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The Phillies and games they “should” win

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Do you get the feeling this team loses an inordinate amount of games that other, normal teams win? Let’s see if we’re right

Boston Red Sox v Philadelphia Phillies

On the heels of Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to the Red Sox, approximately the 75th game in which it felt like the Phillies Should Have Won, But Lost Instead, I began to wonder: Just how often is this team losing games they should win? And how do they rate against the rest of the league?

While this is by no means a scientific study that defines a rigid criteria set for what a “Should Have” win entails, there is at least enough data out there for us to see what kinds of games teams are winning, and develop some benchmarks from that. Think “at least x runs scored,” “no more than x runs allowed,” “record when leading after x inning,” and so on. We’ll try and stack some validity onto our feelings of malfeasance. After all, the only thing we love more than feeling woe is a justified sense of feeling woe.

An article-wide bill of thanks is due to Baseball-Reference, whose Play Index tool remains the most indispensable application in baseball. All stats are for games through 9/14.

Record When Allowing No More Than X Runs

Starting off with the category most closely related to Saturday night, when the Phils allowed just two runs and lost, how are the boys in red faring when they manage to hold their opponents to a beatable score?

X Runs Allowed

Runs Allowed PHI Record W% Rest of MLB W% Rest of NL W%
Runs Allowed PHI Record W% Rest of MLB W% Rest of NL W%
1 or Fewer 21-0 1.000 605-29 0.954 305-18 0.944
2 or Fewer 36-4 0.900 1,012-139 0.879 512-75 0.872
3 or Fewer 46-11 0.807 1,388-314 0.816 690-172 0.801
4 or Fewer 57-19 0.750 1,678-577 0.744 824-299 0.734

Because these numbers are inclusive, it brings a little extra importance to the trends and split-over-split differences, on top of the raw performance, since each step is influenced by the one before it.

So we can see how sharply the Phillies come back to the pack in the jump from 2 runs allowed to 3, and those allowed run totals, when made exclusive, certainly tell a different story:

  • 10-7 (.588) when allowing exactly 3 runs, vs. 376-175 (.682) for Rest of MLB and 178-97 (.647) for Rest of NL

As the league shows a comfortable advantage for teams that only allow that many runs, we can classify those games as Should Wins. And, to make sure this is just 3 Runs Allowed’s problem...

  • 11-8 (.579) when allowing exactly 4 runs, vs. 290-263 (.524) for Rest of MLB and 134-127 (.513) for Rest of NL

So, it seems the Phillies have a weird problem winning games when they allow 3 runs. Not 2, or even 4; just 3. Sure!

Record When Scoring at Least X Runs

X Runs Scored

Runs Scored PHI Record W% Rest of MLB W% Rest of NL W%
Runs Scored PHI Record W% Rest of MLB W% Rest of NL W%
0 or 1 0-23 0.000 29-603 0.046 17-301 0.054
2 or More 76-48 0.613 2,125-1,556 0.577 1,037-725 0.589
3 or More 72-34 0.679 2,015-1,148 0.637 979-533 0.648
4 or More 67-21 0.761 1,838-775 0.703 873-363 0.706
5 or More 57-15 0.792 1,577-480 0.767 740-236 0.758

The Phillies again grade out above average here in terms of percentages. In some specialized cases, though, they’ve buried the lede.

  • Five of those 15 losses with 5+ runs scored came when the team scored 8 or more, including the 19-11 Miami debacle, one to Atlanta, and two to Washington
  • Overall, 11 of the 15 losses with 5+ runs scored came against NL East opponents
  • The Phillies held a lead at some point in 10 of the 15 losses

That final bullet nicely leads us into the next category, which is...

Record When Leading After X Innings

If the Phillies hadn’t had their entire bullpen get Leftovered this season, maybe things would be a little different in this department. But, such as it is, the Phillies have lost 6 games they’ve led at the start of the 8th (66-6 overall) and 5 games they’ve led at the start of the 9th (67-5 overall, inclusive of 8th-inning totals).

Compare that with their divisional and Wild Card competition.

So, the problem is twofold. The Phillies are doing a worse job protecting late leads than most of their competition, but they’re also holding fewer of these late leads to begin with. A bad combination.

Record When SPs Go X Innings and Give Up X Runs

As we see above, the ramshackle bullpen has had its share of hiccups. The starting rotation, much maligned for its inconsistency this season, has actually had a respectable amount of quality (and quality-adjacent) starts.

  • 43 starts of 6+ IP and 2- runs (t-13th in MLB)
  • 27 starts of 7+ IP and 3- runs (8th in MLB)

The Phillies are 33-10 when their SP goes 6-plus while allowing 2 or fewer runs, which is about average. Their 5 losses in the starts in that second bucket are also moderate, and the Nats, Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, and Diamondbacks have all lost more such starts. While arbitrary, this is the first bit of criteria that doesn’t really yield anything conclusive.

Record Against Teams Under .500

If you fancy yourself a contender, you probably want to take care of business when facing teams who aren’t in the race. The Phils, though, are only 31-28 (.525) against clubs with sub-.500 records.

The other side of that coin is that those 59 games played against weaker competition are 5th-fewest in the Majors. It would’ve been nice to get a couple more handouts, but it isn’t as if the team has shown a tendency to lord itself over those kinds of teams in the end, anyway.

Conclusion?

If you don’t look too hard, it sure seems like all of the above simply feeds into the overarching feeling that this team is good-not-great, and still a couple cogs away from being a fully-functioning machine, let alone a well-oiled one. They’ve blown some chances, if not a significant amount more than the average team, but they’re also not doing many things remarkably better than their Wild Card competition, either.

One of their biggest issues remains a distinct lack of a winning streak, a surge, possessing instead a patchwork schedule that’s had them over .500 all season but still without even a 5-game win streak. They can change the narrative with a flip of the script in these final two weeks, or else resign another chapter of their story to end with an October at home.