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Believe the Hype

Posted By Bill Baer On June 27, 2011 @ 7:00 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 10 Comments

During the off-season GM Ruben Amaro assembled quite a formidable pitching staff. It required swiping Cliff Lee from the clutches of the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, but he did it. The pre-season hype was quite exaggerated. “Best rotation of all time,” some would say. “Historically great,” others crowed. Many chalked it up to the excitement of having Roy Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels — all veritable aces in their own right — wearing the same uniform.

As the first half of the regular season wraps up, however, the Phillies really are embarking on rarely-seen terrain. After yesterday’s 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics, they have allowed 257 runs in 79 games, a pace of 527 runs (500 earned) over a full 162-game season. According to a Baseball Reference search, only 30 teams have allowed 530 earned runs (the database cannot search for overall runs allowed) or fewer in a season. Bob Gibson‘s 1968 St. Louis Cardinals lead the pack at 409 ER allowed.

Rk Tm Year ER
1 STL 1968 409
2 CHW 1966 440
3 SFG 1968 442
4 NYM 1968 449
5 DET 1968 449
6 PIT 1968 454
7 NYY 1968 455
8 LAD 1963 466
9 OAK 1968 476
10 STL 1969 477
11 SFG 1967 478
12 ATL 1968 479
13 LAD 1964 487
14 PIT 1965 495
15 ATL 1974 500
16 CIN 1964 501
17 STL 1985 505
18 STL 1966 505
19 LAD 1983 506
20 MON 1988 508
21 HOU 1980 511
22 MIN 1967 511
23 BAL 1964 512
24 NYY 1978 516
25 SFG 1965 521
26 SDP 1978 522
27 SFG 1964 523
28 NYY 1964 527
29 STL 1973 528
30 NYY 1970 530
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/27/2011.

Of course, the offensive environments in those years was different than it is now. At least, it was. As this chart will show…

…the offensive environment of the past 20 or so years has been much different than it had been previously. As such, we should adjust for era when we try to compare seasons.┬áThat is what a stat such as ERA+ attempts to do.

When we do that for the 30 teams mentioned above, we find one team below average (1968 Oakland Athletics), eight between 100-109, 119 between 110-119, and two above 120 (1969 Cardinals, 1974 Atlanta Braves).

The 2011 Phillies have an ERA+ of 125, which is higher than any of the 30 teams that had allowed 530 or fewer earned runs. If you exclude Joe Blanton, every member of the starting rotation has an above-average ERA+:

Even the bullpen is to be commended as the Phillies have the sixth-best bullpen ERA in the National League at 3.10. Five relievers have an above-average adjusted ERA:

David Herndon is right on the edge at 99 as well.

The pre-season hype may turn out to be completely justified. If the Phillies continue to pitch as well as they have throughout the first three months, they could finish with the best pitching staff since the 162-game schedule was implemented for both leagues in 1962. While the league-wide decline in offense explains some of the Phillies’ success on the mound, it doesn’t explain nearly enough.

(By the way, the Braves are right behind the Phillies with a team ERA+ at 124.)


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