BtB on the Phillies

Beyond the Box Score, one of the best Saber-slanted general blogs out there, had a couple of interesting articles involving the Phillies this week. One contained good news, and the other had bad news. I’d just like to highlight both of those articles with a little bit of commentary afterwards.

Lucas Apostoleris (@DBITLefty) compiled a list of pitches that induced the most swings-and-misses in baseball last year. It was not surprising to see who was #1. Among pitchers with 250+ swings, Cole Hamels‘ change-up induced whiffs the most, with a whiff rate of .480. Roy Halladay‘s curve ranked tenth at .427. In the 100-249 swing range, Ryan Madson‘s change-up ranked second at .645 behind Jonny Venters‘ slider at .656. I’ve been saying for a while that Hamels’ and Madson’s change-ups are among the best in baseball. It’s good to see that the statistics back this up.

Bill Petti (@BillPetti) investigated if the Phillies could still make the playoffs without Chase Utley. While he ended up concluding that they could, the article didn’t leave me feeling that optimistic.

So it’s feasible the Phillies could still make the playoffs (although it’s interesting that no team, regardless of runs allowed, has made the playoffs in the past 10 years by scoring less than 684 runs). But what if they don’t have a historic runs allowed year? What if they do no better than last year’s 640 runs allowed?

In that case, the Phillies would need to score 715 runs. If you remove Utley for the entire season you are now talking about finding another 154 runs. Unfortunately, Wilson Valdez isn’t gonna get you there.

I don’t buy the doomsday scenarios involving the Phillies’ offense. With horrendous production from Jimmy Rollins, all of the injuries, and a mediocre bench, the Phillies still managed to score 772 runs, second-most in the National League behind the Cincinnati Reds. Even losing Utley, I find it hard to believe that the Phillies don’t score 750+ runs. Many look at the trend of the Phillies’ run scoring over the past few years and conclude that the offense has been in steep decline, but that is not the case. Rather, the loss of runs is commensurate with a league-wide drop in offense. The Phillies have been at least one standard deviation above the mean in runs scored since 2006.

Year PHI RS Lg AVG St Dev
2006 865 771 51
2007 892 763 61
2008 799 734 62
2009 820 718 61
2010 772 701 58

A handy line graph to illustrate the trends:

The gap between the 2010 squad’s run production and the league average is about the same as it was in 2008 when they won the World Series. Now, going into 2011, the Phillies will be keeping many more runs off of the board with the best starting rotation in baseball.

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20 comments

  1. hk

    March 11, 2011 07:41 AM

    “So it’s feasible the Phillies could still make the playoffs (although it’s interesting that no team, regardless of runs allowed, has made the playoffs in the past 10 years by scoring less than 684 runs). But what if they don’t have a historic runs allowed year? What if they do no better than last year’s 640 runs allowed?

    In that case, the Phillies would need to score 715 runs. If you remove Utley for the entire season you are now talking about finding another 154 runs. Unfortunately, Wilson Valdez isn’t gonna get you there.”

    Is there a doomsday scenario where the Phillies score significantly fewer runs as and give up as many runs as last year. However, it seems very unlikely, especially the latter part. Barring an injury to one of the starters and Madson kicking another chair, it is hard to see how the Phils will give up as many runs this year as they did last year being that 50 starts that went to Moyer and Kendrick in 2010 are scheduled to go to Oswalt and Lee in 2011.

  2. hk

    March 11, 2011 07:42 AM

    Edit: “There is…” instead of “Is there…” to begin the last paragraph.

  3. Shawn

    March 11, 2011 07:46 AM

    EVERYONE PANIC!!!!

    4real though, i’ll miss the utley if he’s out for any extended period of time.

  4. Scott G

    March 11, 2011 08:37 AM

    The Phillies scored 2 or fewer runs for Hamels 12 times last year. I can easily see this happening any day of the week this year with no Werth. If Utley’s hurt, it’s going to be very bleak offensively.

    I’m worried about the offense even if Utley is healthy.

  5. Bill Petti

    March 11, 2011 08:57 AM

    Hi Bill,

    Thanks for the linkage and discussion. I admit, I am more of a pessimist when it comes to the Phillies’ offense this year. I think you make some good points about the general league trend, but I do think this year is a bit different for a few reasons:

    1) Werth is gone. That’s a lot of offensive production the team has to replace and it isn’t clear how that’s going to happen.

    2) The core is getting older and the issue of injuries isn’t going away, so the risk exists for it to bite them this year as well (Utley being exhibit A).

    3) Rollins and Victorino could have better years based on a regress of their BABIP and K%, but Howard, Ibanez, and Ruiz all could decline, so not a big boost there.

    That being said, my post was more of a back of the envelope experiment. Maybe 10% decline was too aggressive of an assumption, but I do think the worst case of Utley missing the year becomes a much bigger hurdle than in past years.

    Thanks again!

  6. awh

    March 11, 2011 09:49 AM

    Bill, because of the Utley situation, I ran baseball musings lineup analyzer wtih 2 different lineups containing Valdez and Utley.

    First lineup:

    Rollins
    Polly
    Utley
    Howard
    Francisco
    Ibanez
    Victorino
    Ruiz
    Pitcher (I used the Philllies’ pitchers 2010 avgs.)

    2nd lineup:

    Rollins
    Polly
    Ibanez
    Howard
    Francisco
    Victorino
    Ruiz
    Valdez
    Pitcher

    The difference between Utley and valdez inthe lineup was a little less that .3 RPG.

    Ass-u-ming that’s a fairly accurate number, Utley’s absence will cost the Phillies about 10 runs/1 win every 33 games, or about 5 wins on the season.

  7. awh

    March 11, 2011 09:56 AM

    Forgot to mention, I used 2011 projections for the above lineups.

    Also of note, Ruiz has been a much better hitter in his career in the 7 hole as opposed to the 8 hole (331 PA – mostly in 2010). I’m not sure how statistically significant that is or if it’s repeatable(my guess would be “no”), but if it is, Valdez in the lineup moves Chooch to the 7 hole, where he posts numbers that would make him a perrenial All-Star.

    Ruiz Career:

    7th – .319/.385/.502, 331 PA (sample size alert)
    8th – .243/.348/.368 1200+ PA

  8. Richard

    March 11, 2011 09:57 AM

    I’m sort of surprised you thought the Utley post was worth highlighting, not least because it’s highly unlikely Utley will miss the whole season, but also since Petti made no argument (with some iffy math), and still makes no argument here (and in comments there, when challenged).

    This, from his comment above, is the basic line of reasoning, italics added:

    “3) Rollins and Victorino could have better years based on a regress of their BABIP and K%, but Howard, Ibanez, and Ruiz all could decline, so not a big boost there.”

    I mean, that’s not an argument. Lots of things could happen. The point about replacing Werth’s production is valid, except whenever it’s made it seems to be assumed that he’ll be replaced with nobody. Francisco/Brown will make up some portion of Werth.

    The Phillies’ offense is clearly not as potent as it once was. That’s not the same thing as terrible.

  9. awh

    March 11, 2011 10:03 AM

    Also, Petti makes a lot of assumptions in his article, and you know what happens when you ass-u-me.

    This is a team built on pitching. If the pitching performs they’ll make the playoffs.

  10. awh

    March 11, 2011 10:30 AM

    I would take issue with point #1 Petti makes about the replacement of Werth’s production, because it’s absolutely clear “what is going” to happen.

    Right now, Francisco looks like he’ll be the replacement for Werth. He’s certainly not the offensive player Werth is, but he’s not a stiff either.

    Francisco, when given lot of playing time in ’08-’09 averaged 479 PA, 62 R, 31 2B, 15 HR, 50 RBI, 9 SB, 5 CS, .262/.332/.442.

    While one can’t really extrapolate that using the 652 PA Werth had in 2010 (different situations in the game, different pitchers, different lineup surrounding him), if you DID extrapolate it as an intellectual exercise Francisco would do this in 652 PA:

    84-85 R, 42-43 2B, 20-21 HR, 69-70 RBI, 12 SB, 7 CS, and of course .262/.332/.442.

  11. Bill Petti

    March 11, 2011 10:40 AM

    @awh: Interesting. Which projections did you use?

    As I said I may be too pessimistic on the offense, but I generally like to look at more worst case scenarios, just as an exercise. Also, I don’t think they will be terrible, just less potent than last year.

    The team is definitely built on pitching, but even still there is a certain number of runs they have to score to win games and that’s what I was curious about.

    Yes, Francisco isn’t a complete stiff, but even if he performs well you still have a gap in run creation that likely won’t be filled.

    As for assumptions, it’s impossible not to make them, especially when talking about the future. We can (and should argue) about the quality of the assumptions–and I freely admit they are debatable.

  12. Dave

    March 11, 2011 12:04 PM

    Thank you for finally pointing out the decline in runs scored across the entire league. Several articles would make you think the Phillies are the only team scoring less runs each year. Obviously that is not the case.

  13. KH

    March 11, 2011 12:57 PM

    Everybody is lining up to push the Phillies off the pedastool they, not the Phillies with exception of possibly Jimmy Rollins, put them on.

  14. MG

    March 11, 2011 01:11 PM

    Last year the over reaction to the offense was a bit overblown although they did have their share of games where they struggled to score (75 times with 3 or less runs). That matters because a team loses and loses often if they when they score that much. About a 25% winning pct. the last 2 years in the NL.

    If Utley had been healthy, this offense should have been adequate enough. Without him possibly for a good chunk of the season and no boost from somebody like Brown, at best it is a league average unit. Maybe even just 9th or 10th in NL in runs scored.

  15. hk

    March 11, 2011 01:47 PM

    Scott G: “The Phillies scored 2 or fewer runs for Hamels 12 times last year…I’m worried about the offense even if Utley is healthy.”

    @ Scott G: It’s not like you to cherry-pick stats like that, especially when considering the small sample size. The Phils were second in the NL in runs scored last year despite their production in many of Hamels’s starts and also despite Rollins missing 74 games, Utley missing 47 and various other starters missing 10 to 20. Will they miss Werth and Utley if he misses the same or more games this year? Of course. However, they took the approach that the way to offset the loss in runs scored is to try to prevent a comparable or greater number of runs. While it is not the approach that I would have taken if I was GM, it still seems to me that the improved pitching should offset much if not all of the reduced offense.

  16. Scott G

    March 11, 2011 03:28 PM

    hk,

    True. Using Hamels starts as a basis for my analysis was bad. Someone pointed out that they scored 3 runs or fewer 75 times last year. That’s not good.

    Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt are all capable of going 9 while giving up 3; very good outings. However, if the offense fails to score, they lose.

    I was just trying to point out that Hamels, while pitching very well, was hurt last year with a better offense. This year’s offense is worse, and I just want people to not be surprised if we struggle to win despite the great pitching.

  17. awh

    March 11, 2011 04:29 PM

    Bill Petti,

    I ran it using 2 sets of projections, Bill James and Marcel (courtesy of fangraphs).

    Interestingly, the RPG difference of replacing Utley with Valdez in the above lineup configurations is actually less with Marcel that it is with James. I used a rounded James numbers above.

    The actual numbers generated were:

    James:

    With Utley – 4.660 RPG
    With Valdez – 4.383 RPG

    Difference – .277 RPG

    Marcel:

    With Utley – 4.261 RPG
    With Valdez – 4.066 RPG

    Difference – .195 RPG

    If we use 10 runs/win, and don’ round the number as I did above, we get these results:

    James: 10/.277 = 36.10

    Marcel: 10/.195 = 51.28

    In my example above I rounded the James number up to .3 for simplicity, but the actual result is slightly more favorable to the Valdez populated lineup.

    I was actually surprised that the Marcel differential was smaller than the James. The obvious reason is Marcel actaully has lower numbers for Utley and higher numbers for Valdez.

    Marcel has Valdez slugging .372, with which I do not agree. If Valdez slugs .372 this season I’ll light myself on fire and run around Citizen’s Bank Park.

    It’s why I used the James’ numbers in my post above as I believe them to be a better representation of what to expect.

  18. awh

    March 11, 2011 04:38 PM

    Bill Petti,

    You are correct that they’ll have to make the Werth/Francisco difference up somewhere.

    If you accept the numbers I used above in my comparison of Werth and Francisco, then IMHO Howard was/is capable of making up the HR and RBI all by himself if he rebounds to his ’07 – ’09 norms. Also, a slight uptick from Rollins would have helped.

    Losing Utley, OTOH, really hurts. If he’s out for the season, the projected 5 win difference between him and Valdez may very well be the difference between winning the division and WC.

  19. MG

    March 11, 2011 08:49 PM

    “Now, going into 2011, the Phillies will be keeping many more runs off of the board with the best starting rotation in baseball.”

    I have heard this alot this spring. It’s a fallacy. Phils’ starters ERA last year was 3.55 (StL lead the NL at 3.50).

    Best starters’ ERA by any NL team over the past decade was the ’02 Braves at 3.42. Only 3 NL teams the past decade have had their starters have an ERA below 3.50 (’02 Braves, ’03 Dodgers, ’05 Astros).

    Basically, even if the Phils’ starters duplicate that 3.42 ERA this year they will only save about 14-15 ER.

    They can certainly improve this year but any improvement will be incremental and not a large one from their starters given how generally well they pitched last year.

  20. hk

    March 12, 2011 07:22 AM

    MG: They can certainly improve this year but any improvement will be incremental and not a large one from their starters given how generally well they pitched last year.

    @MG: The Phillies produced that 3.55 ERA despite the fact that Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick started 50 games and posted a 4.80 ERA in those starts. If you think that giving those starts to Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt will only produce incremental improvement, you must really be down on Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s past 12 months.

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