Thursday, March 31, 2011
Why the Phillies won't make the playoffs
By David Schoenfield
The Phillies won 97 games in 2010. That's our starting point. Except their totals of runs scored and runs allowed suggests their true talent was actually that of a 95-win team. So that's our starting point.
Having Roy Oswalt for a full season strengthens Philadelphia's starting rotation.
Now, I don't think anybody believes Oswalt is going to post a 1.74 ERA like he did after coming over from the Astros. Let's assume he pitches like he did for the full season, with a 2.76 ERA over 211 innings. He had the best WHIP and second-lowest ERA of his career, so it was still a heck of a season. FanGraphs has him at 4.7 WAR (wins above replacement), his most valuable season since 2006. Oswalt essentially replaces the half-season of Jamie Moyer, who was a 0.4 WAR pitcher over 19 starts. Take half of 4.7 (2.4), subtract Moyer's 0.4 and you get about two added wins.
The comparison isn't so much Lee versus Werth, but it's important to note that Werth had a lot of value. By FanGraphs' WAR, Lee has been more valuable the past two seasons (13.7 WAR to 9.9 for Werth); using Baseball-Reference, by a much smaller margin, 9.3 to 8.4. Anyway, Lee steps in for Kyle Kendrick, who was a 0.7 WAR pitcher. That's about a six-win gain for the Phillies. But Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown project to about 1.0 WAR, a four-loss total compared to Werth's 2010. Still, overall that's a two-win gain.
Utley was a 5.2-WAR performer last year, even while missing time. In the past, he's been around an eight-win player. But we're comparing to last year, when he wasn't quite as effective; if he's out until the All-Star break, we're talking about 90 games, meaning he'll play about 60 -- or about half as much as last year. So that's about 2.5 fewer wins. Wilson Valdez is pretty close to the definition of a replacement-level player, maybe a little better with his good glove. We'll take away two wins altogether.
Ruiz had a career year with a .400 OBP and .847 OPS. He was about two wins better than 2009. He may hit better than he did in 2009, but isn’t going to post a .400 OBP again. We'll subtract one win. Ibanez has aged remarkably well, but he is a year older and a year slower in the field. I'm taking away another win.
Rollins played 88 games and hit .243 AVG/.320 OBP/.374 SLG. The issue isn't that he had a bad 2010, but that he also had a bad 2009 (.250/.296/.423). We'll assume the Phillies get more value from Rollins, but he isn’t the guy who won the 2007 NL MVP anymore.
Phillies’ projected win total: 96
6. Bullpen issues.
Brad Lidge will miss the start of the season with a strained shoulder.
Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras were all very good last year. Now Lidge is out for an indefinite period of time. Collectively, it was unlikely they were going to be as good as 2010 anyway. The rest of the ’pen is extremely thin. I'm taking away two wins, which could be conservative.
Except one other note: The National League, on paper, looks tougher. The Braves -- who won 91 games last season -- are younger, added Dan Uggla, have Jason Heyward with a year under his belt and a deep rotation. The Marlins will get full seasons from Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison and strengthened their bullpen, and Hanley Ramirez should be better. The Mets could be a disaster, but can things really be any worse than last year? The Brewers vastly improved their rotation, the Cubs may be better and the Giants could be stronger with full seasons from Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, plus the addition of heralded rookie Brandon Belt. On paper, only the Padres and Cardinals look weaker than 2010.
I think that means a couple of additional losses for the Phillies. The league should be tougher.
That bumps us down to 92 wins.
Now, look ... there is a more optimistic view here: Howard could be better, Rollins could turn back the clock and hit better, even Halladay could be more dominating. Blanton could be inspired by rotation-mania and have a career year. Maybe the bullpen will be fine. Utley returns sooner than expected and plays great. It could be a 105-win team, maybe a 110-win team in a dream scenario.
Dreams do happen. But what if we factor in other possibilities: that Oswalt probably won't be quite as good as 2010. That Ibanez and Polanco, given their ages, are injury risks and/or bets to fall off the table. That Utley could miss the entire season in a worst-case scenario. That Hamels could repeat his 2009, when he had a 4.32 ERA. That one of the starters could be injured.
I think some of that will happen. Which is why I have the Phillies winning 90 games, losing the NL East to the Braves by a couple games, battling the Giants and Rockies for the wild card, and losing a playoff tiebreaker to the Giants as Tim Lincecum outduels Halladay 1-0, with Brandon Belt's fifth-inning home run putting the Giants back in the postseason.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.