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February 21 2007

Last season the Phillies went 40-47 before the All-Star break and an NL-leading 45-30 after it.  The surge after the break came in conjunction with the trade of one of baseball's elite hitters shortly after the break as Bobby Abreu was sent to the Yankees.  The whole thing was a little odd -- if you could reliably make your team better by trading away your good hitters, people would have tried it already.  The Red Sox probably would have won a couple more world championships.

So what was it that sparked the Phillies second-half surge?  Was it the pitching?  After the break the pitching was better:

 

Before the All-Star break
G RA NL Rank RA RA/G
87 454 12 5.21
       
After the All-Star break
G RA NL Rank RA RA/G
75 358 12 4.77

The Phillies played just 87 games before the All-Star break, 12 of the NL teams played more, so using the total number of runs allowed is slightly misleading.  However, slightly misleading or not, the Phillies allowed the fifth-most runs in the NL before the break and the fifth-most runs in the NL after the break.  They did manage to shave nearly half a run per game off of the runs allowed, but stayed around the same place relative to the other teams in the league.

Offensively, it was a different story.

 

Before the All-Star break
G R NL Rank R R/G
87 420 7 4.83
       
After the All-Star break
G R NL Rank R R/G
75 445 1 5.93

After the break last year the Phillies pounded the ball, scoring more runs than every other team in the NL and more runs than every other team in the DH-loving AL except for the Yankees.  After the Yankees and the Phils it wasn't close -- the Yankees scored 445 post-All-Star break runs, the Phillies 441, and the Braves were third with just 409.

If the Phillies were producing that much more offense during the second half of the season it had to be coming from somewhere.  It wasn't these guys, who, using OPS as the measure, played about as well before the break as after:

 

  Before AS break After AS break
Player AB OPS AB OPS
Utley 349 904 309 909
Burrell 264 884 198 898
Victorino 148 768 267 756
Rowand 265 751 140 734

A lot of factors contributed to the offensive surge in the second half of the season.  Among the most important are that Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins both hit extremely well, as did both Lieberthal and Coste.  In the case of the catchers it gave the Phillies a significant second-half boost simply because Phillies' catchers hit so poorly prior to the All-Star break.

Here's what Howard and Rollins did:

 

  Before AS break After AS break
Player AB OPS AB OPS
Howard 316 923 265 1.259
Rollins 363 744 326 886

And here's what some of the Phillies catchers did before the All-Star break:

 

Player AB OPS
Fasano 140 670
Lieberthal 84 629
Coste 45 696

Fasano wasn't a factor after the break for the Phillies, traded to the Yankees on July 26.  Here's what Coste and Lieberthal did during the second half of the season:

 

Player AB OPS
Lieberthal 125 888
Coste 153 935

When you think about what contributed to the Phillies success in the second half of 2006, it's tempting to say that fixing the rotation was the magic bullet.  But while the improvements to the rotation were key, the simple fact that Howard, Rollins and the catching pair battered the ball while Utley and Burrell remained productive with the bat was probably an even bigger factor.

On the downside, it might even have been nicer if an improved rotation were they key to a better second half for the Phils in 2006.  The way they shined after the break last year is going to be nearly impossible to reproduce.  As good as Howard is, a 1.259 OPS for a half a season is ridiculous.  The list of players who have posted an OPS of 1.259 or better for an entire season in baseball history goes Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Ted Williams.  Rollins could hit something close to what he did during the second half of the year again, but there's virtually no chance any combination of Phillies' catchers can produce like Lieberthal and Coste did during the second half of last year in '07.  Whatever the winning formula for the Phils proves to be next season, it's almost assuredly something different than what spurred their awesome second half in '06.

Jimmy Rollins still thinks the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East.  Manuel apparently thinks that "losing is not optional."  Oh dear.  So does that mean it's mandatory?  I'm hoping he was misquoted, but deep in my heart of hearts I fear we all know the truth.

Another article advocates for getting Rollins out of the leadoff spot.  If you need me I'll be out looking for SABR sheets.

Jayson Werth may be the go-to guy when it comes to picking stuff out of Jimmy Rollins' hair before interviews.  Ew?

Dallas Green isn't afraid to get fired.

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