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Phillies Opening Day Lineup Turnover

The Phillies opening day lineup is here, and there are 5 new faces compared to last year's opening day lineup. How does that compare to years past?

Mackinnon looking over the
Mackinnon looking over the
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The 2016 Phillies take the field at 4:10pm today to face off against the Cincinnati Reds.  Today's opening day lineup for your Phils:


For those who aren't following this team very closely, there are some new names on that list.  In fact, even if you follow this team pretty closely, you may not know much about Cedric Hunter, the team's opening day left fielder.  After all, he has only 5 major league plate appearances in his career and is on his fifth major league team.  John has the entire roster covered in his excellent piece from a couple of days ago, where you can read more about Hunter and the others.

What I'm more interested today is opening day lineup turnover.  This 2016 opening day lineup has some mainstays over the past decade in it: Carlos Ruiz has been the opening day catcher 8 of the last 9 years for the Phillies (he was injured in 2013 so Erik Kratz started), and Ryan Howard has started 10 of the last 11 years at first base (injured in 2012 so Ty Wigginton started).

Two newer guys from last year are repeating their opening day starts.  Freddy Galvis took over from Jimmy Rollins (who had made 14 opening day starts in a row until 2014!) last year and is starting short stop again this year.  Odubel Herrera was the Rule 5 sensation who the opening day center fielder last year and is the starting center fielder again this year.

Other than that, though, the other 5 guys are all new opening day starters for 2016. Here's the comparison from last year to this year:


A turnover of 5 opening day starters from one year to another seems to be a lot in my mind. In fact, one of my worries going into 2016 is that the team is going to have trouble grabbing the hearts of the fanbase as it bounces among its various prospects to find the team of the future.

But, looking through Phillies opening day lineups since 1913 tells a different story.  In fact, it tells the story that opening day lineup turnover is very common (with one caveat I'll address at the end).  It stands to reason, then, that fans are used to this kind of lineup turnover.

To compare to this year, in the 103 year-to-year transitions from 1913 to 2016, there have been 58 that have seen 5 or more new opening day starters.  Put another way, in the majority of Phillies seasons since 1913, more than half of the team's opening day lineup has turned over.  Now, I don't have comparisons with other franchises to answer whether this is a product of the Phillies organization specifically or whether it's a product of major league baseball more generally, but as Phillies fans, the turnover we see this year is a normal part of the game for us.

In fact, the Phillies' opening day lineups have had 5 new starters each of the last 2 years (2014 and 2015).  And the year before that was one of the most drastic opening day changes in team history, as 8 of the team's 9 starters on opening day were different than the year before:


This 8 spot shakeup hadn't happened since 1961, but from 1922 to 1961, it happened 8 times.  So much for the common lament of the nostalgia crowd for the pre-free agency era when rosters were more stable...

But back to this analysis.  The Phillies biggest shakeup year was 1949.  In that year, they changed every single one of their opening day starters from 1948 - all 9 of them.


As with the 8-player turnover in 2013, you'll notice there's one player who was in both lineups who just switched positions - John Mayberry Jr. in 2012 to 2013 moved from left to right field, and Richie Ashburn moved from left to center in 1949 (where he then played 6 opening days in a row). [CORRECTION - Del Ennis was also in both lineups, but different positions.]  But 1949 stands alone, with all 9 positions new from the previous year's opening day.

How about the opposite end of the spectrum?  Just twice in Phillies history they've had the same opening day lineup from year to year - 1950 to 1951 and 2003 to 2004.  Here are the lineups:


Finally, although opening day lineup turnover is very common, one important lesson is clear when you look at lineup turnover over the course of five year periods.  See if you can find the connection:

  • 2007 to 2012 - 13 slots of turnover
  • 1977 to 1982 - 9 slots of turnover
  • 1950 to 1955 - 10 slots of turnover

It doesn't take a brilliant statistician to see that, throughout Phillies history, the lowest turnover has been connected with the best teams.

Which brings us back to this year's opening day roster.  I am pretty certain that in the next year or two we'll see turnover very similar to this year's.  But the hope has to be that in the near future, we can get back to the levels of the early 1950s, late 1970s/early 1980s, and late 2000s/early 2010s as we see the team's fortunes rise.