There are several different ways to calculate WAR, but no matter which language you choose, the non-pitchers for the Phillies were cause for concern in 2012.
The table below shows the WAR by position for the Phillies over the past five seasons as calculated by FanGraphs. Next to each WAR is the NL Rank for the team that year at the position.
Please note: WAR as calculated by FanGraphs differs, often dramatically, from WAR as calculated by Baseball-Reference. The WAR values in the table below are from FanGraphs, but the WAR values discussed below the table come primarily from Baseball-Reference. Links to recent interesting articles on the differences between WAR as calculated by the two sites are at the bottom of the post.
So there were three of the eight positions at which the Phillies were better than tenth in the 16-team National League.
Four seasons ago, in 2009, the Phillies were in the top half of the league at every position other than third base.
First the good:
At catcher, the Buster Posey-led Giants are the only team to put up a better overall WAR than the Phillies in 2012. The Phillies have been in the top three at the position in three of the last four years. In 2011, Ruiz recorded his worst dWAR of the five seasons (as calculated by Baseball-Reference) at 0.8. It was also his worst offensive season of the past three as he slugged just .383. In 2008, Ruiz was terrible offensively, hitting .219 in his 373 plate appearances as the Phils were tenth in the league at WAR at the position.
The Phils were also second in the league at FanGraphs-calculated WAR at short in 2012, topped only by the Nationals. There’s really only been one bad year for the team at the position over the last five seasons. In 2010, Rollins got less than 400 plate appearances for the only time in the last 12 seasons. Wilson Valdez fared okay trying to pick up the slack, but Juan Castro was a lot less impressive as he on-based .250 in his 101 plate appearances as a shortstop for the year. FanGraphs calculated WAR for Rollins for 2012 is much higher than Baseball-Reference’s. FanGraphs has him at 4.9, which ties him for 27th among non-pitchers across both leagues. Baseball-Reference calculates his WAR at 2.3, which ties him for 106th. The chart above reflects the FanGraph numbers, which suggest he was an elite player in 2012. Again, this is one of the three positions at which the Phillies were non-terrible in 2012 and there is disagreement about how good their primary player at the position actually was.
At second base, the Phillies have been in the top four for each of the past five years. Utley’s WAR as calculated by Baseball-Reference topped out at 8.8 in 2008. He’s likely never going back up there again, but his work at the position has been enough to keep the Phils in the top quarter of the NL over the last several years. Also, as a side note — in 2008, Utley and his 8.8 WAR (second-best in baseball) finished 14th in NL MVP voting. Howard’s WAR that year was 1.5 and he finished second. Pujols won it, and should have, but Utley should have been a lot higher than 14th.
After catcher, second and short, things get real ugly, real fast.
Center field was the next best position for the Phils in 2012 and they were tenth in the league there. Victorino was a monster in 2011, putting up a (Baseball-Reference) overall WAR of 5.2 in the best year of his career. He was way off that pace in 2012, though, and Mayberry was pretty bad after he left. The Phillies seem to have no in-house solution to what is now a big problem in center field.
Eleventh in left. Tenth or worse for the third straight year. 2009 is the only year of the last five that the Phillies have been non-terrible overall at the position. In ’09, Ibanez put up the best WAR (Baseball-Reference) of his last six seasons at 2.7. It was the only year of the last six where his dWAR has been better than -1 (it was -0.8). In 2010 he was bad for the Phillies and in 2011 he was terrible — a dWAR of -3.1 and an oWAR of just 0.1. Juan Pierre was the guy who got most of the time in left in 2012, the first year after Ibanez left. His overall WAR for the year was 1.9, good enough for fourth-best on the team among the non-pitchers, but not enough to lead the Phils anywhere better than eleventh.
They were also eleventh at third base, the fourth year of the last five in which they have been tenth or worse. Polanco was very solid in 2010, putting up a (Baseball-Reference) WAR of 3.1. In 2011, his dWAR stayed about the same as 2010 (1.2 in ’11, 1.4 in ’10), but his oWAR dropped from 1.9 to 0.7 as he hit 277/335/339 with just 19 extra-base hits in 523 plate appearances. Polanco got significant time at third in ’12, putting up an oWAR of 0, a dWAR of 0.4 and losing significant time to Kevin Frandsen. Frandsen’s WAR of 1.5 (in just 210 plate appearances) was good enough for fifth-best among the team’s non-pitchers, but not good enough to get the Phillies any higher than eleventh relative to the rest of the NL for the season at the position. Feliz got most of the time at third in ’08 and ’09, with some help from Greg Dobbs. Neither did a whole lot and the Phillies were eleventh at the position both years, although Feliz had a good year defensively in ’09, putting up a dWAR of 1.2. Feliz on-based .306 over 1,088 plate appearances for the Phils between 2008 and ’09.
You don’t have to study the right field numbers too carefully to see that the Phillies have struggled to replace Jayson Werth. Led by Werth, the Phils topped the NL in WAR at the position in 2009 and were third in 2010. He signed with the Nationals for the 2011 season and the numbers took a dive. Francisco got the gig to start ’11 and bombed in spectacular fashion, putting up an oWAR of 0.0 and a dWAR of -1.3 and losing the job. Hunter Pence played part of ’11 with the Phils and part of ’12. He posted negative dWARs in both years with better luck offensively. 2.2 (oWAR)/-0.3 (dWAR) in 2011 and 1.2/-1.1 in 2012. Domonic Brown hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence yet he can get the job done in right, either. So far for his career he has an UZR/150 of -21.7 in 871 innings in right to go with his overall batting line of 236/315/388.
First base may be the single biggest problem for the Phillies, where they have committed an enormous amount of money to Ryan Howard. They were 16th of 16 in the NL in 2012 and FanGraphs has them no better than tenth over the last three seasons. Howard was hurt in 2012, but he got 644 plate appearances in 2011 and 620 in 2010 and the Phils didn’t do better than tenth in either year. He has always been terrible at defense, over the last seven seasons his dWARs have ranged from -1 to -2.8, and thanks largely to that he has put an overall WAR better than three just twice in his career. In 2006 he hit 58 home runs with a WAR of 5.0. In 2009 he hit 45 with a WAR of 3.5. In 2012, his oWAR joined his dWAR in negative territory at -0.6. Wigginton was also miserable trying to pick up the slack at the position with Howard missing much of the season, hitting just 235/314/375 for the year with a UZR/150 at first of -8.5 (which is 30th among the 36 players across both leagues who played at least 450 innings at first in 2012).
This article talks about differences in the calculation of WAR by Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. More on that subject here, as Jimmy Rollins appears on a list of the players whose WAR as calculated by FanGraphs differs dramatically from their WAR as calculated by Baseball-Reference.