Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Waiting on the Right Side of Your Infield to Change

            I’m not sure if any of you have heard, but the Phillies have been missing two of the cornerstones of their team the past five years, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, for the entirety of the 2012 season.  While Utley just started a rehab stint that could signal a return early in July, Howard has yet to start running and fielding and could be out until August, if not longer.  Phillies fans know that the past two weeks have been trying for the team, losing 9 of their last 10, and they now sit a hefty 9.5 games out of first place behind the Nationals, who themselves have won 8 of their last 10, and 5.5 games out of both Wild Card spots.  So how much will the returns of Utley and Howard be a boon to the team’s offense, possibly propelling them to a come-from-behind playoff berth?

            Phillies first basemen this season have produced a .257 / .316 / .401 BA/OBP/SLG this season, creating 0.112 runs per plate appearance (by FanGraphs’ Runs Created formula) and have a fielding Ultimate Zone Rating of 4.8 runs prevented when scaled per 150 games.  Last season, Ryan Howard posted a .253 / .346 / .488 line, created 0.143 runs per plate appearance, and had an UZR of -4.5 runs prevented on the same scale.  Howard would produce about 11 more runs combined batting and fielding than the John Mayberry/Ty Wigginton/Laynce Nix/Jim Thome combination over 2+ months, which would be about the amount of time Howard should be back for.
            Phillies second basemen this season have produced a .260 / .292 / .386 line, creating 0.092 runs per plate appearance, and having a UZR of -1.5 per 150 games (which is surprisingly low given how Freddy Galvis has performed).  Last season, Chase Utley had a .259 / .344 / .425 line while creating 0.134 runs per plate appearance, with a UZR of 14.5 per 150 games.  Giving Utley just about half a season of production, he would produce about 54 runs, compared to 31 for the Galvis/Fontenot/Martinez collection.

            With Utley and Howard back in the lineup, therefore, we could expect the Phillies to improve by 25 runs over the second half of the season, which is good for only a couple more wins.  Taking into account the improvement in the depth of the team by having Wigginton, Galvis, Fontenot, and Mayberry as bench players instead of starters, they’re likely to net at most a 4 win improvement over the second half.  Getting Utley and Howard back will not cure what ails the Phillies all by themselves -- their bullpen ERA of 4.44 is third-worst in the league and 0.59 worse than last year – but it’s a start in the right direction, and could give players an emotional boost that powers them to a second-half surge.

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