Friday, March 28, 2008

Groundhog Day (er... Year)

86, 80, 86, 86, 88, 85, 89

This series of numbers is the Phillies’ win totals from 2001-2007. It’s quite remarkable, no?

4.60/4.44, 4.41/4.50, 4.88/4.30, 5.19/4.82, 4.98/4.48, 5.34/5.01, 5.51/5.07

This series of numbers is the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed over the same seven year span. Conveniently, the more runs the Phillies’ pitchers surrender, the more their offense seems to compensate. Too bad ball control doesn’t apply to baseball

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 0, 0

This is the number of Phillies’ starting pitchers who logged 200+ innings each of those seasons.

I cherry picked these stats because they stood out in my mind. Mine is a mind tortured by the monotony of mediocrity seven seasons running. Of course, last year’s division title was a refreshing cool drink of water after wandering in the desert for so long. Who are we kidding though? In reality, this team was only marginally better than they had been the previous six seasons. The difference – sorry Whitney – was the Mets’ epic collapse. Granted, the Phils weren’t exactly handed the division when you consider that they beat the Mets 12 out of 19 games including the last 8 games. Nevertheless, it took extraordinary, almost miraculous circumstances for the division crown to fall into the Phils’ lap. Otherwise, it was a case of same ol’, same old. Been there, done that. Yadda, yadda, yadda…

Now back to the cherry picked stats. The first series of numbers establishes the reality. The latter two are what I believe to be the causation. Looking at the RS/RA ratio, the Phillies are on what I would have to believe is an unsustainable climb in runs scored. Sooner or later, one has to figure that the way these characters swing ever so freely, they are nearing their peak in run creation. The biggest change in their batting lineup is that Aaron Rowand is out and Pedro Feliz is in. Pedro is not likely going to add enough offensive production to make up for Rowand’s departure. He may hit 25 home runs but as strange as this may sound, he won’t be that productive given his poor OBP. Jimmy Rollins, one has to believe will approximate, but not eclipse his career year from last season. Ryan Howard is at least good for similar production. Pat Burrell is likely to mail in his usual 25 to 30 home runs, .380 OBP and streaky hitting. Chase Utley is everyone’s MVP candidate and I think he will have a great year but not significantly better than the past two seasons. I feel safe in predicting therefore, that the Phils will not average more runs per game than last season and will in all likelihood, score fewer runs.

Now let’s look at the 200+ inning pitched stat. I don’t have the time to look it up but I’d bet that last year’s Phillies was the first team in the wild card era – perhaps divisional era – to win a division title without even one starter logging 200+ innings. We all know how detrimental poor starting pitching is to a bullpen. The Phillies bullpen, while fantastic down the stretch last year is already dancing ever so closely to the edge when it comes to injury. Tom Gordon and Brad Lidge will both log significant time on the DL this year – book it. In fact, Lidge is beginning the season there. Gordon has been chucking with a a bad shoulder for 4 years now.

Cole Hamels has yet to go 200+ (admittedly, his career is still young) but he has battled injuries his whole professional career. Brett Myers returns to the rotation but in 4 years as a starter, he only surpassed 200 innings once. He was close a few other times but on a team which desperately needs a pitcher not just to log 200 innings but to comfortably surpass it, Brett has never fit the bill. Kyle Kendrick was a great story in 2007 but it appears now there was a very good reason he wasn’t invited to spring training with the big boys last year. His welcome tour around the league has officially come to an end. He has been thoroughly abused this March. Last year, he did give six solid innings per start but as a #3, we need him to do the heavy lifting along with #1 and #2 because it most certainly will not be done by #4 Jamie Moyer or #5 KrishBensonJDDurbinAdamEatonInsertNameHere.

Of course, things could turn out differently but when making a prediction about your team's success, you have to determine how many “ifs” you have and whether those “ifs” are significant.

The Phillies “ifs” are many.

If their top 3 starters pitch 200+ innings,

if their bullpen gets (Lidge) and stays (Gordon and Lidge) healthy,

if the middle relief duplicates the results of the second half of ’08,

and of course, the biggest if of all – the one if that inexplicably plagues this club like none other I have seen in over 30 years of following baseball - if, if, if the Phillies can come out of April with a decent record (forget good, just win 15 games,) then they can improve on last season’s 89 wins.

I will not even begin to guess whether the Mets will improve or decline I’d put money on decline. I also don’t think I could intelligently speculate on the Braves’ fortunes but my gut tells me they’re back. At any rate, I am thinking anywhere from 80 to 87 wins for the Phillies and a second or third place finish.


Jerry said...

I've always hypothesized that their ballpark hurts their team in the long run. I don't have any evidence to back it up, but it seems that it would be beneficial for a team to play in a pitcher's park -- more runs = more pitches thrown = increased chance of injury/fatigue. It also means more innings for the middle relievers which are essentially the worst arms on any staff.

The Mets should have enough to top the Phillies because of the payroll disparity. I'd say the Phils and the Braves do a better job of managing their personnel, but the power of the dollar is significant in MLB (although not in Europe).

rob said...

misery loves international fiscal policy.

Nick said...


You are spot on regarding the park. However, the Phillies budgetary style which can only be described as "small market" is clearly self imposed. Granted they do not enjoy the lucrative cable contracts enjoyed by the Gotham teams and Boston but there is no reason why Philly shouldn't be in the top 10 in payroll given their metro area population and relatively solid attendance.

The only reason they don't pay up is that they are cheap bastards.

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