Differences in Sustainability: The 2018 and 2016 Phillies
The 2018 Phillies are currently 24-16, they have the second best record in both the NL East and the NL in general. This isn’t the first time the Phillies have gotten off to a hot start in the rebuild era. Leaving the day on May 18, 2016 the Phillies were 24-17, with the second best record in the division and the third best record in the NL. We know how that story went with the Phillies ending up 71-91 or 47-74 after that hot start. They ended up at a -186 run differential, which had their Pythagorean record at 62-100, pointing to a team that could have been even worse. Now no one is really arguing that the 2016 and 2018 Phillies are in a similar spot or are similar teams at all, but by exploring the differences we can see how far the team has actually come.
The Run Differential
Run differential is a volatile statistic where one or two good or bad games can make a big swing, but it is useful on a larger scale. On May 18, 2016 the Phillies were at -28 on the year. That is bad, not mediocre, actually bad. At the time I argued the Phillies were sacrificing blowouts and winning close games, to that point 13 of their 24 wins had been by a single run. In contrast the 2018 Phillies currently stand at +42. That is 3rd in the NL behind the Braves and an under performing Cubs team. The 2018 Phillies have only won 6 1 run games, and have been convincingly beating teams when they get a lead.
The May 18th game for the Phillies featured a starting lineup of David Lough, Cesar Hernandez, Andres Blanco, Ryan Howard, Maikel Franco, Cameron Rupp, Tyler Goeddel, and Peter Bourjos. Only one of them had an OPS over .900 (Blanco), and only one other had an OPS over .700 (Franco). They weren’t really missing many regulars either. Aaron Altherr would come back eventually but his preseason wrist injury rendered him fairly useless. Odubel Herrera would be the All-Star rep that year and was easily the best player. Freddy Galvis would pinch hit and play SS later in the game on his way to a 20 HR, but 1.3 WAR season.
In contrast, the lineup the Phillies rolled out in Baltimore yesterday features 1 batter over .900 (Herrera) and 3 over .800 (Hernandez, Hoskins, and Franco). The 2018 Phillies still have a struggle at SS, C, and RF. However, right field has upside with Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr showing signs of life, and catcher and shortstop have top prospects making rookie adjustments to the majors. Just the core of the 2018 lineup around Hoskins, Hernandez, Herrera, and Santana is way better than anything the 2016 group could touch.
The 2016 Phillies rode Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris into the ground in the 8th and 9th inning until Gomez exploded in September. Edubray Ramos and David Hernandez were solid for the 2016 team, but neither of them would crack the current bullpen.
The 2018 Phillies bullpen:
- Hector Neris 5.06 ERA
- Edubray Ramos 1.08 ERA
- Luis Gracia 2.81 ERA
- Yacksel Rios 3.38 ERA
- Adam Morgan 2.45 ERA
- Drew Hutchison 2.76 ERA
- Tommy Hunter 4.15 ERA
- Seranthony Dominguez 0.00 ERA
They have Victor Arano and Pat Neshek coming back from injuries and Mark Leiter Jr waiting in the wings. It is a good bullpen, even if there is a closer conundrum.
By May, Charlie Morton was hurt and the Phillies were rolling Jerad Eickhoff, Jeremy Hellickson, Vince Velasquez, Adam Morgan, and Aaron Nola. Eickhoff and Hellickson were solid all year, but neither was more than a 4. Velasquez flashed and then was bad. Nola was about to enter a horrible stretch ending in a season ending injury. Adam Morgan was not yet throwing 95 with a nasty slider. Waiting in the wings were Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, and Alec Asher. For a rebuilding team it really wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
The Phillies rotation has a 3.46 ERA, 6th best in baseball. Aaron Nola is a legitimate ace, and Arrieta is no longer an ace, but he is still very solid. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez pitch like aces sometimes, but are inconsistent. The Phillies may have found success in the 5th rotation spot in Zach Eflin, but have Ben Lively, Jerad Eickhoff, Enyel De Los Santos, Thomas Eshelman, Cole Irvin, Drew Anderson, and others waiting if needed. While spots 3-5 are shaky at times, the 2016 did not have a stopper like Nola or Arrieta.
The Phillies are about to head into a very difficult stretch of games with the Cardinals, Braves, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Brewers, Rockies, Nationals, and Yankees all coming in the next month and a half. The odds and talent level of the team indicate the Phillies are going to fall back some, but they do have the talent to be in these series. In the case of the 2016 Phillies a collapse was inevitable, in the case of the 2018 team we see a team that is playing at their talent level vs inferior teams, what they do against superior teams will really determine their 2018 season.