Phillies fans spend much of their time these days thinking about how to improve the offense. That’s always a good idea. But if you compare what the Phillies did in 2011 to what they did in 2012, it seems clear that pitching accounts for the massive drop.
So shouldn’t the Phillies be focusing on their pitching?
It seems like the answer is almost surely no. If the value of the position players stays about the same, the pitching is going to have to be extraordinary for the Phillies to return to their recent levels of regular season success. And the pitching is never, ever going to be as good as it was in 2011. In both 2011 and 2012, the team’s hitters were far from exceptional — by combined bWAR for all hitters, the Phils were ninth in the NL in 2012 and eighth in 2011. In 2011, the pitching was so enormously fantastic the Phils were able to dominate the regular season anyway. In 2012, the overall contribution of the position players was about the same as it was in 2011 — the pitching just wasn’t elite in a way that allowed the Phillies to overcome it.
Not only is the pitching not going to be as fantastic as it was in 2011, it probably isn’t going to be as fantastic as it was in 2010. The combined WAR for Phillie pitchers in 2010 was 21.2. Over the past 20 years, other than 2011, the closest the Phillies have gotten to the 21.2 mark was 2006 when their pitchers combined to post a bWAR of 14.8.
Of course, for a lot (18) of the past 20 years, the Phillies didn’t have Halladay, Lee and Hamels atop their rotation. In 1997, for example, Mark Leiter, Matt Beach, Tyler Green and Calvin Maduro combined to make 82 starts for the Phillies, throwing to a 5.61 ERA combined as the Phillies put up a combined WAR for their pitchers of 1.6. Those days are mercifully gone, but in 2012 the Phils gave 86 starts to Halladay, Lee and Hamels and that didn’t turn out real well either.
Given that the pitching is never going back to where it was in 2011, the Phillies are going to need to have both their position players and pitchers improve if they want to retake their position among the elite teams in the NL.
Just how far do they have to go? Really, really far. At least if you look at WAR as calculated by Baseball-Reference.
The table below shows the WAR for hitters and pitchers for the NL teams that won the most games in each of the last five years (the 2012 Phillies are also included, despite not being close to one of the four best teams in the NL last year):
|W||bWAR H||bWAR P||H+P|
So, for example, in 2012, the hitters for the Phillies accumulated a total bWAR of 15.0 and the pitchers accumulated a total bWAR of 10.8. If you add them together they total 25.8 — significantly worse than the total for the NL’s fourth-best team by wins, Atlanta (34.9), the third-best team the Giants (34.4), the second-best team the Reds (40.7) or 98-win Nats (40.8).
The 25.8 mark was also hugely worse than the 2011 Phils (49.4).
Again, if you look at the bWAR H column, Baseball-Reference’s calculation suggests that the total WAR for the Phillie position players in 2012 was better than the total WAR for the Phillie position players in 2011.
Over the last five years, here are the average bWAR for hitters and for pitchers for the teams who have won the most, second-most, third-most and fourth-most games in the NL:
|Avg bWAR H||Avg bWAR P||H+P|
|Actual bWAR H||Actual bWAR P||H+P|
So that suggests to get to the level of the fourth-best team in the NL over the past five seasons, the Phillies would need to add a little more than ten WAR between their hitters and pitchers to their 2012 marks.
That’s a lot.
Important to note is that in 2010, when the Phillies were great, the total WAR for their pitchers was 21.2, which is the second-highest mark for the team in the past 20 years behind only the 35.2 from 2011. I believe you have to go back to 1983 to find a year (other than 2011) in which the combined bWAR for Phillie pitchers was better than 21.2. In 1983, John Denny won the Cy Young for the Phils, Steve Carlton was very good in 37 starts and Kevin Gross and Charles Hudson were both pretty good. Al Holland finished sixth in Cy Young voting pitching out of the pen.
None of that is the real point, though. The real point is that even in 2010, when the pitching was fantastic, the best it had been since 1983, the Phillies still got 21.3 combined WAR from their position players, which is a whole lot more than they got in either of the last two seasons. It’s also a whole lot more than they’re going to get in 2013 without significant additions among the position players.
This suggests that the Angels are close to signing Ryan Madson and that Madson will close for the Angels.
This suggests there are seven teams interested in Shane Victorino. The Phillies are not on the list. It is surprising to me if the Phillies are not interested in bringing Victorino back.
The Phillies signed right-handed pitcher Brian Erbe to a minor league deal. Erbe made Baseball America’s list of top 100 prospects before the 2007 (#76), but has been awful in the minors over the last three years, throwing to a 6.13 ERA over 108 2/3 innings. He missed much of the 2011 season after surgery for a torn labrum and turns 25 next month.
Update: This says Carlos Ruiz has been suspended for 25 games after testing positive for an Amphetamine.