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Phillies First Half Grades: Starting infielders defining mediocrity

I am not really sure what to make of the Phillies starting infield this season, other than the fact that it is aging and breaking down frequently enough that an argument to shake things up and get younger now is completely valid if the right pieces are available. I have already spoken my mind on how to address the Ryan Howard situation. As much as I respect what Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley have done to help turn this franchise around, neither should be considered untradeable in the eyes of a good general manager, but it looks as though Michael Young might be the most attractive trading chip in the infield in Philadelphia as we draw closer and closer to the trade deadline at the end of the month.

Yesterday I handed out grades for the starting rotation, which was a tad easier for me to get through. Today we evaluate the first half performances of the starting infield. We'll worry about reserves and bench players later.

A reminder that my grades are handed out individually and are based off of individual expectations for each player. So the grade Utley receives should not be directly compared to the grade given to Young or Rollins.

Carlos Ruiz
.268 AVG, 6 RBI, 0 HR

Ruiz has played in just 40 games after getting off to a late start thanks to a suspension. After a career year in 2012, it looks painfully obvious just how much Ruiz's extra help was aiding him last season if this season is any indication. At the break, Ruiz has his lowest season batting average since hitting .255 in 2009 and he has yet to hit a home run after hitting 16 last season. True, Ruiz is not known to provide much of the power in the Phillies line-up, but even before last season he has been known to come through with a big hit from time to time. Maybe this is a result of getting off to a late start in the regular season. To be fair, Ruiz does have a .313 BABIP at the break but his strikeout percentage is his highest of his career in a season so far. Defensively Ruiz has still been pretty solid behind the plate, although it doesn't feel like he is having his strongest season defensively. Still, I would take him behind the plate before any of the other options.

Grade: C

Chase Utley
.272 AVG, 30 RBI, 11 HR

Chase Utley has started to strikeout a little more frequently this season, with his highest strikeout percentage since 2009 at the break but his BABIP is up from last season by almost 30 points. Utley also has shown a bit more power in his bat this season, already matching his 2012 home run total (11 home runs) in 16 fewer games played (Utley played in 83 games after starting the season on the DL last season). Utley may not be the player he was during the World Series runs, but Utley appears to have been playing better than many might have suspected. There is a concern about Utley defensively though, with the second baseman entering the break with what would clearly be a career low in fielding percentage (hampered down by a recent three-error game). Utley has committed 12 errors, now five shy of tying a career high (18 errors in 2006). Utley had 11 errors over 181 games the past two seasons combined.

Grade: C

Ryan Howard
.266 AVG, 43 RBI, 11 HR

Let's not kid ourselves here. Ryan Howard started the season less than 100 percent, just as he was rushed back to the field in 2012. The lingering injury concern that started with the final at-bat of the 2011 NLDS has never fully gone away and watching Howard hobble around the bases was painful for those of us watching at home on the couch, so we can only imagine the pain the big fella was playing through. Despite the injuries, Howard managed to hit his highest BABIP since his MVP season of 2006. That said, his walk ratio has continued to plummet and his strikeout percentage was still high at 30 percent. I have learned to accept strikeouts from Howard, and his season numbers aren't all that much worst than his career trends, but Howard was on track to have career lows in home runs and RBI before hitting the disabled list. Will he return? Who knows. If he comes back healthy, for real this time, maybe he can some power in the line-up, but that should not be expected. Howard has clearly been injured, so his grade may be on a  bit of a curve here.

Grade: C-

Jimmy Rollins
.258 AVG, 30 RBI, 4 HR

Jimmy Rollins tends to be an easy target for fans, but is he having as bad a season as some might think? Rollins enters the break well below his 2012 home run and stolen base totals but he is coming through with a comparable hit and doubles-triples total. It looks as though Rollins has lost a little bit of his speed, which is expected for a 34-year old. Rollins is hitting with a higher BABIP than 2012 (highest since 2008 so far) but he still does not walk enough and strikes out too much. He also pops up a lot. Defensively, Rollins is about on par with his 2012 season, with a pretty even fielding percentage but he has nine errors right now, just four shy of last season's total of 13 errors.

Grade: C

Michael Young
.288 AVG, 28 RBI, 6 HR

Simply put, Michael Young at times has been a defensive liability at third base and he has grounded in to more double plays than there are M&M's in a bag. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but you get the point. Still, Young has been one of the more consistent players in the line-up, batting .288 with a .325 BABIP at the break. thought to be a guy who could push for 20 home runs in Citizens Bank Park, Young has hit six homers and scored 35 runs. That run total would be higher if not for third base coach Ryne Sandberg inexplicably sending the veteran third baseman home in to no-win situations at the plate as often as he has. Young's consistency is what makes him attractive as a trading chip, and if any infielder is moved by the deadline it is probably most likely that it will be Young.

Grade: B

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Photos via Getty Images.

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