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2018 Phillies — the NL’s “25U Champs”

The Phillies led the NL in value generated by players 25 and under.

WAR from 30,000 feet

Each season, Fangraphs allocates 1,000 Wins Above Replacement across MLB. That’s for both position players and pitchers, and it’s always split as 57%, or 570 WAR to position players (to cover hitting and fielding), and 43% (430) to pitchers*.

Phillies players totaled 32.0 WAR in 2018. Replacement level for a team is set at 48 wins, so 32 WAR would predict a total of 80 total wins for the Phils, which as it happens is exactly how many games they won.

That total of 32.0 WAR ranked 19th in the majors, about what you would expect for a team that finished slightly below .500. However the Phillies’ WAR contributions were much more pitching-centered than the average split of 57-43, with only 39% coming from batters, and 61% from pitchers — the 4th highest percentage of WAR that any MLB team had coming from pitchers.

The 12.4 WAR that they got from position players ranked 23rd in MLB, but the 19.6 from pitchers was the 6th highest in the majors (and 2nd most in the NL), topped only by Astros, Yankees, Indians, Dodgers, and Red Sox.

WAR by Age

We can break down the 1,000 WAR by player age for both position players and pitchers, below. The player ages where batters accumulated the most WAR were 24 through 28, with peaks at ages 25 and 28.

Pitchers remained productive, as a group, to age 31, before starting to fall off.

(Note, this is looking at players as a group, and is for only one season, so it’s very dependent on which individual players are peaking right now, and we should not infer that it applies generally as an aging curve.)

When we combine the two sets of WAR numbers for batters and pitchers by age, we get the graph below for 2018, with the highest peak at 25 and another one at 28.

Phillies: Babes of Baseball

The Phillies were the youngest team in MLB overall this past season, based on their ages weighted by playing time, as baseball-reference calculates it.

The White Sox, who didn’t acquire veterans in the second half, had slightly younger batters by the end of the season, and both the Pirates and Cardinals had younger pitchers, making the Phillies’ staff the third youngest in MLB.

But when you combine position players and pitchers, no team in MLB had an average age that was younger than the Phillies**:

Being the youngest, in and of itself, only says so much about a team. While there are no guarantees, and there are many examples of young players not improving, or even getting worse, in general young players do improve. How many of them improve, and to what degree, will determine to a substantial degree (along with acquisitions) whether the Phillies hang around the ok-but-not-quite-good-enough zone of 80 to 85 wins, or make the strides needed to become a perennial playoff contender.

Still, all else being equal, you’d rather have a young team than an old one — both because there is more upside and greater chance of improvement, but also because younger players tend to be cheaper and allow more flexibility for acquiring additional talent.

NL’s 25U Champs

It stands to reason then that they would be among the leaders in the value they got from young players. For purposes of this discussion let’s use “young” to mean 25 and under. It’s an arbitrary, but often-used cutoff — it’s the final age at which minor leaguers and rookies are typically considered prospects, for example.

If they handed out trophies based on who got the most value from players 25 and under, the Phillies would have won the NL pennant and faced the Red Sox in the World Series.

Phillies players included:

Batting/Fielding (5.5):
Rhys Hoskins 2.9
Jorge Alfaro 2.1
Maikel Franco 1.2
Nick Williams 0.3
JP Crawford 0.3
Roman Quinn 0.2
All other batters -1.0
Pitchers -0.5

Pitching (13.5):
Aaron Nola 5.6
Nick Pivetta 2.8
Zach Eflin 2.2
Seranthony Dominguez 1.3
Victor Arano 0.8
Edubray Ramos 0.5
All other pitchers 0.3

BTW if we extend the “young” term by one year to players age 26 and under, the Phillies surpass Boston for most WAR generated by players of those ages in all MLB:

In doing so we add these 26-year olds (batters and pitchers):

Vince Velasquez 2.9
Odubel Herrera 0.9
Andrew Knapp 0.1

You want to say they got most of that value from young pitchers, and you don’t trust Fangraphs for pitcher WAR? I may disagree, but ok.

Or that they only led in 25U WAR because they played the youngest players? Fine, you can be a curmudgeon.

Or that if that was really the objective, surely the Phils would find a way to screw it up?

Well you can just take that attitude somewhere else.

* also allocates 1,000 WAR, though they split it slightly differently, 59% to batters, 41% to pitchers. The 1,000 number used by both FG and BB-Ref is arrived at like this:
a) the average team wins 81 games,
b) replacement level is set at 47.7 wins (.294 W%), leaving...
c) 33.3 Wins Above Replacement per team on average,
d) times 30 teams = 1,000 WAR

** Based on Fangraphs’ WAR split of 57% batters/43% pitchers, though the Phillies come out youngest no matter how one weights the two sides.