Division in Review: 2014 Philadelphia Phillies

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NL EAST

W L WIN %
Washington Nationals 96 66 .593
Atlanta Braves 79 83 .488
New York Mets 79 83 .488
Miami Marlins 77 85 .475
Philadelphia Phillies 73 89 .451

From the Pre-Season, read the Philadelphia Phillies 2014 Preview.

Phillies 2014 Overview:

In the spring, I had thought that the Phillies had made the moves that they needed to in order to hang with the Braves and the Nationals for maybe 4 or 5 months, and then fall off to a third place finish. This, however, may have just been a symptom of my watching too many baseball movies (or a lack of “something to bring it all together”), as they turned in an identical record to 2013. As a team, the pitching marginally improved: ERA dropped from 4.34 to 3.81, FIP from 3.94 to 3.81, slight gain in K/9, slight drop in HR/9. Most of those gains were realized in a vast improvement in the pitching by the bullpen. These gains, though, were offset by the continued drop in production by the offense, which had a .008 drop in wOBA best explained by 15 fewer HRs. This resulted in essentially a wash, which explains why the team had a similar record.

The Offense:

The questions for the Philly offense coming into the season centered around whether Marlon Byrd, Cody Asche, and how soon decline would set in for the aging core of position players. Marlon Byrd did not match his 2013 season, but the decline was not huge: he managed a 1.9 fWAR, which is what you expect from a regular. Cody Asche was below average at the plate, though slightly better than he was in 2013. Maikel Franco got his cup of coffee this September, but he also failed to produce offensively, making third base a question mark for another offseason.

As for decline, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz had bounce back years, and Chase Utley was able to produce at his normal levels. The team also got a full year of Ben Revere, who maintained his rate of slightly below average production (wRC+ 92). Ryan Howard, however, seems to be in full decline. Howard put in his first full season since 2011, but only managed to obtain a .306 wOBA, good for a wRC+ of 93. His 2013 had shown promise before his knee injury, maybe making 2012 to be an outlier, but in 2014 he lost .043 off of his batting average, and more discouragingly, .085 off of his slugging percentage. $25 million was A LOT to pay for a player that ended up producing at below replacement level, according to Fangraphs.

In the spring, I had said Dominic Brown took a huge step forward in 2013. If we count a huge step as two normal steps, then Brown took about five steps back this season. His slugging percentage dropped nearly .150; the lack of power caused him to lose about .070 off of his wOBA. This dramatic drop in hitting caused him go from a 1.7 fWAR player in 2013 to a -1.7 fWAR in 2014. If you are looking for an explanation of the decline in offense, this would be a good place to start.

The Pitching:

On the pitching side of the ball, the Phillies’ rotation had a down year compared to 2013. Cole Hamels improved upon his 2013 numbers and produced at the level to which everyone is now accustomed. Cliff Lee produced at a high level as well when he was not injured; he is expected to be ready for Spring Training. But, A.J. Burnett did not produce at the same levels that he had with the Pirates. His FIP jumped from 2.80 in 2013 to 4.14 in 2014; he walked nearly a batter more per 9 innings while striking out nearly 2 batters fewer per 9. Burnett has a mutual option with the team, so it will be interesting to see if he is brought back. Kyle Kendrick had another middling season, though worse than last season, and has not had a FIP under 4 in any of his complete seasons with the Phillies. Kendrick is a free agent, and it is hard to see him being brought back. The other off-season signing, Roberto Hernandez, had a similar year to Kendrick, and was shipped to the Dodgers in August. David Buchanan, who filled in for Lee and Hernandez during their time missed, pitched fairly well for a #5 type starter, though his 4.27 FIP was just slightly better than Kendrick and Hernandez.

The unit with the most improvement was definitely the Phillies’ bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon and Justin De Fratus both improved by over half a win over their 2013 campaigns, and Antonio Bastard and Jake Diekman produced at the same level as in 2013, but for more innings. The biggest revelation for the bullpen however was rookie Ken Giles, who produced at Kimbrel-like levels: 1.18 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 1.34 FIP, 12.61 K/9. Having those innings go to Giles instead of the likes of J.C. Ramirez was most of the improvement, and if he can keep those numbers up, there may be a Games Finished watch in Philadelphia in 2015 like there was in Washington in 2014.

Off-Season Outlook:

This off-season will be an interesting one for the Phillies. Their offense was one of the worst in the league last season, but they don’t really have the flexibility to do too much because of the big contracts given to the right three fourths of the infield. They have two third baseman with decent minor league offensive track records, but both have failed to produce at the MLB level. Which Dominic Brown is the real one, 2013 or 2014? Center is an obvious spot for an offensive upgrade, but the market as it stands now doesn’t look that great. The Phillies will also be looking to upgrade the back/middle of their starting rotation as they did in 2013. Much of those decisions will depend on if A.J. Burnett comes back for another season. The Phillies are entering into a rebuilding mode, so it will be interesting to see what they do the next two seasons, and what they look like on the other side.

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