Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Phils still project as playoff team ... maybe
By David Schoenfield
My parents still love watching baseball, even Seattle Mariners baseball. I called them Monday evening to see if they watched Philip Humber's perfect game on Saturday and my dad said he watched a few innings, went out to the mow the lawn and came back just in time to see the bottom of the ninth.
He then proceeded to complain about Chone Figgins ("He just can't hit.") and Justin Smoak ("Most good hitters don't take three or four years to figure things out."). Hey, he's right. And you can't blame him; he's been watching inept offense for two-plus years now. But then he said something that sums up a problem not unique to the Mariners:
"You know, even with their great pitching staff the Phillies can't win either."
Indeed, the Philadelphia Phillies entered Monday's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 2.46 ERA. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley had allowed just 22 runs in their 13 starts. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in Sabermetrics to realize that's fewer than two runs per start. But after losing 9-5 to Arizona (made closer with a five-run outburst in the ninth inning) the Phillies are now 7-10. That's the same record as the Mariners, and the Phillies have scored just 48 runs, an average of 2.82 runs per game.
That's right, the Philadelphia Phillies -- the five-time defending National League East champs -- have become the Seattle Mariners.
OK, OK ... I kid, Phillies fans. But the Phillies have scored 12 fewer runs than the Mariners, a team whose OPS leader is Brendan Ryan, a guy with a .190 batting average. We all know the laundry list of the Phillies' problems -- Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the disabled list; Jimmy Rollins hitting .242 with no power (two doubles, no home runs) and just four walks; Placido Polanco hitting .185 with one extra-base hit and one RBI; John Mayberry Jr. hitting .205 with no walks and 14 strikeouts. And so on. In fact, it's fair to ask: Where would the Phillies be without Juan Pierre and Ty Wigginton?
AROUND THE SWEETSPOT NETWORK
Capitol Avenue Club
Does Brandon Beachy throw a cutter? No. This is a pretty common misconception, and pretty much every article I read previewing the Braves says that he does throw a cutter. PitchF/X picks up some of his four-seam fastballs as cutters, but this is simply the system miscategorizing the pitch. This could be a reason why his fastball is so good, that it does have cut-fastball tendencies, but he does not throw both pitches. ...
By now, everyone is firmly aware that the Phillies haven't been hitting. They've managed two or fewer runs in five of their last six games and looking at the personnel it doesn't portend to get significantly better until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard return from the disabled list, which may not come for another two or three months. But ust how bad has the offense been?
I think Ike Davis' constant whining about called strikes is catching up with him. There were two borderline calls against him in his 8th inning at-bat with the bases loaded (he struck out looking to end the inning). In fact, both of those calls would be liberally "borderline" -- one of them was several inches wide of the plate, and the other might have been a few inches below the knees. But you know what? Ike has established a negative reputation among umpires, and this could be the men in blue sending a message.
Man, those 45-homer seasons from Ryan Howard seem like a long time ago.
What I'm wondering: How many runs do the Phillies need to score to contend for the playoffs? After all, offense is still 50 percent of the game.
Entering Monday's action, the National League was hitting a collective .242/.310/.376 -- a .686 OPS that is 24 points lower than 2011's numbers. That figure takes us back to the offensive levels of 1988 to 1992, when the NL OPS figures were .673, .678, .704, .689 and .684. So one way of looking at this: Let's assume it will take 87 wins to make the playoffs. What's the lowest run total for an NL team from that 1988-1992 period that won at least 87 games?
For you baseball historians out there, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the 1988 Dodgers scored just 628 runs, or 3.88 runs per game. That actually put the Dodgers sixth in a 12-team league. The Dodgers allowed 544 runs and finished 94-67, exceeding their projected record by three wins.
Back to the Phillies. They're on pace to score 457 runs. Obviously, that won't cut it, but of course the offense won't be that bad all season. It will pick up, that we can predict. In 2011, they allowed 529 runs, the lowest full-season total since the 1969 Orioles allowed 517. So if they match the '88 Dodgers' total of 628 runs, they're still in good shape and project as a 93-win team, assuming the same run prevention as 2011.
What will it take to score 628 runs? They'd have to score 580 runs over the final 145 games, or 4.0 runs per game. Or just about what the National League average has been so far -- 3.94 runs per game entering Monday's game.
But just like the offense is likely to improve moving forward, the pitching staff probably won't match last season's historic stinginess. With Cliff Lee heading to the DL over the weekend with a strained oblique, we see the precariousness of relying so much on a few starting pitchers. The Diamondbacks lit up Kyle Kendrick, Lee's replacement, for 11 hits and seven runs in three innings on Monday. Kendrick had a nice season in 2011, posting a 3.22 ERA over 114.2 innings, including 15 starts. Kendrick, however, lives on a fine line of success. Among 145 pitchers last season with at least 100 innings, his strikeout rate ranked 138th. So as he steps in for Lee -- who may miss a month, meaning four or five starts -- don't expect a 3.22 ERA from Kendrick.
That's just one reason to expect the staff to allow a few more runs. Let's say 30 more than a year ago. That's 559 runs. Now that '88 Dodgers total of 628 runs projects to a win total of ... 89.5.
That might still be enough to squeak into the playoffs. Four runs a game. That's all you need, Phillies fans.
But what if the Phillies average 3.8 runs per game the rest of the season instead of 4.0? That projects to 599 runs scored.
And 86 wins. One run every five games. A couple of extra bloops or bleeders per week. A few ground balls with eyes. The difference between making the playoffs and going home.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Rallying for a win in Wrigleyville is so much sweeter when it's at the Cardinals' expense.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.