Before the season began, it appeared clear that while parity would be the prominent feature of 2015, there was a defined short list of teams that would range from bad to dreadful. And yet, here we stand with the trade deadline looming and franchises like Texas and Minnesota have found ways to remain competitive, while others such as Arizona and Colorado have at least shown glimpses of being respectable. However, we can take solace in the fact that the Phillies have been as terrible as advertised, and maybe even worse than that.
The preseason over/under on Philadelphia was set at 67.5 wins, but even that may have been a bit optimistic considering all the potential pitfalls hovering around the Phils. So far, those flaws have showed and then some, with the Phillies playing at a 108-loss pace, and becoming the launching pad for many contenders in the National League.
Today we take a look at some of the numbers that have come to define why the Phillies have reached this depressing low, their outlook for the rest of 2015, and the signs of hope for 2016 and beyond. All numbers are accurate as of July 19th.
Numbers Don’t Lie
In my preseason preview for the Phillies, I wrote that their midseason roster had the chance to be full of unrecognizable, AAA players. If you glimpsed through their batting order for their first game after the All-Star break, it has clearly come to pass. Even in a rare win, probably only Ryan Howard and Ben Revere started the game with some clear MLB pedigree (as did pinch-hitter Jeff Francoeur), while management is certainly hoping that some members of the current team will be there when the franchise is competitive again.
However, there is no way to mask just how painful it has become to watch the Phillies at times this season. With a -155 run differential, their 32-62 record is actually a win better than what should be expected, as does their Base Runs expected wins model. The Phillies have won more than two straight games only three times, and have recorded only two sweeps (May 15-17 versus Arizona, July 17-19 versus the Marlins). They have been shut out 10 times, and have been part of 6 losing streaks of at least 5 games. They have also lost 19 games by at least 5 runs, and are 9-16 in 1-run games.
The Phillies have practically served as the punching bag for the rest of the league, especially their own division foes. The NL East is 15-25 (.375) versus Philadelphia, while the Mets are practically hanging on to their playoff hopes by virtue of beating on the Phils (New York is 8-1 versus Philadelphia). The Phillies only own winning records against the aforementioned Diamondbacks and also against the Yankees, but in very small samples.
In terms of WAR, the Phillies are 29th in the league both in offense and pitching, while also being 29th in wRC+ and 28th in FIP. They only have one position player with a positive WAR of at least +1 (Ben Revere), while also having 7 regulars who have posted negative WAR totals. On the pitching side, Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jon Papelbon, and Ken Giles have been the bright spots, but the Phillies still have employed 11 hurlers with below-replacement level results.
Considering that the Phillies are 31-62 and the best team in the league are the Cardinals with a 58-33 mark, it is safe to say that facing the Phillies has the power to turn any team into an all-world juggernaut.
The Rest of 2015
From this point of the season forward, Fangraphs projections like the Phillies to get a tiny bit better and play at a .406 clip to finish the year. This would represent somewhere around a 103-loss mark for the Phillies, which would be the 15th 100-loss season in franchise history, and their worst since 1961. However, these projections are not accounting that the current roster may be even worse in the coming weeks.
The trade buzz around Cole Hamels has remained strong for a couple of years now, and a trade now seems inevitable. With nearly half the league having at least moderate playoff aspirations, the Phillies can bide their time and review all potential trade scenarios. The Blue Jays, Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, and even the Royals could be serious suitors for Hamels, and have the prospects to pull it off. In a similar vein, the market for Papelbon is starting to come around and he will probably be moved as well. Any other veteran doesn’t make sense to keep, so the Phillies could get creative and eat a ton of salary to dump Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Ben Revere or any other player making any kind of real money.
Before the season began, the team’s two more polished prospects were Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, and so far they have shown enough promise to be considered as some of the building blocks for the future. Outside of them, the rest of the top prospects in the organization seem still a bit far from the majors, though they could still be part of September call-ups to start showing their promise.
2016 and Beyond
The Astros have shown the blueprint of how a full-on rebuilding model can work, but so far the Phillies have failed to realize their mistakes, which has in turn led to this terrible collapse. It is hard to remember that only 5 years ago, they were a 100-win juggernaut. 2015 appears to be the first step towards a return to relevancy, if not contention, and the franchise can at least reckon that the process will be painful.
The Phillies have dropped to 14th in terms of attendance in the National League, and the team will run out of marketable stars when Hamels leaves. However, the organization still has the resources to make its fans believe that this is rock bottom and it will all go up from here on out. Andy MacPhail will take over as team president when the season is over, signaling the likely exit of embattled GM Ruben Amaro Jr. Also, the hauls acquired from the incoming trades and the almost-assured #1 pick in next year’s draft will be essential to start stockpiling assets.
According to Baseball America, the Phillies have the 21st minor league system, so there is a long road ahead to build from within. Top prospects like JP Crawford and Aaron Nola will probably start contributing as soon as 2016, while the team’s bloated payroll will begin to disappear as soon as 2017. The strength of the NL East with the top-heavy Nationals and young cores in Atlanta, New York, and Miami will probably mean that the Phillies will need a break or two to really return to the top.
Even as the Philadelphia fans have never been known for being too patient and forgiving, it is also clear that this painful year is just a necessary evil to start thinking about bigger and better things. So even if they lose 105 or 115, it doesn’t make a difference in the long run, and it probably will never be as bad again.