Did the Phillies Collapse?

When referring to sports teams, the word “collapse” is usually brought out when a team has a lead in its division very late in the season, but inexplicably defies the odds to miss the post-season. The Phillies have been a part of a few over the years, some good and some bad. Most recently, the Phillies were the beneficiaries of the Mets’ late-season woes. In 2008, the Mets had a 3.5-game lead in the division with 17 games to go, but went 7-10 while the Phillies won 13 of their final 17 games to seal the deal. The previous year was very similar, but the Mets squandered an even bigger division lead. With 17 games left, the Mets had a seven-game cushion in the NL East, but finished out the schedule 5-12 while the Phillies went 13-4, clinching on the last day of the season.

The most famous collapse in Phillies history, though, came in 1964. Gene Mauch’s squad had a 6.5-game lead with 17 games remaining and their manager could see the finish line in sight. Mauch leaned on his two aces Jim Bunning and Chris Short on short rest to seal the deal, but it turned out to be the wrong strategy. Bunning never had more than three days rest in the month of September while posting a 4.06 ERA, including a 7.36 ERA in the five starts during the collapse. Short also never had more than three days of rest in September despite posting a 3.00 ERA in the month. However, he posted a 4.40 ERA in his final five starts to close out the year. The Phillies went 4-13, including ten consecutive losses, to close out the season, squandering their near-certain playoff berth to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Timing is important in the storyline, of course. Teams have lost 13 of 17 before, but few of them timed them perfectly with the end of a season while desperately holding on to first place. It makes for a very intriguing story, one that will be passed down from generation to generation. Another part of baseball’s narrative machine is the saying, “you can’t win the division in April, but you can lose it.” Obviously, that’s true of any month, really. For example, the Phillies’ 17-8 record in September 2008 certainly helped, but it would have been nice in April or May as well.

This year’s iteration of the Phillies have lost 12 of 16 games in June, falling from 2.5 games out of first place to nine games. Because it happened in June and not at the end of September, this can’t be described as a “collapse”. However, this recent nightmare makes it likely that the Phillies will not be in a position to collapse in September. They may even return from the All-Star break as sellers, saying goodbye to franchise stalwarts like Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton. Under these unique circumstances, can we refer to the recent stretch of games as a collapse? Given how much further down in the division the Phillies sunk and how poorly the Phillies have played on both sides of the ball, so to speak, it’s debatable.

I compared the final 17 games of 1964 and the most recent 17 games to get a feel for how both teams fared. I also compared their performances to the league average. Below, you’ll see hitting and pitching stats. In the “scale” rows, 100 is average; below 100 is below-average and above 100 is above-average. Remember that higher is worse for ERA, walks, and home runs.

AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO
1964 PHI .233 .296 .350 .646 .117
1964 NL AVG .254 .311 .374 .685 .120
Scale 92 95 94 94 98
2012 PHI .256 .314 .403 .717 .147
2012 NL AVG .252 .318 .398 .716 .146
Scale 102 99 101 100 101

The 2012 Phillies have hit ever so slightly better than the league in most categories while the 1964 Phillies were significantly below the league average.

ERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
1964 PHI 4.14 5.4 2.3 2.36 0.64
1964 NL AVG 3.54 5.7 2.7 2.11 0.8
Scale 117 95 85 112 80
2012 PHI 4.73 8.9 2.6 3.43 1.07
2012 NL AVG 3.93 7.7 3.2 2.43 0.9
Scale 120 116 81 141 119

The Phillies’ pitching has been worse despite better components, and they have had problems all over. Vance Worley is the only starter with an ERA below 4.50 since June 2. In the bullpen, everyone not named Jonathan Papelbon or Antonio Bastardo has had trouble recording outs as well.

Although the 2012 Phillies haven’t performed as badly as the 1964 Phillies at the end of the season and it may not be colloquially referred to as a collapse, their 4-12 run will be the stake in the Phillies’ heart if they indeed approach the July 31 trading deadline as sellers. It is certainly not how the Phillies saw the 2012 season unfolding, even with the first-half absences of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. As Matt Mullin tweeted to me recently, the Phillies are proving Murphy’s Law with the ever-increasing adversity standing between them and defending their five-year run atop the NL East.

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14 comments

  1. The Citizens Bankers

    June 19, 2012 11:02 AM

    I liked this piece a lot. I wrote on June 1st how this would be the biggest month of the season until October, assuming they got there. So in my eyes, yes, they have collapsed. Actually, to be frank, thus far in June they’ve shit the bed and still with tough games to play it begs the question: can it really get better? It just might. They’re only 5 GB of WC2 and have 92 to play. And 48 of those games come against NL East opponents. So there will be plenty of opportunity to make up ground (hopefully) if they don’t sell at the deadline.

  2. Bill Baer

    June 19, 2012 11:04 AM

    Assuming 88 wins is the second Wild Card threshold, the Phillies would need to win 57 of the remaining 92 games (.620). In other words, they need to immediately start playing like a 100-win team and keep it up over the next three and a half months.

  3. Ken Bland

    June 19, 2012 11:23 AM

    Phils ’64 collapse was actually in the last 12 games. 6.5 with 12 to go, lost 10 straight, then won the last 2. Too little, too late. Whether that changes the angle of comparison, I wouldn’t venture a guess, but the collapse was worse, and more painful than a 17 game stretch.

    A most educational year, to say the least.

  4. Frank Reynolds

    June 19, 2012 12:46 PM

    Very interesting article. I personally say that they died not collapsed because of the timing and their sucess over the past five years. Now I understand that they can turn it around. However, they have showed me nothing that leads me to believe that they will turn it around. I just don’t see it as a collapse To me it’s bigger. They have been running this division for a while now and it appears that run is probably over. It’s like a death for me it’s sad. I see a collapse as being something that I get more angry about not sad. When I talk about this with friends or family I say that they died in that dodgers series. It might seem harsh or over dramatic to some it’s just how I feel. I have not been getting mad or frustrated anymore when I watch them I just feel sad. I don’t like that we are probably going to have to trade Cole and Shane( for the most part I think they should do it). Those guys were a big part of the only championship in this that I can remember.

  5. LTG

    June 19, 2012 01:27 PM

    I don’t say this enough, so, BB, I enjoyed the article. Thank you.

    Onwards:
    Why trade Cole? Trade Halladay or Lee or both. Try to resign Cole and if it doesn’t work we’ll get a couple of draft picks that can be turned into a reasonable facsimile of what trading him would have gotten us. If we can keep Cole he will be the new foundation for a rennaisance in a few years. If we lose him, well, the rebuilding process will just take a little longer.

    Can we trade Shane? Does anybody want him? Only the Yankees, Indians, and Reds are getting less overall production at CF and are competing for a playoff spot. The Yankees have Granderson there so they aren’t interested. (Why is Granderson in CF again?) The Indians seem committed to Brantley. The Reds might do it because Stubbs ain’t cutting it anymore, but even then I’m not sure they are desperate to improve at CF.

    I must say, Phillie697, was right that we should have traded Shane in the offseason. Sigh.

  6. Frank Reynolds

    June 19, 2012 02:07 PM

    @LTG I could be wrong but I think the phillies have some guys that are not able to be traded because of no trade/age/ health/ and contract. I have lee, Halladay, Howard,Utley, Rollins, and Papelbon on that list. Like I said I could be wrong but this is how I see it and I think I am being realistic. We also have a solid group of guys on this team that are simply not able to be traded because they have no value I assume everyone knows who they are.

  7. Sulla

    June 19, 2012 07:52 PM

    I still think there’s an outside chance the Phils put it together.

    Some of these guys are classic second half performers. If we get Doc back at full strength, Cliffster puts together one of his amazing unhittable streaks, plus the return of Utley…replacing the lackluster MM….there’s no telling.

    The NL East outside of Washington is just not that good.

  8. LTG

    June 19, 2012 07:58 PM

    Yeah, no trade clauses can be waived. And I wager that the older members of this club like Lee and Halladay would do it for a chance to win again. Maybe not, but it seems likely. Lee’s contract is movable, although maybe not the whole thing. Halladay’s contract is rather cheap for the production, and the final year option might not vest anyway. So, he isn’t even a big commitment. Utley is eminently tradeable to the AL if he proves that he can hit when he comes back, but I don’t want him traded. It would make me too sad. Howard is Howard.

    What do you mean that we have a “solid group of guys” who “have no value”? Those seem contrary. Does solid mean firm or large rather than reliable?

  9. hk

    June 20, 2012 06:22 AM

    If all we are talking about is their June record, I would not say they collapsed as they were already in last place when June began. I also think we have to compare the team’s record (June and otherwise) to expectations. My take on this team was that it would play ~.500 ball without Howard and Utley and ~.600 ball once they both returned. If you told me at the beginning of the year that they would both return on June 1, I would have predicted ~92 wins. If it was July 1, the number would drop to ~88 wins. Therefore, when the expectation is ~.500 and they went from 2 games over to 6 games under in this most recent streak, again, I don’t think it qualifies as a collapse. Finally, when you consider that Halladay (in addition to Utley and Howard) has missed June, that Charlie outdid himself with more suboptimal managing than usual and that the team was probably a little unlucky (their pythag record was 6-10 for those 16 games), a 4-12 record stretch should not be seen as anything more than a rough stretch for a team that projected to be below .500 in that time.

    Going forward, I think that the current 10-game home-stand should go a long way towards determining the direction that the team takes. If they can win 8 of the 10 and get back to .500 before the midpoint, they should keep this group together and see what July brings with the return of Utley and hopefully Howard. If they win 6 or 7, they can probably buy some more time (maybe the 9 game road trip that takes them to the ASB before deciding. If they win 5 or fewer, it’s time to start the due diligence on what type of return they might be able to get for any and all of their players.

  10. bill

    June 20, 2012 09:00 AM

    In general the Phillies have been somewhat unlucky (only somewhat because of shitty relief pitching), in that they are 32-37 with only a -2 run differential. Meanwhile the Mets are basically the same (+2 run differential) and yet are 37-32.

    The NL is pretty darn weak this year, and they’re 5 games behind a team they’re probably going to be better than in August-September if Utley and Howard can give them anything at all.

  11. Richard

    June 20, 2012 11:16 AM

    bill, I’d say the apparent shittiness of the team’s relief pitching has been just another index of that poor luck

  12. Frank Reynolds

    June 20, 2012 11:38 AM

    LTG
    I meant solid in the number we have not solid in their performances.

  13. LTG

    June 20, 2012 05:27 PM

    Ok. That makes sense. I guess you could also have meant solid as in made of concrete and can’t play D worth–

  14. LTG

    June 20, 2012 08:21 PM

    Just noticed Juan Pierre is posting a career high wRC+. Does that need a punch line?

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