With the signing of Cliff Lee, sports gambling websites have vaulted the Phillies into World Series favorites, as they have passed both Boston and New York by assembling a fearsome rotation. Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt is a pretty easy sell, after all. But, if we want to find out whether the Phillies really are the team most likely to win it all next year, we need to look at their overall roster.
Let’s start with their strength. Even if they trade Joe Blanton, as is assumed, their rotation should be the best in baseball. Dan Szymborski revealed that ZIPS projects the Phillies Phour to be worth +19.8 WAR in 2011. If we add another +1 WAR for Kyle Kendrick and the various collection of extra starters that Philadelphia will use to fill out their rotation, we get something like +21 WAR from the Phillies starting pitchers. That’s a pretty good start.
The Phillies got just under +3 WAR from their bullpen last year, with most of that belonging to Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras. They’ll both be back, as will Brad Lidge, and the innings being soaked up by the Phillies starters should allow them to avoid having to give as many innings to replacement level arms next year. We’ll pencil them in for +4 WAR just to be generous, which puts their pitching staff at +25 overall.
On the offense and defense side of things, the picture is a little less rosy. Jayson Werth and his +5 WAR are gone, replaced by Domonic Brown in what is a clear downgrade. Carlos Ruiz is coming off a career year at age 31 that looks unlikely to be repeated. Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco are each aging, and continued regression has to be expected. However, some of that likely decline should be offset by better health from Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, as well as improvements over the negative production they got from Juan Castro and Greg Dobbs.
A rough projection of their eight regulars might return something like this:
That adds up to +24 WAR. You can quibble with individual numbers a bit if you want, but reasonable projections will end up in that same area. The bench is unlikely to contribute much in the way of value, but we’ll toss them an additional +1 WAR to account for Ben Francisco’s potential role as a platoon outfielder.
That also gives us the nifty symmetry of the Phillies getting +25 WAR from both their position players and their pitchers, or +50 overall. Using 48 wins as something approximating replacement level, that would make the Phillies an expected 98 win team in 2011. That is obviously very, very good. They are clearly the best team in the National League right now, and that fact alone has to make them one of the favorites to win it all.
However, +50 WAR is not historically unique for a team. The Twins put up that same number last year, while the Reds came in at +49 and the Red Sox at +48. None of those three won the World Series. The Yankees did win the World Series in 2009 with a +58.2 WAR, but that just meant the +52.4 Red Sox and +49 Rays did not.
With Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, I’d imagine the 2011 Red Sox will end up projecting at a very similar level to Philadelphia. Depending on what the Yankees do, they also will likely be in that range.
Should Philly be the favorites to win it all now? They should be one of the favorites, certainly, but as good as their rotation is, the rest of their roster isn’t good enough to make them the easy choice to win it all next year. Even beyond the playoffs being a crapshoot – which they are, in many ways – there are going to be other teams that run equally strong rosters out there on a day to day basis.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.