The gnashing of teeth over the Phillies' offense and the laurels awarded to the pitching so far this year tell us something about how they are winning. Obviously, it's the pitching. What is not obvious from the surface is how much, from an historical perspective, the Phillies deviate from the standard model of a "good team." What they Phillies are doing this year, and how they are doing it, is nearly without precedent since divisional play began.
An analysis of the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) generated by the Phillies this year shows that it comes almost entirely from pitching -- the ratio of WAR from pitching to WAR from defense and hitting in particular is highly unusual. In addition, the amount of WAR generated by teams widely acknowledged as having the best modern pitching, such as the 1997 Braves (pick a year in the nineties for the Braves, actually), are not close to the WAR that the Phillies staff could generate this year.
Before clicking through, write down your guess as to a recent World Series winner that best-resembles the Phillies of 2011 so far -- go back to the beginning of divisional play.
I could not find a source to let me get WAR data by year for all teams over X winning percentage and then break the WAR down into hitting, defense, and pitching. Instead, I cherry picked teams that were "known" for great pitching. I looked for a variety of "greatest pitching" articles discussing teams with great pitching since divisional play began, as well as looking at some "classics" that predate divisional play. I ignored marginal teams since ratios of WAR can get very strange at lower levels. It's not a perfect data set -- far from it, and I am aware of the limitations or the data. It is quite likely that I missed some teams here, ok?
Also, we all "know" that a replacement level team wins about 48 games a year. The difference in wins that a team generates is based largely on the marginal skill of each player above (or below) replacement level. Luck accounts for some wins, but mostly you have to have players performing well to get wins, hence the development of WAR as an attempt to objectively measure the worth of a player's contribution to his team. Most of the readers here understand WAR better than Clausewitz or Sun Tzu, so I'll skip the rest of the details.
The Phillies, through June 8, 2011, have WAR (from Baseball-Reference.com) from the following sources and in the following amounts:
- Pitching: 15.6
- Hitting: 5.6
- Defense: -2.5 -- thank you, Valdez (-0.7) and Ibanez (-0.5)
- Non-pitching total: 3.1
- Pitching: 40.76
- Hitting: 14.63
- Defense: -6.53
- Non-pitching total: 8.10