Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Causes for concern, causes for optimism

Considering the Phillies' season to date, I consider the following as causes for concern:

1) We've been outscored by 24 runs so far this year, second worst only to the Pirates in the NL. If that continues, there is no way we finish with a winning record.

2) OBP, which was the great strength of 2005, has crashed in 2006 to a below league average .326.

3) The team ERA of 5.42 is almost a full run over the league average.

Causes for optimism:

1) The majority of the drop in offensive production can be traced to an absurdly low BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) of .274 (Second worst in the NL). If you are of the school that such things even out over the course of the year, the Phillies will certainly see an increase in BA and OBP over the remainder of the season.

2) Another factor in the low run production is a similarly absurdly low BARISP (Batting Average with Runners In Scoring Position) of .203! This is not only the worst in the league, but 60 points below the average and 30 points below the next lowest team!!! If you are of the school that BARISP will even out over the season, well, the production can't help but improve. It certainly can't be much worse.

3) Although the pitching has been poor so far this year, FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is a better than league average of 4.29. The difference between the Phils' ERA and FIP is over 1.1 runs per game (worst in the league, again!). Whether you believe in FIP or not as an exact measure of pitching and fielding, this is a huge indication that the problems of the pitching staff can be laid more at the feet of the defense than the pitchers. The Phils also have the worst DER (Defense Efficiency Ratio) in the league by far. If you are of the opinion that the Phils are actually a superior defensive team (as was the general consensus before the season started) and that this is a result of a fluky small sample size, then the Phils ERA should greatly improve over the remainder of the season.

Looking behind the numbers, it seems obvious that the Phils' shaky start is largely the result of bad luck (BABIP and BARISP) and poor defense. We should be extremely happy to be only 2 games below .500 at this time, considering how relatively poorly the team has played in these areas. Although the debate on the ability to get hits with runners in scoring positions, getting hits on balls in play, and defense vs. pitching hasn't been resolved, such extremely large discrepancies the Phils are currently showing simply are not going to continue all season long.

Regression even to league averages in these three areas should see a great increase in offense and a great improvement in the team's ERA. The season has not been lost in April, fortunately. Improvement in improvable areas over the summer should lead to the Phils rising to challenge the Mets over the entire season for the NL East.

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