Ruben Amaro Thinks the Phillies Can Make A Run at the NL East Crown in 2014

PECOTA, from Baseball Prospectus, projects the Phillies to finish at 76-86. FanGraphs puts them at 77-85. Atlantis, a sportsbook based in Reno, puts the over-under on the Phillies’ win total at 78. Ask any random baseball fan you see on the street how many games the Phillies will win in 2014, and their answer is likely to fall in the 70-80 range. Could we all have it wrong?

According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, GM Ruben Amaro thinks his team can make a run at the NL East crown, and subsequently the World Series, in 2014.

“Listen, I don’t want to be foolhardy,” Amaro tells USA TODAY Sports, “but I do believe we have the talent to make a run at the National League East this year. And if we’re making a run at the National League East, it puts us in position to win the World Series.”

I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’m taking the under on them winning 80 games. That keeps them far enough out of the playoff picture as to be a non-factor.

The above quote was given in the larger context of the Phillies being old, expensive, and ineffective, which has caused many to suggest they ought to build for the future. Based on what Amaro and team president David Montgomery said, it seems like a strawman.

Montgomery said, “when people talk about rebuilding, they almost make it sound like it’s an either/or. Well, you’ve got to be in position to rebuild.”

Amaro said, “I cannot look at our fans in the face and say, ‘You know what guys, we’re going to blow it up. We’re going to be (garbage) for the next four or five years. But we will be back.”

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I haven’t heard anyone suggest the Phillies should follow the Astros down the total rebuild road. It doesn’t make sense for the Phillies in the context of their present roster construction nor in the context of good business. Even if fans don’t understand the business side of it, they don’t want to watch a team lose close to 100 games annually with a future hope of success. So who has called for a total rebuild, I don’t know.

Many have suggested that the team needs to “get younger”, but that phrase does not imply a rebuild. Many have suggested they shouldn’t get involved with expensive free agents. That, also, does not imply rebuilding. Like Montgomery said, it’s not an “either/or”. You can set your organization up better for the future while still remaining relatively competitive. And to the Phillies’ credit, that’s what they’ve done this off-season, for which I’ve given them their due praise.

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27 comments

  1. Kevin

    February 17, 2014 11:33 AM

    Ruben Amaro Thinks the Phillies Can Make A Run at the NL East Crown in 2014…but no one else does!

    I’ll be the first guy in line to blame RAJ for driving this team into the ground, but even I will consider giving him a pass for making this statement. It is not good for business to come out and say “hey, my team is gonna stink.” It’s just not done, except in extreme cases where the GM can’t even pretend his team can be competitive. This is not such a case.

    Still, there are two possibilities. Either Rube is just doing the dance because that’s what he’s gotta do, or he actually believes he has a contender. Since he just spent another pointless $16M, I am afraid he may actually believe he has put this team in a position to win. A frightening thought.

  2. Pencilfish

    February 17, 2014 11:59 AM

    Are these win projections before A.J. signed or after? How many more wins do PECOTA, FanGraphs give the Phillies because of A.J.?

    • hk

      February 17, 2014 08:12 PM

      I don’t know whether the PECOTA (and other) projections were pre-AJ, but if they were, you can probably add 3 to the numbers Bill wrote in the piece.

    • hk

      February 17, 2014 08:21 PM

      Pencilfish,

      It does look like the PECOTA projection was done before the Burnett signing, so I think you can reasonably estimate that their projected number would rise from 76 to 79 give or take a win in either direction. Of course, the projection was also done before the news of Hamels’s injury was made public.

  3. EricL

    February 17, 2014 12:21 PM

    I think the Phillies can make a run at the NL East. If you think, as the Atlantis sports book does, their true talent is that of a 78 win team, and the standard deviation for actual wins vs. WAR is about 6 or so, then that 78 win team is going to win between 72 and 84 games only 65% of the time. 17% of the time that team will win more than 84 games. A little luck and decent sequencing and Phils are right in the hunt there. Unlikely, but not completely horrible odds.

    And that’s if the players on the roster only contribute about 30 WAR. A couple breakout or bounce-back seasons and they might find themselves in an even better position.

    • Ryan

      February 17, 2014 12:31 PM

      I’d give them better odds of making the playoffs if they hired Chase Utley’s trainer to work with Ryan Howard/Cole Hamels/Jimmy Rollins/Carlos Ruiz. If this team can stay healthy (a huge and improbable if), this team has a chance to make the playoffs. If they make the playoffs, anything can happen in 5-7 game series with a rotation of Hamels/Lee/Burnett.

      Maybe Ruben knows more about the health of the veterans than he’s letting on?

    • eddie

      February 17, 2014 05:05 PM

      This, exactly. Of course the Phils have a chance. Everyone has a chance, and it’s ignorance of statistics, not the knowledge of them, to say that a sub-.500 projection means “no chance of being in it.”

      I’d say 17% chance of being in it to the end the last week sounds about right. Probably a 25% chance of being in it into the last month. And that’s pre-Burnett.

      Of course, being “in it” for most of the season and not making the playoffs might leave a hollow feeling … I’d almost prefer imploding and starting the fire sale in July to finishing of the fringes of the race. It’s not like finishing second will inspire cries of “wait till next year.”

  4. mark66

    February 17, 2014 02:04 PM

    I agree with a suggestion I just saw–for the Phils to be more productive the need to bat : Utley, Brown and Byrd 1,2,3. That makes the most sense. I hope they try that in spring training.

  5. Rob

    February 17, 2014 02:08 PM

    I’m sure Ruben believes theres *some* chance to win the NL east, like the rest of us, but probably doesn’t expect it happen. The quote reflect that line of thinking. He’s doing his job of selling the team he’s put together and he’s just being optimistic — nothing wrong with that.

    More importantly, as you mentioned in your last paragraph, he’s finally acting like a guy who believes that the phillies best chance of success lies a few years down the road. It’s a bonus that he managed to convince ownership to spend a few extra dollar to improve the team this year too.

    I haven’t been a fan of Ruben but I am thoroughly satisfied with his offseason, and also the aggression he showed in going out and getting MAG, even if he doesn’t turn out to be what we once hoped he could be.

  6. edwin

    February 17, 2014 03:47 PM

    Well, if you listen to PECOTA you are an idiot. They have never been very close at predicting. The ‘darlings of the AL East’ Bosox were projected to win 84 games last year. Pretty accurate.

    • eddie

      February 17, 2014 05:10 PM

      Um, actually, historically it is pretty accurate. Certainly more accurate than any human forecaster I’m aware of.

      Do you ignore the weather forecasts and rely on your hunches instead? Those guys are wrong sometimes, too …

      • edwin

        February 17, 2014 06:56 PM

        Bill, I guess the point I am trying to make is too many people put too much emphasis on statistics when it comes to forecasting. As someone with experience in statistical analysis in both the public and private sector, the one thing about the human condition is that it is incredibly hard to predict. Is it a valuable tool? Of course it is. All information is important to consider. Sifting and blending the information and understanding all the factors is the crux of the issue. Qualitative and quantitative data inform each other to the validity of a thesis. They explain each other. There are anomalies and outliers and this is something that cannot always be explained mathematically. That said, this is a game played by humans and the over reliance on science to predict how a team will do over the course of the season I think is a stretch. I don’t think the odds makers ever predicted the Seahawks crushing the Broncos in the Superbowl and practically no prognosticator picked the Bosox to win either and they base their information almost completely on stats. Are the Phils going to win the NL East? Probably not, but they probably won’t be as bad as everyone thinks either.

      • Bill Baer

        February 17, 2014 09:28 PM

        Humans are remarkably predictable, believe it or not.

        phys.org/news186174216.html

        I’ve never bought into the “played by humans” line of thinking because everything we do is “done by humans”. It doesn’t negate the science used to analyze it.

      • Phillie697

        February 19, 2014 02:16 AM

        @edwin, one is called enjoying the moment, the other is called setting expectations. They are not mutually exclusive. You’re complaining because the expectation being set is not allowing YOU to enjoy the moment. That’s a personal problem; nobody here will have any issues with enjoying the moment if the Phillies all odds and make it to the playoffs. But we certainly aren’t going to set ourselves up for failure by blindly criticizing reality just so we can feel better about our team.

  7. Matthew Marino

    February 18, 2014 09:01 AM

    Realistically you need a perfect storm.

    Utley, Rollins, Howard healthy and productive.

    Ruf, Asche, Brown need to put up decent numbers.

    Hamels, Lee, Burnett need around 15 wins each and some help.

    Offensively i think they are too old with the lineup they have.

    Their pitching if successful and with a good bullpen might be an 80-85 win team.

    Unfortunately i don’t see them staying healthy, Hamels hurt and a roster full of veterans who are declining. My prediction 72-90

    • Beez Nutz

      February 18, 2014 09:35 AM

      I agree with all the points you made …. except and its probably just me being an optimistic homer, but I do see them staying healthy enough and competing for a WC spot.

      Every single thing that could’ve went wrong last year did and they won 73 and they’ve upgraded or stayed the same at every position. Just cant imagine it happens again.

      84 – 88 wins

      • Phillie697

        February 20, 2014 12:09 PM

        Every single thing that could go wrong did go wrong last year? Ehhh, exactly what went wrong that was not really expected? And no, not everything did in fact go wrong; Cliff Lee didn’t fall off the Roy Halladay Cliff despite his advanced age, Dom Brown had a breakout year despite many people having came to the “conclusion” he was a bust, Ruf actually did alright, and Utley actually stayed relatively healthy and produced a 3.9 fWAR season, in class Utley fashion. The only thing that “went wrong” that I can think of that was sorta, kinda unexpected was JRoll performing as bad as he did, and Revere’s injury. Otherwise, everything else was pretty on-par for the course for anyone with any realistic outlook on the team last season.

        Last year, you needed NINTY wins to just make the 2nd WC spot. Phillies will be lucky to sniff within 10 games of that this year.

  8. jared

    February 18, 2014 03:10 PM

    The phils won 73 games last year. Let’s consider some things about this – When their ACE wasn’t icing bad shoulder, he was pitching 6.82 ERA. He was replaced with Burnett. They lost Bastardo for 50 games. They lost Howard, Ruiz, Adams, & Revere for half the season . We got rid of Michael Martinez, and replaced him with Abreu or Ruf coming off the bench. We got rid of Charlie (I respect him) but was stuck on the has-beens and the philosophy when Jimmy goes, so goes the team. You’ve got 3 guys that should hit 30+ HR’s each (Howard, Brown, Ruf). It’s hard to imagine that the bullpen can’t improve from last year. All this is speculation because the obvious is they are old. They could win 90 games if the pieces stay healthy and all click, but they could only win 70. Bottom line, this team can’t make it to 2016-17 fast enough when we potentially say goodbye to the expensive Howard, Utley, Papelbon, & Rollins, contracts

    • Allen Thornberg

      February 18, 2014 06:50 PM

      “You’ve got 3 guys that should hit 30+ HR’s each (Howard, Brown, Ruf).”

      Any projection for this season that factors Ruf into the Phillies’ lineup equation is IMHO inaccurate; Ruf just isn’t “versatile” enough for Amaro’s taste, and will almost certainly either be traded before April or start the season in Lehigh Valley, with Abreu, Galvis, Frandsen, Mayberry, and Nieves on the bench; when Mayberry and Fransden were tendered arb and Abreu was signed, it was pretty much the kiss of death for Ruf as a Phillie; if he’s still on the team come April, he’ll stay in AAA till there’s an injury to Howard or someone else

  9. BeninDC

    February 18, 2014 07:01 PM

    Bill,

    Though I don’t always agree with your comments, I generally think your comments are well thought out and well-reasoned, but I’m not sure the point of this post. Amaro isn’t in the business of making pre-season predictions of exactly how many wins the Phillies (or any other team for that matter) should win. If he’s asked questions about his expectations for his team, before the season even begins, I don’t care if his team is terrible, he should lie through his teeth, say his team will surprise and have a chance to make the playoffs. So, are you criticizing Amaro for overestimating the quality of his baseball team? Imagine if, when asked about the quality of his team, he said, “Well, I think we’ll win about 75 games, realistically. But fans should definitely still come to the ballpark because, even though we’ll have nothing to play for, realistically, all season, who doesn’t want to watch Howard flail at left-handed pitching all year!!” The fact is, Amaro telegraphed his realism when he said that he didn’t want to be foolhardy. But he said, and it is probably true, that if all the stars align and the Phillies get very lucky, perhaps they make the playoffs.

    I write all of this because Phillies fans LOVE to jump on RAJ for being a rube (pun!) who doesn’t pay attention to stats and who is a terrible GM. He has made some poor decisions, but let’s be fair and criticize where it is appropriate. That he shows confidence in his team in the first week of spring training shouldn’t really be a surprise. You set up Amaro as a straw man (“Could we all have it wrong?”) just as much as Amaro and Montgomery use the either/or strawman. No, you’re probably not wrong. But maybe cold water is best coming from someone other than the GM of the mediocre team.

  10. ian

    February 19, 2014 12:35 PM

    I’m thinking if there’s no major injuries we have a coin flip of a chance at cracking the playoffs. And that’s all the fans need, to be somewhat in it all year. But if you can’t buy in to that, how about watching Asche, and late season call-ups, Franco and Biddle? plenty of things to be excited about this year in my opinion.

    • hk

      February 19, 2014 03:10 PM

      What’s the likelihood of having no major injuries? Is that a coin flip? Is that 60% likely? 80?

      • ian

        February 20, 2014 12:50 PM

        What are the chances revere breaks his foot again? Howard tears another ligament/tendon? Cliff Lees arm explodes? who knows. I think they’re due a fairly healthy season. At least no deaths.

      • hk

        February 22, 2014 06:35 AM

        “I think they’re due a fairly healthy season.”

        According to the article to which I have linked below, the Phillies were 16th in MLB in DL days per team. By 2013 MLB standards, it seems as though last year was a fairly (or at least a middle-of-the-pack) healthy season.

        www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2013-disabled-list-team-data/

  11. Robby Bonfire

    February 20, 2014 04:09 AM

    The shame of all this “contention” delusion is that is will serve to get Ryno canned all the sooner, probably sometime in August, about the time Miami has distanced the Phillies in the scintillating East Division race for fourth place. The irony in all this is that Ryno’s “Manchurian Candidate” ambiance predecessor lasted eight years here on “personality,” B.S. sucking up to a fawning media, and as an indispensable part of the clubby little Owner, G.M, Manager triumvirate.

    Poor Ryno the outsider, he never attended Penn Charter or had a brain pan like a primal soup amoeba so as to garner “special exemptions” from demonstrating a standard of literate functionality.

  12. MikeD

    February 23, 2014 09:01 PM

    Seven of the most important players on this team were born in the late 70’s. The likelihood that Howard, Utley, Rollins, Chooch, Burnett, Byrd, and Lee each have full and productive seasons, at their ages, seems slim at best. Lee and Burnett are both at an age where they can drop off a performance cliff but this team needs both of them to maintain the level they’ve been at. Rollins has been in steady decline and there is no reason that shouldn’t continue. Even before the injuries Howard’s production had slipped pretty significantly, but if he can get back close to the ’10/’11 seasons it should improve their offense. Utley depends mostly on health, getting 125 or so solid games from him would be a plus. Chooch, I honestly have no read. The thing is the odds of them having big comeback years is low, especially compared to the odds of just being at the end of the line.
    As someone who has a partial plan, I really hope that all goes wrong and it forces the organization to change how it operates. I fear being a 70 – 80 team will allow the front office to use the inevitable injury excuse, and survive another year.

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