The Phillies’ Other Guys

Let’s get this out of the way first: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are pitching like Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz in their prime. They’re Spahn and Sain and a whole lot of pain.

They’re also not that far above, say, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Yet the Phillies sit well above the Giants, and ahead of every other team in baseball, with a 61-36 record.

Look at the rest of this team, and it’s clear they have multiple weaknesses. By one measure, they’re the fifth-worst defensive team in baseball, with Raul Ibanez again making his case to be the worst gloveman in the league. They’re a mediocre 17th in wOBA, with Ryan Howard on pace for the worst year of his career by far, and Chase Utley nowhere near the top-three player he once was. They’ve had plenty of injuries, with key players like Utley, Roy Oswalt, Domonic Brown, Ryan Madson, Joe Blanton and Brad Lidge all missing big chunks of time.

Yet, if you’ll pardon the arbitrary and deliberate end point, only two teams in the past eight years have topped the Phillies’ current winning percentage (.629): the 2009 Yankees and the 2004 Cardinals. So are three aces really enough to make a team nearly historically great? Or is something else going on here?

Start with the rest of the rotation. Oswalt pitched hurt for much of the year and clearly wasn’t himself. But a 3.80 FIP from a number-four starter makes about 27 other teams jealous.

The bigger surprise are the two guys who’ve replaced Oswalt and Blanton. Vance Worley has been held up as an example of imminent regression from the get-go. But his 6-1 record and 2.02 ERA didn’t completely come out of nowhere. He’s striking out nearly seven batters per nine innings, with an impressive 3.19! FIP. What of the microscopically low home run rate and four walks per nine over that same stretch? A concern, no doubt. But Worley appears to be getting better as he goes along; he murdered the Cubs yesterday, tossing eight sparkling frames, fanning seven, walking just two, and allowing just a pair of doubles, a pair of singles, and one run for the afternoon.

Kendrick, meanwhile, would seem to be a veritable time bomb, with a preposterous 3.6/9 IP strikeout rate. But this is the number-five starter on a team with three monsters and a serviceable number four. Kendrick’s allowing more than a run per game less than his peripherals would suggest. But he’s also thrown seven innings in three of his past four starts. By hook or by crook, he’s made a potential problem into a minor asset. For now anyway.

The Phillies will shorten their rotation for the playoffs, meaning we won’t see any Kendrick, and Worley may or may not pitch depending on Oswalt’s status. The more encouraging news for post-season purposes is the emergence of lefty bullpen ace Antonio Bastardo. Let’s acknowledge the .145 BABIP and 95%(!!!) strand rate right off. We done? OK, now peep Bastardo’s nearly 11 strikeouts per nine from a lefty with a 15.5% whiff rate. If Halladay, Lee and Hamels stay true to form and make most of Philly’s postseason starts, you could see games shortened to starter-Bastardo-Madson…and little or nothing else. That’s a scary thought for Phillies opponents.

We have seen a handful of surprises among position players. Dave Cameron neatly laid out the case for Shane Victorino and his career-year-in-progress. John Mayberry Jr. put up a .330 wOBA and played plus defense in his absence. Brown shook off early struggles to put up a half-decent .245/.331/.396 line.

After that? Meh. Victorino’s the only Phillie regular with an OPS over .800. Jimmy Rollins is still a good player, just not a great one. Carlos Ruiz is still a solid player, but the deal with the devil that let him get on base 40% of the time last year has expired.

The Phillies’ success mostly boils down to the three aces, Victorino’s breakout, Worley and Kendrick pitching better than most teams’ back-end starters, and Bastardo doing a decent Randy Myers impression. That plus winning a couple games more than their run differential might suggest and you’ve got a team that’s on pace to win 100-plus games.

They’d still do well to add a bat (Ibanez has no business being anything more than a pinch-hitter), plus maybe one more bullpen arm to make it a trio of high-leverage options (Heath Bell, Mike Adams and others have been rumored). But if they do nothing more than go into October with what they have, the Phillies will have a real chance to claim their second World Series title in four years. Turns out three Cy Young candidates and a bunch of decent supporting actors can go a long way.

Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.

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11 years ago

Bastardo has allowed 3.2 H/9


MLB record for 50+ IP –> juiced-out-of-his-mind Eric Gagne (4.04) in 2003.

11 years ago
Reply to  Pete

Bastardo and Venters should have a serious case for top 50 trade value list.

Surrealistic Pillow
11 years ago
Reply to  Nik

Given the rate at which Venters is being (ab)used, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he has more than 2-3 effective seasons left in the tank.

11 years ago
Reply to  Nik

kinda sad really, the dude is absolutely phenomenal