With Good Health, the Phillies Should Score Many More Runs in 2014

Not that you needed yesterday’s 14-run outburst against the Rangers to identify that. The premise of the title does requires some suspension of disbelief. No, this is not an April Fool’s Day article. Now that the legal stuff is out of the way…

The Phillies scored 610 runs last season, the fewest they’ve scored in a live ball era, non-strike-shortened season since scoring 597 in 1988. They scored double-digit runs in a game only five times and exceeded yesterday’s 14 only once. And as our own Corinne Landrey pointed out on Twitter, those 14 runs represented a whopping 2.3 percent of their total runs scored in 2013.

The reasons for the lack of offense, of course, are obvious: they were ravaged by injuries to key players (Ryan Howard and Ben Revere most noticeably) and were ill-equipped to replace them, and they also somehow forgot about properly addressing right field.

At the outset, the Phillies’ starting eight hasn’t yet been kissed by the specter of death, and we anxiously hold our breath. If the leading actors can stay off of the disabled list, the offense portends to be much improved, especially if you buy into the ZiPS projections.

I tossed the weighted on-base average (wOBA) projections into a spreadsheet along with the Phillies’ production at the position overall from last season, then converted the difference into runs. With this estimation, which assumes 650 plate appearances from each starter — which, yes, is somewhat of a pipe dream — the Phillies could score in excess of 50 runs more than they did last season.

Pos 2013 2014proj Diff (Runs)
C .296 .322 13.2
1B .326 .318 -4.1
2B .321 .340 9.7
3B .306 .299 -3.6
SS .293 .310 8.7
LF .344 .353 4.6
CF .288 .300 6.1
RF .297 .334 18.8
53.4

The Phillies are expected to see double-digit runs increases at catcher and in right field. Dial down the catcher projection a bit because Carlos Ruiz isn’t actually going to get 650 PA. With a more realistic 450 PA, the difference changes from 13.2 runs to 9.2 runs. That is still significant. After serving a 25-game suspension for breaking the use with non-approved use of Adderall, Ruiz put up four-year lows in the three triple-slash categories. Ruiz is now allowed to use Adderall after obtaining an exemption. Some believe using the drug again will provide a palpable boost to his production; others might have pointed to his strained hamstring suffered in May and June last season as one reason why his numbers fell.

Marlon Byrd takes over in right field, and even if he regresses — ZiPS projects a thirty-point regression in wOBA — he will still be a significant upgrade at the position. The playing time in right field last year was split as follows:

The MLB average wOBA in right field last season was .325. As compared to that average, the Phillies’ production at the position was tied with the Royals for the fourth-worst in baseball, ahead of only the Athletics, Astros, and Yankees. So even if Byrd posts a .330 wOBA, he would still represent a twenty-run, or two-win, upgrade. If he can come anywhere close to last year’s output, the improvement would be more on the order of 25 to 30 runs, or close to three wins.

Other expected upgrades assume health and a bit more production from Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Utley still showed he has something left in the tank last season, posting his highest wOBA since 2010. As for Rollins, there’s reason to be pessimistic, but if his performance on Opening Day is any indication, reports of his demise may have been premature. As for the gains in center field, an extra two and a half months of Revere beats out the dreck the Phillies had out there last season in his stead (Mayberry, Cesar Hernandez, Bernadina, Martinez, Wells, Carrera).

The only positions projected to slide back are first base (Ryan Howard) and third base (Cody Asche). A full, healthy season for Howard should allow him to match or exceed his .334 wOBA from last season and it’s questionable whether Darin Ruf (or, later on, Maikel Franco) would be able to fill in if he happens to be injured again. ZiPS thinks Asche will more or less repeat last year’s .299 wOBA, which is markedly worse than Michael Young‘s .321 wOBA in five months at third base.

Naturally, one should consider the projections with a margin of error. The Phillies are unlikely to make it through the entirety of a 162-game season with all eight regulars completely intact, so my altered projections may be a bit optimistic. As a result, the performance of understudies was omitted. Rather than a 50-run improvement, maybe 40 runs is a bit more realistic, 35 if you lean pessimist. Nevertheless, it is still a marked increase over last season and 650 runs scored would place them at or slightly above the league average. Don’t start making plans to attend post-season games in Philadelphia just yet, though.

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