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Will the 2011 Phillies Give You the Greatest Gift of All - Time?

If you pay attention to these things, you may have noticed that I've been kind of absent from the blog over the past several months.  Part of that is the off-season, but part of that is also that I've been swamped with my day job this semester.  That should end soon, but when you're really busy with work and life, the one thing you really wish you had more of is time.

So time has been on my mind a lot recently.  Which got me thinking about the 2011 Phillies and time.  The four aces and Joe Blanton angle has been explored from a million different angles, but to the best of my knowledge, I haven't seen anything about how the addition of another ace will affect the length of games.

The theory is easy.  When Cliff Lee joins the rotation this year, he will allow fewer base runners and runs per game, thus resulting in shorter games.  This effect is compounded by the fact that Lee will be replacing the Phillies' fifth starter, their worst starter, who presumably gave up the most base runners and runs per game last year.  Thus, the games he pitches will be shorter this year.

Add into the equation that the Phillies will have a full year of Roy Oswalt.  Oswalt will also, over the course of the full year, allow fewer baserunners and runs per game than last year's combination of the Phillies' fifth starter through July plus Oswalt in August and September did.

With this thinking, the Phillies might just give us the greatest gift of all this year - time.

So I'm going to explore this idea over the next week running up to the season.  The best way to explore this, in my mind, is to look at how length of games has changed over the past three years.  Over the past three years, the Phillies have seen a decrease in offense alongside an increasingly strong pitching staff.  Those things combined should result in shorter games.

Let's look at this by the numbers then.  The following chart shows three stats over three years, both for the Phillies and against the Phillies -- runs scored (both by and against), plate appearances (both by and against), and pitches thrown (both by and against).  More runs scored, plate appearances, and pitches thrown should correlate with longer games and the converse should be true too.

2008 799 680 6273 6227 23453 24095
2009 820 709 6338 6261 24133 24494
2010 772 640 6291 6095 23194 24195

All of these indicators should point to the longest games in 2009, then 2008, then the shortest games in 2010. The Phillies scored the most runs in 2009, allowed the most, had the most plate appearances, faced the most opposing batters, threw the most pitches, and faced the most pitches that year. Each of those stats decreases from 2009 to 2008 to 2010 except for plate appearances by the Phillies (2010 greater than 2009) and pitches thrown against the Phillies (2010 more than 2009, which makes sense given the team's greater number of plate appearances that year).

Another set of numbers also indicates that the team should have the longest games in 2009, then 2008, then 2010. Teams that win more home games and lose more road games should have shorter games. When a team wins a home game, unless it wins in the 9th inning, it doesn't bat, so the game is shorter. The same is true for losing on the road, as the road team won't have to bat. The Phillies' trends in these three years are the same as the team performance stats:

Home W Road W
2008 48 44
2009 45 48
2010 54 43

In these three years, the Phillies won the most home games and won the least away games in 2010. With the same indicators, 2008 fits right in the middle, with 2009 being the worst.

Thus, based on these stats, it seems that the Phillies' game time should go from the longest games in 2009, the middle in 2008, then the shortest in 2010. This is consistent with the opening theory about the starting pitching, which was much better last year with the addition of Roy Halladay for a full year and Oswalt for the last two months. Which should mean that Cliff Lee's addition this year will give us that precious gift of time.

But I'm going to stop here for now, and pick this up next week to continue this exploration to see whether the intuition from these particular stats actually translates to shorter games.