In recent days, much has been ballyhooed about the Philadelphia Phillies standing in the National League East division. At five games below .500 and nine-and-a-half games from the division leading Atlanta Braves, fans are clamoring for the Phillies to sell their most esteemed pieces in order to gain in the future with highly regarded prospects.
However, the Phillies are right where they were expected to be. Only those with blinders on would have expected more. With Ruben Amaro Jr. at the helm of arranging this roster, only more of the same can be expected so long as he's the general manager.
For instance, the starting rotation leads Major League Baseball with 55 quality starts (QS). For comparison's sake, the Washington Nationals have 46 QS while the Pittsburgh Pirates have tallied 38 QS.
The Earned Run Average (ERA) of the starting pitchers for Philadelphia is 4.03. Compared to the rest of MLB, this is average. However, the Phillies' starters Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.75 is near the top in MLB. According to FanGraphs, FIP "measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average."
FIP suggests we should take a look at the Revised Zone Rating (RZR) which measures "the proportion of balls hit into a fielder’s zone that he successfully converted into an out." A strong indicator of defensive performance beyond the pitching, RZR is indicative of the woes that can plague a good pitching staff backed by inadequate defense in the field.
Philadelphia ranks 24th in MLB in RZR (.826). Aside from the New York Yankees (ranked 25th), the other five teams worse in this category sit with sub-.500 win-loss records. They include the Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers.
Defense hasn't been the only liability for the Phillies.
The relievers bode a 4.60 ERA, slotted in as the second worst in all of MLB. Unlike the Phillies starting rotation though, this high ERA cannot be hitched to poor defense. After all, the bullpen's FIP is third worst in baseball at 4.39. They also have the third worst Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at -0.8.
The Phillies hitting has been abysmal as well. Despite a power surge from Domonic Brown, the lineup ranks 22nd in WAR (7.2). Comparatively speaking, the Chicago Cubs (8.8), Kansas City Royals (9.5) and San Diego Padres (13.0) all fare better in this metric.
The team's batting average of .255 is near the league median and their strikeout rate is average. However, the Phillies sluggers have showed little patience at the plate, boasting one of the league's worst walk rates (6.9 percent).
Simply put, the current makeup of the roster is not working out. Chase Utley, Michael Young and Carlos Ruiz are all set to be free agents following the season. It would make sense for Amaro Jr. to deal these players. Since they are not helping place the Phillies in serious contention, why not give the likes of Cesar Hernandez, Cody Asche and Tommy Joseph extended looks as we crawl through the summer?
On top of that, it would behoove the Phillies to unload the contract of closer Jonathan Papelbon. The 32-year-old is set to earn $13 million per annum through 2015 with a vesting option for 2016. At the same time, Pirates closer Jason Grilli will earn $2.5 million this year and $4 million next. Yes, the same Grilli that Amaro Jr. cut in 2011 has gone on to become one of the best closers in baseball.
For now, it would seem that any team willing to take Papelbon off of the Phillies would be reluctant to do so unless the Phils are willing to eat some of the salary owed to the closer. This might be a significant hurdler to overcome.
In regard to ace Cliff Lee, it would be foolish to deal him now. Despite the $25 million per year he will be owed through 2015 (with a club option for 2016), Lee is more valuable to the Phillies than he would be should they attain prospects via trade.
In reality, the Phillies are still not stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sure, they have no hope of winning the World Series in 2013 but a looming television deal could increase their potential to bring in better talent in the very near future.
The trust factor is nonexistent with general manager Amaro Jr., though. Remember, he was the same GM that thought bringing Jim Thome into a NL ballpark was a good idea (skipper Charlie Manuel signed off on that, too).
Amaro Jr. is also the one who orchestrated the $50 million contract for Papelbon. In regard to this, the average 2013 salary of the top eight closers (aside from Mariano Rivera) in terms of saves is $3.98 million. The list includes Grilli, Craig Kimbrel, Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Addison Reed.
Quite frankly, paying a reliever not named Mo Rivera is asinine since the Grillis and Mujicas of the baseball world continue to prove over and over again inflated valuation of the closer role is nonsensical.
Speaking of sense, the only way to make any of the Phillies 2013 campaign is to point the finger at Amaro Jr. He engineered the roster his way and it has simply not worked. As many have been saying since last season, it is time to change course--not only with the roster but with the management as well.
Statistics and metrics sourced from Fangraphs.
Salary information sourced from SpoTrac.