Phillies fans know the next parade we can look forward to in Philadelphia will be the one that takes place next month. But
revelers fans will be decked out in green instead of red for St. Patrick’s Day.
The staunchest of Phillies’ fans knows the odds of a World Series victory in 2016 are slim to none. A playoff spot, however, is entirely within reach and here’s why.
According to projections from USA Today, the 2016 Phillies will win 61 games this season, finishing 27 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wildcard spot (88 wins). Fangraphs, a baseball statistics website, is a bit more bullish, projecting the Phightins to win 66 games, finishing 19 games behind the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets for the second wildcard spot (85 wins).
For argument’s sake, let’s just say the Phils perform much better than expected and post a high-70/low-80 win total. Then let’s say those three teams, the Dodgers, Giants and Mets, have underwhelming seasons and end up in the high-70/low-80-win range. The playoffs don’t seem like such a long shot if things break this way, do they? Minor and major injuries are an almost certainty in a 162-game season, so let’s remove them from the equation. Injuries aside, here are seven key players whose performance could determine the team’s success in 2016.
- Continued Improvement of 3B Maikel Franco – his walk rate (+6.1%), strikeout rate (-6.9%), and hard-hit ball percentage (+19.4%) all improved in 2015 over his September 2014 debut. If he can hit better to the opposite field (something Ryan Howard had problems with in his career), that would bode remarkably well for the team’s run production.
- 1B/OF Darin Ruf Finally Gets It – Fangraphs doesn’t think he’ll “play enough to hit double-digit home runs” but I couldn’t disagree more. All signs point to him serving as the right-handed counterpart in a first base platoon with Ryan Howard. Last season, Ruf hit eight home runs against left-handed pitchers in limited action. If he gets every opportunity to hit lefties, as I suspect he will, he could easily double his HR output from last year.
- El Torito Is the New Flyin’ Hawaiian But Better:
- Shane Victorino’s 1st full season (2006): 462 plate appearances, .287/.346/.414, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 70 R, 4 SB, .128 ISO, .334 wOBA, 12.5 Def, 2.7 WAR
- Odubel Herrera (2015): 537 plate appearances, .297/.344/.418, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 64 R, 16 SB, .121 ISO, .333 wOBA, 11.7 Def, 3.9 WAR
Statistically they’re eerily similar. Much like Victorino, Herrera is a prototypical leadoff man, but his strikeout percentage is way too high (24%). The Phils need El Torito to show more patience at the plate in 2016. He needs to cut his strikeout percentage in half, at least, and take more walks per plate appearance. The more he’s on base, the more potential runs he can score on hits by the middle of the batting order. While he can certainly steal a base to get into scoring position, he absolutely has the speed to score from first on an extra-base hit.
Of course three players don’t make a team. They’ll need help from the entire 40-man roster, including relief pitchers.
Word on the street is the Phillies bullpen is going to struggle this year. The idea is plausible considering they lost one of the best young closers in the game, Ken Giles, in a trade with Houston. To remedy that situation, the Phils brought in four veteran arms to help stabilize the back-end of the bullpen – guys who have been successful there in the past: Andrew Bailey, Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri, and David Hernandez.
- All Star Return to Form – Bailey was an All Star in 2010 with the Oakland A’s. According to Fangraphs, he had success throwing his fastball 69% of the time and his cutter 20% of the time. He had similar success with those splits in 2011 (76%/16%).In 2012, he started to unravel. Those splits became 57%/30% in Fenway Park in Boston. Bailey wasn’t able to locate his cutter for strikes as his walks-per-9-innings went from 2.59 to 4.70, a significant increase for him.
In addition to control problems, he was also the victim of bad luck. What were fly ball outs in Oakland became home runs in hitter-friendly Boston as his 3% jump in HR-to-fly ball ratio suggests.
The good news is that, while pitching for the New York Yankees last season, the velocity on his fastball was around the same as it was in 2010 (about 1 mph less). If he can throw his fastball more and use his curveball, not his cutter, as his secondary pitch, he may be a key cog in the bullpen this season.
- Watch the Relievers FIP Out – ERA is one of the common metrics used to gauge a pitcher’s effectiveness but it doesn’t isolate their performance. That’s where Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) comes into play.While they’re similar metrics, FIP only considers what a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, and home runs allowed. Anything that requires the defense to make a play (e.g. fly ball, ground ball) is removed from this equation.
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 FIP 3.99 3.83 3.79 3.70 3.60 3.68
Ernesto Frieri 2.92 3.28 X 3.72 X 6.39
Edward Mujica 3.88 3.20 3.65 3.71 3.70 5.12
In 2010 and 2011, these two relievers had outstanding FIPs. One of them should be able to handle the setup role this season for the new closer, David Hernandez.
- Closing Time – Depending on how he performs in spring training, Hernandez will likely get the nod as the Opening Day closer.The disparity between his strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings has been good throughout his career (9 K to 4 BB). In 2012, his secondary pitch, the curveball (34%), was an above-average pitch. In 2013, a down year for him, he didn’t make any changes to those fastball-curveball splits so I think he became predictable to hitters.
While he doesn’t need to have Ken Giles’ fastball to rack up saves, I think the team could benefit from him mixing up his two-seam fastball (50%) better with his four-seam fastball (11%).
Even if these seven players outperform expectations, the Phillies are and should be considered long shots for the playoffs this season. The fact that personnel decisions are now being made by someone with half a brain, though, should give us fans much hope for seasons beyond this one.