Saturday, March 30, 2013

Phillies 2013 Preview

Now that my brackets are dead, it's time to shift my focus for the next five months (September is really a football month) to the diamond.  And while I will of course give a prediction for all of Major League Baseball, it seems most appropriate to take a deeper look-see at my hometown team, the Philadelphia Phillies.  In case you forgot, here's a list of the things you need to know since the start of last season:
  • The 2012 Phillies went 81-81, finishing third in the NL East (13 games out of second place, however)
  • Additions: CF Ben Revere, 3B Michael Young, OF Delmon Young, RP Mike Adams, SP John Lannan
  • Subtractions: 3B Placido Polanco, CF Shane Victorino, RF Hunter Pence, LF Juan Pierre, SP Joe Blanton, SP Vance Worley
Let's take a stroll through some of the storylines to watch this year:

(By the way, this time I'll be using Baseball-Reference WAR instead of Fangraphs, as team WAR had an almost perfect correlation with actual wins last year by their formula)

1. Outfield?  More like doubtfield!

With the Phils' entire outfield being turned over since the start of last year, it's hard to have much confidence in them without really knowing how the depth chart will shake out.  But let's make the assumption that we have Domonic Brown in left, Ben Revere in center, and something uninspiring in right.  Last season, Phillies' outfielders combined to go .267/.325/.409 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 54 home runs, 66 steals, and 383 total runs and RBI that aren't part of home runs.  Add in the defense, and we have a whopping 4.2 WAR.

If Brown puts up something between his career rates (.236/.315/.388) and his spring training pace (.376/.430/.671) with double-digit steals, he could reasonably end up contributing a .270/.340/.430 line with 15 homers, 75 runs/RBI, and 15 steals.  Revere, still only a pup, could see a slight improvement in walk rate to balance a decline in average, resulting in a line that looks like .280/.325/.330 with 0 homers, 90 runs, 45 RBI, and 45 steals.  And let's say that we get aging-Delmon-Young-esque production from the right-fielders (which may also result from an average of Darin Ruf and Freddy Galvis), which looks like .260/.290/.400 with 18 homers, 65 runs, 75 RBI, and 5 steals.  Add all those together (along with a small boost for other players getting at-bats) and blur your eyes and you're looking at .270/.325/.390 with 40 homers, 65 steals, and 380 runs+RBI.  So, pretty much like last year. And it's not like our defense was any good last year, either, so I'm thinking that Revere will make up for the travesty that will probably occupy the corners.  That means that we can reasonably expect a similar output of 4.2 WAR this year.

2. The Four Aces Big Three Two Towers?

Two years ago, the Phillies had, on paper, the best and deepest rotation in the league.  And they won 102 games.  Last year, the Phillies had, on paper, a pretty darn good rotation.  And then Roy Halladay fell apart.  He had his worst innings-pitched since '05, strikeout rate since '07, walk rate since '04, and ERA since '00.  Sure, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels were in the top 15 in the league in innings pitched and ERA and top 10 in strikeouts, but with the depleted offense the team put on the lineup card each night, it wasn't enough to compete.  So what can we expect from this unit this year?

To be honest, I have no idea what to think of Halladay.  He was ridiculously dominant for two seasons, and then something clearly set him off.  Last spring training he looked hurt, denied it, and ended up hurt.  This spring training looks kinda similar (5.73 ERA last year, 6.06 ERA this year).  I can't in good conscience predict anything better than last season's 25 starts of an ERA around 4.50, good for about 1 WAR.

Lee and Hamels have the track record and underlying numbers to make me feel just as well about them this year as I did last year (especially since they're both on my fantasy team), although I imagine Lee's performance is more likely to decline due to his age.  Last year, they combined for 426 innings, 423 strikeouts, 80 walks, and a 3.10 ERA.  This year, I'm thinking that they'll regress slightly to 415 innings, 400 strikeouts, 80 walks, and a 3.20 ERA.  Based on last year's combined WAR of 9.1, I'd say that they combine for a slightly lower 8.8.

As for the rest of the rotation, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan should be expected to be at best slightly above league average.  Kendrick has been an underappreciated asset for the Phillies the last two years, filling in for injured starters reasonably well (3.61 ERA in 40 starts), and I bet he does something similar, although his inconsistent past tells me I should aim higher in the ERA department.  Let's say 3.75 ERA in a full season of work, or about 1.5 WAR.  Lannan's best season, which also happens to be his most recent full season in 2011, had him pitching 184 innings at a 3.70 ERA (much lower than his 4.28 FIP, 4.24 xFIP, and 4.01 career ERA), and producing 0.9 WAR.  Given how much trouble Lannan has had with the Phillies in the past (5.13 ERA against them in 2011), I'm willing to give him a little bit of leeway and slot him in for 1 WAR.

3. Age is just a number, right? Right? ... The infield

Of Michael Young, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, Howard is the youngest at 33.  This unit is not trending upward, although at least health should give Howard and Utley a boost from last year.  I'm not worried about Rollins, his 2012 stats were right in line with his previous three year average with a little more power and his tenth 30-steal season since 2001.  He also easily led the team in games played and at-bats, so if we project a bit of regression in the power and play time, we're looking at about 2.2 WAR.

Michael Young is the newcomer, and he comes with name recognition but not name-brand performance.  He was paid $16 million last year to put up his worst batting average and on-base percentage since 2002, his worst slugging percentage ever, and his worst defense since 2005.  That equates to an abysmal -2 WAR.  Let's say his defense stays the same (after all, he had almost the same defensive WAR value the year before), but he gets a little bit of regression towards his career averages. If you give him a .280/.330/.400 line similar to his 2008, he'll be worth around 1 WAR.

Chase Utley's worst stats from 2005 to 2009 were a .282/.376/.508 slash line (mishmoshed from three different seasons), 22 HR, 93 R, and 93 RBI, with at least 132 games played.  Since then, he has never played more than 115 games, and his best stats are .275/.387/.445 with 16 HR, 75 R, and 65 RBI (all of which were in '09).  Not to mention that his advanced fielding metrics (now back to Fangraphs) have declined each year since '08.  I don't have the greatest confidence that he can stay healthy all season, but let's say he does.  If he ends up producing at a level that's the average of his three previous seasons (which is a fairly generous estimate in my, um, estimation), that looks something like .265/.365/.435 with 18 HR, 90 R, 85 RBI, and 20 steals.  A pretty solid season, to be sure, but not at the .300/30/100 level he was producing at in his heyday.  That's probably worth about 5 WAR (right around his '10 numbers but with worse defense).

Ryan Howard has been tearing the cover off the ball in spring training, and one can only hope that he maintains that into the season.  People have mentioned that Michael Young had the worst WAR in baseball last season among everyday players, but if Howard had played an entire season at the rate he was performing last year, he would have held this dubious honor.  Counting stats aside, his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging were 32, 38, and 65 points below his previous career lows, and his defensive metrics were tied for his worst of his career.  Ouch.  But I'm willing to give him some slack for having to recover from an Achilles tear and therefore a partial season.  The $125 million man had been declining, but still had never had fewer than 30 HR, 80 R, and 100 RBI since 2006, so I'm going to give him exactly those numbers.  It seems that Baseball Reference isn't so much a fan of Howard's skillset, however, as that would likely only net him 1 WAR, partially because of his defense.

So what do we have to show for this stroll?

If you add all of the WAR that I just estimated, it comes to 25.7.  If you add in 5 WAR for Roidin' Ruiz and 2 WAR for the bullpen (which had 0 WAR last year, by the way, so that's a strong claim), it comes to 32.7, which represents a nearly 3 WAR improvement from last year.  If you plug that value into a regression equation based on last year's WAR-to-win comparison, it actually comes up as 80 wins for the Phils (3 more than would have been predicted from last year's, though).  But based on the fact that they actually did win 81 last season and they're expected to get three more wins this year, I'll feel more comfortable officially predicting 84 wins.  That, of course, will probably get us nowhere near the division title (Nationals) or even the first wild-card slot (Braves).  Maybe we can squeak into the second wild card slot if the Dodgers or Cardinals disappoint.

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