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Let the Phillies Win: Why It's OK To Be A Fan

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The current Phillies simply do not allow us to reject the null hypothesis of fandom.

It's OK to do this
It's OK to do this
Rich Schultz

Whether or not they truly are, the Phillies seem to believe they are in the thick of a Wild Card push. Even if they don't actually believe such a ridiculous thing (they shouldn't), they certainly seem more committed to winning as many games as possible this season than they are to gathering as much information as possible on younger players on the roster.

It all started with Ruben Amaro's comments to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki back in the middle of August that they would not start preparing for 2015 until their chances of appearing in the 2014 postseason were exactly 0%. Last week, these pages, in an instance of pure internet reportage, discussed someone else's tweet that reported that Ben Revere believed his team, i.e. the Phillies, could make history and grab a Wild Card spot. In other words, the Phillies are a professional baseball team trying to win games. Shocking, I know.

Some sectors of Phillies internet flipped shit over these comments. Their basic argument is that the information gathered by playing younger players and the losses that come with that will benefit the franchise significantly more than wins will in the long term.

As a fan of a team, your null hypothesis is that your team should win as much as possible. The onus is on those advocating for losses to disprove that null state. This is certainly possible--there are cases where a fan might reasonably will that their team lose. However, in order to adopt that stance, it must be clear that losses will benefit the franchise far more than wins will. The Sixers of recent years provide an example of where the benefits of losses outweigh those of wins. The 2014 Phillies do not.

Here's why you cannot reject the null hypothesis of fandom and cheer for the Phillies to your heart's content in the final two weeks of the season.

Draft Pick Protection Probably Isn't Necessary

Perhaps the most cited downside to Phillies' wins is that they might fall out of draft pick protection. Indications are, however, that the Phillies have become wise enough to be trusted with an unprotected pick. [insert pullout joke here] Since signing Jonathan Papelbon to his OMG DON'T YOU REALIZE RELIEVERS AREN'T THAT VALUABLE? contract prior to 2012, Amaro and the Phillies have not signed any top-tier free agents and those they have signed have been short-term commitments. Certainly the player and vesting options in the contracts given to A.J. Burnett and Marlon Byrd created some difficulties around the trade deadline, but those deals, despite their faults, indicate an organizational awareness that retaining draft picks and building a minor league system are necessary for the future competitiveness of the team. [1]

Most of "The Future" Is In the Low Minors

Aside from Maikel Franco and bullpen guys like Giles, Diekman, and Gonzalez, the players who will likely make up the next competitive Phillies team are a year or more away from the majors.  You could MAYBE include Darin Ruf, Domonic Brown, and David Buchanan here, but the jury is still out on whether they have it in them to be league-average regulars.

About those guys in the lower levels of the system though: they seem to be pretty good. Even before this year's draft, in which they nabbed a likely top-50 prospect in Aaron Nola, ESPN's Keith Law ranked the Phillies farm system 14th out of 30 teams. By no means is 14th out of 30 cause to book a parade down Broad St. for October 2017, but it is a vast improvement after trades decimated the system. With the addition of Nola, the system will likely see a bump in rankings this offseason.

Kyle Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins aren't stealing playing time from Aaron Nola and J.P. Crawford. Cheap, young help is (slowly) on its way for the Phillies. If they can continue putting together solid drafts even without picking at the very top, they can pseudo-contend to their heart's content without compromising the future.

Payroll Inflexibility

Because of past mistakes, the Phillies are stuck with their current core for the immediate future. Howard is vastly overpaid; Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, and Jonathan Papelbon have nasty options on their contacts that seem to produce this reaction from potential trade partners


Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have 10 & 5 rights that allow them to reject any potential trade; Cliff Lee's age and recent injuries make him too much of a risk at $25 million; Cole Hamels is some combination of too young, too good, too good looking, and too expensive for the Phillies to trade him for a return that makes any sense.

That was depressing, but the fact is that the status quo of mediocrity, or sub-mediocrity, is an inescapable fate for the Phillies through at least 2015. They don't have the luxury of being an offseason away from an organizational tabula rasa. Losses don't make contracts disappear. Luckily, time does and those expirations mostly coincide with the ETAs of some of the team's top prospects.

One Superstar Does Not a Franchise Make

Around these parts, i.e., Philadelphia, losing quasi-intentionally has been discussed at considerable length. For the Sixers, the primary benefit derived from losing is the opportunity to select at or near the top of the NBA draft. Since having a superstar is essentially required to contend for a title, a top draft pick is tempting fruit. A Cavaliers team of LeBron James, Daniel Gibson, Sasha Pavlovic, Drew Gooden, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas made the NBA finals in 2007 entirely because they had LeBron James, one of the best players in the league.

Tanking doesn't offer the same reward in baseball, where the stars and scrubs approach doesn't work quite as well. Mike Trout failed to make the playoffs in 2012 and 2013 while being the best player in baseball. Unlike the NBA, one superstar cannot drag a roster of flotsam to a winning record in baseball. Therefore, a top draft pick is not as valuable in baseball as it is in basketball, altering the cost-benefit analysis of "tanking". It is critical to develop many above-average players, Cardinals-style, a goal that can be achieved without bottoming out.

So, let the Phillies have their fun, and, you, as a fan, should join right on in with them. The Phillies are set up such that losses will not significantly advance their future chances. Is the difference between the 9th and 11th pick worth not enjoying Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Cole Hamels continue their excellent season, Dom Brown enjoy a late-season minor-renaissance, and the emergence of younger players like Ken Giles, Maikel Franco, and MAG? No way! With two weeks left in the season, feel free to practice guilt-free fandom. Now, go! Get your cheer on!

[1] There's even a less charitable view that proves the same point: Even if the Phillies lack an understanding of their current situation, the contracts on the books represent such a large financial commitment that they are unlikely to dole out the money necessary to add a player worthy of draft pick compensation. In other words, the Phillies have been saved by their past stupidity.