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Fun with small-sample size April Phillies stats

The first month of the season often leads to some strange numbers that haven’t yet been normalized.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

April is a unique month on the baseball calendar. So many weird things happen and it can mostly be attributed to one thing.

“Small sample size.”

That phrase is used constantly during the first month of the season, mostly because one month’s worth of statistics, the randomness of baseball, and the limited number of plate appearances makes for some pretty fascinating, if ultimately unreliable, data.

So with April nearly in our rear-view mirror, here are five statistics that are either surprising, confusing or simply just flat-out weird.

Jeremy Hellickson’s Wide WAR Totals:

Actually, Hellickson has a bunch of odd numbers through his first five starts of the season. His strikeout rate of 9.6% and strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) of 3.30 are the lowest on the team, and it isn’t even close. Yet he leads all starters with a 1.80 ERA.

That low ERA gives him an outstanding Baseball Reference-calculated WAR (bWAR) of 1.4, which is almost halfway to what he accumulated in 2016 (2.9).

BBRef uses ERA as part of their WAR calculations. However, Fangraphs uses fielding independent pitching (FIP) instead of ERA. FIP strips out balls that are put in the field of play and takes into account only the things a pitcher can “control,” which are strikeouts, walks and home runs. Hellickson’s FIP of 3.61 is much higher than his 1.80 ERA, thus his fWAR is 0.6.

Of course, his true WAR is probably somewhere in the middle. Baseball Prospectus’ WARP stat uses Deserved Run Average, which factors in the balls put in play that FIP ignores, but does it in a more sophisticated way than ERA. Using WARP, they have Hellickson somewhere in between his fWAR and bWAR, at 0.8.

Confused? Don’t worry, this will all likely right itself over the next couple of months and you won’t have to think anything more about it.

Vince Velasquez Is Not the Whiff King of the Rotation:

Vince Velasquez has the best pure swing-and-miss stuff in the Phillies rotation. His 16-strikeout complete game shutout last year proved that. This year, he’s struck out 23.2% of all batters faced, which is down a bit from last year’s 27.6%, but still pretty darn good.

And we want Velasquez to be more efficient and not focus so much on the strikeout. So this isn’t as much about him as it is about the starter who is actually whiffing batters at a slightly higher rate than Velasquez so far in 2017.

Jerad Eickhoff leads all Phils starters with a strikeout rate of 25.3%. That’s quite a bit higher than his 20.6% total from last year. For now he is the rotation Whiff King.

That sounds less cool than I wanted it to.

Cesar Hernandez’ Isolated Power:

Yeah, we all saw Cesar Hernandez being the team co-leader in home runs with a couple games left to go in April, right?

It’s been a crazy-hot month for the Phils’ second baseman as he tries to fend off three young prospects in the minors below him. All he’s done is put up an isolated power (ISO) of .214 that is 5th on the team, trailing Andres Blanco, Daniel Nava, Aaron Altherr and Freddy Galvis. It’s also significantly higher than his .099 ISO last year and his career mark of .089.

But it is higher than his co-leader in dingers, Maikel Franco, who has a decent ISO of .182, good for 7th on the team. Franco appears to be catching up, however, as more of his hard-hit balls are starting to fall in and clear the fence.

Outfield Contributions:

The outfield was a tire fire last year. Everyone knows this. Outside of Odubel Herrera, every outfielder the Phillies employed was a below replacement-level player. That’s how the Phils ended up with the second-worst fWAR among outfielders in baseball last season (0.6).

But things are much different now. The additions of Howie Kendrick (0.4) and Daniel Nava (0.5), the continued good play of Herrera (0.4), and the emergence of Altherr (0.6) have helped give the Phillies the fourth-best fWAR among MLB outfielders (2.0) so far this season.

Even Michael Saunders (0.2) has kept himself above replacement level, which is more than we could say for the gang that roamed the outfield grass last year.

The Phillies Are Clutch!

So far in 2017, the Phillies have been the clutchiest bunch of clutches that ever clutched. Their Wins Probability Added (WPA) of 0.79 this year is fifth-best in baseball, behind the Nationals, Diamondbacks, Tigers and Astros.

This is due to the many late comebacks the Phils have staged this season.

Every time a hitter does something to increase their team’s odds of winning, that percentage increase is credited to a certain player. And the more high leverage the situation and the bigger the hit, the bigger the WPA.

Sure, it’s always nice when the team scored 12 runs in the first inning, but a dramatic come-from-behind victory can also put some wind in the sails, as the Phillies have done numerous times this year already.