The Historic Pace of the Phillies Pitching Staff

Worried about the Phillies offense?  Sure, it's not terribly entertaining watching a team scratch to score a few runs every night (if we're lucky), but it doesn't really matter when your pitching staff is pitching the way the Phillies' has been this year.

It seems that many people are forgetting this.  (Although didn't we hear the exact opposite in 2007 and 2008 when the team was mashing the ball and all anyone could say was "you can't win without pitching"?)

In the midst of complaining about the offense and forgetting how amazing the pitching has been, you may have missed a few things.  The first is completely inexcusable, because it's there in the paper every day -- the Phillies have the best record in the NL and the second best in all of baseball.  Moreover, for those who think overall records are overrated (until the last game of the season is over, that is) and that run differential matters more, the Phillies have the third best run differential in the NL and fifth best in baseball.  Sure, that's not as gaudy as their overall record, but it's still damn good.

The second thing you might be missing while you wallow in the team's offensive woes is less obvious, but even more spectacular -- this team's pitching staff is on pace to produce a historically dominant season.  Now's the time when you sit back and marvel, because the numbers I'm going to throw at you here are kind of unbelievable:

Runs allowed:  The Phillies have allowed an MLB-best 146 runs over 46 games.  That translates to 514 runs allowed over the course of the 162 game season.  Sit down for this: the last time a team allowed fewer runs than that was in 1968.  And, since the advent of the 162 game season (and removing the four strike-shortened years of 1972, 1981, 1994, and 1995), the Phillies current projection would give them the 10th lowest runs allowed since 1961.  Making this even more impressive (and this is true for all the information in this post): this data set includes 1190 team-years.  The closest a team has been to the Phillies current projection since 1990 is the 2003 Dodgers, who let up 556 runs.  And, 6 of the 9 teams ahead of the Phillies' current projection pitched in 1968, the year of the pitcher.

Strikeouts:  The Phillies have struck out 380 opposing batters so far this year.  That puts them on pace for 1338 strikeouts for the season.  (The Braves have more strikeouts than the Phillies this year, at 384.  But, they've played 3 more games, so their projection is "only" 1270.)  The Phils' total would put them fourth on the list of team strikeouts since 1961, behind only the Chicago Cubs of 2003, 2004, and 2001 (in that order).  An increase of the Phils' pace by 8 strikeouts over the remaining games would place them second on this list.

K/B Ratio:  Unlike the Cubs from earlier this century, the Phillies are striking out opposing batters without walking them much.  In fact, they're on pace to have the third-best strikeout to walk ratio since 1961.  They're on pace to strike out 1338 batters while walking only 433, good for a 3.09 ratio.  Only the spectacular 2006 Twins (3.27) and 2002 Diamondbacks (3.10) have performed better.

Shutouts:  The Phillies have thrown 7 shutouts so far this year, putting them on pace for 25 for the season.  (The Tigers, also with 7 over 46 games, are on the same pace.)  That total would give the Phillies the fourth best season total since 1961.  And, as with the runs allowed projection, the only teams ahead of the Phillies are from the 1960s (with the 1968 Cardinals leading the way with 30).

Homeruns:  Despite playing in OFJOAB, the Phillies have allowed only 28 home runs this year, putting them on pace for a total of 99 for the season.  (Amazingly, the Giants, Mariners, and A's have allowed fewer -- 24, 25, and 26 respectively.)  Keeping this pace up would put the Phillies 88th on the list of best homerun seasons since 1961.  Putting aside the three teams bettering them this year, the only teams ahead of the Phillies' on this list would be teams that played before 1993.  The best a team has done this century is the 2005 Giants, who allowed 116 homeruns.

It's about time Philadelphia fans wake up and realize that this team is wildly different than the successful Phillies teams of the past few years.  No, it's not going to continue to struggle as mightily at the plate.  But, it doesn't really matter much if it does because the pitching staff is almost as dominant as any team's pitching staff has been in the history of the 162 game season.

And that's something to celebrate wildly, not bemoan.

(All caveats related to projections from a 46-game sample over a 162-game season apply.  Thanks to the amazing Sean Lahman Baseball Database for the data for this post.)

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