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The Phillies, Fauxsto, and Proctological Incrementalism at the Back End of the Rotation

Is the signing a half-assed, half-measure or a real improvement? Also known as, "Baseball Organizations are Freight Trains."

Raise your hand if you're sure!
Raise your hand if you're sure!
Jared Wickerham

Ok, so I was whelmed by the Roberto Hernandez signing, being neither over nor under on it.  In the thread on David Cohen's piece on this, there was a good dialectic about the roughly 250 innings at the back end of the Phillies rotation last year, which averaged out to (h/t phil-er-up for doing the math):

49 starts for 230 IP (4.6 per start) and a combined ERA of 6.38.  At barely more than 4.5 innings per start, that also has downstream effects on the bullpen.

If Fauxsto can produce his projections, even the one from Steamer with a FIP of 5.06, then the Phillies have produced an incremental benefit for the team for next to nothing.  If he can cut the ERA on 180 innings from 6.38 down to 5.00, that is twenty games times 1.38 runs per game, or 27.60 runs.  Three wins for less than six million dollars is an outrageously good deal.

"But, but, but..!!!" I can hear you go already. "But he is NOT a 3 WAR player, he's just better than the crap the Phillies ran out last year!"  You are correct!  He is not a 3 WAR player, but he still could plausibly reduce the number of runs given up by the team enough to effectively provide the Phillies with an outcome that is the same as swapping a replacement level player with a 3 WAR player.

We all know the name of the game, right? Score more runs than the other team.  The Phillies had a run differential of -139 last year.  Saving 30 runs won't fix them.  But they have roughly 40 men who will play for them this year coming up in some way, shape, or form.  Finding someone who can replace much of the dreck in the 5th starter role who can do 30 runs better (and maybe do more than that) would be a huge help.

The Phillies have to "win" roster transactions going 40 players deep to incrementally improve the team.  They can't find any 25 WAR players out there.  They won't be able to replace 3 negative WAR players with 3 players worth 5 WAR each. They need to replace a metric ton of crappy players with better ones, up and down the lineup.

In addition, getting a roster "win" for the 5th starter may put less pressure on the bullpen, allowing existing players to perform in roles for which they are better-suited.  The same goes for position players.  A healthy-er-ish Ryan Howard allows a John Mayberry to be a backup player.  The same goes for Kevin Frandsen (who played a fair number of innings at 1st last year).  With those guys as backups, the back end of the roster is improved, eliminating reserve innings from Casper Wells and John McDonald as well as removing the awful innings from Mayberry and Frandsen in roles for which they were not suited.

The Phillies' garden greweth over with weeds last year. The Map of Tasmania was a freaking jungle.  They need to prune out the dead wood.  The Hernandez signing  helps.

Making marginal moves matters over time.  Winning an increasing number of seemingly minor or inconsequential roster moves is a necessary part of having long-term success. Other than the 1980 Phillies, who were Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and some guys, most successful baseball teams need production up and down the lineup.

To get that production, roster moves stack on top of each other, slowly building an inexorable momentum. That momentum can be added forward and backward, too, hence the need to constantly apply the force in the direction you are seeking to take the team.

Is Roberto Hernandez the savoir of the 2014 Phillies? Of course not.  But compared to the average 5th starter in baseball (read this link and file it), he may be a hell of an upgrade for next to nothing.  And that upgrade may "silently" upgrade the bullpen by not degrading it needlessly through excessive use, and that is WAR we don't "count" in this transaction.

If the Phillies can add 3 or 4 players for maybe $6 million each that would save the team 30 runs compared to the available alternatives from a prior season and do this repeatedly (and it gets harder as the team gets better, since there is less low-hanging fruit), then they will turn things around pretty quickly.

If you can make those signings and/or improvements without sandbagging the team with long contracts and spending prospects to do it, all the better.

Bag on Ruben Amaro all you want for his faults, and they are legion. I just don't see the Roberto Hernandez signing as being a legitimate basis for complaining at this stage.

I view Roberto Hernandez, or at least the process of signing someone like him, as a reason to be hopeful about the Phillies for this year and the following.  This may be the second consecutive offseason where they did not mortgage their future financially or surrender valuable prospects for a longshot attempt at a quick fix.

I don't think we can draw any meaningful lessons from this signing, but it is not a bad one. To the contrary, I kind of like it, and the approach it may suggest.

It is hoping time, after all.  Let's hope a little, ok?