Who can Phillies least afford to lose: Rollins, Utley, or Howard?

The injury bug has infected practically anything wearing a Phillies uniform this season. Rollins is the 11th player to join a DL club that includes 5 position players, 3 starters, and 3 relievers. Heck, even the Phanatic got knocked on his keester this year. With the best record in baseball and a nice little cushion on the Braves, the Phillies can withstand the storm for now. As with the recent earthquake, the Phillies can consider it little more than mild discomfort.

But we don’t want injuries when October rolls around, so I started wondering who the Phillies could least live without. Let’s say the Phillies lose Rollins, Utley, or Howard for the rest of the season and throughout the playoffs (which isn’t a stretch since all have been hurt at some point). Who can the Phillies afford to lose least?

Let’s examine each player, case by case.

Jimmy Rollins is unquestionably the worst hitter of the three. At this point in his career Rollins has good but not great speed, is a below average hitter, and has limited power. But losing his defense (Rollins has the second best fielding percentage EVER) is a huge loss. Martinez and Valdez have held their own, but they don’t stabilize the middle of the infield like Jimmy and do not evoke the same trust from Phillies pitchers.
You also lose your leadoff man. Rollins is not, and never has been, a prototypical leadoff hitter, but he is the best candidate to leadoff and he allows Victorino and Polanco to bat where they belong.

Then there is his leadership. There is not one single player in that dugout who is better suited to lead than Rollins. It is impossible to quantify how much of an effect he has on the team, but the Phillies immediately improved the minute Rollins become the unofficial leader after Bobby Abreu was traded in 2006. Since that point the Phillies have a .620 winning percentage. Seems like darn good evidence to me.

Think back to when it was possible we might not see Chase Utley at all. It was a bleak time. The team performed well, but everyone knew it would be immeasurably tougher to win in the playoffs.

Number three hitters don’t grow on trees, and Utley is the perfect #3 hitter. His absence disrupts the entire lineup and removes a huge chunk of the fear in opposing teams.

Offensively, Utley hits for a decent average, can run a little, and can drive the ball well, but is nowhere near Howard in the power category. The drop-off in offense between Utley and Valdez or Martinez is roughly 50 points in average and a bunch of home runs and RBIs. No doubt it would hurt to lose his bat.

Utley is no better than average at second base, but he works well with Rollins at an extremely important position. Even so, Valdez, Polanco, or Martinez can play at least as well defensively.

Howard haters see the strikeouts, poor average, and apparent lack of adjustments. But, as they say, “there is no defense against a home run.” Removing Howard from the lineup eliminates the one true power threat. Howard doesn’t average 30+ homers and 120+ RBIs each season by shear luck. Life without Ryan Howard is simply not as good.

However, if there is one position that be filled the easiest, it is 1st base. Utley, Ibanez, or Mayberry could play first base in place of Howard and give Charlie Manuel a lot of flexibility. Mayberry is the obvious choice, and he may actually not be as dramatic a decline offensively as we once thought.

Phils are better without all three?

To get a gauge of how the team plays with and without Rollins, Utley, and Howard, I looked at the Phillies records with and without each player from 2006 through 2011. 2006 was a good starting point since that was the first time all three players started together.

The numbers say the Phillies are better without Rollins, Utley, or Howard. Overall as a team, the Phillies have a .574 winning percentage and an average of 93 wins since 2006. Here is how they perform without Rollins, Utley, and Howard:

The Phillies have the same winning percentage with or without Rollins, but they are better without Utley and WAY better without Howard. I don’t trust any statistic that suggests the Phillies would be a significantly better team without Ryan Howard, but it does make you think…

The Verdict
Considering their impact on the field, at the plate, and in the clubhouse, as well considering who will replace them, in my mind the Phillies can least afford to lose Jimmy Rollins. I feel like a crazy man even as I write this, but the overall impact on the team might be greater without Rollins.

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