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Off-Day Theatre: Projections, Anomalies, and More

After going 10-10 in their just-completed stretch of 20 games in 20 days, the Phils are taking a breather today, and the rest of us get a chance to stop and think about just what kind of team we have here.

The 2006 Phillies have played 63 games, or 38.8888etc percent of the schedule. As the little box to your right shows, the club is 33-30, 6.5 games out of first place. Here's how the team has fared at this same non-milestone in past years:

2005: 35-28, 1.5 GB
2004: 34-29, 2.0 GB
2003: 34-29, 9.0 GB
2002: 28-35, 9.5 GB
2001: 37-26, Div Ldr

Last year at this point, the team was nearing the end of its 12-1 homestand that vaulted them out of last place and into serious contention; in 2001, by Game 63 the Phils were already on the way down from their shocking 35-18 start. Otherwise, though, the story in 2006 looks familiar; the unfathomable, hopes-raising hot streak just came a bit earlier this year than last.

I also thought the off-day would be an interesting time to run some projections on what the Phils' best hitters will do this year if they keep to current paces. As a club, the Phillies are on pace to score 807 runs, mash 211 homers, draw 597 walks and steal 87 bases. This would be 44 more home runs than in 2005, 42 fewer walks, 29 fewer steals... and exactly the same number of runs. In other words, this offense is much more dependent upon the longball than its immediate predecessor, but about equally effective overall.

Now for the individiuals.

Jimmy Rollins: 681 AB, 123 runs, 41 doubles, 36 steals, 51 walks
Rate stats (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS): .253/.308/.389/.697

At this time last year, Rollins looked about as ineffective in the leadoff role as he does today; of course, he had a scorching hot September that brought his overall numbers to respectability. If he doesn't repeat that and stays on his current pace, he looks to me like a guy who really should be hitting 6th or 7th.

Chase Utley: 195 hits, 134 runs, 41 doubles, 30 homers, 103 RBI
Rate stats: .303/.375/.518/.892

Utley's been in a fairly pronounced slump lately--something like 2 for his last 25--which has brought his rate stats down a lot. Nonetheless, he's on pace for what has to be one of the best offensive seasons by a middle infielder in Phillies history.

Bobby Abreu: 123 runs, 18 HR, 118 RBI, 26 SB, 167 BB
Rate stats: .288/.455/.493/.947

If we went back in a time a year, we'd see that Abreu was on pace for an MVP campaign. Unlike Rollins, of course, he slumped badly in the second half. Charlie Manuel has been (a bit) more judicious in using Abreu this season, so I'm hopeful that he'll keep closer to this pace through the dog days and beyond.

By the way, for Abreu not to break the team single-season record for walks--129, by Lenny Dykstra in 1993--would probably require either his getting injured, or he and Aaron Rowand switching brains: Rowand is on base to draw a grand total of 15 walks this season. What's kind of amazing is that despite all those walks, Abreu is on pace to score fewer runs than Utley, and only as many as Rollins. The next two guys, their gaudy RBI totals notwithstanding, probably should be a bit ashamed of that...

Pat Burrell: 41 HR, 121 RBI, 100 BB
Rate stats: .259/.380/.532/.913

The most important hitter in the Phils lineup--he's the only reason teams don't sign and start any lefty with more ability than your local softball league ace every time the Phils come up on the schedule--is on pace to set some bests. Pat is what he is: a big, slow, patient slugger. Some love him, some hate him, and surprisingly many phans just ignore him or take him for granted. But if he can stay healthy and boost these numbers even a bit, the team's prospects would be greatly enhanced.

Ryan Howard: 18 doubles, 57 HR, 139 RBI, 165 K
Rate stats: .294/.360/.614/.975

Howard keeps outperforming my highest expectations. He's on pace to easily break Mike Schmidt's single-season home run record, he now hits lefties better than anyone on the team other than Burrell and Abreu, and although his strikeout rate remains high, it's down almost 20 percent from his Rookie of the Year 2005 pace. He's probably the team MVP to this point.

Finally, a couple anomalies that might explain why this team, for all these strong individual performances, remains so frustrating to watch:

  • Pinch-hitting

    Through 63 games, Phils pinch-hitters are 20 for 111 (.180), with 4 doubles, 2 triples, a homer, and 7 walks. They've combined to put up a .233 OBP, .279 SLG, and .513 OPS. Ryan Howard smacked the homer; David Dellucci has all four doubles, both triples, and three of the walks. Take away those two guys and Phils pinch-hitters are 10 for 74 with no extra-base hits and four walks. Even with them, the Phils are dead last of the 16 NL clubs in both batting average--the Mets and Diamondbacks are next-lowest, both at .207--and OPS (the Mets are 15th, at .562; Pittsburgh, at .605, is 14th).

    If there's an offense out there that's more dependent on four guys than the Phils are on Utley, Abreu, Burrell, and Howard, I don't know who has it.

  • Opponents' #9 Batting: the splits doesn't have the option of seeing how opposing pitchers have hit against a team, but it does break offensive performance down by lineup spot. Opponents' 9-hole hitters--the pitchers, pinch-hitters, and late-game subs--have hit a collective .264 against the 2006 Phillies, with a .728 OPS. Again, both figures are dead last in the NL... and the gap between #15 and the Phils  is breathtaking. The next-lowest OBA for #9 hitters is the Diamondbacks (.221); for OPS it's Washington, at .581. The 57 hits the Phils have allowed to opponents' #9s are also 10 more than the runner-up Reds and Nationals.

While most will focus on Jimmy Rollins getting on base more or Jon Lieber rediscovering his 2004-2005 form, the difference between contention and a meaningless September could have more to do with finding some pinch-hitters and bearing down when opposing pitchers are at the plate.