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How Did We Get Here? Building the 2008 Phillies

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I won't pretend this isn't fairly well-trod ground, with ESPN having taken a shot at it over the weekend as well as the Philly papers last week. But Pat Gillick himself helped raise the subject in his classy praise for predecessor GM Ed Wade as the Phillies celebrated their pennant win last week, and the subject is one of abiding interest to most of us here at TGP and, I think, in the wider world of Phillies phandom. So let's take a look. 

This table shows the position players on the Phils 2008 post-season roster. By a happy coincidence, it pretty much matches the full list of anyone who had a significant presence for the team during the regular season (though Chris Snelling did make the most of his four plate appearances, he's not here). Players in italics were Pat Gillick's additions. 

 

Name Phils Debut/How Acq 2008 PA Salary VORP
Chase Utley 2003 (2000 Draft, 1st) 707 $7.8m 62.2
Jimmy Rollins 2000 (1996 Draft, 2nd)*  625 $8.0m 43.5
Ryan Howard 2004 (2001 Draft, 5th) 700 $10.0m 35.3
Pat Burrell 2000 (1998 Draft, 1st) 645 $14.3m 33.6
Shane Victorino 2005 (2004 Rule 5) 627 $0.5m 33.4
Jayson Werth 2007 (free agent) 482 $1.7m 30.4
Greg Dobbs 2007 (free agent) 240 $0,4m 12.8
Chris Coste 2006 (min lg free agent) 305 $0.4m 8.1
Matt Stairs 2008 (trade) 19 $1.6m 2.2
Pedro Feliz 2008 (free agent) 463 $3.0m -0.0
So Taguchi 2008 (free agent) 103 $0.9m -4.1
Geoff Jenkins 2008 (free agent) 322 $5.0m -4.4
Eric Bruntlett 2008 (trade) 238 $0.6m -5.9
Carlos Ruiz 2006 (amateur free agent) 373 $0.4m -7.0

 

*Lee Thomas was the Phillies GM when Jimmy Rollins was drafted in 1996. 

(Salary is the player's full compensation for 2008, not the Phillies' obligation.)

Gillick's praise for Wade as having built a championship nucleus is on the money here, as the team's top four hitters by VORP were drafted while Wade was in the team's employ (recall he was Thomas's assistant GM before getting promoted), and the fifth and eighth were low-cost additions--probably Wade's biggest successes in that category, certainly on the positional side. Gillick's valuable additions were Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs; otherwise, the guys he brought in didn't do a whole lot of good, at least before NLCS Game Four. In total, the VORP of Wade-era players (including Rollins) is 208.9; Gillick's players accounted for only 39.1. 

The balance shifts, however, when we turn to the pitchers. 

 

For this table, we include several pitchers not on the post-season roster but who played key roles with the 2008 Phillies: injured setup man Tom Gordon and deposed starters Adam Eaton and Kyle Kendrick. 

 

Name Phils Debut/How Acq IP Salary VORP
Cole Hamels 2006 (2002 Draft, 1st) 227.1 $0.5m 56.3
Jamie Moyer 2006 (trade) 196.1 $6,0m 40.3
Brad Lidge 2008 (trade) 69.1 $6.4m 26.7
Ryan Madson 2003 (1998 Draft, 9th) 82.2 $1.4m 23.3
Chad Durbin 2008 (free agent) 87.2 $0.9m 22.5
Brett Myers 2002 (1999 Draft, 1st) 190.0 $8.6m 19.3
J.C. Romero 2007 (free agent) 59.0 $3.3m 19.3
Clay Condrey 2006 (free agent) 69.0 $0.4m 17.6
Joe Blanton 2008 (trade) 70.2 $3.7m 9.2
J.A. Happ 2007 (2004 Draft, 3rd) 31.2 $0.4m 7.4
Scott Eyre 2008 (trade) 14.1 $3.8m 6.0
Rudy Seanez 2008 (free agent) 43.1 $0.4m 3.5
Tom Gordon 2006 (free agent) 29.2 $5.5m -0.1
Adam Eaton 2007 (free agent) 107.0 $8.0m -1.9
Kyle Kendrick 2007 (2004 Draft, 7th) 155.2 $0.4m -2.9

 

Here we see Gillick's impact is both stronger and more positive: it captures his two best trades with the Phils, for Moyer and Lidge, and his generally successful bullpen assemblage. (It also includes, um, Adam Eaton.) In total, the five pitchers who became Phillies on Wade's watch accounted for 103.3 points of VORP; the ten Gillick-era additions totaled 143.1. 

It's worth noting that this method of analysis isn't entirely satisfying, in that it doesn't at all capture the impact of Gillick's decisions on Wade's personnel. Wade plucked Victorino from the Dodgers in December 2004, but the Flyin' Hawaiian didn't get a chance to show he could handle everyday outfield duties until Gillick cleared a space for him... unfortunately, by trading Bobby Abreu for a bag of smelly rocks. Gillick also probably sped up the emergence of Cole Hamels in 2006, and certainly did the same for Kyle Kendrick a year later. (I'm sorry to bring up a painful memory, but when Wade was faced with a similar situation to what led to Kendrick's recall, he went out and signed Paul Abbott.) And while Carlos Ruiz was a Wade signing, it was Gillick who--eventually, after futzing around with the likes of Sal Fasano and Rod Barajas--for better or worse let Ruiz emerge as the team's starting catcher. 

In praising Wade last Wednesday, Gillick characterized his contribution as having"kind of filled in around what Ed had in place." That's true as far as it goes, but it's also a little deceiving. The failure of Wade's last few years on the job was the enormous dropoff between the top-line talent on hand and the feculent rot through the bottom part of the roster, where a handful of abysmally bad players undermined the efforts of the stars by just enough to miss the October fun. Gillick made more flat-out disastrous moves than did Wade: the Eaton signing, the Abreu and Freddy Garcia trades. But his dumpster-diving was fantastic: Werth, Dobbs, Romero, Durbin, Eyre, Stairs. And he and Charlie Manuel didn't stay chained to their mistakes to anywhere near the extent Wade and Bowa did: Eaton never got to kill the Phillies the way that David Bell or Tomas Perez or Jose Mesa or Rheal Cormier did in selected Wade-era seasons. 

Without the foundation built primarily by Wade and then-and-now assistant GM Mike Arbuckle, Gillick's work would not have made the difference. But with that foundation, the ability to find guys like Werth and Romero, and the willingness to admit mistakes like Eaton and Geoff Jenkins and move on, is the difference between an 86-88 win also-ran and a 92-win league, and hopefully world, champion.