2013 and 1996

Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) published his batch of 2013 ZiPS projects for the Phillies over at FanGraphs yesterday. There aren’t too many surprises, but here are a few that stood out to me:

Perhaps the most startling finding, though, is that no position player is expected to post 3.5 or more Wins Above Replacement. The last time the Phillies had a roster of position players where no one posted 3.5 or more WAR was in 1996, when Jim Eisenreich led the way at 2.7 WAR. Those 67-95 Phillies had, by far, the worst offense in the league, averaging 4.01 runs per game, well below the league average 4.68.

What were you doing in 1996? Probably in shock and awe at Andruw Jonesperformance in Game One of the 1996 World Series at the age of 19. Maybe wondering if Pedro Martinez was the real deal after posting a 3.70 ERA at the age of 24. Watching Roger Clemens in his final season as a member of the Boston Red Sox. That’s how long it has been since the Phillies had a roster of position players as bad as ZiPS forecasts the 2013 squad.

And ZiPS isn’t wrong. Utley and Ryan Howard are projected to take 450 and 474 plate appearances, respectively, which is reasonable given the duo’s recent injury woes and advancing age. Ruiz is expected to take 421 PA. Ben Revere and Michael Young, the Phillies’ two big off-season acquisitions, are projected to combine for 3.6 WAR in 1,256 PA — essentially what Utley will do in one-third of the playing time. This is not a roster that will smash-and-bash its way to victories; as with the teams of recent vintage, expect lots of close 3-2 type games where pitching is the rudder that steers the Phillies’ ship.

What the 1996 team didn’t have was pitching — aside from Curt Schilling, at least. Schilling’s 4.9 WAR was trailed by second-place Sid Fernandez‘s 1.8 WAR in 11 starts and Terry Mulholland‘s 1.4 WAR in 21 starts. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are projected to finish at 4.9 and 4.4, respectively, followed by Roy Halladay at 3.6. The 2013 Phillies, despite its expected offensive problems, can still compete for the playoffs on the back of its starting rotation.

EDIT: Because this post can be misunderstood, Dan graciously emailed me a great explanation of interpreting his projections. While I pointed out that no Phillies position player is projected to post 3.5 or more WAR, it doesn’t mean that zero players posting 3.5 or more WAR is the most likely scenario. Dan’s explanation:

Let me give a quick thought exercise. ZiPS projects 0 Royals to have a mean projection of .300. But that’s not the same as projecting 0 Royals will, in the end, hit .300.

The probabilities ZiPS has for a .300 BA for Royals are as follows: Butler 41%, Perez 38%, Hosmer 12%, Escobar 11%, Gordon 9%, Myers 8%, Moustakas 5%.

So, though no individual is projected to hit .300, there’s only a 23% chance that none of those 7 players will hit .300. The way the odds work out, the odds of x number of those 7 players hitting .300 given the projected odds are:

0 – 22.8%
1 – 41.1%
2 – 26.8%
3 – 8.0%
4 – 1.2%
5 – 0.1%
6 – <0.01%
7 – <0.01%

So in essence, despite the Royals projected to have no individual hitter projected to hit .300, the most likely scenario is that at least one of them do and two of them is more likely than none.

Hopefully that clears up any potential misunderstandings and misapplications.