The Phillies are old and everybody knows it. They had the oldest offense (average age 31.1) and fourth-oldest pitching staff (29.1) last season and it’s only getting worse a year later. With most predicting doom and gloom now that the young and energized Washington Nationals have taken hold of the National League East, optimists have taken to pointing to the 1983 Phillies as reason to stay on a presumably-sinking ship. The parallel is right there: in 1983, the Phillies had the oldest offense (31.8) and the second-oldest pitching staff (30.3) yet defied the odds and made it all the way to the World Series, where they lost in five games to the Baltimore Orioles.
The ’83 squad also derived almost all of its value from its pitchers. According to FanGraphs, they ranked 22nd out of 26 teams in offensive WAR (15.5), but also got the most WAR from starters (21.1) and the sixth-most from relievers (4.2). The 2012 Phillies, though, ranked 13th of 30 in offensive WAR (23.4), fifth in starting WAR (16.6), and 18th in relief WAR (2.7).
What gets lost, though, is that the ’83 team’s average age, which is weighted by playing time, was slanted a bit due to the 42-year-old Pete Rose and 39-year-old Joe Morgan. Of the ten players who played in at least 100 games, six were 30 years old or younger. Only seven players crossed the 100-game plateau for the 2012 team, but of the top ten, only two were 30 years old or younger.
Another factor that gets lost is that the ’83 team’s older players weren’t battling injuries the way Chase Utley and others have. Entering 1983, Rose had logged 10 consecutive seasons (excluding the strike-shortened ’81 season) with at least 700 or more plate appearances. And while Morgan wasn’t the iron man that Rose was, he too had logged 500 or more plate appearances dating back to 1969 (also excluding ’81). Mike Schmidt wouldn’t have to deal with injury problems until 1988.
When you look at the 2013 squad, you have a plethora of injury worries: Roy Halladay (shoulder), Utley (knees), Howard (Achilles), Carlos Ruiz (plantar fasciitis), Delmon Young (ankle), Freddy Galvis (back), Michael Stutes (shoulder), Justin De Fratus (elbow). This iteration of the Phillies is infinitely more fragile than the ’83 team and that is why so many are predicting disappointment for them this season. Probabilistically speaking, some of these ticking time bombs will go off — the Phillies are just hoping that the explosion is not too severe.