The Phillies, stunningly, opted to bring up Michael Martinez to replace Utley. The switch-hitting Martinez is carrying a .226/.297/.274 line through 118 plate appearances with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. As the following flow chart will show you, the decision doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
It is May 13. The Phillies have played 39 games and only three players have crossed the double-digit walk plateau. Michael Young is the team leader in walks with 17 and he has a career-high of 58 in a single season (2005). As a point of comparison, former Phillie Pat Burrell walked 114 times by himself in 2007 — nearly double Young’s career-high. Burrell crossed the double-digit plateau on April 19 in his team’s 14th game in ’07. The Phillies have the third-lowest on-base percentage in the National League, and they have scored four runs or fewer in each of their last five games and in 28 of their 39 games overall (72 percent).
Yeah, it’s bad.
A cursory glance at the Phillies’ individual walk rates might make you think it’s not so bad as six of 13 players (min. 30 PA) have a walk rate above the 8.1 percent National League average. As the following chart shows, however, when you look at who is getting the majority of the plate appearances, it isn’t players prone to take a free pass.
As you’re well aware, the Phillies’ offense hasn’t been great to start the 2013 season. They rank fourth from the bottom in average runs per game at 3.47 compared to the National League average 4.33. They rank in the bottom-third in all three triple-slash stats as well as weighted on-base average (wOBA).
You’ll hear this a lot over the next month-plus, but it’s worth repeating over and over: it’s still very early. No Phillie has logged his 70th plate appearance of the season yet. To put this in perspective, if Chase Utley has a 2-for-4 night tonight against the Cardinals, he will raise his batting average 15 points to .298.
That being said, we can still use what little stats we have descriptively rather than predictively. The following chart compares the Phillies’ wOBA by position to the league average.
The Phillies have led the National League in average batter age for three consecutive years, according to Baseball Reference. They finished with the second-oldest offense in 2009 and the third-oldest in 2008 as well. It’s no secret that the Phillies’ roster is comprised mostly of past-their-prime players, which has led to predictable unreliability due to injuries and declining performance.
It is difficult to grasp just how much the Phillies have invested in older players, though, so I’ve gathered some data to illustrate this better. Using available salary data from Cot’s Contracts, I put the combined salaries into age buckets. First, the raw data:
* Age refers to a player’s age as of June 20, 2013, which is the cut-off date used by Baseball Reference. Because their 2013 salaries are not yet known, pre-arbitration players (such as Ben Revere, Domonic Brown and John Mayberry) are not included.
And the salaries combined into individual age groups:
|Age||2013 Salary||% of Total|
Let’s make it simpler. The same data put into concise age buckets:
|Age||2013 Salary||% of Total|
The Phillies are not paying anyone younger than 27 years old more than $750,000. Over four-fifths of their total payroll, at present, is going to players 32 years old or older.
I don’t need to tell you that the 2012 season was a disappointment. The Phillies failed to reach the post-season for the first time since 2006, thanks to several big reasons — injuries befell the team like a plague, the young bullpen didn’t meet expectations for most of the year, and the starting pitching regressed. Today’s chart will focus on the effect that first reason had on the offense.
Injuries, of course, force a player to sit on the bench, but they also cause lesser players to get a larger share of the playing time. For instance, while Ryan Howard was out, Ty Wigginton played 62 games at first base with a total of 208 plate appearances. Likewise, Freddy Galvis got the lion’s share of the playing time at second base (50 games, 178 PA) in Chase Utley‘s wake before suffering an injury himself. Neither replacement held a candle to his predecessor offensively, which drastically affected the Phillies’ offense.
The following chart shows the amount of runs above average per 600 plate appearances the Phillies got from each position over the last five years.
Since ten runs roughly equates to one win, each horizontal line signifies about one win.
The runs above average data:
Runs above average was calculated by finding the difference between the Phillies’ positional wOBA and the National League average, dividing by 1.15 (that number is used to put wOBA on the same scale as on-base percentage), and multiplying it by 600 (plate appearances).
The Phillies received above-average offensive contributions from just two positions — catcher and shortstop — after having no fewer than five such positions qualify in the previous four years. Let’s look at each position one at a time.
Carlos Ruiz‘s 2012 season was the culmination of expectation-defying season after season. He moved into the upper echelon of catchers, joining names like Buster Posey and Yadier Molina before succumbing to a foot injury. In fact, among catchers with at least 400 PA, Ruiz had the second-highest wOBA at .398, trailing Posey at .406.
Erik Kratz was also a pleasant surprise, coming up from the Minor Leagues to become one of the best back-up catchers in baseball — at least, before September hit. The Phillies, like most teams around baseball, rarely got anything out of their back-up catchers, so 2012 was a pleasant surprise with Kratz’s arrival. Going forward, however, we should expect both players to regress offensively.
The Phillies will pick up Ruiz’s $5 million option for the upcoming season. As a result, 2013 will be Ruiz’s last year before free agency, who will be 35 years old entering 2014. The Phillies will use the season to judge catching prospects Tommy Joseph, Sebastian Valle, and Cameron Rupp. The 32-year-old Kratz has a good shot at becoming the team’s back-up catcher when the regular season begins.
In the first year of Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract extension, the big left-hander missed the first three months of the season. Many felt he returned from his injury too early, as his defensive mobility and ability to run the bases both lacked severely, and his offense was nothing to write home about as well. Of the 47 first basemen who logged at least 250 trips to the dish in 2012, Howard’s .303 wOBA ranked 38th. The biggest disappointment was the loss of Howard’s pull-side power. Howard broke his toe at the end of the season, but should be ready to go when spring training begins in February.
There aren’t too many changes the Phillies can make at first base unless they can, through some stroke of black magic, find a team to take on some portion of Howard’s massive contract. However, I recently suggested that the Phillies consider utilizing a platoon at first base, letting Howard face only right-handed pitchers while pairing him up with a right-handed hitter (John Mayberry, Darin Ruf, etc.) to take care of the lefties. While the Phillies should expect some improvement after Howard has an entire spring to get himself in the flow of things, they shouldn’t expect any more than league average offense unless they get creative and open-minded.
It has been disappointing to see Chase Utley miss so much time over the last two seasons. Utley had been baseball’s best second baseman by far between 2006-10. According to FanGraphs, Utley’s 37.2 WAR is nearly double that of runner-up Dan Uggla‘s 19.5. Baseball Reference paints a similar picture, putting Utley at 37.0 WAR and second-place Robinson Cano at 20.2. In Utley’s absence during the 2012 season, the Phillies relied on the light-hitting Freddy Galvis. Of the 51 second baseman to accrue at least 200 PA, Freddy’s .267 wOBA was the eighth-lowest.
Like Howard, the Phillies are expecting Utley to have a full spring training and enter 2013 ready to go. Unlike Howard, however, Utley can still contribute in other ways when his bat isn’t all there by playing superb defense, running the bases well, and making excellent decisions. Next season will potentially be Utley’s last in a Phillies uniform, though. With his age, injury history, and salary expectations, the Phillies may feel they are best suited moving on with Utley. A lot of that will depend on the improvements Galvis makes in one of the many roles in which the Phillies can utilize him going forward.
Ever since Scott Rolen left, third base has been a veritable offensive black hole for the Phillies. There was David Bell, then Abraham Nunez, then Pedro Feliz, then Placido Polanco. The Phillies will likely buy out Polanco’s contract for $1 million rather than pick up his $5 million mutual option for 2013. As a result, they are looking at a rather barren market for third basemen. It is not going to be easy to put them back in the green, so to speak (referring to the above data table). Many speculate that Kevin Frandsen could be a part of their plans, at least for the coming season, while others are interested in seeing Galvis handle the hot corner. There are, realistically, no great solutions to the Phillies’ third base situation, so it is going to be by far their biggest concern going into the off-season.
“Welcome back Jimmy Rollins,” we say, wiping our brow. The Phillies could have ended the Rollins era in Philadelphia when he became a free agent after the 2011 season, but the two sides agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract to keep him around through 2014. Rollins’ 2009-10 seasons were disappointing and injury-plagued (respectively), which prompted the idea that the Phillies might have been able to put Galvis at shortstop and move on. Thankfully, Rollins had a very successful season. His .177 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) was the fourth-best among all everyday shortstops, and it was his highest since 2007 when he won the NL MVP award. His 4.9 WAR, per FanGraphs, was also the third-best in the Majors behind Ben Zobrist and Ian Desmond.
Shortstop is now the least of the Phillies’ concerns going into 2013. Barring an unfortunate injury during the off-season or spring training, the Phillies can write Rollins’ name in pen and focus their attention elsewhere.
For as good as Juan Pierre appeared throughout the season, his offensive contributions still fell below the league average and failed to recapture the offense provided by Raul Ibanez. Pierre hit .307, but 86 percent of his hits were singles. With 37 stolen bases in 44 attempts (84%), he was able to effectively extend singles into doubles (27 steals of second base) and triples (10 steals of third base). Overall, though, the lack of power from a corner outfield position was a concern all year.
Domonic Brown came up late in the year and spent his time in both left and right field. However, with the Phillies looking both internally and externally for right fielders (e.g. Nate Schierholtz; Nick Swisher, et. al.), Brown has a good shot to be the everyday left fielder on Opening Day. Brown didn’t do anything particularly impressive, but it makes more sense for the Phillies to rely on the 25-year-old than to bring back the 35-year-old Pierre. A full season with regular at-bats, which Brown has gone without in each of the past two seasons, might help him reach his potential as well.
The Phillies’ offense declined the steepest in center field for two reasons: Shane Victorino regressed heavily from a career-best 2011, and John Mayberry didn’t hit well when he took over center field after Victorino was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in late July. Victorino posted a career-high .368 wOBA in 2011, but could only muster a .317 mark in his four months with the Phillies and .297 in two months with the Dodgers. Mayberry didn’t help much with his .303 wOBA.
With a giant question mark in center field, the Phillies are expected to be players for one of the many free agent center fielders, such as Michael Bourn. Even beyond the free agents, there will be various options that may become available via trade, such as Denard Span, which was discussed here recently. Victorino could even be brought back on a short, team-friendly deal if he ends up drawing little or no interest in free agency. With the lowered expectations at catcher, first, and second base, as well as the question mark at third base, the Phillies need to play their cards right in bringing aboard a center fielder.
Like Victorino, Hunter Pence had a great 2011 (.377 wOBA) but regressed heavily in 2012 (.340). The Phillies sent Pence to the San Francisco Giants in late July, replacing him mostly with Domonic Brown (.309). The Phillies have a number of ways to address the right field situation, such as acquiring a free agent (Nick Swisher), utilizing an in-house platoon (Nate Schierholtz, Mayberry), or using Brown in right field while addressing left field in another way. Right field is not as high a priority as third base or center field, so don’t expect the Phillies to swing for the proverbial fences here.
The end of the regular season is nigh and for the first time since 2006, the Phillies will be scheduling golf outings in October. To the Phillies’ credit, they made it interesting all the way into late September, but a 9-19 June and a constantly-rotating door to the infirmary kept them out of the post-season. That’s not to say there weren’t good things to take from the season — the emergence of Carlos Ruiz, the surprisingly-productive bargain-bin grabs in Juan Pierre and Kevin Frandsen, the progression of Kyle Kendrick, and a great September from the young bullpen give us reasons to look forward to 2013.
There is no question, though, that the 2012 team is a far cry from its predecessor. Half-seasons from Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, trading away Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, and bupkis from third base dragged the Phillies down. The following charts show the season-to-season changes among hitters.
Note: All stats that follow were compiled prior to yesterday afternoon’s game.
Thanks to Carlos Ruiz and Erik Kratz, the Phillies got a 172-point boost in OPS from the catching position, representing the biggest change between seasons. On the other side, the Phillies lost 111 points in OPS from first base. Ryan Howard returned to first base in early July after the Phillies had given 200 plate appearances to Ty Wigginton and nearly 150 to the combination of John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, and Hector Luna. The not-so-fearsome foursome couldn’t quite reproduce a healthy Howard’s production.
Smaller changes occurred at second base (+.053), center field (-.057), and right field (-.075). The latter two were affected, of course, by the regression of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence and their replacements following their late July trades.
The Phillies also received significantly worse starting pitching in 2012. Roy Halladay was a far cry from his Cy Young-winning self in 2010 and Cy Young-runner-up self in 2011, finishing with a 4.49 ERA, the first time it had been above 3.00 since 2007 (3.71). Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, while great, weren’t quite as good as in the previous season. Meanwhile, Vance Worley did not repeat his great rookie season while Joe Blanton hovered around replacement level. The most pleasant contributor was Kyle Kendrick, who had two separate scoreless inning streaks of 20 or more innings during the season. Here’s a look at the changes among Phillies starters who made at least 10 starts, ordered from lowest ERA to highest.
If you’re wondering about each pitcher’s specific ERA, enjoy this table:
Here is the same exercise done for relievers, minimum 20 games:
And the table:
The Phillies got nearly identical production from their closers (Ryan Madson and Jonathan Papelbon) and their best non-closer reliever (Brad Lidge and Jeremy Horst). Where the Phillies really lost quality was in middle relief. 2011 featured four relievers with an ERA between 2.64 to 3.86; 2012 featured just one: Raul Valdes. After Valdes, the next-best ERA was Jake Diekman‘s 4.10.
What does the overall picture look like?
- 2011: .717 OPS
- 2012: .718 OPS (+.001)
- Starting Pitching
- 2011: 2.86 ERA
- 2012: 3.87 ERA (+1.01)
- Relief Pitching
- 2011: 3.45 ERA
- 2012: 3.92 ERA (+0.47)
The precipitous decline in pitching caused the Phillies to go from 102-game winners in 2011 to the low-80’s in 2012. They were the 14th team of the 2000’s to reach triple digit wins. The largest regression among those teams involved the Seattle Mariners, who went from 116 wins in 2001 to 93 the next year, a 23-game swing. The 2011 Phillies won 102 games and currently sit at 80, close to the 23-game freefall. The Phillies’ decline, though, is worse in magnitude as 93 wins is normally good enough for a playoff spot; the Mariners just happened to play in the same division as the 101-win Athletics and 99-win Angels in 2002. The Phillies are just hoping to finish over .500, which typically isn’t nearly good enough to reach the post-season, save the 2006 Cardinals.
If it seems like the Phillies’ starting pitching hasn’t been as good this year as it was last year, it’s because it hasn’t. The fearsome foursome of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt contributed to a league-best 2.86 ERA — nearly a half-run better than the next-best team, the San Francisco Giants. This year, that ERA rose to 3.81, only the sixth-best mark in the league. It’s been a rough year: Halladay had an injury problem, Lee has dealt with incredibly bad luck, and Vance Worley‘s season recently ended with elbow surgery. It hasn’t all been bad news, though, as Kyle Kendrick has had two incredibly good runs of pitching and Tyler Cloyd has looked mostly good since being called up recently.
It is generally difficult to compare something so broad as “starting pitching” from one year to the next, but we can get a rough idea using game score. While far from a perfect metric, it does give us an idea as to how the pitching has changed between 2011 and ’12. The following chart shows the frequency of Phillies starters’ game scores by buckets, with 50 being the average.
Percentage-wise, the 2012 Phillies had more “elite” pitching performances, game scores of 71 or higher. Meanwhile, the 2011 Phillies had more “slightly above average” performances, game scores between 51 and 70. The latter matters more because they occur more often: 64 of 140 games fell between 51-70 this year, and 70 of 162 occurred last year. Meanwhile, only 23 games reached 71 or higher this year, and only 46 did last year.
In terms of individual performances, all four of Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Worley saw their average game score decline. The now-departed Joe Blanton saw a modest increase, Kendrick stayed about the same, and Cloyd has been about as good as Oswalt was last year, though in 20 fewer starts.
|2011||Average GS||Starts||St Dev|
|2012||Average GS||Starts||St Dev|
Another interesting item to look at is the standard deviation of each pitcher’s game score in both seasons. The standard deviation tells you the spread of data around the average — the larger the number, the more volatile the pitcher was overall. For instance, Halladay’s average game score in 2012 is 55 with a standard deviation of 17, so roughly 68% (why 68%?) of his starts fell between a game score of 38 and 72. Indeed, 21 of his 32 starts (66%) were between those two numbers.
From 2011 to ’12, Lee, Hamels, and Worley saw their standard deviation shrink along with their average game score, so not only were they worse on average, but their starts overall were more frequently mediocre, rather than sometimes elite. Put another way, Lee’s 2011 standard deviation of 19 is partially due to eight of his 32 starts producing a game score of 80 or better. This year, only one of his starts — a memorable one — was 80 or better.
I don’t mean to imply that more volatility in starters is always a good thing. Cy Young favorites in their respective leagues, R.A. Dickey has an average game score of 63 with a standard deviation of 19, while David Price has an average game score of 61 with a standard deviation of 16, for example. However, because runs cannot go below zero, it is more rewarding to post a game score 19 above your average rather than 19 below, since there’s almost no change in win expectancy if you allow five runs instead of six, as opposed to a huge swing in win expectancy if you allow one run rather than two.
The Phillies’ starting pitching problems have been rather easy to diagnose this year: age and injuries, mostly. But it’s also true that the staff as a whole declined and was, perhaps, too consistent.
With a sweep of both yesterday’s double-header and the series overall with the Colorado Rockies, the Phillies moved to within six games of the second Wild Card in the National League. The 81-60 Atlanta Braves appear to be the presumptive first Wild Card winner, 5.5 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in second place. Behind the Cardinals are the Dodgers (1.5 games), Pirates (2.5), Brewers and Phillies (6.0), and Diamondbacks (6.5). In their last 10 games, the Phillies have gone 8-2 when they were previously considered dead in the water. Of the teams ahead of them, the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates have losing records in the same span of time, creating some space for the Phillies to enter the mix.
Baseball Prospectus had the Phillies at 0.2 percent to make the playoffs before yesterday’s double-header (they haven’t yet updated), while Cool Standings puts them at 0.7 percent following the games. While 0.7 percent looks better than 0.0 percent, the difference is not that meaningful — the Phillies still have a long road ahead of them.
In prior looks at the playoff race here, we assumed that 89 wins would be the threshold for the second Wild Card, but as it stands currently, 87 wins would be enough. The Cardinals, currently in the lead, have a .536 winning percentage. In order for the Phillies to win the Wild Card at 87 games, no other team in the mix can win more than 86, obviously. So what is the minimum winning percentage for the Phillies, and what is the maximum winning percentage for the others?
The Phillies have to win at least 18 of their remaining 22 games, an .818 winning percentage. The Cardinals can play no better than .500 baseball at 11-11. The others can, at best, experience only moderate success.
*Minimum winning percentage; others are maximum.
The Phillies’ remaining schedule is as follows:
- Sept. 10-12 vs. Marlins (.447)
- Sept. 13-16 @ Astros (.314)
- Sept. 17-19 @ Mets (.464)
- Sept. 21-23 vs. Braves (.574)
- Sept. 25-27 vs. Nationals (.614)
- Sept. 28-30 @ Marlins (.447)
- Oct. 1-3 @ Nationals (.614)
Realistically, the Phillies would have to sweep the Marlins in both series, as well as the Astros and Mets, then win at least five of their nine remaining games with the Braves and Nationals. At any rate, finishing out the season at least 18-4 would bring them to 24-6 to close out the season, an .800 winning percentage. If the Phillies were to accomplish this feat, it would be more improbable and more impressive than each of their late-season runs to claim the NL East crown in 2007 and ’08. Even if it’s not likely, it is nice that the Phillies are still playing somewhat meaningful baseball in September after all of the adversity they went through in the previous five months.