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Phillies pitchers are doing better than you think

Phils’ pitchers haven’t allowed much hard contact so far this year, which is a pretty good thing.

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

It may not seem like it, but Phillies pitchers may be doing better so far in 2018 than you think.

Jake Arrieta has only just joined the starting rotation, with starters Aaron Nola, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, and Ben Lively taking the ball to start the season. So far, in nine games, Phils starters have an ERA of 4.09, which ranks 16th among 30 MLB teams.

In other words, right smack dab in the middle.

Phillies relievers have an even worse ERA of 4.54, 22nd in baseball. Clearly the relief corps is missing the services of Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, the two big-money free agent relievers signed by Matt Klentak over the winter.

Overall, the team’s 4.29 ERA is 20th in baseball. But in the land of the small sample size, ERA is not the number to use to judge how good a team is pitching.

The entire pitching staff has an fWAR of 0.7 that is tied for 15th, which is, again, middle-of-the-pack. But the starters have an fWAR of 1.0 that is tied with the San Francisco Giants for 9th-best in baseball, and their 3.12 FIP and 3.59 xFIP are both much below that 4.09 ERA, indicating they’ve pitched a bit better than the numbers would indicate.

Pivetta, through two starts, has struck out 11.17 batters per nine (K/9) with a 2.79 ERA, a 1.48 FIP and a 2.65 xFIP. Velasquez has a 5.19 ERA but a 1.76 FIP and a 3.24 xFIP, and Lively has a 5.56 ERA, but a 3.38 FIP and a 3.74 xFIP.

Nola is the exception to the rule thus far, with an ERA of 2.61 but a FIP of 4.67 and an xFIP of 4.52.

Fielding Independent Pitching strips out everything that is beyond a pitcher’s control, everything but walks, strikeouts and home runs. Using that criteria, Phillies pitchers are doing well.

For those of you who don’t like sabermetrics, you’re probably not convinced by those numbers. And, honestly, after just two starts a piece, I don’t blame you. But here’s one more nugget to chew on.

Phillies pitchers are not letting opposing batters hit the ball hard.

According to Fangraphs, the Phils’ staff has allowed the lowest hard-hit percentage (Hard%) in baseball, at 22.7%. They’ve also induced the third-most soft contact (Soft%), at 24.9%. Only the Cubs and Mets pitching staffs have been better.

If you’ve been discouraged by the bullpen, perhaps these numbers will make you feel a little better. Phils’ relief pitchers have allowed a Soft% of 28.7% that is second highest in the league, behind only the Cubs, and they’ve allowed just a 22.8% Hard%, third-best in MLB, behind the Cubs and the Braves.

Yacksel Rios and Edubray Ramos have allowed an 11.1% hard-hit rate this year, with Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris allowing just 20.0% of batted balls to be hit hard. That’s pretty darn good. Aaron Nola leads all starters with a hard hit rate allowed of 20.7%, just one-tenth of a tick better than Pivetta, at 20.8%.

The Phillies could do a better job limiting their walk rate (9.2%, tied for 15th in MLB), and hitters are batting .247 against them, 11th-highest in baseball. But only three teams, the Rangers, Cardinals and Marlins, have allowed a higher BABIP than the Phillies this year (.309), indicating they’ve been pretty unlucky.

We’ve seen that with some of the defensive shifts that burned the Phils over the first nine games (although there have been instances of defensive shifting helping the staff, too). The bloop two-run single allowed by Arrieta on Sunday was just one of many times in which a Phillies pitcher made a good pitch and simply got unlucky.

Yes, the season is only two weeks old. These numbers could change dramatically in the following days and weeks. This is not meant to be predictive in any way. Rather, it’s to show that sometimes things can seem worse than they are, and that sometimes pitchers can only do so much.

And in the case of the Phillies, they’ve probably been a bit better than the results would have you believe.