Beerleaguer was rather harsh in his assessment of the starting lineup the Phillies will be trotting out today, calling it “the worst lineup card in history.” Their performance today didn’t do anything to disprove his assertion. Yes, it truly was awful, but for me the standard by which all bad Phillies team are judged against will be the ’96 squad. It is easily the atrocious Phillies team I’m most familiar with since I actually went to The Vet and Shea Stadium a combined nine times that year to watch it find innovative ways to lose and make me lament that the previous World Series was a scant three years before. With that in mind, I thought I do a quick-and-dirty comparison of today’s lineup to its ’96 counterparts to see which is actually better.
To make a proper comparison, I am purposefully comparing each of today’s starters to the player on the ’96 squad who most closely filled the same role. Thus if a regular starter, such as a Ryan Howard or Chase Utley, is beginning the game on the bench today, then his replacement is getting compared to the ’96 team’s backup player for the position. Admittedly, it’s highly unlikely that the members of the ’96 team that appear below actually constituted a starting lineup on any day of the season, but it would take far too much work for me to examine each box score from that year to determine which ’96 Phillies starting lineup was its worst. So, without further ado…
Starting Pitcher: Dustin McGowan vs. Russ Springer
Dustin is a reliever and former starter who is being called on to make a spot start today. His closest analog is Russ Springer, who filled a similar role for the ’96 team, appearing in 51 games and starting in seven of them. McGowan has a career WAR of 2.2 and has done nothing to embarrass himself or the team out of the pen this year. Alternatively, Springer entered the ’96 season with a career WAR of -0.5 and finished it with a -0.8
Advantage: 2015 Phillies
Featured card: 1996 Leaf Signature Extended Series Autographs (no #), Russ Springer
Catcher: Cameron Rupp vs. Mike Lieberthal
It’s a shame that we’re comparing backups here because I’d like to take a few moments to talk about lucky the Phillies were in their acquisition of Benito Santiago at the beginning of the ’96 campaign. The club decided they wanted a veteran to fill-in while they waited for Lieberthal to mature enough to become the regular starter, and Santiago filled the role admirably, putting up All-Star caliber numbers. He left the team via free agency following the season and Lieberthal became arguably the best catcher in team history.
We won’t be saying anything remotely similar about Rupp when he takes over for Carlos Ruiz.
Advantage: 1996 Phillies
Featured Card: 2014 Immaculate Collection #108, Cameron Rupp
First Base: Darin Ruf vs. Kevin Jordan
At the moment, Ruf is the backup first baseman, so we compare him to Jordan since he started the second most games at the position in ’96. (Interestingly, Jon Zuber and Gene Schall both started nearly as many games at the position as Jordan.) As far as backups go, Jordan actually had a decent season in ’96, providing a 0.5 WAR for the year and an OPS of 93. As much as it pains me to say it, Ruf thus far has been an offensive black hole. In fact, his performance over 15 games in 2015 has eliminated all but 0.1 WAR he accumulated in the first 137 games of his career. Ouch.
Advantage: 1996 Phillies
Featured Card: 1996 Collector’s Choice #33, Kevin Jordan
Second Base: Cesar Hernandez vs. David Doster
By now, you’ll have noticed a recurring theme here. Once again, we are comparing backups. If we were comparing starters, this would be a no-brainer of a contest with Utley vs. Morandini. Instead, we have this. It’s actually a fairly close comparison in that both players are/were playing at the age of 25. However, Doster was making his major league debut while this is Hernandez’s third season appearing in the majors. Mind you, Hernandez hasn’t shown much thus far at this level and has a career WAR of -1.0. However, he hasn’t hurt the team this year, or helped them for that matter, in his limited playing time; current ’16 WAR is 0.0. Doster’s 113 plate appearances in ’96 were just as mundane, netting a WAR of 0.1
Featured Card: 1996 Flair Wave of the Future #7, David Doster
Third Base: Cody Asche vs. Todd Ziele
Finally, a chance to compare starters. At first glance, they couldn’t appear more different. Asche is in just his second full year as a starter while Ziele was a respected veteran playing in his eighth major league season. However, both started the season as placeholders while a highly-regarded prospect gained additional seasoning at AAA. Thus far, Asche has already accumulated 0.5 WAR this season, but it’s unlikely he’ll continue at this torrid pace all year long. However, it’s not a stretch to argue that he could exceed the 1.7 WAR Ziele provided before being traded along with Pete Incaviglia to the Orioles for Calvin Maduro and Garrett Stevenson.
Slight edge: 2015 Phillies
Featured Card: 2014 Topps Heritage #75, Cody Asche
Shortstop: Andres Blanco vs. Mike Benjamin
Before I tackle this one, I’m glad that thus far Freddy Galvis has proven utterly wrong my assessment of him back on Opening Day. Admittedly, it’s based on a small sample size, but thus far he’s really been a bright spot for the Phillies both on the field at at the plate. I’d love to compare him to Kevin Stocker, but we have another battle of the backups — our fourth out of the five infield positions. I’d like to say I remember something of Mike Benjamin’s ’96 campaign, but I don’t. In fact, I remember nothing at all of him and according to my ticket stubs, I saw him start at short on three different occasions. I suspect Blanco’s ’15 season with the Phillies will be just as memorable.
Featured Card: 2015 Phillies Team Issue (no #), Andres Blanco
Left Field: Ben Revere vs. Pete Incaviglia
Just our second comparison of starters, and this one isn’t even close. In his three seasons with the Phillies, Incaviglia provided 3.0 WAR and an OPS+ of 106. Revere’s Phillies career thus far: 1.3 WAR and an OPS+ of 85, with 60 more plate appearances. Stolen bases and triples can be exciting, but Revere doesn’t provide enough of either to match the excitement of watching Incaviglia absolutely crushing a pitch. Furthermore, as bad as Incaviglia was in the field, Revere really hasn’t been that much better.
Advantage: 1996 Phillies
Featured Card: 1995 Score #131 Pete Incaviglia
Center Field: Odubel Herrera vs. Ricky Otero
Admittedly, we’re looking at small samples sizes again, but as the Phillies pointed out on their Twitter feed a couple days ago, Herrera is currently amongst the leaders in several rookie offensive categories. Admittedly, he’s still a work in progress in his transition to the outfield, but he’s quickly proving that the Phillies made the right decision in picking him up in the Rule 5 Draft. Otero, on the other hand, was a passable defensive center fielder, but those skills were completely overshadowed by his offensive deficiencies.
Advantage: 2015 Phillies
Featured card: 1997 Topps Stadium Club #328, Ricky Otero
Right Field: Jeff Francoeur vs. Jim Eisenreich
Massive Advantage: 1996 Phillies
Featured Card: 1996 E-XL #244, Jim Eisenreich
Final score: The ’96 squad exceeds today’s lineup at four positions, with two positions being judged a “push.” With some luck today’s lineup might win in a head-to-head match, but they will need a lot of help from the bench. I don’t know about “worst lineup card in history,” but it definitely looks like it could be the worst in my lifetime.