Phillies: Good at Baseball

You’ve no doubt been inundated with articles telling you just how good the 2011 Phillies starting rotation is. The combination of the severe decline in offense across baseball (lowest since 1992) and the four (five?) aces led to some impressive pitching numbers. Prior to yesterday’s games, the Phillies’ rotation had the lowest FIP, xFIP, and SIERA in all of baseball, beating the second-best rotation by 0.41 (Giants), 0.48 (Braves), and 0.49 (Giants), respectively.

In previous years, there has never been a FIP as low as the Phillies’ 2.95, and rarely has a team had such a dominating lead. Dating back to 1990, only the 1996-98 Braves rotations had a larger lead over the second-best FIP.

Year #1 FIP DIFF
1996 Braves -0.48
1997 Braves -0.47
1998 Braves -0.42
2011 Phillies -0.41
1994 Braves -0.33
1995 Braves -0.29
1991 Mets -0.20
2000 Braves -0.19
2007 Padres -0.19
2005 Marlins -0.18
2001 Red Sox -0.13
2002 Diamondbacks -0.11
2006 Angels -0.11
1999 Astros -0.10
2003 Yankees -0.08
2004 Cubs -0.07
2009 Cardinals -0.07
1992 Braves -0.06
2008 Diamondbacks -0.05
2010 Cardinals -0.04
1993 Braves -0.02

Even more impressively, since 1990, the Phillies have the lowest FIP and FIP-, which is a FIP index similar to OPS+ (in this case, lower is better; 100 is the league average).

Team Year FIP- FIP 
Phillies 2011 75 2.95
Braves 1997 78 3.30
Braves 1996 78 3.41
Diamondbacks 2002 79 3.49
Braves 1998 79 3.38
Yankees 2003 81 3.56
Red Sox 2002 81 3.60
Braves 1995 81 3.45
Red Sox 1990 81 3.32

The Phillies’ indefatigable starting rotation has contributed greatly to the team’s greatest run differential through 142 games in franchise history.

Start W-L WP RS RA Diff Tot W-L Div Postseason
4/1/2011 94-48 .662 651 461 190 94-48 1 TBD
4/10/1976 87-55 .613 679 497 182 101-61 1 Division Champ
4/9/1977 89-53 .627 738 583 155 101-61 1 Division Champ
4/5/1993 87-55 .613 792 650 142 97-65 1 NL Pennant
4/14/1915 82-59 .582 539 426 113 90-62 1 NL Pennant
4/18/1950 86-53 .619 667 555 112 91-63 1 NL Pennant
4/7/1978 78-64 .549 622 519 103 90-72 1 Division Champ
3/31/2008 78-64 .549 685 587 98 92-70 1 WS Champ
4/5/2009 82-60 .577 715 620 95 93-69 1 NL Pennant

“The Phillies are good” articles are rote now, but it’s still fun to look through the numbers and see just how good they really are. Not only are the 2011 Phillies likely to finish as the greatest team in franchise history, but they may just become the greatest team in National League history, at least in the live ball era. The 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds may have something to say about that, but there is at least a debate.

Ryan Howard’s RBI Opportunities

At Beyond the Box Score, Jacob Peterson (@JunkStats) did some outstanding work digging into Ryan Howard‘s RBI opportunities. Howard, of course, has been the subject of debate for the last year and a half since he signed his five-year, $125 million contract and the RBI stat has been caught in the crossfire. Peterson finds out where Howard stands amongst his peers.

As for the remaining 10 or so RBIs above average, Howard has also almost certainly benefitted from fortunate sequencing this season. His OPS+ is 30% higher than average when he hits with runners in scoring position, but that is not sustainable.

For his career, Howard’s OPS+ is 13% higher with RISP, markedly lower than this year’s 30% mark. Once you take away Howard’s huge number of intentional walks in these situations (almost half his total walks), his career OPS+ drops to only 7% better than normal with RISP. That’s almost identical to the leaguewide figures, which this year are 6% higher with RISP.

So Howard does not seem to have the ability to hit notably better with RISP, indicating that this year’s performance in that situation has been a fortunate fluke.