Finding A Glimmer of Hope for the 2014 Phillies
The Phillies are old. It’s a narrative that both is true and has been repeated ad nauseam for the third straight year. The Phillies’ success in 2014 will depend largely on the health and performance of the five position players 34 years or older expected to accrue at least 400 plate appearances: Marlon Byrd (36), Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley (35), and Ryan Howard (34). If things start to trend positive for the first time in a while, the Phillies could improve on last year’s 73-89 record. If not, they’ll likely keep the Marlins company at the bottom of the NL East.
It’s rare for teams to have so many old position players take up such a large portion of the team’s plate appearances. Since 1901, only 19 teams have had at least five players age 34 or older take at least 400 PA’s:
If the quintet can stay healthy, the Phillies would be just the fifth team to make the cut with five such players. How did the above teams fare?
|2007||San Francisco Giants||NL||71||91||.438|
|2002||San Francisco Giants||NL||95||66||.590||Lost WS|
|1945||Chicago White Sox||AL||71||78||.477|
|2009||New York Yankees||AL||103||59||.636||Won WS|
|2008||New York Yankees||AL||89||73||.549|
|2006||San Francisco Giants||NL||76||85||.472|
|2005||San Francisco Giants||NL||75||87||.463|
|2004||Houston Astros||NL||92||70||.568||Lost NLCS|
|2001||Arizona Diamondbacks||NL||92||70||.568||Won WS|
|1986||California Angels||AL||92||70||.568||Lost ALCS|
|1956||Brooklyn Dodgers||NL||93||61||.604||Lost WS|
12 of the 19 finished above .500. Six of the 19 went to the playoffs. Four went to the World Series. Two won the World Series (in this millennium, no less). Not too many of those teams had gigantic expectations going into the season.
Before you take this to mean that the Phillies’ chances are better than they are, it’s important to remember the survivorship bias within this group. Better players are more likely to get 400-plus PA’s the older they get. Those that under-perform tend to lose their playing time quickly in favor of younger players. Players that get injured don’t get the PA’s to qualify for the list. If it were possible to find a list of teams that started Opening Day with five players — expected to be everyday players — in the lineup, the success rate would be much lower.
That said, it is still applicable to the Phillies. There is a lot of luck that goes into every season. As Tango illustrates here, random variation can add upwards of ten wins to a team’s projected won-lost record. Clay Davenport posted the first round of his 2014 projections recently, and he has the Phillies at 72-90 in last plate in the NL East — essentially a reprisal of what they did last year. To put Tango’s conclusion another way, if you had the ability to independently have the 2014 Phillies play out the season multiple times simply based on the random number generator that is life, the Phillies would sometimes finish at 83-79 or 60-102.
In some of those independent realities, Howard gets injured again, or he’s ineffective. In others, Utley is the one getting injured or struggling. In still others, the injuries and poor performance compound as they have in recent years. And yet, in some, everything goes just right. Whether the RNG gods happen to favor those of us witnessing this one specific simulation, of course, remains to be seen. While the odds of success in 2014 are slim for this old, injury-prone bunch, they are still non-zero. There is a very faint glimmer of hope that the Phillies keep things interesting, and that’s reason enough to watch.