The 2019 Philadelphia Phillies were special. Or so we all thought as of Apr. 17, 2019. At 11-6, after acquiring Bryce Harper, general manager Matt Klentak was coming out of an offseason in which he outdid Branch Rickey and Pat Gillick, according to John Middleton at least.
Citizens Bank Park had averaged approximately 38,000 fans a game at that point with a Philadelphia rapturous for baseball.
Of course, we all know how that season ended. The Phillies finished 81-81, completing their second of five straight September collapses.
So what can we glean from that fleeting 11-6 start? The Phillies were on pace for 105 wins before the clock struck June and the carriage turned back into a pumpkin.
The 2023 Phillies are looking for the opposite.
Since Rhys Hoskins went down with a torn ACL on Mar. 23, the path has been downhill for Philadelphia baseball. Ranger Suárez, who was supposed to start the season with the team, now looks to return sometime mid-spring after a bout with forearm soreness. Darick Hall, who was supposed to be the Phillies’ everyday first baseman, is out for an unknown amount of time with a thumb injury. The Phillies revamped bullpen — which MLB ranked seventh in baseball pre-season — is now last in ERA at 8.44, and their FIP indicates no regression to the mean. Chiefly, the Phillies are 1-5 after their first six games in a season which was supposed to see them repeat their 2022 playoff success.
It has left everyone wondering: do they even have the talent/ability to make the postseason?
History says yes.
Well more specifically, history says these first six games are nearly meaningless.
Going back to 1962, the beginning of MLB’s 162-game season, we calculated the correlation between the Phillies first six games of the season and their final win total.
Glancing at the chart, it’s apparent that there is no immediate trend. There is only a 6.1% correlation between the Phillies first six games of a season and their final win total. Though the trend between the two is positive, it’s nearly impossible to make anything of the data.
For example, the 2007 Phillies, winners of 89 games, took home the victory in just one of their first six games, so too did the 101-win 1977 Phillies. Meanwhile, both the 2021, and 2019, Phillies won five of their first six, and the 67-win 1989 Phillies won four of their first six.
These results may seem anomalous, but they nestle themselves at home in this dataset. They’re not outliers.
Examining the past can only take us so far though. The 2023 Phillies, after facing two supposedly tough teams in the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, get a break over their next 10 games.
Philadelphia will face the listless Cincinnati Reds seven times and the Miami Marlins three times. They’ll need to win seven of 10 to breath fresh air at .500. It’s not an impossible task, but it will be an uphill battle.
Nevertheless, if the Phillies fail to meet lofty standards, how will they stack up against their historic counter parts?
Here the correlation is more than doubly strong as after six game. Still, 13.6% correlation is a very weak link between two sets of data. Notoriously, the 2007 Phillies were still floundering after 16 games, boasting a 5-11 record, while the 1982 Phillies won only four of their first 16 in an 89-win season.
The Phillies have constructed a good team. They know it, the analysts know it and the fans know it. Why else would Philadelphia be so mad after a lackluster start?
There’s no doubt the Phillies have dug themselves into a hole. They must now play at a 92.5-win pace for the rest of 2023 to win 90 games this year, but history is on their side.
Now when your uncle tells you at Easter dinner that the Phillies season is over, so don’t bother watching, you can push up your glasses and tell him, “Actually over the last 51 years, the R² value says there virtually no correlation between between the Phillies’ first six games and their season win total, just look at Pat Corrales’ 1982 squad.”