With the trades Tuesday of Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino to the Giants and Dodgers, respectively, two-thirds of the Phillies’ opening-day outfield is now plying its trade in California. For a team that found itself in last place at the deadline, the move wasn’t a particularly surprising one. However, the Phillies aren’t a typical sort of last-place team. They entered the season with the majors’ second-highest payroll, at about $175 million. Moreover, they’ll enter 2013 with a little under $130 million committed to just seven players: Cliff Lee ($25 million), Cole Hamels ($24 million), Roy Halladay ($20 million), Ryan Howard ($20 million), Chase Utley ($15 million), Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million), and Jimmy Rollins ($11 million).
With the absence of Pence and Victorino, manager Charlie Manuel was compelled on Tuesday night to deploy a lineup against the Nationals that included Juan Pierre (in left), John Mayberry (in center), and Laynce Nix (in right) — with Domonic Brown making an appearance as a pinch-hitter. The arrangement worked this once, with the aforementioned triumvirate going 6-for-14 with a walk (in a game started by Stephen Strasburg, no less) and the Phillies beating the East-leading Washingtonians by a score of 8-0 (box). That said, none from Pierre or Mayberry or Nix is likely the answer over the course of a full season — especially if the question is, “Who are some starting outfielders on your World Series-winning club?”
And yet, a World Series-winning club is still what it appears as though the Phillies intend to be in 2013. With the exception of the aforementioned deadline trades of Pence and Victorino, the moves made by general manager Ruben Amaro over the last couple years have been decidedly of the “win now” variety. The retention of Cliff Lee (whose name was invoked in trade rumors) at the deadline and the decision to sign Cole Hamels to a six-year, $144 million contract extension both suggest that Amaro has not abandoned the idea of a playoff-contending Phillies squad in 2013.
Because I’m curious (and because that maybe means at least one other person on the internet is, too), I’d like to consider here, in a very basic way, if the Phillies are in a position to contend for the playoffs in 2013 — and, if they’re not at the moment, how they might put themselves in such a position.
Before we answer that questions directly, let’s first consider this syllogism:
• With the new wild-card rules, “to contend” more or less means “to endeavor to win the division.”
• Over the last 10 years (2002-11), the average win total for the NL East champion has been 95.8.
• The present replacement-level win total for teams is about 44 — or about 50 fewer wins than what the NL East champion generally produces.
• To contend in 2013, the Phillies (or any other team that hopes to win the NL East, really) will have to field a roster that produces about 50 WAR.
Produce about 50 WAR is precisely what the 2011 version of the Phillies did. Here, for example, are all the field players on that team to produce 1.0 WAR or more. (Note: conveniently, the contributions of the players between 0.0 and 1.0 WAR appear to be cancelled out by the players who produced negative WAR.):
And here are the contributions of the pitchers (again, those with more than 1.0 WAR produced, as the population with fewer than 0.0 WAR is, once again, mostly cancelled out by the negative-WAR group):
Now here, using ZiPS rest-of-season projections extrapolated to 150 games (and 120 games for catchers), are hypothetical WAR totals for the Phillies under team control for 2013:
And here’s that same thing for pitchers, extrapolated to 32 starts (with WAR for starters calculated using the method presented here and for Papelbon using the author’s own mind):
The total of those two lists is somewhere around 42-43 WAR — or, about seven-to-eight wins below what the Phillies’ goal will and/or ought to be before entering the actual 2013 season. It’s clear from the above that there are some positions that could be upgraded quite easily: finding even a league-average right- and center-fielder would mean about a three-win improvement for the club. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that the team will enter the season with Kyle Kendrick in the rotation. A sensible maneuver there could net at least another win.
The task for Amaro et al. is not only to make those moves, but to find another three-to-four wins somewhere else — at which point, it’d be entirely reasonable to consider the Phillies legitimate contenders for the NL East title.
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