Time to Stop Dwelling on the Past

When the Phillies were shut out in Game 5 of last year’s NLDS by the St. Louis Cardinals, fans couldn’t wait to turn the page and get a fresh start in 2012. Even with a ho-hum off-season that included a controversy over exactly which reliever was getting incredibly overpaid (Ryan Madson, Jonathan Papelbon), there was plenty of room for optimism. Few pundits called for the Phillies’ ouster as division champions, despite facing a first-half without franchise pillars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. But the 2012 Phillies are the epitome of Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Player after player succumbed to injury, a never-ending plague of poor health. Freddy Galvis went down and Placido Polanco missed time for breathing too heavily (a slight exaggeration, of course). They were followed by Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, as well as many of the young arms in the bullpen including David Herndon and Michael Stutes. Of those that were able to avoid the injury bug, many posted subpar performances, particularly the now-departed Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence coming off of career years. Howard’s replacements at first base did a lousy job and Domonic Brown withered in the Minor Leagues. The brightest star was Carlos Ruiz, who until very recently was on pace for an historically-great season as a catcher. Nevertheless, the Phillies found themselves in the basement as early as May 5 and have only moved up to fourth place on a few occasions, never so much as sniffing realistic odds at their sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Just as quickly as fans were ready to move on after last October’s ouster, they are just as eager to rewind and relive the glory days. For many weeks, we have been inundated with stats comparing this year’s squad with that of last year. For example, Matt Gelb posted this on Twitter:

twitter.com/magelb/status/232653081333071872

I don’t mean to pick on Matt, of course, as it was just an innocuous bit of information, but it is just an example of reflecting back on what the Phillies did last year. Other than wearing the same uniform and using some returning players, the two teams couldn’t have any less in common with each other. Going by Pythagorean record (which uses a team’s run differential to determine the team’s true talent level), last year’s 102-win team was pitted at 103 wins, while this year’s 50-win squad is just two games under their expected record, the equivalent of a 76-win team over a full season. 27 games, in terms of true talent, separate the 2011 and ’12 teams.

What we should do is accept this year’s squad for who they are — an old, oft-injured, under-performing bunch — and focus on the future. Rather than castigating the bullpen for night after night of lead-shortening and deficit-inflation, we should be happy that Antonio Bastardo and Josh Lindblom, among others are getting their flaws ironed out now in meaningless games rather than in potentially important ones next year. Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick may have bad starts, but these final two months are the best times to fail and learn from mistakes. Likewise, it is the time to play it safe with fragile players as I suggested on Monday.

Everything the Phillies do between now and the end of the season should be seen through the prism of the 2013 team. The team’s final won-lost record, individual batting and pitching lines, and personal milestones are completely meaningless. Not only is this a pragmatic, but it’ll save you some unnecessary stress and strain on your heart as a fan. The best thing the Phillies could possibly do in their remaining 51 games is fail spectacularly.

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29 comments

  1. sixerfan1220

    August 09, 2012 08:55 AM

    say bourn and melky are both asking for 5 years 80-90 million on the free agent market

    who would you rather pay that to?

    id take melky

  2. nik

    August 09, 2012 09:11 AM

    I would take Melky for sure. I would love if we got him for 5/80. Bill what’s your beef with the Melkman? This is not a one-year fluke with him.

    I think its important to remember that its important for us to have a bottom 10 record. We will surely be signing a free agent that gets a qualifying offer, so giving up our highest draft pick in many years would be very painful.

  3. Bill Baer

    August 09, 2012 09:19 AM

    @ Nik

    His production this year is unsustainable. He’s walking and striking out at his career average, and his ISO is only a hair higher than it was last year. The big difference is his .390 BABIP (.332 last year, .310 career).

    Yeah, he’s a good player but more likely a 2-4 win player rather than 5-plus he’s shown this year. I’d be comfortable with him on a a three-year deal around $50 million. 5/$80M is way over that.

  4. sixerfan1220

    August 09, 2012 09:23 AM

    im just worried about Ruben spending everything on Hamilton

  5. nik

    August 09, 2012 09:28 AM

    Cabrera hasn’t even turned 28 yet. He may be just a 3-4 win player but with a much higher chance of maintaining that performance for the life of his contract. Bourn, Victorino and Hamilton have already peaked and could be major free agent busts. If not Melky, I’d go with a guy like Pagan on a 2 year deal.

  6. Bill Baer

    August 09, 2012 09:33 AM

    Paul mentioned Pagan on the podcast. The upcoming FA class is pretty bad, so I’m totally fine with the Phillies having a boring off-season. If Pagan can be had on a short, cheap deal, I’m totally on board with that.

  7. nik

    August 09, 2012 09:34 AM

    The other guy I forgot is Upton. Still very young and has performed well in the past. Could be a very nice buy-low candidate as well.

  8. jauer

    August 09, 2012 10:01 AM

    Agreed on buying Upton low. Between 2007 and 2011 he had a wRC+ of 113 or higher in 4 of the 5 seasons, and he’s only 27. The fact that he is currently posting his lowest career wOBA is a good thing for his price.

    My only concern is his walk rate, which was over 11% in those same 4 seasons, is now down to 7.8%. If he can get that back near 10%, he will be a steal if his price is ~$11M/ year

  9. Phillie697

    August 09, 2012 11:38 AM

    No Melky or Bourn. No Melky period (nobody has been able to explain to me why he went from replacement level to this, so I’m not buying), and Bourn only if he’s reasonably priced, which he will not be.

    I like Upton, and if he can be had on the cheap? We should grab him with both hands. 11M tho is not what I consider cheap for someone who’s somehow regressed even more this year. I’m fine with taking a chance on him, but not at 11M/year.

  10. jauer

    August 09, 2012 11:59 AM

    I dont think he will be that expensive but as a CF if his walk rate (and subsequently his wOBA) goes back above league average, 11M would probably be a discount at that point assuming he plays average defense (I do not know how he rates as a defender)

  11. Phillie697

    August 09, 2012 12:02 PM

    We shouldn’t pay for “if’s.” I will, however, gladly pay him reasonable money for a chance to make those if’s into reality.

    If I want to pay for if’s, I play the lottery, and even then, most people wouldn’t be stupid enough to pay $10 for a lottery ticket. Like I said, we shouldn’t pay for “if’s.”

  12. Richard

    August 09, 2012 12:03 PM

    “nobody has been able to explain to me why he went from replacement level to this, so I’m not buying”

    well, he didn’t go straight from there to here; he had a pretty awesome year last year, for KC.

    which doesn’t mean I favor him; I’d go for Upton

  13. pedro3131

    August 09, 2012 12:04 PM

    Upton is just trying to compensate for his low home run numbers and is swinging at more /worse pitches. I’m inclined to believe a 25 (he was born in 87 not 85) year old 5 tools player hasn’t all of a sudden lost his power. He’s been harangued by a wrist injury and expectations this year, but he’s still an incredibly exciting guy to watch.

  14. Phillie697

    August 09, 2012 12:10 PM

    Melky’s peripheral stats suggest that he’s the same damn player these past two years as he was before, save the unexplained power. In fact, he’s walking less, striking out more, has BABIP nowhere near his career average, and this year is hitting more GBs than FBs (heck, his FB% is the lowest this year of his career), which shows that maybe that unexplained power is not going to last either. Yeah, I rather check what’s behind curtain #3 please.

  15. jauer

    August 09, 2012 12:35 PM

    “We shouldn’t pay for “if’s.” I will, however, gladly pay him reasonable money for a chance to make those if’s into reality.”

    You’re just re-wording the same thing I’m saying. A “chance to make those if’s into reality” is an “if” itself.

    I guess what I’m getting at, if one WAR is worth 4.5M, it seems that 11M would be a discount for him since hes posted 4.0 WAR or higher for 4 of the past 5 years. However, since he will be coming off a year where he will only have posted a WAR of about 2.0, if you can sign him for 10M or less per year, I don’t see any downside. Even if his career-worst 2012 suddenly becomes the norm for him (which is highly unlikely since plate discipline improves with age), the ~10M figure is not THAT much of an overpay, if at all.

  16. Chris S

    August 09, 2012 01:38 PM

    I love the idea of Upton patrolling CF for the Phillies, and I love that he is having a down year, makes him that much cheaper. :)

  17. hk

    August 09, 2012 02:14 PM

    pedro,

    The Upton born in August 1987 is Justin, who will not be a free agent. BJ was born in August 1984 and will be a free agent next year.

  18. RyanFromBoston

    August 09, 2012 03:32 PM

    @Bill,

    What are your thoughts on resting some of the veteran players in September (Halladay,Howard, Utley, etc.)? Rest for the players recovering from injury may help those players really start next spring training right. If we are to expect a few months of rehab of Utley per offseason, starting early may be a good idea.

    Ryan

  19. Phillie697

    August 09, 2012 03:41 PM

    @jauer,

    No it’s not the same thing. You’re saying we should pay some money for the privilege of taking a chance on him in case he rebounds. I’m saying he should give US a discount for allowing him to have a chance to make those if’s into reality. You advocate paying for that chance, I’m saying he owes US for that chance.

  20. Phillie697

    August 09, 2012 03:43 PM

    Ryan,

    I think Bill has already posted several articles about that, including a mention in the CURRENT article if you read it carefully.

  21. Phillie697

    August 09, 2012 03:47 PM

    @jauer (again),

    To put some numbers into perspective, you come at the approach that he has been a 4 WAR player in the past, so $11M is cheap if he can reasonably bounce back. That’s giving up your negotiating advantage right off the bat. He’s on pace for about 1.5-1.7 WAR this year, so at BEST I would start negotiation at only $8M/year, probably less since market is full of 1.5 WAR players, and they almost never make their “worth” according to WAR. I’d start at two year, $14M, and go from there. Starting at $11M/year is quite insane IMO.

  22. jauer

    August 09, 2012 04:28 PM

    Im not the GM. As a fan, I’m starting at the worst-case scenario. Of course you don’t start negotiations. at 11. I’m saying even if RAJ screws up enough where they end up paying him 11, it will still be a better option than Cabrera or Bourn.

  23. Phillie697

    August 09, 2012 04:38 PM

    @jauer,

    Fair enough. But I still am not comfortable at $11M/year for Upton. For me, if we pay a player $11M/year, I think it’s not asking too much to reasonably expect that the guy will produce 2-2.5 WAR a year. After this year, are you comfortable saying that you reasonably expect him to do so in the next 2-3 years? Like I said, if I’m taking a chance, I want a discount.

  24. Pencilfish

    August 10, 2012 09:16 AM

    Bill,

    You keep saying the remaining 2012 games are meaningless, but they are obviously not so. Players such as Bastardo, Mayberry, Kendrick, etc are being evaluated with an eye towards their roles (if any) on the 2013 team. Players such as Utley, Howard and Halladay need to play for the same reason (risk of injury notwithstanding). I can’t understand why the “best thing is to fail spectacularly”. What is that going to accomplish for the 2013 team?

  25. Phillie697

    August 10, 2012 03:23 PM

    “risk of injury notwithstanding”? Yeah well, if I can win the lottery every single month, I can then buy the Phillies and do whatever the hell I want with it too, “risk of losing the lottery notwithstanding.”

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