Some Reason for Optimism

It’s May 24 and the Phillies are in last place. They are barely scoring more runs than they allow, their two best hitters are injured, their bullpen is among the worst in the league, and their starting lineups have included spring training cast-offs (Juan Pierre) and other teams’ scrap (Mike Fontenot). It is quite easy to feel pessimistic about the season. Please, allow me the opportunity to turn your frown upside-down.

The Phillies are .500 and only 4.5 games behind the division leader while in last place. Other teams in last place include the Red Sox at 5.5 GB (in a similar situation as the Phillies), the Angels at 7 GB, the Cubs and Twins at 10 GB, and the Padres are 14.5 games out. On this date last year, the division leaders included only three teams that went on to clinch their division. The Brewers were in third place at 3.5 games out on May 24 last year, and went on to win the NL Central.

Due to many reasons, the Phillies have traditionally been a second-half team. We need only go back to the 2007 and ’08 seasons when the Phillies surged in September to overtake the then-division-leading New York Mets. In ’07, they were seven games out of first place on September 12, but went 13-4 the rest of the way to clinch the NL East on the last day of the season. Likewise in ’08, the Phillies were 3.5 games behind on September 10, but finished the season 13-3 to win the division by three games.

Here’s a look at how the Phillies fared through 45 games, and how they performed afterwards from 2006 through last year.

First 45 Games Rest of Season
 Year Win % Run Diff Win % Run Diff
2006 .511 -7 .530 100
2007 .489 6 .573 65
2008 .533 17 .581 102
2009 .556 20 .581 127
2010 .578 56 .607 122
2011 .622 32 .632 152
2012 .489 3

The Phillies never outscored the opposition by more than 60 runs through 45 games. In fact, they were +30 or better in only two seasons. Meanwhile, they outscored their opponents by 100 runs or more in the final 117 games in five of the previous six seasons.

Does this mean the 2012 Phillies are definitely going to continue the trend? No, not at all. But the potential is there and the division is, as they say, “very winnable”. The Phillies have plenty of opportunities for upward momentum when Chase Utley and Ryan Howard come back, when Jimmy Rollins finds his swing, and when the bullpen regresses up to its mean. Who knows, maybe Ruben Amaro acquires a star player at the deadline for a fourth consecutive year and that helps spur the Phillies to another successful second half. With May almost over, the Phillies’ season-to-date may have been disappointing, but it is far too early to abandon ship.

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  1. Nikoli

    May 24, 2012 07:56 AM

    Could the Phillies please stop screwing around and just clone 7 more Chooches to cover all other non-pitcher positions? Actually wait, we would definitely need an 8th utility Chooch in case one of the Chooch clones needed a day off. Technicalities aside, would they lose another game the rest of the season?

  2. LTG

    May 24, 2012 08:06 AM

    So, when Utley comes back Galvis will be the starting SS, right?

  3. Mark H.

    May 24, 2012 08:16 AM

    I think Howard coming back will have a huge impact on the team. It will allow players like Hunter Pence to relax and stop pressing. Then when Utley comes back, if he does, the pressing will completely stop. I say by August 1st they will be in 1st place by probably a game or two but August is the month of “The Big Piece” and they will ride him into the playoffs.

  4. Nikoli

    May 24, 2012 08:21 AM

    Hope you’re right, but not sure Hunter Pence is capable of relaxing. I think your plan is a good one, but you should really check out my Chooch clone scenario explained above. Hunter Pence can relax on the bench while a Chooch takes over right field.

  5. JM

    May 24, 2012 08:22 AM

    Would Utley be better served with a move to 3rd? Galvis is only going to get better, and Utley is only going to cover less ground…

  6. Richard

    May 24, 2012 08:28 AM

    “So, when Utley comes back Galvis will be the starting SS, right?”

    Is this even a semi-serious question?

  7. ghovnanian

    May 24, 2012 08:39 AM

    “Due to many reasons, the Phillies have traditionally been a second-half team.” What would some of those reasons be?

    I give you guys credit for taking a pretty disciplined approach to analyzing baseball, so I’m sure you have good reasons for this assertion, but I’m curious what they are. Are you saying it’s just a trend, or do you have some perspective on *why* they’d be a better second half team than other teams?

  8. LTG

    May 24, 2012 08:43 AM

    It’s as serious as you want it to be…

  9. Bill Baer

    May 24, 2012 08:45 AM

    @ JM

    They tried Utley at third in the Minors many years ago, but quickly gave up on it as he lacked the arm strength. There’s almost no way he moves to any other position besides first base, and that position is obviously kind of locked up. So, second base. And Galvis will go to the bench, as Amaro said earlier in the season they don’t plan to send him back down if his performance doesn’t warrant it.

    @ ghovanian

    Well, the big reason is that they almost always improved their roster by the July 31 deadline and even after that on waivers (e.g. Jamie Moyer).

    I can’t speak to anything else with anything more than speculation, but warmer temperatures could have played a role, especially with the offenses of previous years.

  10. Evan

    May 24, 2012 08:50 AM

    I don’t see any solid reason for optimism. Past seasons of the Phils being better teams in the second half don’t necessarily indicate that it is a repeatable trend.

    Utley and Howard coming back will probably help, but who knows when they return and how well they will play? Everything is speculation at this point.

  11. LTG

    May 24, 2012 08:50 AM

    Of course, the background for the question is that:

    1) Galvis is hitting better than Rollins.
    2) Galvis is a better fielder than Rollins.
    3) Rollins only has two peripherals where a regression *might* improve his results: IFFB% and HR/FB. If he has lost power, that regression won’t be significant.
    4) Manuel won’t take the starting job away from Rollins unless things get much, much worse.

  12. jackieinertia

    May 24, 2012 08:58 AM

    the most likely way for the Phils to remain #Galvanized involves an inevitable injury to Polanco and Freddy playing third, or a semi-platoon at third. Or we can trade him for Matt Kemp.

  13. Evan

    May 24, 2012 09:01 AM

    Any reason why Rollins couldn’t move to third, moving Polly to a super-utility role? He definitely has the arm strength for it, he still fires lasers from short. And that may be a little less wear-and-tear on his body, letting him settle in more at the plate with fewer aches and pains.

    But I think the Halladay explanation from the other day has a lot of merit — a lot of guys may be pressing, especially someone like Pence, who’s swinging more this year and I think is pressing on the basepaths too (last night’s CS being a notable example of a lousy jump and lousy read).

  14. Evan 2

    May 24, 2012 09:02 AM

    Adding, the Evan who posted “Any reason why rollins” is me, a new commentor and a different Evan from the other Evan. Adding a 2 for clarity.

  15. jackieinertia

    May 24, 2012 09:14 AM

    evan, it’s a pride/loyalty thing. it’s like why the yankees continue to let jeter play short, except jimmy’s way better at it than jeter. it’s not like his defense is declining rapidly enough to warrant a change, he just kinda sucks at hitting right now.

  16. Evan

    May 24, 2012 09:19 AM

    I’m the original Evan, or OE. I’d just like to point out that I have been part of the Crashburn Alley demographic since long before 2012.

  17. Bill Baer

    May 24, 2012 09:20 AM

    You guys should fight to the death to prove your loyalty.

    I’m imagining myself aiming a gun back and forth at both of you, trying to decide which is the real Evan and which is the fake Evan.

  18. Richard

    May 24, 2012 09:21 AM

    Galvis has shown some good pop, and his BA is currently a bit higher than Rollins’, but his plate discipline is horrible (seriously, he swings at almost everything; eventually either he stops doing that, or teams stop giving him pitches to hit). Rollins’ BB rate is twice Galvis’, and it’s been going up. I mean, if Rollins’ has stopped hitting altogether, they have bigger problems. I strongly doubt he has.

  19. topherstarr

    May 24, 2012 09:49 AM

    Re: Bullpen regressing —

    This year’s bullpen is striking out more hitters and walking fewer per nine innings than last year’s. FIP, xFIP, and SIERA agree than this year’s bullpen is better than last year’s.

    ERA, BABIP and HR/FB are all worse for this year’s bullpen, but one should expect these numbers to improve based on the peripherals.

  20. Noah

    May 24, 2012 10:05 AM

    The fan in me would love to see Galvis continue to play. But we all know he won’t start everyday once Utley and Howard are back barring another injury. He’ll get a lot of starts though as they rest the infield and Rollins has to start hitting better. Right? It would take a major event to get Cholly to sit him so he’ll get a chance to improve.

    But alternatively I’m on board for an all Chooch field. Won’t be the fasted team. But certainly would be awesome. I can hear it now… “Chooch steps to the plate and hits a towering 3 run home run to left field driving in Chooch and Chooch”

  21. LTG

    May 24, 2012 10:22 AM

    1) Rollins walk rate is done regressing to his norm, more or less.

    2) His K-rate is high, but since his contact and discipline rates are right around his normal, I’m not sure that it will come down. His average will only improve if his Ks come down (or his power returns), since his BABIP is right on his normal.

    3) Who knows why Jimmy’s ISO has plummeted, but it is not a safe assumption that it will regress.

  22. Evan

    May 24, 2012 10:25 AM

    Stupid quesiton, why isn’t positive regression called progression?

  23. JC

    May 24, 2012 10:32 AM

    It may not be a safe assumption to think Rollins ISO will regress but it’s also not a safe assumption to think that Galvis will continue to hit like he has in May. In other words, it’s not a safe assumption to assume he will hit better than Rollins.

    Interesting to me, and I don’t know how much this means, is that he’s popping the ball up in the infield a lot more this season. Maybe he has a mechanical issue to work out. He also is swinging at fewer pitches in the strike zone ( ~3-4% decrease from last year)

  24. Richard

    May 24, 2012 10:41 AM

    Well, I had a long-ish reply to LTG that the internet ate. Suffice it to say that 1) is irrelevant (I’m obviously concerned about Galvis’ walk rate in my earlier comment) and 3) is curious: why not? you’re making all kinds of other “safe assumptions” based on 45 games worth of data; 2) is an ok point, though it suffers a bit from the fast and loose use of “normal” (as elsewhere: regression to the mean isn’t to the player’s “norms” or career averages, but to that player’s current true talent, which remains to be seen; obviously we use career norms, or ranges, and projections, to estimate that, but still)

  25. LTG

    May 24, 2012 10:48 AM

    Galvis is more or less around his MiLB numbers except for an inflated ISO. But power increases as players head toward 28-30 and declines thereafter. We don’t know all that well how to anticipate the effect that the switch from MiLB to MLB has on these numbers, but assuming that they get worse is not right. So, a) as long as Galvis *is* hitting better than Rollins, b) we have reason to think Rollins won’t improve much, and c) we don’t know whether Galvis can maintain the current level, why not take a flyer on him? (Not that I believe this will happen.)

    In statistics, regression refers to the tendency for a measurement to return to the norm within a distribution, regardless of whether that measurement is higher or lower than the norm.

  26. JC

    May 24, 2012 11:06 AM

    I think the perception of Galvis is an interesting thing. All off-season it was “he’s a glove only kinda guy” and now after 45 games there’s a portion of the fanbase who is willing to say that he’s better than Rollins.

    My question is why should we think that Rollins won’t improve AND that Galvis will maintain this production?

    I see the reaction being made mostly to Galvis improvement of late.

    April: 0.191/0.225/0.294/0.103
    May: 0.280/0.308/0.480/0.200.

    But Rollins has also shown improvement
    April 0.235/0.283/0.271/0.035
    May 0.222/0.308/0.296/0.074

    Rollins’ improvement is just more subtle than Galvis’.

  27. Nikoli

    May 24, 2012 11:10 AM

    Can you imagine the infield meeting at the mound with 5 Chooches and say, Cliff Lee?

    Anyway, in response to one of the Evans. SS requires a stronger arm than 3B so Rollins would obviously be able to play 3B with no issues. However, I can’t see him moving to third. Either way, I would not worry about Galvis getting playing time when Utley returns. Utley/Rollins/Polanco are roughly a combined 256 years old (source: wikipedia). I think Galvis gets 3 starts a week around the infield just giving those guys days off.

  28. Richard

    May 24, 2012 11:13 AM

    Any reason, LTG, why you’re persistently ignoring Galvis’ walk rate?

    Any reason you think the Phillies would “take a flyer on” Galvis, effectively giving up on Rollins, only 45 games into his new three-year deal? It’s not going to happen.

  29. LTG

    May 24, 2012 11:29 AM

    “2) is an ok point, though it suffers a bit from the fast and loose use of “normal” (as elsewhere: regression to the mean isn’t to the player’s “norms” or career averages, but to that player’s current true talent, which remains to be seen; obviously we use career norms, or ranges, and projections, to estimate that, but still)”

    ? So your objection is “but still”? I’m not allowed to base my conclusions only on available evidence and not on mysterious TT possibilities?

    1) was meant to say that we shouldn’t expect ((Rollins OBP-AVG) – (Galvis’s OBP-AVG)) to get much better, unless we think Galvis’s BB% is going to decline, which I doubt at least within this year. Galvis = Polanco in this respect; it just can’t get lower. Galvis’s K% might increase and drive down his AVG and should that happen Galvis should hit the pine.

    3) points toward two things. First, that Rollins ISO has been in decline for 4 years. Second, that 33-year-old SSs with power lose that power. His ISO dropped 75 points between ’07 and ’08. His current drop is 77 points.

    “I mean, if Rollins’ has stopped hitting altogether, they have bigger problems.”

    If Galvis’s performance maintains, he’ll provide a prorated 2.0-2.5 WAR, which is only 0.5-1.0 less than Rollins in 2009. It’s not nothing, but not the end of the world either.

    It was originally a facetious question. But now that you’ve forced me to argue for it I’m less convinced Rollins should remain the starting SS when Utley returns than I was.

  30. LTG

    May 24, 2012 11:29 AM

    To quote myself: “(Not that I believe this will happen.)”

  31. Steve

    May 24, 2012 12:17 PM

    It was mentioned way up there so not a huge deal right now, but in regards to people who think Pence is trying to do too much: it’s possible the guy has never been great at being patient or anything like that, but in the two months last year after the trade his k% and bb% both improved noticeably. SSS, for sure, but given the overall health and potency of the lineup last year it’s possible thg he was (and is) the kind of guy who’s more patient and performs better in the middle of a good lineup.

  32. Steve

    May 24, 2012 12:20 PM

    That should be a period after “it’s possible” and a new sentence starting at “the guy”.

  33. Tyler

    May 24, 2012 01:06 PM

    don’t worry ltg; by the time utley gets back someone else will be injured and galvis will find consistent playing time.

    re: being optimistic, i think it’s worth pointing out that the team’s 22-23 record is good for 2nd or 3rd place in every other division aside from the AL East. By the end of June they could be in 2nd with a .500 record; WSH has much bigger problems than the phillies do. I view them as this year’s ’11 indians: hot start that will come crashing back to earth this summer. Atlanta is the biggest threat to the pennant, Miami is a bigger threat to a wild card spot.

  34. UBIK

    May 24, 2012 01:35 PM

    I got a kick out seeing Bill say there will “be plenty of opportunities for upward momentum” when Howard and Utley come back. I can see why Utley is in that sentence, but wasn’t it just last year in an epic Howard-bashing thread that Bill compared him to Jhonny Peralta in terms of his run creating abilities? Howard’s 3.5ish fWAR from the past 2 years (total) should prorate out to, what, like .8 WAR for half the season?
    Could it be that the Mayberry/Wiggington/Luna 1B era is tempering some of the (in my mind) misguided saber-hatred of Howard?

  35. Bill Baer

    May 24, 2012 01:49 PM

    Don’t worry, saying Howard would be an upgrade over the current crop of Phillies first basemen is like praising an NBA player for being taller than Muggsy Bogues.

    EDIT: Jokes aside, Phillies first basemen haven’t been terrible. [Link]

  36. hk

    May 24, 2012 02:03 PM

    A .723 OPS built on a .350 BABIP as compared to a league average .761 OPS / .304 BABIP for the position doesn’t seem too far from terrible, especially if (when) Wigginton’s BABIP as a 1B (.375) drops.

  37. Robin

    May 24, 2012 06:09 PM

    David Murphy tweeted that Utley was today practicing in the outfield with Pierre and Mayberry. THAT could alter all kinds of equations.

  38. Evan2

    May 24, 2012 11:45 PM

    Utley in left makes a ton of sense if they want to preserve him. It always did (I never really got the “let Howard go, move Utley to first” thing that smart statheads talked about before Howard’s whale of an extension). Utley’s arm isn’t good enough for third. Plus, he’d probably hurl himself at every ball within 40 feet of him, banging up his body nicely. Plus speed, good instincts, and a good bat in left? I’d take it. A .360ish WOBA with pop would be a huge upgrade over anything we’ve got there now.

  39. LTG

    May 27, 2012 11:30 AM

    Incredibly, Phillies LFs are wOBAing less than Phillies 2Bs this year.

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