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:

Year Team Lg #Matching
1985 California Angels AL 7 Juan Beniquez / Bob Boone / Rod Carew / Doug DeCinces / Brian Downing
/ Bobby Grich / Reggie Jackson
2007 San Francisco Giants NL 5 Barry Bonds / Ray Durham / Ryan Klesko / Dave Roberts / Omar Vizquel
2002 San Francisco Giants NL 5 Barry Bonds / Jeff Kent / Reggie Sanders / Benito Santiago / J.T. Snow
1945 Chicago White Sox AL 5 Tony Cuccinello / Johnny Dickshot / Oris Hockett / Wally Moses / Roy Schalk
2009 New York Yankees AL 4 Johnny Damon / Derek Jeter / Hideki Matsui / Jorge Posada
2008 New York Yankees AL 4 Bobby Abreu / Johnny Damon / Jason Giambi / Derek Jeter
2006 San Francisco Giants NL 4 Barry Bonds / Ray Durham / Steve Finley / Omar Vizquel
2005 San Francisco Giants NL 4 Moises Alou / Mike Matheny / J.T. Snow / Omar Vizquel
2004 Houston Astros NL 4 Brad Ausmus / Jeff Bagwell / Craig Biggio / Jeff Kent
2003 Houston Astros NL 4 Brad Ausmus / Jeff Bagwell / Craig Biggio / Jeff Kent
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks NL 4 Jay Bell / Steve Finley / Mark Grace / Matt Williams
2000 Baltimore Orioles AL 4 Brady Anderson / Mike Bordick / Jeff Conine / B.J. Surhoff
1993 Detroit Tigers AL 4 Kirk Gibson / Tony Phillips / Alan Trammell / Lou Whitaker
1991 Milwaukee Brewers AL 4 Jim Gantner / Paul Molitor / Willie Randolph / Robin Yount
1989 Detroit Tigers AL 4 Dave Bergman / Mike Heath / Chet Lemon / Fred Lynn
1986 California Angels AL 4 Bob Boone / Doug DeCinces / Brian Downing / Reggie Jackson
1983 California Angels AL 4 Bob Boone / Rod Carew / Bobby Grich / Reggie Jackson
1956 Brooklyn Dodgers NL 4 Roy Campanella / Carl Furillo / Pee Wee Reese / Jackie Robinson
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/29/2014.

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?

Year Team LG W L Win% Playoffs
1985 California Angels AL 90 70 .563
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
2003 Houston Astros NL 87 75 .537
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks NL 92 70 .568 Won WS
2000 Baltimore Orioles AL 74 88 .457
1993 Detroit Tigers AL 85 77 .525
1991 Milwaukee Brewers AL 83 79 .512
1989 Detroit Tigers AL 59 103 .364
1986 California Angels AL 92 70 .568 Lost ALCS
1983 California Angels AL 70 92 .432
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.

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  1. jonny 5

    January 29, 2014 08:45 AM

    I won’t lose my faith in this team until I am forced to.

  2. joe m

    January 29, 2014 10:27 AM

    I think you mean 60-*102 in the second to last paragraph?

  3. nik

    January 29, 2014 10:59 AM

    Plenty of reasons to watch: Lee, Hamels, Utley, Asche, Dom Brown, MAG, Freddy in the field, Cesar Hernandez, the young Bullpen and the occasional Howard bomb to make us reminisce.

    • hk

      January 29, 2014 11:10 AM

      I think you’ll have to go to Allentown to see most of Freddy’s time in the field and maybe even to see Cesar, too. However, I agree that there are still plenty of reasons to watch.

      • hk

        January 29, 2014 12:29 PM

        I stand corrected about Galvis since Sandberg – in Gelb’s piece from yesterday – has anointed Freddy as a lock to make his bench. After they signed Cedeno and Brignac among others, I’m surprised that they plan to keep Freddy in Philly rather than giving him everyday playing time in Lehigh Valley.

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