The season is only three weeks old, but it’s been a roller coaster already. There was the euphoria of the quick start, pounding the Braves with an impressive offense, followed by some jarring, even humiliating losses, and now a rare series win against the Mets.
The offense has been very good but sporadic, the starting pitching has taken a couple of major hits in Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta, and the bullpen has had its ups and downs. The team’s $330 million investment started about as impressively as one could, but has really scuffled over the last two weeks.
Still, after all that, the Phillies arrive in Denver with the best record in the NL. At 11-6, they are in a virtual tie with Milwaukee (12-7), but the Phils have the better winning percentage.
The Rockies meanwhile have had a weird and frustrating start: they won their first two in Miami, then proceeded to lose 12 out of 13 (where the one win was by 1-0 in 11 innings), before sweeping the Padres this week.
Before we dig in...
Small Sample Warning: It’s only been 17 games, and any such tiny sample is always going to have weird stuff going on. The way I would look at anything that’s based on only 17 (or 20 or 30) games is that:
1) this is what has happened so far
2) we can’t draw any conclusions about what this means for the rest of the season
The Phils’ offense has been inconsistent but generally pretty good, ranking 3rd in runs per game, and 5th in overall hitting (wRC+).
The pitching has been all over the map, with some good games from Arrieta, Eflin, and Velasquez and an up-and-down bullpen. All in all, it’s been average-ish.
BsR = Fangraphs’ Baserunning Runs metric
If the Phillies had scored just two more runs in their 17 games (104 instead of 102), they’d be the highest scoring team in the NL at 6.12 per game.
By the way, they are in the odd numerical place where both their runs scored and runs allowed are exact multiples of their games played, so they’ve scored exactly 6.00 runs per game, while giving up exactly 5.00 per.
Miami is already 8 games out of first place, and while they’ll get more than the 34-win total that is their current pace, it may not be all that much more.
Two disconnects in record vs. run differential to note:
The Padres have been outscored by 80 to 68 so far, but are still 11-8 and only a half game behind the Dodgers.
The Cubs on the other hand have a slightly better run differential than the Phillies so far, but are a game under .500.
Runs vs. Average
The graph below shows Runs above average for each team in the NL, by each aspect of the game, as measured at Fangraphs.
For the Phillies so far:
Offense: +16 runs (i.e. better than average)
- Above average hitting: +14 runs
- Above average baserunning: +2 runs
Run prevention: -3 runs (i.e. below average)
- Well below average starting pitching: -11 runs
- Above average bullpen: +5 runs
- Above average fielding: +3 runs
The net total is that as a team they’ve been 13 runs better than average:
Compared to last year, and to the Rockies
The Phils are solidly above average in most key hitting stats, and as shown by all the green below, much better than last year’s team, and also much better than Colorado so far.
The Rockies could use some home cookin’. They’ve played 13 of their first 18 games on the road, where they’re hitting only .199/.244/.317 (.560 OPS). They’ve hit better at home, as we’d expect: .242 average, .746 OPS.
*ISO, short for Isolated power, is the difference between batting average and slugging percentage, and essentially measures the average extra bases per at bat (1 for a double, 2 for a triple, 3 for a HR).
As shown below the Phillies have been quite patient at the plate, with the NL’s 2nd highest walk rate (12.6%), and 4th most pitches per plate appearance. They have also improved their strikeout rate from 2nd highest last year, to 2nd lowest so far in 2019.
However, similar to last year, they have not hit the ball especially hard when they do swing: 11th in line drive rate, and last in Hard-hit rate.
The Phils are the only team in the NL that doesn’t have a sacrifice bunt yet (or even an attempt).
Progress over time
The graphs below show how some key stats have progressed. On the left is the weekly performance (with a dotted line showing the NL average for each one), and on the right is the cumulative season-to-date number. Batting Average and BB% together drive a team’s On Base Percentage, and Batting Average and ISO combine to form Slugging Percentage.
Batting — Individual
Below are the Phillies hitters ranked by OPS, along with how they compare to the MLB average OPS at their position. To the right are their OPS over the last 30, 14, and 7 days.
Scott Kingery is red hot, while recent slumps have dropped Rhys Hoskins, Maikel Franco, and Bryce Harper below the 1.000 OPS mark. Harper in particular has struggled for two weeks now, with only a .616 OPS over that time.
Fortunately over the last week, at least, McCutchen, Segura (before his injury), Realmuto, and Hernandez have all gotten hot (in addition to Kingery).
The Runs Created stat, which has gone through various iterations, starting with Bill James in the 1980s, takes all of a hitter’s stats and estimates how many runs they should translate to. Fangraphs calculates a version of that called weighted Runs Created (wRC) which is a counting stat version of wOBA.
The table below shows wRC for each Phillie, by week. Runs vs. Average then compares that to the average MLB hitter, given the same number of plate appearances. And finally OPS by week:
On Tuesday night Bryce Harper walked for the 600th time in his career to become just the 10th player in MLB history with 600+ by his age 26 season. Based on his early-season pace, and assuming some days off, he would finish the season around 730, for 3rd most ever for a player at that age:
(He would also easily pass Trout’s 998 Ks for the all-time lead in that category.)
As Tom McCarthy looked up while on the air on Tuesday, the most RBIs ever out of the 8th spot is 87 by Babe Dahlgren of the 1939 Yankees. Maikel Franco now has 18 through the first 17 games, so off to a very good start, but one wonders how long he’ll stay at the bottom of the order if he continues hitting like he has been.
Fun with tiny samples
If the rest of the season were to exactly mirror the first 17 games (including playing time), these would be some of the Phillies hitters’ final stats:
McCutchen: 48 doubles, 29 HR, 152 runs scored, 200 Ks
Segura: 210 hits, 48 doubles, 95 RBI, 124 runs
Harper: 38 doubles, 38 HR, 95 RBI, 152 walks, 210 Ks
Hoskins: 38 doubles, 48 HR, 152 RBI, 133 walks, 124 runs
Realmuto: 19 HR, 124 RBI, 114 runs
Herrera: 38 doubles, 10 HR, 67 RBI
Hernandez: 19 HR, 19 steals
Franco: 57 HR, 172 RBI, 105 walks (67 intentional)
The bullpen looks better than might be expected here, with the second lowest FIP in the NL.
Pitching - Individual
Arrieta Goes Long
There have been only two complete games this season, by German Marquez and Mike Minor, and Jake Arrieta yesterday pitched into the 9th inning in a bid for a third.
He fell short of that, but even reaching the 9th is becoming increasingly rare for a starter. In fact no Phillie had done it in either 2018 or 2017. We have to go back to September 17, 2016, when Jeremy Hellickson pitched a complete game shutout. There were three other starts that lasted into the 9th that season: Vince Velasquez’s shutout in April, and two by Zach Eflin in July (a shutout and a 1-run complete game).
The only Phillies starter to reach the 9th in 2015? Cole Hamels in his no-hitter.
In the first hart below is a high-level break down of each starter’s games:
QS is the typical definition (6+ IP, 3 or less ER)
“bad” is any start with more ER than innings pitched, and
“other” is all the rest.
The second chart has a similar breakdown, but by Game Score.
And below are each pitcher’s games, with the Game Score for each one on the right (highlighted green if in the 60-79 range, dark green if 80+).
Phillies hitters (fangraphs)
Team hitting stats (fangraphs)
Team pitching stats (fangraphs)
Team stats (baseball-reference)