Phillies Q&A with David Schoenfield

On most days, you can catch David Schoenfield tearing it up on ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog, offering his take on anything that happens in Major League Baseball. You may recall that Schoenfield said, before the season, that the Phillies wouldn’t make the playoffs. He has since posted a mea culpa. With the Phillies recently clinching a playoff berth and well on their way towards clinching the division and home field advantage, I wanted to get his take as the regular season is wrapped up.

. . .

1. The Phillies are on pace for a 106-win season. Meanwhile the Yankees, with the second-best record, are on pace for 98 wins. Are the Phillies eight wins better than the Yankees, or is the National League just that much worse than the American League?

I would argue that the Phillies and Yankees are certainly more equal than their records would suggest. As I write this, both teams have a Pythagorean W-L record of 94-50, but the Yankees have “underperformed” by four wins while the Phillies have “overperformed” by one win. If you factor in that the Yankees have played 69 games against teams over .500 while the Phillies have played 49 such games (the Phillies do have a better winning percentage. 571 to .551), it seems more clear that the teams are pretty even, although I’m sure the Phillies will head into the postseason as the favorite by a large margin.

2. As we wrap up the regular season, what do you see as the Phillies’ biggest weakness entering post-season play?

The first inclination may be to say “the offense,” but since acquiring Hunter Pence, the Phillies are averaging 5.0 runs per game while hitting .262/.328/.427, up from 4.3 runs per game and a .249/.322/.388 line before acquiring Pence. Sure, Raul Ibanez is a big defensive liability when he plays, but I guess my major concern would be the bullpen depth outside of Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo. If the starters can pitch deep into games like they have all season, it’s not an issue, but avoiding the middle relief will be key (even if it has been better than expected).

3. Of the possible NLDS match-ups, which team has the best chance of beating the Phillies in a five-game series — the Brewers or Diamondbacks?

As hot as the Diamondbacks have been, and as good as Ian Kennedy has been, I’d still prefer to face them than the Brewers. Their rotation goes four-deep and all four starters are capable of a shutdown performance. John Axford has converted 39 consecutive saves and Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are MVP candidates for a reason.

4. You unwrap a candy bar to find a golden ticket inside. The ticket allows you to set the Phillies’ post-season rotation. Assuming you’ll roll with a top-three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, who wins the #4 spot — Roy Oswalt or Vance Worley?

You have to go Worley, no? And I say that as a big Oswalt fan. But isn’t Worley the team’s good-luck charm? Plus he’s been better. Yes, Oswalt has a good track record in the postseason, but this is about 2011.

5. Should the Phillies be at all worried about meeting up with the Braves in the NLCS?

Let’s see: Phillies lead the season series 9-6, have outscored the Braves by 25 runs, we don’t know the status yet of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. I just don’t see the Braves winning a seven-game series, but this is baseball and anything can happen in October.

6. Which AL team would match up best against the Phillies in a World Series meeting?

I think the Yankees are the best club in the AL right now. CC Sabathia can pitch on three days’ rest, the bullpen is excellent and they can certainly score runs. The interesting thing is that none of the AL contenders really has much in the way of left-handed relief pitching (the Yankees do have Boone Logan; the Tigers have Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth), so Ryan Howard may still face right-handers late in the game.

7. Which player has the most potential to be a playoff series-changer for the Phillies? Call him an X-factor, if you will.

Aside from the obvious – Cliff Lee certainly appears pretty locked in right now – I’ll go with Ryan Howard. After a homerless postseason a year ago, maybe he’s due for a few longballs. Plus, whether the Phillies play the Brewers or D-backs, he’ll be playing in a good hitter’s park and facing some pitchers who can serve up some home runs (Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Joe Saunders).

8. As you look back on the season, which Phillies player surprised you the most? Who was the most disappointing?

Besides Worley? Antonio Bastardo has held opponents to a .119 average – that’s the lowest ever for a pitcher with at least 50 innings. Yeah, that surprised me. No Phillies player performed below expectations this year other than Oswalt (and Blanton, but he got injured).

9. Does a Phillie walk away with Cy Young hardware? What about Worley and the Rookie of the Year award?

Man, I think it’s still too close to call. Clayton Kershaw has a chance at the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts), so he’ll be hard to beat if he leads all three categories. But voters love shutouts and Lee has six of them. And Halladay deserves it. Can we split it three ways and give part to Cole Hamels as well? As great as Worley has been, Craig Kimbrel wins the Rookie award pretty easily, I think Worley’s case is much better than most are saying.

10. Do you have any bold predictions for the playoffs? (Doesn’t have to be Phillies-related.)

No bold predictions, although Phillies fans may be aware of this note: No NL team with the best record in the majors has won the World Series since the 1986 Mets. Maybe that means the odds are in Philly’s favor.

. . .

Thanks, as always, to Schoenfield for taking time out of his very busy schedule to provide his thoughts on the Phillies from an outsider’s perspective. Keep up with the whole Sweet Spot crew — including Christina Kahrl, Steve Berthiaume, Eric Karabell, Mark Simon, and more — throughout the playoffs. They’ll have you covered from every angle.

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19 comments

  1. Buzzsaw

    September 16, 2011 08:20 AM

    That was the 28th time the Phillies have carried a shutout into the 9th inning and the 7th time they’ve given it up in the ninth. Hasn’t hurt us as we’ve won all seven of those as well as the other 21 games.

    In fact the Phillies are 37-0 in games where they give up no runs over the first six innings. Looks like this…

    Inning Games Wins Losses
    of 1st
    run
    1 34 20 14
    2 21 9 12
    3 15 3 12
    4 18 13 5
    5 13 9 4
    6 10 6 4
    7 6 6 0
    8 3 3 0
    9 7 7 0
    99 21 21 0
    Total 148 97 51

    The ‘danger’ inning (for no apparent reason) is the third. We’re 3-12 when our opponents score thier first run in the third inning.

    I was also surprised that we play almost .600 ball when allowing first inning runs.

    If our opponent scores in the first three innings, we’re 32-38. We get through the third without allowing a run and we’re 65-13

  2. mclassick

    September 16, 2011 08:28 AM

    Great post. Question for CA or the regulars (and I apologize if this topic has been covered ad nauseum):

    Considering that the Yankees would look to throw CC in games 1, 4, and 7, in what ways might that affect how the Phillies align their own rotation? Obviously our “four aces” have been diminished to three (with two REALLY good 4 and 5s), and we’d want at least two starts out of each. However, the only way to pull that off AND get a possible third start from Halladay or Lee would be for ALL of three to throw on short rest, lining up as follows: 1. Roy, 2. Cliff, 3. Cole, 4. Roy, 5. Cliff, 6. Cole, 7. Roy. Giving Cliff or Cole the extra day would negate the value of having Roy pitch on short rest, as the rotation would then only allow for Cliff and Cole to pitch games 6 and 7 (with Worley or Oswalt throwing 4, and, again, assuming we seek to give each of the big three at least two starts).

    I know this is all a bit forward-looking, but with the regular season effectively locked up — NL records and awards aside — what else is left?

    Thanks,
    Matt

  3. mclassick

    September 16, 2011 08:36 AM

    Quick correction to my previous post: Worley/Oswalt would throw game 5 if Halladay pitched 4.

    And to append it: I know beat writers and management have alluded previously to Cole and Cliff’s preference to go on regular rest. Any word or sense that such preferences might change should the Phillies reach the WS?

  4. Richard Hershberger

    September 16, 2011 08:50 AM

    Keith Olbermann’s prediction at the beginning of the season was (going from memory) that the Phillies are “not contenders”. So far as I know he has not bothered to address this since. So props to Schoenfield for manning up.

  5. KH

    September 16, 2011 09:20 AM

    This guy is the genius who predicted the Phillies would win 90 games and miss the playoffs.

  6. Phylan

    September 16, 2011 09:30 AM

    Good point KH, that should really be noted in, like, the second sentence.

  7. Dane

    September 16, 2011 09:36 AM

    Not a big Schoenfield fan at all – i think he is just kind of a shock-jock like everyone else at ESPN (see: Bruschi, Teddy)…

    That said – big up’s to him for addressing a failed prediction. Most pundits sweep it under the rug or hedge their predictions half way through the season. The guy took a stance, stood by it, and admitted it didn’t work out.

    Kudos, David.

  8. Phlogiston

    September 16, 2011 09:43 AM

    Schoenfield’s original article wasn’t ridiculous, and it was more interesting than yet another “zOMG, this is the greatest rotation ever, who can stop them?” article of the kind that were abundant at the time.

    A legitimate, well-thought-out contrarian view is always useful. And looking back, he was actually pretty good at predicting some of what did actually happen.

  9. Evan

    September 16, 2011 09:58 AM

    A lot of people picked the Phillies to lose the division to the Braves. I don’t blame them, the Braves have good pitching and Heyward was looking like a star. No one realized the embarrassment of riches on the farm really didn’t guarantee a rotation free from injury troubles. Reality set in for the Braves (and hit Heyward hard). Meanwhile the Phils got crazy good thanks to better than expected play from Vic, Rollins and Utley (beat out injury concerns) and as good as expected pitching from the top 3. Plus Mayberry, Worley, and Bastardo have put up 5 WAR out of nowhere. Then there’s the addition of Pence. The Phillies played better than even people with high expectations could of imagined.

    I can see how picking the Braves, who are having a good season, was reasonable. Preseason predictions are a crapshoot and I won’t hold it against anyone unless the picked the Astros to win it all.

  10. Richard Hershberger

    September 16, 2011 11:09 AM

    Regarding the pre-season Utley predictions, my recollection is that the official reports about his expected recovery were reasonably close to what happened. All this stuff about him being out until the break, or even for the season, was back room gossip. I am sympathetic to the idea of taking official pronouncements with much salt, but idle gossip is not an improvement.

  11. jauer

    September 16, 2011 03:05 PM

    anyone else rooting for st louis to sweep the phillies for wild card purposes?

  12. Rob

    September 16, 2011 04:01 PM

    no.

  13. jauer

    September 16, 2011 06:29 PM

    i believe that’s the incorrect answer, unless you polled every living phillies fan in the past 5 hours

  14. Rob

    September 16, 2011 06:46 PM

    good point.

    Prob also some cardinals fan out there rooting for it too.

  15. hk

    September 17, 2011 06:33 AM

    jauer,

    I don’t really fear the Braves more than or less than the Cardinals. In fact, I don’t really fear any other team in MLB. What I do fear is the fact that the best team doesn’t always win in a short series combined with Charlie’s poor in-game strategy, which can have a major impact in a short series as opposed to costing the team a few games in a 162 game season.

    I am more concerned with Rollins and Utley starting to hit again following their respective recent injuries and Bastardo regaining his form of earlier this season. Wins and losses are less important, regardless of their impact on the races.

  16. BrandonG

    September 17, 2011 07:52 AM

    I swear, every time I see pitcher’s wins as a useful statistic being used to prove a point, I want to shoot myself in the face.

  17. feeox

    September 17, 2011 08:26 PM

    “I swear, every time I see pitcher’s wins as a useful statistic being used to prove a point, I want to shoot myself in the face.”

    No one could doubt you were forward thinking then.

  18. Was Thursday

    September 18, 2011 02:33 PM

    David’s comments on the Pyth record predictions is based on overlooking the biggest flaw in those estimates. They don’t consider the run scoring envornment.

    NY outscores their opps by 1.4 (the Phils by 1.3), but do so in a 9.4 run environment (the Phils in a 7.7), so it is actually a smaller margin. To let an extreme case prove the rule, if I outscore my opps 200 to 0, I am 1.000, if 1,000,200 to 1,000,000 I am about .500.

    Now quality of opponent is another story.

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