On the Pathetic Phillies

I was cruising FanGraphs this week, desperately looking for something interesting to write about. You see, the Phillies, as you may have noticed, are soul-crushingly bad this season. There are only so many times you can look for silver linings or potential improvements before it becomes an exercise in futility. Therefore, I’ve decided to lean in to the madness. The Phillies leaders in fWAR this season are Jerad Eickhoff, Pat Neshak, and Odubel Herrera, all at 1.2 fWAR. They’re all on pace to be above-average players this year, if you set the “average” bar at 2 fWAR.

But let me tell you something about them you may not have realized: Eickhoff’s ERA is almost 5.00. Neshak is a reliever. Herrera is running a wRC+ of just 78. When your best starter has an ERA 14% worse than league average, your best hitter can’t hit, that leaves a reliever to be the best player on your team, which is… not ideal. And that’s how you wind up with the worst team in baseball.

But that got me thinking if the Phillies have had a season where their best position player by fWAR was a below-average hitter by wRC+ and their best starter by fWAR had a below-average ERA. I figured my lifetime was a good cutoff, so I went back 25 years. Here’s what we’ve got:

So, in this sample, no position player has led the Phillies in fWAR without being an above average hitter. That makes sense, because, uhh, hitting is a big part of being a position player (#analysis). You have to go all the way back to the 47-107 1961 Phillies to find a team led by a bad hitter. That hitter was Ruben Amaro, with a 91 wRC+, 13 points higher than Odubel’s current tally, and 2.1 fWAR. That team had a winning percentage of .305, which is somehow worse than the Phillies current .320 winning percentage. I bet the fans were really clamoring for prospects to come up in those days.

There have been several times, however, where the Phillies’ rotation leader in fWAR has been below average in terms of ERA. This is obviously more attainable than the position player version  because fWAR is not based on ERA at all. In 2009, Cole Hamels had a below average ERA, but trade deadline addition Cliff Lee (80 ERA- in 12 starts), rotation stalwart Joe Blanton (96 in 31 starts), and stretch run acquisition Pedro Martinez (86 in 9 starts) all provided above average innings for the playoff-bound Phils. Remember when Pedro was on our team? Fun times.

The 2005 Phillies featured Cory Lidle’s below average work, but also a 97 ERA- in 35 Jon Lieber starts, a 86 ERA- in 34 Brett Myers starts and a 66 ERA- in 13 Robinson Tejeda starts. 35 starts is a lot of starts; good job Jon Lieber. The 2004 Phillies had Kevin Millwood, but also Randy Wolf (97 ERA- in 23 starts) and Cory Lidle (88 ERA- in 10 starts).

All those seasons had at least a couple players who showed above average run prevention, but this season’s iteration is not so lucky. Aaron Nola has posted a perfectly average 100 ERA- thus far. Maybe he’ll be better going forward. Ben Lively is the only starter who has been above-average, with a 90 ERA- in 5 starts. Mark Leiter Jr. looked good in his first start? Maybe he’ll be this season’s Jon Blanton. A man can dream, anyway.

So I think we can safely say that, were the season to end today, this year would feature the worst best players on any Phillies team in the past 25 years. Yay?