An illness threatens the Phillies' fanbase, and standard treatments are ineffective. We are infected with despair for the immediate future, and the anticipation of next year is no cure. I propose, instead, a bit more despair––a bit of homeopathy. For those who weren't raised by grown-up hippies, homeopathy is a non-scientific approach to treating illness. The homeopathic hypothesis holds that a small dose of the cause of an ailment can cure it. So, for example, one takes a small does of caffeine to abate sleeplessness. I am not a practitioner usually, but the malaise that pervades my baseball outlook has driven me to try it. Here I will attempt to induce Phanatic mirth by gazing upon the abyss facing the Phillies this offseason. (Essentially, this post pursues the question raised by Cormican regarding a reasonable projection for the Phillies in 2014 on the basis of fWAR.)
The prescription is sabermetria. I will produce WAR projections for the players we all expect to be on the Phillies next season and then speculate about how they will fill in the gaps. The projections are based on the last 3 seasons of fWAR for each player, if available and with exceptions. I've used a rough weighting scale for the seasons. For those with 3 years of data I've weighted the most recent year 5/9, the next year 3/9, and the final 1/9. For those with 2, 3/5, 2/5. For those with one, I've just taken the data as is. Since some players are young and haven't amassed much time, I've had to forgo rigorous statistical analysis with respect to them. These are Brown, Ruf, and Asche. Brown's performance this year is so different from his previous performances that the prior data seems irrelevant. Ruf's data is unreliable because a) he has a big whole in his swing and b) he's played in the outfield a lot but would be best used at first-base. And Asche's value depends greatly on his defense and his defensive numbers are currently utterly untrustworthy (although I am less sanguine that others that he is better than a league average defender at third-base). Finally, I am using a WAR-rate projection rather than a simple WAR projection in order to keep playing time as a variable in the projections. Now, to the results, aka, THE THINGS THEMSELVES!
Here are the players we should expect to play for the Phillies in 2014 right now: Ruiz, Howard, Utley, Rollins, Brown, Revere, Lee, Hamels, Pettibone, Papelbon, Bastardo, Diekman, Kratz, Galvis, Ruf, Asche, and Martin. (I've listed Ruf, Asche, and Martin last because I have no rigorous projections for them. They all were replacement level or worse in 2013. But we should expect that to be different in 2014 based on proper use and on-going development.) So, how do these players project for 2014? Voila!
|POS||NAME||PA/IP PROJ||WAR RATE||WAR PROJ|
Notes for interpreting the table: WAR-rate for position players is per PA and for pitchers per IP. For the long-time veterans I projected their PAs or IPs based on their past 3 years. For less experienced players and role players I simply estimated their totals. At the bottom of the "WAR PROJ" column you see the total projected fWAR for that, albeit incomplete, team. That total brings the Phillies to a projected 76 wins, 14 shy of what it will most likely take to make the playoffs. (Incidentally, 28 fWAR is almost exactly what fangraphs projected for the Phillies in 2013. Sadly, they didn't come close to that projection.)
Let me anticipate some objections to this table. First, Howard's WAR-rate projection is heavily distorted by his injury-plagued 2012. He probably won't be that bad in 2014. So, perhaps I should adjust his WAR projection upward along with his PA projection. But that would be hasty. For, second, and converse to the first, Rollins WAR-rate projection is heavily distorted by his excellent 2012 and very good 2011. Rollins is not that player anymore. And it is more likely that in 2014 he will produce less than the 1.6 fWAR he produced in 2013. Any adjustment to Howard's projection will probably be at least canceled by an adjustment to Rollins's. Third, what about Asche and Ruf? Well, Asche ended up being a replacement level player for 2013. I hope that changes in 2014, but I don't know how to project him. And Ruf, I think, has proved that as long as he plays in the outfield he will be at best a replacement level player. On the other hand, if he plays first-base he might achieve league average status. His performance this year compares well on a rate basis to Prince Fielder's. So, Ruf's contribution next year depends on a) how he is used and b) whether he can be around a 125 wRC+ hitter. At any rate, we can see the absurdity of the Phillies offseason task without projecting either player. (There are more nits to pick here but I'll leave that for the comments, should people want to pursue them.)
According to the projections I've provided, the Phillies have 4 starting spots open in which they need to amass at least 14 fWAR. That's 3.5 fWAR per spot. That amounts to one Denard Span, one Chase Headley, and two Jordan Zimmermans. Or it amounts to one Jacoby Ellsbury, 1-2 fWAR combined from Asche and Ruf , and still two Jordan Zimmermans. Or one Shin-Soo Choo, at least 2 fWAR combined from Asche and Ruf, and still two Jordan Zimmermans. The punch-line here is "two Jordan Zimmermans."
When we look at the fWAR analysis, we can see the abyss between the 2014 Phillies and the playoffs. Even if they get the best performing free agents to fill their several holes, they will never get 3rd and 4th starters as good as Jordan Zimmerman. And no starter in the system is ready to pitch as well as Jordan Zimmerman pitches. Jordan Zimmerman is the abyss. Don't stare into him too long, lest he stare back. When the Phillies announce the starters who will fill the 3rd and 4th spots in the rotation, just think to yourself that they cannot span the gulf that is Jordan Zimmerman and the malaise should cease and be replaced with noble, haughty laughter. Or just believe the Phillies' ideological optimism. Either way.