. That is, I believe at the core, of the Phillies’ success. Erase Ibabez in left field, and add Ludwick, and you are helping the team exponentially with their defense.
Offensivley, Ludwick is at a minimum going to hit .260 or .270 with 15 to 20 homeruns. That is such an upgrad over Raul Ibanez or Ben Francisco that it seems insane that the Phillies already don’t have Ludwick. Bite the bullet– give up a prospect or two. And the Phillies won’t have to give up a top flight prospect because Ludwick’s contract is over this year and without being able to keep him beyond this season, no team is going to give the Paders that much. Supposedly, the Seattle Mariners and the Cincinnati Reds are in the hunt too, but it is hard to believe they would give up all that much for Ludwick.
But consider this: In 2008, not that long ago, Ludwick hit .299, 37 HR, and 113 RBI, along with 40 doubles to go to boot. That might have been an outlier season. But is it similar to Jayson Werth’s best season. The difference is that the Phillies lost Werth to the Nationals who now pay the former Philie $22 million a year, while Ludwick would cost the Phillies the equivalent of about half of the five million to six million is still owed over the course of the rest of this season. (Ludwick’s contract is over at the end of this season.) And if Ludwick were to simply have an average season, belting 15-18 home runs, while playing his stellar defense, the Phillies investment in him is well deserved. If the Phillies like how Ludwick plays, they could try and sign him to a long term contract during the season or sign him as a free agent in the off season. On thing is not in doubt: In the meantime, he will helped the Phillies win a pennant– and maybe even a World Series.
But even if Ludwick has even a mediocre season, he is going to win a lot of ballgames for the Phillies.
And one last thing to consider: Ryan Howard is faltering with anyone substantial hitting behind him. Ibanez and Francisco do nothing to intimidate opposing pitchers to throw strikes to Howard Ludwick would.
Finally, there is some talk about the Phillies get Josh Willingham or Mike Cuddeyer. Willingham is a bad idea… more on that later. Cuddyer might fit, but in terms of value, he has far less for the Phillies than Ludwick.
For more information, see here, here, here, here, here, and here.