If you’ve seen the acronym BABIP used this season, there’s a high chance it was in a conversation about second baseman Chase Utley. The six-time All-Star is batting .108 with an .087 batting average on balls in play, which is easily the worst mark in baseball. I’m sad to report that, in many instances, optimists showed an incorrect understanding of how BABIP works for hitters. These optimists claim that Utley’s BABIP, over the course of the season, will regress towards the league average .294 — a .087 BABIP is unsustainable.
Of the 64 relief pitchers who have thrown 7+ innings in the National League this season, only five still possess a perfect 0.00 ERA — Brad Ziegler, Pedro Strop, Adam Ottavino, Aroldis Chapman and the Phillies supposed Closer of the Future, Kenny Giles. This is good, right? The season is nearly a month old and an exciting young Phillies reliever has yet to yield an earned run! So why do I find myself holding my breath every time he takes the mound? It turns out there’s more to the story of the fireballing righty’s season than his ERA.
Even after the division rival Atlanta Braves traded away Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Evan Gattis, the Phillies were still projected to be the worst offensive team not just in the National League, but in baseball. Combined with the shoddy starting pitching after Cole Hamels, the Phillies were projected to put up a terrible run differential. They were -68 last season, finishing 16 games below .500, exactly in line with their expected record based on run differential.
The Phillies fell to 3-7 with Thursday night’s 5-2 loss to the Nationals in the series opener in Washington, extending their losing streak to five games. They now sport a -18 run differential, which is also in line with their current record. No one is surprised. The Phillies are listed at the bottom of current MLB futures to win the NL Pennant, and almost all of the blame lies at the feet of the Phillies’ offense.
Former Phillie Ryan Madson hadn’t pitched since the end of the 2011 NLDS with the Phillies, but he made the Kansas City Royals’ 25-man roster out of spring training. Including his outing Monday afternoon against the Minnesota Twins, he’s thrown 2 2/3 scoreless innings to start the season. He struck out three of the five Twins batters he faced.
The Phillies starting rotation situation is a spicy hot flaming pile of pain and torture which, no matter how hard you try, cannot be extinguished by your tears. There’s a beautiful alternate dimension in which pitchers don’t break and the Phillies enter the season with a rotation of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang and the victor of a Clearwater competition for the fifth spot. In this barbaric world, however, Lee is out indefinitely, Billingsley will miss at least the first few weeks of the season as he continues to recover from his elbow surgeries, and Harang has missed time this spring due to back soreness. What was once a battle for the fifth rotation spot has evolved into a desperate allocation of rotation slots to any and all available pitchers in camp. As a result, David Buchanan suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of “rotation lock,” and, fortunately for the Phillies, he’s looked entirely deserving of his new role thus far.
By last September, the majority of Phillies fans had understandably shifted their attention to football or bonsai tree pruning or organizing the mysterious kitchen drawer or doing literally anything other than watch hideously awful baseball. By now those fans have no doubt caught up on the very few highlights they missed: the debut of Maikel Franco, the continued dominance of Kenny Giles and a surprise combined no-hitter in Atlanta. But there was another September surprise that received very little hype and is now one of the storylines I’ll be keeping a close eye on this spring: Luis Garcia.
This latest salvo of Cole Hamels analysis comes from Tony Blengino at FanGraphs. Blengino is a former stat wizard with the Seattle Mariners. The analysis gives off the appearance of thoroughness but it’s a simple FIP-ERA comparison that uses the assumption that the Phillies’ outfield defense was “reasonably strong” — a laughable assertion.
I don’t have the time right now to go into it in depth, but thought I’d pass along the link if you want something to hate-read. I may add more here when I have more time.
The Phillies will officially kick off Grapefruit League action against the Yankees at 1:05 PM ET this afternoon, ending a dreary winter and beginning what should be a dreary spring and summer.
Your lineups, via Steve Gross of The Morning Call and the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff:
It’s been more than a year since the exciting announcement that the Phillies front office added Scott Freedman to help improve their usage of analytics was paired with the endlessly mock-able revelation that he was actually an “extern” whose salary paid not by the Phillies but by Major League Baseball. While every other MLB team accepted the value of data analysis to some degree, it appeared from the outside that the Phillies relationship with analytics was much like that of a stubborn young child with broccoli leaving MLB and parents alike with no option but to force feed their obstinate charges. It was laughable and, frankly, embarrassing for analytically-minded Phillies fans, but sometimes even the tiniest step in a positive direction can result in momentum leading to positive change and maybe, just maybe, that’s what has occurred in the Phillies front office since the extern experiment.