Explaining the Phillies’ Second-Half Surges

On his blog, Tango shows a simple way to forecast a team’s final record using only their won-lost after 46 games:

This is a pretty simple one to do.  Take a team’s W/L record after 46 games, double it, and add 35 W and 35 L.

I decided to run the experiment on the 2007-11 Phillies:

Last year, after 46 games, they were 28-18. 28(2)-18(2) = 56-36. 56+35 = 91 wins, 36+35 = 71 losses. They were 102-60.

In 2009 and 2010, after 46 games, they were 26-20. 26(2)-20(2) = 52-40. 52+35 = 87 wins, 40+35 = 75 losses. They were 97-65 in 2010 and 93-69 in 2009.

In 2008, after 46 games, they were 24-22. 24(2)-22(2) = 48-44. 48+35 = 83 wins, 44+35 = 79 losses. They were 92-70.

In 2007, after 46 games, they were 23-23. 23(2)-23(2) = 46-46. 46+35 = 81 wins and losses. They were 89-73.

Interesting that the Phillies have been so consistently an outlier to Tango’s method, which does work well. Recently, a commenter asked me why the Phillies have been such a strong second-half team and I didn’t really have any ideas. The only two that I had were mid-season acquisitions and rising temperatures, but they were speculative at best. It’s a subject that I have been thinking about ever since and haven’t come up with any better explanations.

I ask you, dear reader, to help me brainstorm hypotheses for this phenomenon. Or is it just random?

Looking for testable hypotheses; nothing like “Charlie rallies his troops with a speech!”

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30 comments

  1. ghovnanian

    May 29, 2012 11:24 AM

    Wow, a whole post on this stumper. Ok, what about their age? Everyone laments us as “an old team,” and in Spring Training this year, Halladay remarked that as he ages it takes “longer to get going.” You might think that an older player wears down over the year, but maybe it’s the opposite.

    Is it possible that teams with higher average ages do better in the second half? Maybe better to do this on a split of WAR (or your other favorite metric) on a player-by-player basis to see if there is correlation between age and 1st/2nd-half WAR. If the correlation exists only on the top 3-4 contributors of WAR on the team, then it could push a team to be a “second half team.”

    Writing this actually makes me think you should test the top 3-4 WAR contributors on each team to even see if a split exists, then look for commonalities that could coincide with that split, then see if Phillies have some unique set of those traits that contribute to them being a great second half team. You’d control against the WAR from players acquired at the deadline.

  2. Bill Baer

    May 29, 2012 11:27 AM

    Interesting. One thought on that is that the 2007-08 Phillies were relatively young and still had the strong second-half. Although it could be true that those years were coincidental and your hypothesis could still be true. Still, something that merits further thought.

  3. ghovnanian

    May 29, 2012 11:33 AM

    More brainstorming:
    Should we control for schedule? Maybe the Phillies aren’t a great second half team, but the teams they play in the second half are crappy second half teams (or crappier teams in general than the teams they played in the first half). The scheduling isn’t exactly random, right? Do we have a higher proportion of NL East matchups in the second half of the year, to “create drama for the playoff runs”? How do interleague games play into this?

    And who else other than the Philles has shown this positive deviance from the 46-game projection rule?

  4. Bill Baer

    May 29, 2012 11:34 AM

    @ ghovnanian

    Great point. Interleague play ends in the first half as well.

    EDIT: And from memory, the Phillies have traditionally been terrible in interleague play.

  5. Jonny5

    May 29, 2012 12:01 PM

    Has anyone looked at what Jimmy Rollins has done for the team during these time spans? Swagitis of the lead off hitter maybe?

  6. Dante

    May 29, 2012 12:08 PM

    I think the twitter post has a bead on it. The Phils had notoriously bad Aprils the past several years, and never seem to really get going til June or so. By then, their higher talent level and groove help them beat lesser opponents and compete against the better talented teams, then in August/Sept they can beat up on the division rivals who are out of it – usually Miami, Nats, Mets (Braves in 08 tho, not Mets).

  7. RR

    May 29, 2012 12:08 PM

    Good call on the effect of interleague play. Individual performance, too, might play a role. Howard has had some excellent Septembers. Overall, maybe there’s something to the manager’s concern that the team lapses into complacency. Getting into the second half, particularly into September, they turn on the gas just as the less talented and experienced teams are wearing down.

  8. Dante

    May 29, 2012 12:10 PM

    Not to mention in Sept, the other divisional team they are playing are utilizing call ups more frequently, making them an even worse ballclub.

  9. pedro3131

    May 29, 2012 12:23 PM

    For the record the Phillies record over the past few years over their division has been:

    2009 44-28
    2010 44-25
    2011 45-27
    2012 8-11

  10. JB Allen

    May 29, 2012 01:12 PM

    Jonny5 –

    OPS per split relative to Total OPs (courtesy of Baseball Reference):

    Rollins career 1st half: 92
    Rollins career 2nd half: 110

    Howard career 1st half: 87
    Howard career 2nd half: 114

    Chooch career 1st half: 91
    Chooch career 2nd half: 112

    Hamels career 1st half: 105 (high=bad)
    Hamels career 2nd half: 92 (low=good)

    But note:

    Utley career 1st half: 107
    Utley career 2nd half: 92

    And then there’s Victorino:

    Career 1st half: 100
    Career 2nd half: 100

    I just went with the “name” players who’ve been with the team from 2007 through the present.

  11. kstotes

    May 29, 2012 01:47 PM

    Lot’s of confounding variables here…

    Depends a lot on the characteristics of the source of the second half surges–

    Awesome play at CBP in second 1/2– wind direction, humidity, shadow patterns, sun angles.

    Awesome play on the road– improved ability to tolerate road fatigue (training staff, accommodations, etc), frequency of road games in home time zone, etc.

    Awesome Pitching– training staff/rehab keeping guys fresh better than other staffs, better utilization of spot starts to spell pitchers, change in average pitch count over year

    Awesome Hitting– better use of platoon players to give rest days, decreased reliance on small ball and a smaller outfield leading to fewer running/sliding/diving injuries, better medical staff able to quick rehab better (avg time on DL, day-to-day, etc).

    Fan Participation– win% plotted against average decibels corrected for runs scored or other “Fan Motivating Events”

    Player Motivation– increased win% on nationally televised games, which occurs more frequently as year goes on

    Better Scouting/Inc Volume of Data– more film to watch and numbers to crunch, would show inc win% against players seen before with better performance the greater the number of times faced, should also see number plummet when facing new players in 2nd half they’ve never seen

  12. K-Decker

    May 29, 2012 01:53 PM

    I don’t buy into this at all. The baseball season is a 162 game marathon. If this were true, then you might as well stop the season after 46 games. Orioles with 93 wins? Doubtful. I’d put money on Boston, Philly, Detroit, and the Angels all finishing above .500. I wouldn’t count on the Indians and Mets being above .500. This is a silly hypothesis IMHO…

  13. Jake

    May 29, 2012 02:09 PM

    Lack of injuries to the starting staff, mid-season upgrades (Lee, Oswalt, Pence…), Warmer weather means longer fly balls at CBP…

  14. LTG

    May 29, 2012 02:48 PM

    K-Decker,

    It is not a hypothesis. It isn’t trying to explain anything. It is simply a heuristic for predicting a team’s final record after the first 46 games. That the heuristic is accurate to a reasonable degree of error without a further variable indicates that, for the most part, a team has shown its quality relative to the league in the first 46 games.

    If you are not convinced of its predictive accuracy (again, within a reasonable degree of error) you could read up on it or spend some time doing test calculations on past records. Citing a handful of counter-examples (especially counter-examples that haven’t become counter-examples yet) does not suffice to undermine the heuristic.

  15. Tyler

    May 29, 2012 02:57 PM

    here’s my theory: the phillies’ 2nd half success is largely due to the struggles of other NL East division teams. looking at full year splits across other division teams, the phillies record has been:
    win/loss against nl east
    2008- 41-31
    2009- 44-28
    2010- 44-28
    2011- 43-29
    2012- 8-11

    It’s worth noting that based on W/L, the Phillies haven’t really been noticeably better in the 2nd half. The team didn’t have any full months under .500 in 10 or 11, and only one month each in 08 and 09, June in both cases. I think the idea that this is ‘historically a better 2nd half team’ in recent years is more due to narrative than actual stats, in recent years they’ve been a better team all year long.

    Really, though, there’s still reason for optimism. If the phillies have been playing below expectations (which… maybe they have?), the rest of the NL east, esp. WAS and NYM, have been playing above expectations. Expect that to even out.

  16. Original Evan

    May 29, 2012 03:07 PM

    What was the Phillies RS/RA over the first half vs second half of these years, anyone have that?

  17. LTG

    May 29, 2012 03:45 PM

    Tyler,

    I am confused by your post. The W/L evidence says that in every year since 2007 the Phillies have finished with more wins than the Tango projection predicts after 46 games. Not only that, in each year the Phillies have improved their straight winning percentage after the 46th game. So, there is a phenomenon here that requires explaining even if it is not that the Phillies actually play better after the 46th game than before it.

    So, is your theory that the Phillies play more games against weaker opponents after the 46th game than before it (perhaps because they play proportionally more games against the NL East after that point)? If so, then showing us the full year records against the NL East gives us no reason to believe your theory. It is neutral evidence, which is to say not evidence.

  18. hk

    May 29, 2012 03:45 PM

    I have no idea why they’ve been better in the 2nd halves of 2008 through 2011, but here’s hoping having a healthy Halladay after mid-July is 2012′s reason.

  19. Ryan

    May 29, 2012 08:01 PM

    It’s pretty simple. When their pitching was questionable in the first half, it stabilized in the second half particularly in 2008 when that was no sure thing. Blanton came in and went lights out and Myers transformed into a star. When their hitting was questionable in the first half, it stabilized in the second half usually due to Ryan Howard being a monster. The deadline acquisitions really helped too…Lee, Oswalt, Pence, Blanton. I also get the sense that they are the type of team that can knows how to turn it on…not sure how but they do.

  20. Tyler

    May 30, 2012 07:31 AM

    LTG- I guess I have a few points all poorly worded. First, that the ideas that the phillies radically improved in a second half, enough to be considered a ‘second half team,’ is faulty because in recent history the improvements to the team in the 2nd half may have helped their peripherals but ultimately they did not radically improve their win-loss record between April/May and rest-of-season (may be interesting to track how many April/May wins were 1-run or extra innings, vs rest of season).

    my second point, not really spelled out but guiding theory 1, is that tango’s system is good for estimating a rest-of-season on average, but there is a margin of error that will account for even the phillies’ performance. The 35w/35l is applied equally to all teams. One exceptionally bad team– the cubs or twins or padres, for example, may turn in additional losses, giving other teams additional wins. If we see those 35 games as +/- 5 or so, that puts us closer to the actual results of the season. As tango’s post admitted, this equation is rudimentary and meant for quick projections; it doesn’t withstand significant rigor and isn’t really meant to accurately reflect past performance. It’s based on all things being equal, and for any individual team that may not be the case.

    My final point is that the phillies successful record from previous years owes much to their dominance of the NL East. In the first 46 games of 2011, they played 28 games against nl east, going 17/12. In 2012 they played 19 games, going 8/11 (now 9/12). i’d argue in the past that the nl east teams are where the phillies have picked up their extra wins from nl east teams. I haven’t run the numbers to support this, just a hunch, but ultimately i don’t know that the tango projection method deserves the hours of research required to support or disprove it.

  21. Justin

    May 30, 2012 08:40 AM

    I can think of lots of Phillies injuries occur early to mid season helping the team have a late season surge as a complete unit. In recent years, the rest from the injuries have to help an aging team too. Injuries include…

    Utley (July-lateAug 2007, July-midAug 2010, April-May 2011, YTD 2012)
    Rollins (April-June 2010)
    Howard (early/mid Aug 2011, YTD 2012)
    Chooch (April 2009, lateJune-earlyJuly 2010, lateApril-midMay 2011)
    Victorino (April 2008, lateJuly-earlyAug 2010, half of May/some of July 2011)
    Blanton (May 2011, April 2010)
    Bullpen [lots] (April-Aug 2011)

    This is not at all extensive. I may have missed somethings. Also, I didn’t look at Werth, Ibanez, Lidge, or Madson but I can’t think of these guys missing time late in the year. As seen from the sample above, these guys are all back in time to make impacts in August and September in the stretch run. The Phillies have been lucky enought not to end a season with one of their major players in the DL in September or at the end of the season.

    I’m sure someone can plot out how these players retunring from injury have contributed tothe team’s success in those seasons. I saw plenty of analysis last season from The Good Phight on Utley’s return corrisponding to the Phillies increased run production.

  22. LTG

    May 30, 2012 10:34 AM

    Tyler,

    1) If I understand you, you want to deny that BB’s evidence is evidence of the phenomenon BB claims. Your entire argument rests on what is meant by ‘radically improved’. Could you cash out ‘radically’ (preferably in quantitative terms) so that we can evaluate whether the Phillies in 2010 and 2011 radically improved their record after the first 46? (Keep in mind that as their record after 46 gets better, it get less likely that it will improve and so smaller increases become more significant.)

    2) As I already pointed out, you are too focused on Tango’s heuristic. BB’s question could be raised by using straight winning-percentage at 46 and at the end of the season. Asking the question on the basis of straight winning-percentage makes the move to a probability distribution lying behind Tango’s heuristic much less convincing.

    3) Don’t look now, but in 2011 the Phils had a much better record outside the NL East than inside. And even if this weren’t true you’d still have to show that a disproportionate number of games against NL East opponents were played and won after the 46th game.

  23. schmenkman

    May 30, 2012 02:38 PM

    Tyler, following up on this point…

    “It’s worth noting that based on W/L, the Phillies haven’t really been noticeably better in the 2nd half.”

    Here are the 1st half/2nd half W%s:

    2007: .506/.593 (+.087)
    2008: .531/.605 (+.074)
    2009: .531/.617 (+.086)
    2010: .531/.667 (+.136)
    2011: .630/.630 (no change)
    ————————
    07-11: .525/.620 (+.095)

  24. schmenkman

    May 30, 2012 02:38 PM

    (halves being the 81-game splits)

  25. Tyler

    May 30, 2012 08:08 PM

    All points conceded. I still don’t know that it’s fair to consider the phillies a “second half team”, as they have played well in the first half as well and looking at individual months from 07 to 11 they were generally just as likely to have a great April as a great August, and June has been a weak month for whatever that’s worth (not much). They’ve been a great team regardless of season.

    They may need to be a second half team this year to stay competitive, and that’s my main impetus for looking into their results against the division– the nl east has basically been rising to the phillies’ level for the last 2 years and we basically have parity now. Those wins against division teams are more crucial now than ever, but I admit that doesn’t ultimately speak to Bill’s point of this post.

    It would be interesting to see their 1-run and extra innings wins for the last 4 months compared to first 46 games. There may be some evidence there

  26. Tyler

    May 30, 2012 08:12 PM

    And schemenkman for what it’s worth half splits at 81 games aren’t much more relevant to this conversation than my claim that they aren’t a second half team. If bill is saying they improve every year after the 2 month mark, you’d need to look at their record for the first 2 months vs last 4. The difference there isn’t quite as extreme

  27. schmenkman

    May 30, 2012 10:51 PM

    Tyler, I find it very surprising that you’re still saying they haven’t been a better second half team. Significant improvement in 4 out of 5 years (and for the 5 years overall) sure looks convincing to me.

    Not saying by any means that that is predictive, but I do think they will be better in the second half for reasons specific to this year (underperforming 1st half hitters, returning Utley/Howard).

  28. Lukas

    May 31, 2012 08:21 PM

    I have no data to back this up, so I’ll pass that problem on to you, but from a fans perspective and a human perspective your team tends to win and play better when there are fans in the seats. Lots of them. Buzzing and clamoring with every sway. It helps to be the top dog in town too. My hypothesis came to me this afternoon with plenty of extra time to think on my bike ride home since we have no Flyers left to root for and no Sixers left to root for. Sure the Phillies are big, but there’s nothing like being THE team. I have a feeling win % goes up as long as the Phillies play without innercity sports competition. I.E; the middle of the summer. Unfortunately, that % may poorly reflect on October when Eagles fever returns and steals some of the Phils mojo.

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