An Unreasonably Early Preview of the 2013 Phillies

With the trades Tuesday of Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino to the Giants and Dodgers, respectively, two-thirds of the Phillies’ opening-day outfield is now plying its trade in California. For a team that found itself in last place at the deadline, the move wasn’t a particularly surprising one. However, the Phillies aren’t a typical sort of last-place team. They entered the season with the majors’ second-highest payroll, at about $175 million. Moreover, they’ll enter 2013 with a little under $130 million committed to just seven players: Cliff Lee ($25 million), Cole Hamels ($24 million), Roy Halladay ($20 million), Ryan Howard ($20 million), Chase Utley ($15 million), Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million), and Jimmy Rollins ($11 million).

With the absence of Pence and Victorino, manager Charlie Manuel was compelled on Tuesday night to deploy a lineup against the Nationals that included Juan Pierre (in left), John Mayberry (in center), and Laynce Nix (in right) — with Domonic Brown making an appearance as a pinch-hitter. The arrangement worked this once, with the aforementioned triumvirate going 6-for-14 with a walk (in a game started by Stephen Strasburg, no less) and the Phillies beating the East-leading Washingtonians by a score of 8-0 (box). That said, none from Pierre or Mayberry or Nix is likely the answer over the course of a full season — especially if the question is, “Who are some starting outfielders on your World Series-winning club?”

And yet, a World Series-winning club is still what it appears as though the Phillies intend to be in 2013. With the exception of the aforementioned deadline trades of Pence and Victorino, the moves made by general manager Ruben Amaro over the last couple years have been decidedly of the “win now” variety. The retention of Cliff Lee (whose name was invoked in trade rumors) at the deadline and the decision to sign Cole Hamels to a six-year, $144 million contract extension both suggest that Amaro has not abandoned the idea of a playoff-contending Phillies squad in 2013.

Because I’m curious (and because that maybe means at least one other person on the internet is, too), I’d like to consider here, in a very basic way, if the Phillies are in a position to contend for the playoffs in 2013 — and, if they’re not at the moment, how they might put themselves in such a position.

Before we answer that questions directly, let’s first consider this syllogism:

• With the new wild-card rules, “to contend” more or less means “to endeavor to win the division.”

• Over the last 10 years (2002-11), the average win total for the NL East champion has been 95.8.

• The present replacement-level win total for teams is about 44 — or about 50 fewer wins than what the NL East champion generally produces.

• To contend in 2013, the Phillies (or any other team that hopes to win the NL East, really) will have to field a roster that produces about 50 WAR.

Produce about 50 WAR is precisely what the 2011 version of the Phillies did. Here, for example, are all the field players on that team to produce 1.0 WAR or more. (Note: conveniently, the contributions of the players between 0.0 and 1.0 WAR appear to be cancelled out by the players who produced negative WAR.):

Player Pos WAR
Carlos Ruiz C 3.2
Ryan Howard 1B 1.6
Chase Utley 2B 3.9
Placido Polanco 3B 2.8
Jimmy Rollins SS 3.8
John Mayberry LF 2.5
Shane Victorino CF 5.9
Hunter Pence RF 2.6
TOTAL 26.3

And here are the contributions of the pitchers (again, those with more than 1.0 WAR produced, as the population with fewer than 0.0 WAR is, once again, mostly cancelled out by the negative-WAR group):

Name Pos WAR
Roy Halladay SP1 8.2
Cliff Lee SP2 6.7
Cole Hamels SP3 4.9
Roy Oswalt SP4 2.5
Vance Worley SP5 2.5
Ryan Madson CL 1.7
TOTAL 26.5

Now here, using ZiPS rest-of-season projections extrapolated to 150 games (and 120 games for catchers), are hypothetical WAR totals for the Phillies under team control for 2013:

Player Pos WAR
Carlos Ruiz C 3.8
Ryan Howard 1B 1.8
Chase Utley 2B 4.7
Placido Polanco 3B 2.0
Jimmy Rollins SS 3.7
Domonic Brown LF 3.2
John Mayberry CF 0.3
Nate Schierholtz RF 1.3
TOTAL 20.8

And here’s that same thing for pitchers, extrapolated to 32 starts (with WAR for starters calculated using the method presented here and for Papelbon using the author’s own mind):

Name Pos WAR
Roy Halladay SP1 5.0
Cliff Lee SP2 6.5
Cole Hamels SP3 4.0
Vance Worley SP4 3.0
Kyle Kendrick SP5 1.0
Jonathan Papelbon CL 2.0
TOTAL 21.5

The total of those two lists is somewhere around 42-43 WAR — or, about seven-to-eight wins below what the Phillies’ goal will and/or ought to be before entering the actual 2013 season. It’s clear from the above that there are some positions that could be upgraded quite easily: finding even a league-average right- and center-fielder would mean about a three-win improvement for the club. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that the team will enter the season with Kyle Kendrick in the rotation. A sensible maneuver there could net at least another win.

The task for Amaro et al. is not only to make those moves, but to find another three-to-four wins somewhere else — at which point, it’d be entirely reasonable to consider the Phillies legitimate contenders for the NL East title.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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11 years ago

I think penciling in Utley for an almost 5 WAR is a bit of a stretch at this point, no? Injuries have taken their toll pretty heavily on him. You could potentially argue the same for Halladay, who has looked quite human this year.

11 years ago
Reply to  Rey22

He’s still playing at that pace. The big question is whether his can hold up for a full year.

11 years ago
Reply to  nik

As a died hard Phils fan, I’m all for shutting halladay down for the ROS, and either doing the sane for utley or play him 2-3 times per week. They aren’t going anywhere this year

11 years ago
Reply to  nik

It’s not really a question anymore. He cannot hold up for a year. He hasn’t played more than 115 games for three seasons now. And his injuries are the kind that heal. His knees are chronically injured and degenerative, so it’s only going to get worse from here on out.

An optimistic projection is 120 games (much like a catcher), but a realistic expectation would probably be more like 100, which would take off about 1.6 WAR from the team calculations.

11 years ago
Reply to  nik

Sorry, that should read “his injuries are the kind that cannot heal.

They can only be treated, but they’re never going to improve.

11 years ago
Reply to  nik

Hasn’t that question already been answered though? The last time he played over 115 games was 2009.

11 years ago
Reply to  Rey22

On the other hand, penciling Hamels in for only 4 WAR is more than a little conservative.

11 years ago

No it’s not. He’s been worth 3.6, 3.7 and 4.9 WAR in the past three seasons. This year, he’s on pace to be worth 3.5 WAR.

It’s actually quite optimistic to assume 4.0 WAR from him.

11 years ago

Well he is also a player that has consistently out performed his FIP by about .03 runs.

11 years ago

too fast with the decimal: 0.3 runs