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02/16/12 10:19 AM EST

Inbox: Can Phils hitters change their approach?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers questions from fans

At the end of the season, Charlie Manuel inferred his hitters needed to be taught how to put themselves in better hitting situations. How is it possible to teach old dogs new tricks?
-- Greg N., Warminster, Pa.

A lot of people have wondered that, including myself. I've said before that I don't think a hitter can totally change, especially one well into his career. But this would be the year to prove that theory wrong. If Manuel and the rest of the coaching staff (also look for Jim Thome to try to work with hitters) can make those changes, it will be a tremendous feat.

If Freddy Galvis improves at the plate, could Jimmy Rollins move to third base next year?
-- Geno D., Philadelphia

I highly doubt it. If anything, Galvis would have to move from shortstop to third base.

Assuming the Phillies carry 12 pitchers, and assuming John Mayberry Jr. and Ryan Howard are among the eight starters when healthy, who are your five bench players? Brian Schneider is a given. So are Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton and Thome. But who else?
-- Paul D., Media, Pa.

I think there's a better chance the Phils will carry 11 pitchers, giving them six bench players. If there are six bench players, the early money is on Schneider, Nix, Wigginton, Thome, Michael Martinez and Juan Pierre.

Why did the Phillies trade Wilson Valdez? He provides so much infield depth and can play almost any position. It seems like the team's versatility is not there while Howard is not playing, especially since Thome will be active in such a limited role. Can you help explain the thinking behind this?
-- Jeff W., Blue Bell, Pa.

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It surprised me a bit as well, considering Valdez's versatility. Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. explained that he felt the organization had enough depth in the utility department, starting with Wigginton, Martinez, Pete Orr and Kevin Frandsen. Trading Valdez saved them a bit of money as well, which I'm sure didn't hurt.

There are stats on everything, but one I'd like to see is how many homers Howard hit when the team was ahead by four or more runs. And do you think he is open to changing the way he approaches hitting? It seems he is becoming an easier out and isn't making any adjustments.
-- BCR, Wilmington, Del.

Howard led the big leagues last season with 38 go-ahead RBIs and 23 game-winning RBIs. Some of those hits came early, but some of those hits came late, too. Baseball Prospectus also has a statistic called "Others Batted In Percentage," which measures the amount of runners a batter drives in other than himself based on the amount of RBI opportunities he has. Howard, at 18.0 percent, ranked 17th out of 135 players with 500 or more plate appearances last season. Those numbers tell me you have a selective memory when it comes to Howard's big hits. Does Howard need to change his approach at the plate? Manuel has talked a lot about his hitters making adjustments this season, and I believe Howard is one of the players he has in mind. We'll see.

Is anyone else worried about the pattern that has developed in the Phillies' last several finishes: 2008, won World Series; 2009, lost World Series; 2010, lost National League Championship Series; and 2011, lost NL Division Series. 2012?
-- Bill M., Reading, Pa.

Honestly, that's just a coincidence. The Phils have improved their regular-season win total every year since 2006. That only shows the randomness of the postseason. The best team doesn't always win. If you enjoyed the 2008 World Series championship, when Philadephia wasn't the best team in baseball, then you have to accept the fact the Phillies fell short last season despite being the best.

The Nationals and Marlins got a whole lot better this offseason. In light of the Phillies basically standing pat, can this team win the division?
-- Joe W., Newark, Del.

I think the Phils not only are the favorites in the NL East, but the entire NL. How can you bet against Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels? I can't. If the team can stay healthy, it should win a ton of baseball games.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.