Fear & Loathing in the National League, East: The Phillies

Well, friends, I promised fear and loathing and I’ll give you fear and loathing. The guys over at Blown Save, Win have had their say, laying out a best case and worst case scenario for each of the teams in the N.L. East.

I wish I could be so thorough. But I pride myself on being thorough–or at least, I deceive myself that the work that I do has the appearance of thoroughness. I’ll post a new piece on each of the N.L. East teams, looking at my calculations, and comparing them with the BS, W scenarios.

Running the Phillies line-up through the model I’ve built to project the 2012 Nats, I project that the 2012 Phillies will win 96 games. A decline in starting pitching, along with a decline in offensive production, will slow, but likely not stop, the Phillies as they march through the 2012 season. The calculations show us a Phillies team that looks most like Matt’s rosy projection:

. Imagine if some key players had not been hurt, too. 2012 will yield a healthy Utley, a huge portion of the Phillies offense. Ryan Howard may be injured, but you have to believe that things will come back for the big guy after he is fully healed. Dingers for everyone! Cliff Lee, Cole Hammels [sic], and Roy Halladay, will be back and as amazing as ever, enough said on that topic. With a little luck, the Phillies have also found a sort of diamond in the rough in Dontrell Willis. If Dominic Brown can put it together at the plate, the Phillies will have another young buck roaring out of the gates to shag fly balls and swat doubles. Laynce Nix had a great season in 2011, with a new 2 year contract who says he can’t do it again? Don’t forget about Hunter Pence either. With reliable offense, the Phillies are poised to hit the playoffs once again.

Pitching: Slight Decline

The 2011 Phillies starting pitching was unbelievably good, inspiring comparisons to the 1997 Braves–and not without reason. Once Vance Worley cracked the starting rotation, no Philadelphia starting pitcher had a FIP greater than 3.60 (in the 2008-11 period under study). In 2012, their starting rotation is still fearsome, but they will sorely miss Roy Oswalt. The top of the rotation still features Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Halladay. From 2008 through 2011, those three record FIP figures of 2.79, 3.54, and 2.83, respectively. Vance Worley slots into Oswalt’s space–the two of them have very similar FIP figures through the period under study (3.32 for Oswalt; 3.31 for Worley). But there’s a considerable drop from that to Joe Blanton’s 4.39 FIP. The drop in starting rotation FIP accounts for a huge jump in runs scored to 638, from 529.

Defense: Strong as Ever

The Phillies, however, are saved by their improbably good defense–across the whole line-up, 24 runs are saved–fully half of those chargeable to the efforts of their second-baseman Chase Utley (12 UZR!). Hunter Pence’s defense (5 UZR) is good enough to make up for Ryan Howard’s lack of defense (-5 UZR) and a marginal improvement over his predecessor, Jayson Werth (4 UZR).

Offense: Better than You’d Think

The Phillies offense will be hobbled by the temporary absence of Ryan Howard, who must miss a number of plate appearances as he nurses his injured Achilles tendon. Frankly, given the way he crumpled as he fell, I am surprised to hear that Howard wasn’t carted off to a glue factory after the injury, and that he is taking live batting practice even as you read this. Even accounting for that absence, the rest of the Phillies line-up bats well enough to score 739 runs–even more runs than they did last year.

Nats fans might be dismayed by these projections–but it’s tough to deny that the Phillies are a very good ballclub. But for 2012, the gap between the Phillies and the Nats has closed considerably. Expect Phillies/Nats series to be tense, well-pitched affairs.

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