Warm-Up Tosses: For all of my Bay Area/San Francisco-based friends, I’m thrilled to announce an author event tonight, Wednesday, March 20 at 7:00pm. At that time, I will be appearing at Books, Inc. on Chestnut St. in the Marina District for a reading/book signing.
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What They Did: 81-81, 3rd Place NL East.
Actual Runs: Scored 684 runs, Allowed 680.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 81.4 (0.4 above actual)
Restated: Scored 679 runs, Allowed 662.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 82.9 (1.9 above actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Phillies, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 83 games.)
Even boxer-clad in my mother’s basement(*), I can hear the disbelief and catcalls as this piece is opened by a number of baseball fans: “You do these in order of expected finish, right? Did I miss the Braves preview? ” Then, thinking about my former writings they will come to this realization, “Oh, you’re a Phillies fan. Now I get it – you’re an idiot.”
(*) We all know the cliché about statistically-obsessed baseball bloggers working from their mother’s basement. Well, while I was on the East Coast for two weeks surrounding the release of my book, I spent a number of days at my parents’ house in my hometown of West Chester, PA. For two of those days, I retreated to their attic to do a couple dozen radio interviews – many with 24-hour sports formats. It wasn’t the basement – and I wore pants – but I actually did talk baseball stats all across America on the ESPN radio network from my mother’s house.
I can understand those feelings because I think I can sum up the impression of the team held by many baseball fans. “The Phillies are a collection of broken-down, overpaid players who all got old at the same time last year – just like the Yankees this year. They won’t be a factor again for years.” As I said, on the surface that’s understandable because after winning the NL East five straight times, Philadelphia did crash and burn last year struggling to play .500 baseball, never factoring in the NL East race, and finishing 17 games out of first place. Let’s look beneath the surface, however.
All the damage to the Phillies’ season occurred in the first half of the year. They entered the All-Star break 13 games under .500 and in last place in the NL East by five games. Yes, comfortably behind the Mets and Marlins. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard had barely played (44 total plate appearances), Cliff Lee had 1 win in 14 starts, and the bullpen had an ERA barely under 5.00. The Phillies lost their first game after the break and then . . . few noticed what happened. For the rest of the year, Philadelphia played .600 baseball and only lost 30 games – exactly the same as the 98-win Nationals and just one loss more than the Atlanta Braves. In other words, once reasonably healthy, Philadelphia played the second half of the season on a par with the best teams in the league. (San Francisco and Cincinnati were each a game or two better, respectively, in the loss column than the Braves.)
The question is do the Phillies, and their aging core, have one last season in them to chase a post-season berth? The Phils path to 90 wins is as easy to define as any team in the league. They have to win 60% of the 90+ games started by Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee and then split the other roughly 70 started by Kyle Kendrick, newly acquired John Lannan and whoever else fills out the rotation. Stated in those terms, it’s an achievable goal.
Even with the mid-season trades of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, and even getting just half-seasons from Utley and a clearly still-hobbled Howard, the Phillies managed to have a league-average offense. 8th in the NL in runs scored, 7th in batting average, 9th in on-base percentage, and 7th in slugging. Unless injuries ravage the offense in 2013, the offense will almost certainly be better and therefore above league-average. Why? Look at the ballast the Phillies were carrying all while achieving a league-average offense. Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco amassed nearly 800 appearances in 2012 and hit a grand total of three home runs. Let’s put that into perspective. 3 home runs in 767 ABs for Pierre and Polanco. NL pitchers hit 24 home runs in 5,594 ABs. You see where this is leading? That’s right – you could randomly watch the at-bat of any pitcher in the NL in 2012 and you had a better chance of seeing a home run hit than if you watched Pierre or Polanco hit, two players manning the premium hitting positions of corner outfielder and corner infielder for the Phillies.
John Mayberry, Jr. and Ty Wigginton made more than 800 plate appearances combined and barely got on base at a .300 clip and both slugged beneath .400. That wouldn’t be bad -- if they were shortstops. But all their playing time came at corner outfield positions and first base. Michael Young (age) and Delmon Young (defense) come to the Phillies in 2013 with flaws, Dominic Brown has struggled with injuries himself but just two years ago he was Mike Trout and Wil Myers (the number 1 ranked minor league prospect in baseball) but even with flaws and question marks, they should help the offense produce materially more runs than the players they’re replacing. Finally, Ryan Howard hit .219/.295/.423 in the 71 games he appeared in after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the last game of the 2011 season. Including last season, his career figures are .271/.364/.551. He’s a strong candidate for an Adam Dunn-like bounce back year in 2013.
Much maligned, and frankly with good reason, the Phillies front office actually did a terrific job of quietly remaking the bullpen as the season went on. First-half disasters Chad Qualls, Joe Savery, and Jose Contreras were released, replaced by a combination of low-cost, high-strikeout, low-walk arms that allowed Charlie Manuel to match-up against hitters on both sides of the plate. Owing to Papelbon’s massive salary, the money may not have been allocated correctly, but the Phillies enter the season with one of the top bullpens in the NL.
With a mildly above average offense, and a top-tier bullpen they can get to 90 wins if they can keep their above-30-year old talent on the field. Reports out of Spring Training do not sound good for Roy Halladay which is the only thing that tempers this preview versus expectations. If he is finished, if his drop in fastball velocity in 2012 was the product of permanent wear and tear and not due to a healable injury, the Phillies will need to replace his 30+ starts with a replacement level pitcher and that likely makes them a .500 team.
Oddsmakers’ expectations: The Phillies had a miserable first-half of the season last year creating the impression that their time as a contender has passed. It’s not an entirely misplaced opinion, as the team’s core is old and the Nationals are clearly a younger, better team. But there is so much room for improvement when you look at the departed batters and relievers that contributed significantly to last year’s problems. If Howard is only going to slug .400 and if Halladay is a shell of his former self, the Phillies need to look to 2015 and beyond, and a mid-season purge of tradable assets will be appropriate. I tend to think a lot of that is priced into the Phillies total wins market of 82 ½. Look back at the top of this piece – the Phillies were an 83-win team last year. When you look at their season from the standpoint of who got plate appearances and who pitched innings, the marginal changes to the lineup and pitching staff this year flat-out make them better. I’ll take the over. Due to the questionable health of Halladay however, I can’t recommend this over to anywhere near the degree of say, Cleveland and Tampa.
86-76 – Second in NL East
702 Runs Scored 652 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) publication currently available wherever books are sold. Here are three on-line booksellers you can currently choose from:
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