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Unmet Expectations: Abreu/Thome/Burrell

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We Phillies fans are used to disappointment. The Good Phight has chronicled some of it recently, such as the Lance Parrish Syndrome or the career of Ron Jones. The history of the franchise is filled with crushing moments: the 1964 collapse, Black Monday in 1977, Joe Carter's walk-off home run. Put it this way: if the Phillies held a sun-rise watching party for fans, we know for sure the sun would rise in the west while everyone excitedly faced east.

When Jim Thome signed with the Phils, we should have known what to expect. His arrival in December 2003 was hailed as the dawn of a new era of Phillies baseball. Offense would reign supreme, with Phillies circling the bases like Sunday beer softball league champions. Fans dreamt of an Abreu/Thome/Burrell (or Abreu/Burrell/Thome) middle of the lineup that would combine for 100+ home runs and 300+ RBI. The Phils would have the best 3-4-5 hitters in baseball.

We should have known better.

The promise of Abreu, Thome, and Burrell has never really come to fruition. Fans bitter from following the franchise with the most losses in professional sports had another notch they could add to their belt of disappointment: a historically bad declines from Burrell in 2003, Abreu's regular slow starts, and Thome's development of nagging injuries since the middle of 2004 combined to result in no prolonged stretch of time in which all three players were clicking at once. We were tantalized by amazing displays of power from one or two of the big three, but never got to witness the awesome alignment of power that could have been.

Below is a chart of the three players' OPS broken down by month over the past two and a half years. OPS values over .900 are in bold. The "sum" column is the sum of the players' OPS for that month, and the "Team R" column is the total runs the Phils scored in that month.

        Abreu   Burrell Thome   Sum     Team R
Apr-03  0.797   0.716   0.770   2.283   139
May-03  0.843   0.824   1.023    2.690   114
Jun-03  0.914    0.606   0.964    2.484   113
Jul-03  1.025    0.656   0.904    2.585   139
Aug-03  0.848   0.854   1.017    2.719   131
Sep-03  0.839   0.630   1.050    2.519   147
Apr-04  0.882   0.800   1.170    2.852    88
May-04  1.012    1.122    0.931    3.065   153
Jun-04  1.116    0.717   1.246    3.079   159
Jul-04  0.974    0.721   0.761   2.456   112
Aug-04  0.782   0.583   0.973    2.338   151
Sep-04  0.983    0.806   0.778   2.567   158
Apr-05  0.712   0.955    0.651   2.318    93
May-05  1.327    0.885   0.766   2.978   141
Jun-05  0.878   0.862   0.749   2.489   135

As you can see, in only one month did all three players have an OPS over .900. In that month, May 2004, the Phils scored 153 runs, which was the most in the NL and the fourth-most in the majors. The team was 17-11 in that month.

But we haven't seen that kind of simultaneous dominant offensive output from the three players before or since. Over the course of the two and a half years, there were eighteen months of a player having a .900+ OPS, but in only three of those months did two players have that high level of production simultaneously (not counting the month mentioned above in which all three did). In two of those months, the combination of performance led to the Phils having a relatively high offensive output. In July 2003 when Abreu and Thome posted .900+ OPS, the team scored 139 runs, ranking 7th in the majors and 4th in the NL. In July 2004, when Abreu and Thome both had incredible 1.100+ OPS months, the team scored 159 runs, ranking 2nd in the majors and in the NL. (In contrast, in June 2003 when Abreu and Thome had .900+ OPS, the team scored only 113 runs, ranking 24th in the majors and 12th in the NL.)

Overall, did the performance of these three correspond to increased output for the Phillies? Interestingly, plotting monthly runs per game for the Phillies against the monthly total OPS for these three players showed very little correlation. Thus, it's impossible to say that, alone, the monthly output from these three players is what drove the team's overall monthly output.

However, as fans who welcomed the signing of Jim Thome as a savior of the franchise as well as the harbinger of a new stretch of dominant middle-of-the-lineup performance, we've never really gotten what we had hoped for. When Thome returns to the lineup, we will still have three more years to get what we want. If he's traded, though, we'll have to hope for Ryan Howard to fulfill this dream.