Terrifying Thought Experiment #1
Earlier today, Ryan Lawrence posted his best guess at the Phillies’ opening day roster. Everything about the offense, including the starting lineup, looks pretty grim:
(I took out Lou Montanez and subbed in David Herndon, as Lawrence was planning for 6 relievers instead of 7 only because a fifth starter won’t be needed until April.)
Last season, the pitching staff allowed 529 runs, which is very good. Historically good, in fact. If you put every team since 1947 in the same 4.5 runs per game environment, the 2011 Phillies staff ranks 18th out of 1550 post-integration pitching staffs in runs allowed. And that’s without a park adjustment; 14 of the teams ahead of the Phillies had pitcher-friendly park factors on their side. The brightest beacon of hope for 2012 is that the pitching staff will still be extremely good, but it probably won’t be as good as it was last season. The simplest reason is that it is very difficult, even in the more pitcher-friendly environment of late, to allow as few as 529 runs. Beyond that, there are a few candidates for regression, like Cole Hamels and Vance Worley.
If you take the ZiPS projections for the pitching staff that Lawrence came up with and adjust it to fill, say, 1450 innings (this is about what most teams needed last year), you get a runs allowed total of 606. On the one hand, ZiPS is probably a bit bearish with regards to some of the best pitchers on the staff, but, on the other, we’re assuming no injuries or bad fortune will take their toll. So 606 is a reasonable enough estimate. Assume, furthermore, that the National League run environment will be the same as it was last year: 4.13 runs per game. With these two numbers, we can use the Pythagenpat formula to get a picture of what is needed from the Phillies offense in 2012 (click for large):
The upshot is, in a tougher NL East, the Phillies need to score around 730 runs to be in the 95 win ballpark and be reasonably certain of winning the division. Keep in mind: last season they scored 713 runs, and, thanks to an inordinate amount of success with runners in scoring position, that total was probably higher than their team OPS of .717 portended. Without delving deeply into hitter projections, the opening day offense predicted by Ryan Lawrence above is not nearly as good as the sum contributions that the Phillies got last season. Per Fangraphs, Ryan Howard produced 92 weighted runs created last season, and has not yet even resumed baseball activities since the setback with his surgery wound; his ETA right now is indeterminate, as is his 2012 effectiveness. Chase Utley, missing to begin 2011, produced 61 weighted runs created. He returned on May 23rd last season, and I think most people would count that as an optimistic projection for 2012 given the tone of the updates we’re being given on him.
This is to say nothing of the potential for regression facing John Mayberry, Jr., the likely ineffectiveness of Ty Wigginton, and the fact that Juan Pierre, who by wRC+ was the 10th worst qualified hitter in baseball last season, is penciled in as a bench contributor. The offense above is likely to score significantly less runs than in 2011, which could put the Phillies in the 92 win range or worse. Particularly now that two wildcard spots are available, this will probably still be enough to make the playoffs. But with the substantial improvements made by the Marlins and the Nationals, and with the Braves still being a contender, the division is by no means the guarantee that it was in the last two seasons. The Phillies, who know the sting of a short series so very well, may be facing a single game win-or-go-home proposition if they don’t look outside the organization for reinforcement.