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:

C Carlos Ruiz
1B Ty Wigginton
2B Freddy Galvis
SS Jimmy Rollins
3B Placido Polanco
LF John Mayberry, Jr.
CF Shane Victorino
RF Hunter Pence

BN Jim Thome
BN Laynce Nix
BN Brian Schneider
BN Pete Orr
BN Juan Pierre

SP Roy Halladay
SP Cliff Lee
SP Cole Hamels
SP Vance Worley
SP Joe Blanton

RP Jonathan Papelbon
RP Chad Qualls
RP Antonio Bastardo
RP Mike Stutes
RP Kyle Kendrick
RP Jose Contreras
RP David Herndon

(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.

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20 comments

  1. Michael

    March 27, 2012 03:23 PM

    According to the PythagenPat calculator on this site, that amount of runs scored and allowed would only put the Phillies on pace for 88 wins, but upon plugging in the values from last season it only came up with 93, so there may be an error with the calculator. The Pythagorean Winning Percentage put them on pace for 95 though.

  2. Yo

    March 27, 2012 03:45 PM

    Great, scary stuff. How much does Pence for a full season, if a regressing one, help? How much better was he than the guys he replaced?

  3. Phylan

    March 27, 2012 04:27 PM

    Michael,

    For transparency’s sake, I used X = ((rs + ra)/g)^.285 with last year’s NL run totals to derive an exponent of 1.827, which I plugged into the usual pythagorean formula.

    Yo,

    Hard to say. The Phillies got 97 weighted runs created from the RF position in 2011, per Fangraphs: www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=rf&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=1&season=2011&month=0&season1=2011&ind=0&team=26,ts&rost=0&players=0

    If Pence repeats his 2011 production as a 2012 full time starter, he’ll be worth 108 wRC, plus whatever is gained from his defense over the Gload/Mayberry/Brown/Francisco combo. ZiPS, which usually brings the harshest regression to bear, has him worth 86 wRC with the bat next year. It’ll probably be somewhere in between those two values, so I don’t think it will be much of a gain.

  4. Tom Horne

    March 28, 2012 07:28 AM

    Uh. Call me crazy, but that graph seems to be insinuating that an extra win requires 10 extra runs.

    That can’t be right.

  5. nik

    March 28, 2012 09:14 AM

    Ah shoot – the season’s been decided by the prognotiformulas, might as well pack it in.

  6. Z

    March 28, 2012 09:24 AM

    1. State personal opinion
    2. Cite regression and Zips selectively to bolster opinion
    3. ?
    4. Profit

  7. Phylan

    March 28, 2012 12:24 PM

    Where did I cite “regression” and what was selective about my use of ZiPS? And where did I say the season’s been decided? Are you really too sensitive to handle a negative take on the vaunted infield of Wigginton/Galvis/Rollins/Polanco?

  8. Tom G

    March 28, 2012 12:49 PM

    I was quite bullish on the season until I saw this. I’d still bet on them to win the division, but I’m not nearly as confident after reading this.

  9. Mike C

    March 28, 2012 01:38 PM

    I guess I’m out of the loop, but wouldn’t putting Mayberry at 1st and bringing back Dom Brown to play left make for a much better lineup?

  10. Phylan

    March 28, 2012 03:06 PM

    I mean, I guess the question is “would Dom’s defense cost more runs than his bat generates” but even if the answer to that is “yes” (which I’m not certain it is) you also have to ask “will he be more negative value than whoever is kept in the lineup in his stead” whether that be Wigginton/Nix/whoever.

  11. nik

    March 28, 2012 08:01 PM

    “Where did I cite “regression” ”

    -Beyond that, there are a few candidates for regression, like Cole Hamels and Vance Worley.

    -This is to say nothing of the potential for regression facing John Mayberry, Jr.

    Basically you think our strengths will not be as strong and our weaknesses will be even weaker. And that both of our 2 injured stars will not be back early enough or be good enough. That’s ‘selective’ at its finest.

    Finally, our in

  12. Z

    March 28, 2012 10:40 PM

    I was just poking fun, but the analysis here is incomplete at best. I can handle a negative take, but saying the pitching will be worse because Zips says so, and then throwing out pessimistic opinions about the offense isn’t going to make me any less optimistic than I was this time last year.

    Do you really believe that any of the teams in the division have actually gotten significantly better? Should we really be wary of the Marlins?

  13. Phylan

    March 29, 2012 10:34 AM

    nik – oh, you mean that kind of regression. I thought you meant like, a linear regression.

    Basically you think our strengths will not be as strong and our weaknesses will be even weaker. And that both of our 2 injured stars will not be back early enough or be good enough.

    That’s about right, yes. Of course, I can’t know for sure when Howard and Utley will be back based on the information we have right now, or how good they will be when they do return, but I’m leaning towards later and less. As you probably noticed, this is called “terrifying thought experiment #1,” not “if everything breaks the Phillies’ way.”

    Z –

    I was just poking fun, but the analysis here is incomplete at best. I can handle a negative take, but saying the pitching will be worse because Zips says so, and then throwing out pessimistic opinions about the offense isn’t going to make me any less optimistic than I was this time last year.

    Like I said, ZiPS is probably a little hard on some of the best pitchers on the staff, like Hamels. But as a balancing factor, I assumed that no injuries would take their toll, and no real substantial setbacks. ZiPS obviously isn’t gospel, I could’ve used PECOTA (which actually probably would have been worse) or Marcel, or just threw out my own guesses, but I wanted a solid projection with a good reputation for the purposes of this exercise. It’s very possible that the Phillies could only allow ~520 runs again. But I think 600 is well within the realm of possibility. It could be somewhere in between those two numbers.

    It’s not an incomplete analysis because my intention was not to say “here’s how 2012 will go,” it was to say “here is one way 2012 could go, and it’s a way the Phillies are not insured for.” I could have just said “man, look at that crappy looking starting infield” but I wanted to be a bit more analytical about it.

    Do you really believe that any of the teams in the division have actually gotten significantly better? Should we really be wary of the Marlins?

    Yes. I believe the Marlins were better than they ended up last season, thanks to injury and some bad breaks. And I do believe that the pitching rotation is improved (if Josh Johnson can stay healthy, and that’s a substantial if) and adding Reyes, a 3-4 win shortstop, is significant. The Nationals, hey, who knows. They were one game under .500 last season, and their top 2 pitchers in IP were John Lannan, and Livan Hernandez. This season it could well be Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez instead, along with Edwin Jackson pushing whatever garbage production they got from the 5th spot last season. I don’t think they are a better team than the Phillies, but they weren’t last year either, and they still beat the Phils 10 times out of 18. They’ll be a nuisance at the very least.

  14. Z

    March 29, 2012 11:54 AM

    Fair enough, I took it more as your prediction, aided by Zips projections than a quick worst case scenario summary.
    Using any projection system would have flaws but I have no problem using Zips (pecota, etc.) as a jumping off point. It seemed to me that taking projections for phillies pitchers and no other players in MLB was “incomplete” but if that wasn’t the article you set out to write then I can’t fault you for it.

  15. Phillie697

    March 29, 2012 12:06 PM

    … and yet, Dom Brown will start the season in the minors.

    @nik, okay… is expecting everything to work out, which is what you’re implying, somehow less selective? And if that’s not what you’re implying, can you at least enlighten us with what you think will work out and what won’t work out? Because it’s hard to call something “selective” when we have no idea what you think Bill is “selecting” from.

  16. Phillie697

    March 30, 2012 12:01 PM

    Sorry Ryan! I try to remember who wrote these articles while I comment, but I sometimes forget :)

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