The 2014 Phillies were a tire fire inside an ebola dumpster buried in a landfill under Benghazi. We all know this is true. You know it, I know it, McNulty knows it.
But for all their failings, the team did finish among the leaders in the National League in a few key, and very specific areas, which I think are worth mentioning.
Cole Hamels Starts: 1st, with 30
This Spring, after it was announced that Hamels was behind schedule on preparing for baseball, there was an enormous collective freakout. While the team and sources known to be tuned-in to internal goings-on never went beyond stating that he'd be "unlikely to pitch in April," some of us here in the Blogosphere (that's a terrible word I will never use again I apologize) lost our shit.
Some of the hottest takes:
"Day closest to with Hamels throws an MLB pitch again: May 1, 2014 or June 30 2015."
"Yeah Hamels is just ‘tired’ and there is no significant health reason why he didn’t throw off a mound the entire offseason as Amaro strongly insisted 2 weeks ago. Another ‘red mark’ for the Phils’ trainers/medical staff which has a number of them the past 2+ years."
"This is the part where they brush-off the health of their multi-million dollar investment as "no big deal". It’s a bit more exciting than the third act, where said investment ends up missing one season at a minimum."
Well, those people were wrong. Very wrong. Hugely wrong. In fact, it would have been difficult for them to have been more wrong. Hamels finished the year with arguably the best numbers in his career, and all with the Phillies. He wasn't injured, he wasn't traded, but he was awesome. Making his first start on April 23rd, with six innings of five strikeout, one walk, two run pitching, he never looked back, finishing the year with a 2.46 ERA in 204.2 innings of work, overwhelmingly the best starter on the team.
The second part of this league-leading stat is that Cole wasn't traded. Of course, he might end up on the block this winter, and he was certainly in play this year, but Amaro obviously didn't see an offer worth his time. While there are certainly arguments to be made in favor of trading Cole, the season he put up, combined with his age and contract mean, to me, that he should be kept unless there's an absolute steal of a deal on the table. So, with any luck, either Kris Bryant and Javier Baez and Jorge Soler will be among the starting eight next year, or the 2015 Phillies will again lead the league in Cole Hamels' starts.
Stolen Base Percent: 2nd, with 80.7%
This is a part of the Phillies' game that is, in my opinion, under reported. A big part of this year's success, of course, is Ben Revere, whose 49-8 SB-CS ratio was good for 4th in the league among players with more than a tenth of an SB attempt per game. Flying a little under the radar in this category, however, is Chase Utley, whose 10-1 rate this year puts him in back in first place all-time in career stolen base percentage, among players with more than 80 attempts.
Something worth noting about that leaderboard is that the top seven names are active players.
Jimmy Rollins' 28-6 SB-CS rate is also a key part of the team success, but, being a team sport, many players played a part. Domonic Brown was 7-1 in an otherwise forgettable season, and Tony Gwynn Jr went 3-0. Of course, Jayson Nix was on the team as well, with his 0-2 record, so poyp yn hym.
The Phillies are no strangers to stolen base efficiency. In fact, this might be the one area where they are the most progressive franchise in baseball. Since 1990, the Phillies have had 45 player-seasons of 10 attempts or more with an 80% success rate. No other franchise in baseball has more than 36 over that span, with the Mets, Yankees and Royals in a three-way tie for second. Now obviously, that statistic is incredibly meaningful, but it does point to an organizational philosophy that says, "run as often as you can, but only when you're all but certain of making it." I'm all for that, and I hope it continues.
Grounding into Double Plays: 2nd fewest, with 94
I'm not sure what this one means, exactly. The only team with fewer GIDPs was the Cincinnati Reds, at 88, with powerhouse teams like the Cardinals (2nd, with 140) or Pirates (4th, with 127) ranked much higher, so it's not like this is especially predictive. On the other hand, it is more than a third fewer than the leader, and a difference that great is unlikely to be statistical noise.
Still, I have no real idea what it means. except possibly that the Phillies, and no one else, also led the league in middle infield WAR behind Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.
Also of interest is that more than a third of the GIDPs came from just three players: Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, and Ben Revere.
Balks: Tied for 1st, with one
This one is most likely statistical noise, as the league leading Colorado Rockies only had eight balks. There might be some attributable value to the quality of the Phils' pitching staff overall, but this is, sadly, not an especially meaningful quantity.
Still it's a kinda neat statistic.
Runners Left on Base (by pitching): 2nd, with 1169
Now this one means something. Actually, it means two things. Our pitching let a lot of guys reach base, nearly 2,000. That's not so good. They kept most of those guys from scoring, though, which is rather impressive if you think about it. Actually, it's only impressive if you don't think about it. They kept 63% of runners from scoring, which is almost exactly the league average.
Which, given the poor quality of some of our pitching options this year, maybe tells you more about the defense than the staff.
Years of control of Ken Giles' pitching arm: 1st, with 5
Ken Giles is the best. Seriously. The 23 year old with the 101 mile per hour arm made his Major League debut the day before my birthday, and gave up a homerun to Yasmani Grandal before striking out Alexi Amarista to end the game against San Diego.
It was the last home run Giles would allow the rest of the season, but not the last strikeout. He finished his rookie campaign* with 64 strikeouts in 45 and two thirds innings, against only 25 hits, 11 walks and six earned runs. He earned 13 holds and, during Papelbon's Crotchspension, he recorded his first of hopefully many saves.
Ken Giles throws a blistering fastball and an absolutely wicked slider. And he's 23. And he's under Phillies' control for five more seasons. Say what you will about the inequalities in player compensation, but between him and Jake Diekman, the back end of the bullpen should be cheap and outstanding for quite a while to come.
Oh, and here's the thing. Giles finished second to Aroldis Champan and Drew Storen in FIP (1.34) and ERA (1.18) respectively, among relievers with 40 or more appearances. He finished ahead of Craig Kimbrel in both categories, as well as everyone else.
*Technically, he hasn't yet finished his rookie campaign, as he is still eligible for rookie status, but whatever.
Games Played: 1st, with 162
Granted, this is a 15-way tie, but the Phillies managed to start and finish all 162 of their originally scheduled contests this year, without being relegated to AA. Joking aside, they gave us nearly 500 hours of my favorite sport to watch this year, and in most cases, the enjoyment therefrom was more or less sufficient to outweigh the damage to my liver necessary to endure. So we'll call that a win.
Thanks Phillies. Please be better next year.