As the days tick by here we’re starting to see some baseball stories with substance. You have to understand these writers have been sitting on their Spring Training Previews for a couple of months now, waiting impatiently to unleash them. In the meantime, there’s been a lot of “Jim Thome’s a Nice Guy,” and “Shane Victorino is on Hawaii Five-O” stories floating around. Well, all of that is either coming to and end or has already ended. No more fluff. Pretty soon it’s going to be, “What Kind of Team Do We Have Here?” My advice is, if you want to remain in good spirits, if you want to enjoy the ride a little bit this year instead of wrapping yourself into a taut ball of expectation–I’d be careful what stories you digest. I have a feeling the national media, the SABR guys and pretty much everyone with access to Baseball Prospectus is going to be a bit down on your Philadelphia Phillies.
This is a team that is built more on names than numbers right now. There’s not a single Phillies position player in the top-30 Fantasy projection at ESPN. A few years back there would have been three or four Phillies manning spots in the early rounds of mock drafts. Now, the highest regarded everyday Phillie is Hunter Pence. Not even a member of that famous core (Utley, Rollins, Howard) that made up perhaps the best Phillies offense ever. No, the Phillies have too many veterans, have too many guys battling injuries to rate highly in fantasy circles. When you feed all those ages into a computer, 33, 32, 31, 35, it’s almost impossible to come up with a positive trend.
Last week there was an article at FanGraphs titled, Is the Phillies Offense Good Enough? It’s an interesting article. It’s one that supports my belief that the Phillies had a solid offense long before they were true contenders. Now, there’s a lot of stats on the page, plenty of numbers you won’t see on the back of an old baseball card, but the overall theme seems to be that the Phillies offense has been getting worse for some time, and that is only going to continue. Among the advanced metric guys you hear a lot about the stat, “Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP).” It’s one of the metrics that is used to measure “luck,” and therefore is one of favorites. I love the quantification of luck.
Every player has an “expected” number for the BABIP and an actual number. If you’re expected number is .305 and your actual is .340 you are considered to be on an incredibly lucky streak and a slump is right around the corner. Hunter Pence hit .360 on balls in play last year. This is considered an unsustainable number, but it was also considered an unsustainable number at the trade deadline last year and then Pence came to Philadelphia and performed even better.
BABIP is not always right as you can see, but it’s a good indication of how unbiased modern projections and stats can be. You don’t get any bonus points for being Chase Utley. A player is reduced down to a point where their name no longer exists, and it’s just their numbers. My stance is, the Phillies could use the benefit of some name recognition. In the coming weeks there will be more stories like the one at FanGraphs. I imagine the Phillies preview written by the stat-heads at Grantland will be quite ominous. I expect the Braves and Marlins (maybe even the Nationals) to be trendy upset picks in the NL East. Of course, that was partially the case last year and the Phillies still slugged out 102 wins.
This is a team in dire need of an old-school, nostalgia prone sportswriter. Of course, the Phillies writer that fits that description resigned in a cloud of shame, disgrace and controversy, so I’m not sure there is a true source for the type of story I’m talking about. Will anyone predict a bounce back season for Chase Utley simply because he at one point was Chase Bleepin’ Utley? Will anyone treat us to a glorious lede like, “Call me crazy, but I think the Phillies invited Ponce de Leon to camp this Spring.” This Phillies is team is good mostly because they just are and have been. How do I know they’re going to win games? Because that’s what they do. They win games. Just don’t go looking for too many numbers to prove it.