Division in Review: 2014 Philadelphia Phillies




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.

WHAT IF!?!?…. The Nats *Couldn’t* Beat the Braves?

With a week left of baseball, here are the standings in the NL East (and number of games each team has left)

WAS  91-64 (7)
ATL    76-79 (7)
NYM   76-80 (6)
MIA     74-81 (7)
PHL    71-85 (6)

Now look: This is a post that I’m writing and posting now. But really its for next May when, inevitably, someone will panic. When, in defense of the National League East crown (and hopefully other trophies and awards) the Washington Nationals lose a series to…some other team…and then people freak out. But please read it now if you like.

At some point in May of 2014 (and every other May) someone (read: a lot of people) remarked on how the Nats “couldn’t beat the Braves” because they were 1-5 in their first six games. No amount of “there are 13 games left against the Braves” or ” there are 100ish games left in the season” would calm these people, or stop them from yelling at me because I didn’t see it their way. Every trope just short of “Games are more important in September” was thrown at me, the biggest of course is that “There was no way the Nats could win the NL East unless they beat the Braves.” As an aside, apparently this was a two team division. in May.

Many of these things, as expected, resolved themselves. The Nats could and did beat the Braves. The Braves were not the only team in the division as they are dangerously close to slipping to third and below .500 for the season. (This, of course, casts into doubt whether the Braves were ever the “team to beat.”)

Anyway, with the complete implosion of Atlanta down the stretch, I decided to put that last unanswered question to the test. Did the Nationals have to beat the Braves (or any individual team) in order to win the NL East?

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Get To Know A Series: Philadelphia Phillies


Washington Nationals (16-12) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (13-13)

2014 Head to Head Record: (0 – 0)
2013 Head to Head Record: 11-8 (Washington)

Friday, May 2, 7:05 p.m.

Stephen Strasburg (4.24 ERA, 2.31 FIP, 14.03) vs. Cliff Lee (3.29 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 8.78 K/9)

Saturday, May 3, 7:05 p.m.

Tanner Roark (2.76 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 7.16 K/9) vs. AJ Burnett (2.15 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 6.69 K/9)

Sunday, May 4, 3:05 p.m.

Gio Gonzalez (3.25 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 9.5 K/9) vs. Cole Hamels (6.75 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 6.75 K/9)

Of the unholy trinity of teams Nats fans might believe are rivals, the Braves and Cardinals came after original sinners: the Phillies. It wasn’t just watching them win a World Series in 2008, or getting back to the World Series in 2009. It wasn’t that they routinely handed it to Washington (which they did. 27-9 over those two seasons). It wasn’t frustrating game after game of not getting hits against the likes of Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee.

It was the phans. It was the legion of Phillies fans that seemed to have come from nowhere and begin to throw everything they could in the face of a struggling and still very small fan base. It was April 5, 2010. The single worst Opening Day of my life. 35,000 Phillies fans in Washington making it impossible to remotely enjoy what is our most sacred of days in the baseball calendar. Beer tossing, finger flipping, loud cursing party busses full of Philadelphians taking every opportunity to pretty much take a dump over the 10,000 of us who bothered to come to the game.

It was the nadir of Natstown, hands down. Kids who get bullied sometimes start walking home a different way from school, and so to did lots of Nats fans start avoiding the Phillies series. It is both a bit of genius, and entirely mortifying, that the Nats PR group had to have a “Take Back our Park” series to convince Nats fans to show up to these games. By the time you are invoking Take Back the Night you know you have a fan problem.
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Get to Know a Division Rival: Philadelphia Phillies


Philadelphia Phillies
2013 Record:  73-89 (Pythagorean 66-96)
2013 Runs Scored: 610
2013 Runs Allowed: 749

2014 Additions: Marlon Byrd, Brad Lincoln (trade), Wil Nieves, Roberto Hernandez (the Fausto Carmona one), A.J. Burnett

2014 Subtractions: Erik Kratz (trade), Roy Halladay (retired), John Lannan, Tyler Cloyd

The Philadelphia Phillies have been more on the “age and treachery” side of the ledger in the NL East due to being in a different spot in the organizational lifecycle than the other teams. Most of the core players from the 2008 World Series champions, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, are still there, but it has since been five seasons and age is catching up with them. The window for these players is closing, and a significant re-tooling of the infield seems to be coming in the next couple of seasons.

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The Panic Button: Historically Bad Losses By Historically Good Teams


Finding it too hard to take our advice about taking the long view of things when it comes to baseball? Recent Nationals games have you on edge?  Don’t worry-you’ve hit The Panic Button – and we’ve got you covered.

Credit:  Thanks to @CBJinDC for helping me find most of these.

Let’s face it; there wasn’t anything good about the Nationals 15-0 loss Friday night to the Cincinnati Reds.  Despite the Nationals official twitter trying to polish said turd:

This was still the most lopsided loss in modern Nats history.

Despite multiple renditions of “don’t panic” and “it’s one game” from a healthy portion of Nats fans, much of Natstown just couldn’t get over how ugly it was last night.  Many seemed to be ready to pack in the season (and quite a few more are ready to send Dan Haren packing after just one start).

Still, there is every reason to expect that the Nationals can “overcome” their first loss of the season despite it hitting every branch (and Reds bat) on the ugly tree.  Why?  We turn to the only thing we have in baseball-History.  Let’s look at some really great teams and some really awful losses:

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