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Just how bad have the Phillies been lately? (Hint: not that bad)

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Note: This post was written before last night's merciless drubbing. But, because Kendrick was pitching, I don't view the result as representative of anything that contradicts the argument below. 

"Stagnant" might not be the best word to describe an offense that includes some two or three-person combination of Wilson Valdez/Pete Orr/Dane Sardinha/Michael Martinez on a nightly basis, but over their last 20 games the Phillies have averaged just 3.8 runs per game, over their last 15 games they have averaged 3.3 runs per game, and over their last 10 games they have averaged 2.8 runs per game. If you want to call this "stagnant," fine. I call it "what the freak do you expect from an offense that regularly includes some two or three-person combination of Wilson Valdez/Pete Orr/Dane Sardinha/Michael Martinez?"

In any case, as Professor Cohen showed earlier in the week, though, the Phillies have endured similarly unproductive stretches over the last three seasons and have come out just fine. David included this handy-dandy chart (the slash numbers refer to the 10-/15-/20-game stretches immediately preceding the last game in the span): 

Year Games 10/15/20 Average 10/15/20 Wins
2008 61-80 2.9/4.0/4.1 2/4/8
2008 108-127 3.4/3.3/3.5 4/7/10
2009 89-108 2.9/4.2/4.8 3/7/11
2009 117-136 2.2/2.8/3.9 4/7/11
2010 33-52 1.4/1.7/3.2 2/4/8
2010 76-95 2.9/3.5/3.8 4/7/8
2010 110-129 2.3/3.1/3.7 4/8/11
2011 4-23 2.7/2.9/4.0 6/9/12
2011 23-42 2.8/3.3/3.8 4/8/11

As David notes, the Phillies have survived this stretch thanks to strong pitching. While the Phillies haven't blown anyone out over their last 20 games (excluding their 10-3 victory over the Mets on April 29th), they haven't really been blown out either. The vast majority of the games have had margins of victory of three runs or less. Indeed, over their last 20 games they have allowed just 3.1 runs per game for a +13 run differential, which amounts to a pythagorean win percentage of .59 (granted, a single game accounts for more than half of this differential). Over their last 15 games they have allowed 3 runs per game for a +4 run differential and a .54 pythag (or almost exactly 8 wins). Over their last 10, they have allowed 3.2 runs per game for -4 run differential and a .434 pythag. 

So yes, it appears that Ruben Amaro's strategy of stockpiling the game's top arms has been working thus far. They have managed to stay play slightly above .500 ball during an offensive stretch that would have sunk many teams with just average pitching. This observation got me thinking about how the team's run differential and pythagorean win percentage over this stretch compares to their runs allowed, run differential, and pythag over the other stretches David included in the chart above. Your answer after the jump.

Year Games 10/15/20 avg. RA 10/15/20 RD 10/15/20 pythag. 10/15/20 pythag wins (actual)
2008 61-80 4.5/4.07/3.55 -16/-1/10 .293/.492/.566 2.93(2)/7.38(4)/11.32(8)
2008 108-127 3.9/3.26/3.6 -5/0/-3 .432/.500/.479 4.32(4)/7.5(7)/9.58(10)
2009 89-108 3.9/4.0/3.8 -10/3/20 .356/.524/.615 3.56(3)/7.86(7)/12.3(11)
2009 117-136 3.9/3.53/3.45 -17/-11/8 .241/.386/.555 2.41(4)/5.79(7)/11.1(11)
2010 33-52 4.50/4.06/4.00 -31/-35/-16 .088/.154/.390 .88(2)/2.31(4)/7.8(8)
2010 76-95 4.8/4.8/4.65 -19/-19/-18 .267/.351/.394 2.67(4)/5.27(7)/7.88(8)
2010 110-129 3.1/2.53/3.4 -8/9/6 .355/.604/.542 3.55(4)/9.06(8)/10.84(11)
2011 4-23 3.4/3.13/3.45 -6/-3/10 .394/.467/.567 3.9(6)/7(9)/11.34(12)
2011 23-42 3.2/3.0/3.1 -4/4/11 .434/.540/.590 4.34(4)/8.1(6)/11.8(11)

What do all these computer numbers tell us? Well, they tell us exactly what I said above. Over this recent stretch, the Phillies have struggled to score runs to a degree on par with other stretches in the previous three seasons. As expected, the difference is the pitching. This is not to say that the pitching was bad in years past, just that it has been exceptionally good this year--so exceptional that over their last ten games of runlessness, they have actually only surrendered 4 more runs than they have scored. Think of it this way: their 2.8 runs scored per game over their last 10 games ranks fifth best among the 9 10-game spans listed; their 3.2 runs allowed per game ranks second. Their 3.8 runs scored per game over the last 20 games is tied for fifth best among the 9 spans listed; their 3.1 runs allowed is the best of all the 20 game spans listed by a fairly wide margin. 

So the moral of the story is this: it hasn't been good, but it really hasn't been THAT bad. Winning baseball games is as much about preventing runs as it is about scoring them, and the Phillies are having no trouble keeping teams off the board. If this stretch seems bad to you, perhaps it is because scoring runs is generally more memorable than preventing your opponent from scoring runs. But when the Phillies let Werth walk and signed Lee in the offseason, it signaled the completion of the team's ongoing transition from an offense-first team to a pitching-first team. That means that the days of winning 9-7 games regularly are long gone.

Obviously, there is reason for optimism on the run scoring front as Utley, Brown, Victorino all make their comebacks in the next few weeks. Assuming the pitching remains healthy (Base Ba'al willing), they will continue to be really really good, and the Phillies will resume winning more games than they lose.