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The Phillies’ Massive Downgrade

On June 25th, the Philadelphia Phillies started Chase Utley at second base and Placido Polanco at third base. On June 30th, a mere five days later, both of these players were on the DL. The Phillies, in their stead, started Wilson Valdez and Greg Dobbs.

The Phillies, last year’s National League champions, find themselves locked in a tough division race. The Braves and Mets find themselves tied atop the Eastern division, with the Phillies one game behind. Entering the season, the Phillies looked like a frontrunner for a playoff spot. Can the same be said now, with two of their key players, including the most talented player on the team, potentially to miss significant time?

Time is likely the main factor here, as the Philadelphia Enquirer reports that the Phillies only know that the two players will each miss “at least two weeks.” Let’s take a look at how much the loss of each player will cost the Phllies.

First off, Placido Polanco will be replaced by Greg Dobbs. Polanco has put up 2 WAR in nearly 300 plate appearances and his season wOBA is exactly equal to his ZiPS (R) wOBA, at .346. It seems fair, then, to consider him a 4.0 WAR/600 PA player – his +5 UZR is right in line with his career +10 UZR/150 at 3B. Dobbs was DFA’d just last week, but much of his poor performance can be blamed on a .191 BABIP. He’s projected for a .323 wOBA – just below average – with below average defense (-7 according to CHONE’s defensive projections) at third. Dobbs projects as a below average player, at 1.5 WAR/600 PA. With the typical player receiving 4.35 PAs in a game, this difference comes out to only about .025 wins per game. It would take 40 games for Polanco’s absence to cost the Phillies a win, or a little over a month.

Polanco is a good player, but Chase Utley is one of baseball’s superstars. He has put up five straight seasons of 6.6 WAR or more and was well on his way to a sixth before this injury. Utley is projected to do essentially exactly what he did in 2009: a .403 wOBA with fantastic, +15 defense at 2B, which comes out to a 7.5 WAR/600 PA player. His replacement, for now at least, is Wilson Valdez. Valdez doesn’t have any projections in the ZiPS system – his CHONE projection has him as a well above average defender but a terrible hitter, with a .285 wOBA and +6 defense at SS. If we give him +10 defense at 2B, which may be generous, Valdez comes out to a roughly 1.0 WAR/600 PA player. This difference, on a per game basis, is far more significant, at about .05 wins per game. It would only take 20 games, then, or about three missed weeks, for Utley’s absence to cost the Phillies a win in the standings.

The Phillies are still a talented team without Utley and Polanco, thanks to players like Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Jayson Werth, to name a few. Losing the Major League’s best 2B in Utley and a good 3B in Polanco even for a minimum of two weeks, however,¬†will likely cost the Phillies nearly a win going forward, and another win for every two weeks this pair misses. The Phillies were around a 35% playoff probability after last night according to both CoolStandings and Baseball Prospectus. A run to the playoffs certainly looks to be a struggle now, even though Atlanta also lost a major piece in Jason Heyward. It’s hard to imagine after the last two seasons, but right now the Philadelphia Phillies are more likely to miss the playoffs in 2010 than challenge for a third straight National League title in October.