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The Phillies have the best pitching staff in baseball. Do you believe that?

For those concerned about 2024, the Phillies return the best pitching staff in baseball, according to Fangraphs.

MLB: NLCS-Arizona Diamondbacks at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I can already tell this article is probably going to drive some of you nuts.

Wins Above Replacement is useful tool that helps tell a story about a player or group of players on a team. Oftentimes it’s an excellent way to assess a player’s worth, but few people know how WAR is calculated and each website that uses it comes to their number differently.

Some people really hate it for some of the reasons I mentioned above. However, we also know that solely using numbers like batting average, ERA or even OPS don’t tell the whole story. So when I say that the Phillies have the best pitching staff in baseball, and I use Fangraphs’ version of WAR to cite that claim, I’m sure everyone is going to take it in stride, right?

Based on last year’s numbers, Phillies’ starters accounted for 17.7 fWAR, substantially better than the Minnesota Twins’ 16.5. The Rays (15.5), Padres (14.5) and Mariners (14.4) were next closest. The bullpen finished with the 3rd-best fWAR, 6.8, trailing only the Dodgers (7.6) and the Orioles (7.6).

Not surprisingly, Zack Wheeler led the Phillies with 5.9 fWAR, a number that was also the best of any pitcher in the Majors. Spencer Strider (5.5), Kevin Gausman (5.3), Sonny Gray (5.3), Gerrit Cole (5.2) and Zac Gallen (5.2) were the only other pitchers over five. Aaron Nola finished 15th (3.9), with Taijuan Walker (2.5), Ranger Suarez (2.4) and Cristopher Sanchez (1.8) rounding out the rotation.

Nola’s fWAR was substantially higher than his 2.1 WAR calculated by Baseball Reference, simply because Fangraphs uses Fielding Independent Pitching to calculate the WAR totals, while B-Ref uses ERA. Nola’s 4.46 ERA was higher than his 3.77 FIP, which strips out all batted ball luck and relies solely on strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. To that end, while Nola was undoubtedly the victim of the longball in 2023 (a career-high 1.49 HR/9 allowed), his strikeouts and walks were both decent, if not spectacular. It was also Nola’s lowest fWAR in a non-shortened season since 2019.

The Braves’ rotation ranked 9th.

In terms of relievers, without looking, guess who the Phils’ top bullpen arm was in 2023?

I’ll wait here while you guess.

Yup, Jeff Hoffman, with a 1.5 fWAR that led the team. There’s a reason he became the most trusted reliever in the playoffs last season. Jose Alvarado finished second with 1.3 in 12 fewer appearances than Hoffman. Craig Kimbrel, who led the team with 71 games pitched, was 3rd (1.1), with Gregory Soto (0.9) and Matt Strahm (0.9) rounding out the top five. Strahm also added an additional 1.1 fWAR to his ledger thanks to his early season performance in the rotation. The biggest disappointment was Seranthony Dominguez, who appeared in 57 games and finished with an fWAR of just 0.1 thanks to a 3.78 ERA and 4.84 FIP. One would imagine he bounces back a bit in 2024.

What does that mean for this off-season? First, the entire starting rotation is returning for 2024 and, if Wheeler gets the contract extension we all believe he will, this is likely the rotation for the next 2-3 years after. Walker is signed through 2026, Suarez is under team control through ‘25 and Sanchez through ‘28. Now, it’s unreasonable to assume the rotation will stay intact that long, but you can see why the Phils aren’t at the front of the line in $300 million contract talks for Yoshinobu Yamamoto or trading away the few high-caliber prospects they have for Tyler Glasnow or Corbin Burnes.

But the Phillies do need to replace the production Kimbrel brought them last season. Yes, Hoffman should take an increased role, as will Orion Kerkering. Maybe Conor Brogdon or Andrew Bellatti re-emerges from the catacombs. Adding a Hector Neris, Jordan Hicks or even Robert Stephenson (who would require a multi-year deal) would be wise.

No, Josh Hader would not.

Maybe you don’t believe in fWAR and, if you didn’t, I’d understand. It is but one metric to attempt to quantify how good players are. It is imperfect and, if we’re being honest, I think it’d be hard to argue the Phillies had the best pitching staff in baseball last season.

That said, it was really, really good, and most of it is returning in 2024.