Why Baseball Prospectus' Predictions for Philadelphia Phillies Are All Wrong
Many experts and independent baseball blogs alike have the Philadelphia Phillies poised to finish in third place by the end of the upcoming season. As a result of the team's 81-81 finish last year in addition to an aging core group of players, for the first time since 2008 the Phillies are not widely projected to finish as the top dog in the NL East. Not to mention that more significant upgrades by division-mates Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves slot them further into contention.
However, one website in particular stands out in its projection for the Phillies in 2013. In my opinion, the Phillies are slated to win 87 or 88 games in 2013. I haven't yet decided on that final amount, but somewhere in that ballpark sounds about right to me.
I'm not too far out there like FOX Sports' Jon Morosi, who believes that the Phillies will finish ahead of the Braves in 2013, but I do believe the Phillies will have a better finish than that of 2012 (per HardballTalk.com). What bothers me is that baseball website Baseball Prospectus has the Phillies projected not only to finish third in the NL East once again, but they also project the Phillies to finish at 81-81, just like last year.
Given the Phillies' small yet cost-efficient upgrades this offseason at multiple positions, there's no reason they shouldn't do better than posting a .500 record. Here's five reasons why Baseball Prospects dropped the ball on their projection for the Phillies.
Evolution of Outfield Candidates
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Over the offseason, the Phillies acquired center fielder Ben Revere for starting pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May. Revere's a nice option to have, as he's inexpensive and under team control through the 2017 season. Most importantly, he provides the Phillies with a young, true speed player they have lacked since Michael Bourn.
Revere also has above-average defense in center field and is more than an adequate replacement for the departed Shane Victorino. He lacks the power Victorino had, but it means that he can potentially get on base more often and steal more bases than Victorino has ever been capable of doing himself. In fact, this spring training, Revere's been doing just that—he's batting .325 with a .357 OBP and three steals so far in 12 games. If he can keep that up, he'll be an awesome threat in the lineup and a possible leadoff-spot candidate.
The true standout star in Phillies spring training, though, has been Domonic Brown. After years of fluctuating between the majors and minors, Brown was virtually on his last chance this spring training and, boy, did he take advantage of it. Through 14 games, Brown has batted .432 with a 1.252 OPS and committed just his first defensive error Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays. His all-around game has really come to fruition, and Brown should be a shoo-in to win a starting job this year.
Even though Darin Ruf failed to capitalize on his opportunity and the Phillies may have to start with a John Mayberry Jr.-Laynce Nix platoon in left field, the players they have manning the rest of the outfield very well may have All-Star potential. If they can find that potential, there's no reason both shouldn't contribute to a record better than Baseball Prospectus' projected 81-81.
Starting Rotation Remains Strong
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Sorry folks, the picture databases here on Bleacher Report don't have any images of Cole Hamels pitching in spring training thus far. But man, has he been as good as ever.
Aside from an outing against the Dominican Republic national team in which he surrendered eight runs in 2.2 innings, Hamels has been on fire on the mound for all of spring training. He currently sports a 2-0 record with a 0.90 ERA and even-lower 0.70 WHIP. Now that he's pitched 10 innings in spring training, including five Sunday in which he allowed only one hit (per Phillies.com), Hamels has proven that he is capable of being the team's No. 1 starter.
As for the rest of the projected rotation, Roy Halladay has looked decent in spring training to date. He's also got a 2-0 record with a slightly-higher 2.16 ERA, but a number of that caliber is still stellar. Hopefully he'll avenge his average first start Tuesday when he's up for a rematch against the Detroit Tigers.
Cliff Lee hasn't been as great as usual this spring, though he recently struck out five batters in 3.2 innings against the Minnesota Twins (per Phillies.com). His spring training ERA of 5.19 is far from ideal, but it's mainly the result of one bad outing. That shouldn't reflect Lee's ERA for the upcoming season.
Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan have both been formidable, but of late the two have struggled. Lannan's ERA is now up to 5.00, while Kendrick's stands at 9.00. It's not ideal for either pitcher, yet being at the back of the rotation as opposed to the front gives the two security, something which Kendrick enjoys having for the first time, according to philly.com. Nevertheless, both should be effective enough come the regular season.
The rotation as a whole still stands to be one of baseball's best, and until they show otherwise, the Phillies' starting pitchers will be a big reason for the team's above-.500 success.
One of the places in which the Phillies struggled most last season was the bullpen. Other than newly-signed closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Phils lacked a veteran presence and their young, inexperienced group of pitchers failed to solidify the later innings.
The Phillies lost 20 games in which they had a lead or were tied entering the eighth inning.
They blew 13 leads in the eighth inning.
They lost seven games in which they were one out away from getting the ball to closer Jonathan Papelbon.
If they hold on to seven of those 13 blown leads, they would have tied the Cardinals for the final National League Wild Card berth.
If they'd won 10 of those 20 games, they would have breezed back to the postseason for a sixth straight season.
That's pretty significant in my book. Any time you have a shot at postseason contention that otherwise would not have existed, you have to take advantage. Simply put, the Phillies didn't.
New addition Mike Adams has been one of baseball's best set-up men over the last five years, but his recovery from surgery correcting thoracic outlet syndrome is what might hold him back in 2013. So far, though, he's looked like he's moved past it, as he's yet to allow a run in three one-inning appearances.
In addition, familiar face Chad Durbin has returned to town as a veteran middle reliever for the Phils. Unfortunately, his spring training hasn't gone too well, as he has a 9.00 ERA in four appearances. But the Phillies can hope that he'll be better in the regular season; fortunately it's only spring now.
With Antonio Bastardo and three others between Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Michael Stutes, Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman and Raul Valdes, the Phillies bullpen should be much better than last year, with the potential to be one of the best in the majors. And for that reason, Baseball Prospectus' 81-81 projection should fall short of reality.
Ryan Howard's Resurgence
When Ryan Howard inked a five-year, $125 million contract extension in April 2010, it baffled many Phillies fans and baseball experts. The man was less than two years away from free agency, and while he had scored big in arbitration hearings, there was no way he was worth $25 million a season.
Sure enough, Howard proved that sentiment to be right, albeit not by his own accord. Howard tore his Achilles tendon in the final play of the 2011 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals and struggled to show much of anything upon returning in mid-July of last year.
With four more years and $105 million still owed to The Big Piece, all that the Phillies and their fans can do is hope that Howard somehow validates that contract, even if only to an extent. This spring training, Howard has been on track to put up numbers that earned him said contract in the first place.
This spring, Howard has played in all but one of the Phillies' 15 games. In those 14 games, he's batted .333 with a .357 OBP, .718 SLG and 1.075 OPS. He's also slugged four home runs to boot. Howard has surprisingly been one of the best players in the Grapefruit League this spring, and little seems to be slowing him down.
Howard's maintained that he's feeling better and healthier than he has in a long time, which comes at the right time for the Phillies as they enter what could be their final shot at the playoffs for a long time. If Howard produces in the regular season like he has in spring training, Baseball Prospectus will show to be way off line.
Clean Bill of Health
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The Phillies' biggest struggles in 2012 came from key players being injured for large portions of the season. Chase Utley didn't make his season debut until June 27 due to nagging knee troubles. Ryan Howard's Achilles injury left him out until mid-July. And Roy Halladay sat on the DL for the first time in years due to an ailing shoulder that kept him out for two months or so until just after the All-Star break.
When you lose your two most powerful hitters in the lineup and the ace of your pitching staff, the results will more often than not be catastrophic, and that's exactly what they were for the Phillies. The No. 1 reason why the Phillies couldn't play up to expectation last year was because they lacked their best players to help propel and keep them on top.
However, for the first time since 2010, Chase Utley is presumably fully healthy. He has played in 10 spring training games. Yes, he's hit only .167, but having him on the field at all is a plus. Having him for a majority of the team's games, though, is an encouraging sign of his knees possibly being on the mend.
Howard, who I covered on the last slide, has been tearing it up in spring training. And while Halladay hasn't been perfect, he's been as close as can be despite reportedly losing fastball velocity for a second straight year. As long as it's not the result of more injury troubles, if there's anyone who can adapt to a drop in fastball speed, it's Doc. He should be fine.
With the big-name players healthy for the Phillies, the lineup and rotation should be that much better. Assuming the three stay healthy for a majority of the season, Baseball Prospectus will be very wrong about their projection. And for the first time in years, the health of the Phillies may not be the main headline of the season.