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 Joe 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?

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  1. Chris S

    June 27, 2017 03:05 PM

    From that table all I can focus on is how good Utley was. He lead the team in WAR 8 of the 25 years and he had a stretch of 6 straight years. In a season that is lost I find it comforting to look at Chase Utley numbers. 🙂

    • Michael Schickling

      June 27, 2017 04:16 PM

      My thoughts exactly. Also, the stretch of 5 out of 6 years before that when Bobby Abreu was the leader.

    • Steve

      June 27, 2017 10:41 PM

      How about the fact that both Rollins and Howard won MVP awards yet niether ever led the team in fWAR. Chase Utley, you are the man…..

      • Chris S

        June 28, 2017 03:28 PM

        If Chase stayed healthy the year Rollins won the MVP he would have won the award, but unfortunately he missed an entire month due to injury. If fairness to Jimmy he had more hits go for extra bases than he had strikeouts that year and he stole 41 bases while playing elite defense at SS.

  2. Chris S

    June 27, 2017 03:07 PM

    Also the fact that Schilling was the WAR leader for the 1999 pitchers even though he only spent the first half of that year with the Phillies.

  3. Steve

    June 29, 2017 01:12 PM

    Common, theyrw not that pathetic, they just swept a series.

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