The Phillies weren’t supposed to be this good. Or, maybe, playing this well. That’s a better way to put it, because they’re playing very well. But I still don’t know how to frame how “good” they actually are. So let’s try to do that.
The Phils are 15-11, but their Pythagorean Win/Loss record (an estimate of a team’s winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed) is nearly the inverse at 10-16. That’s because they’ve scored 85 runs and allowed 108. They’re 8-2 in one-run games, but are 6-9 in games where the run differential is three or more. They average 3.8 runs in every win, while their opponent averages 7.4 runs in every loss. They’ve only won one game all year where their opponent scored more than four runs. They simply don’t have the firepower. They’re on pace to allow 673 runs, which would be their lowest total since 2011. However, the 530 runs scored for which they’re on pace would be their lowest total since 1981 (491).
While the record seems likely to revert to the mean, there’s no telling what the pitching will do. The pitching staff’s 10.1 K/9IP for the month of April was the highest for the first month of the season in Major League Baseball history. That’s a very long history. But while that’s incredibly impressive and should not be ignored, it’s worth noting that “the top nine MLB teams on the list were all from 2013-16.” Here’s the chart from BOOP:
But there’s real, real promise. The average age of the Phillies’ pitching staff is 27.2 years, the youngest they’ve been since 1995. And the guys who pitched a little bit last year are improving:
Velasquez is in the 90th percentile, about even with Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber. Eickhoff is in the 88th percentile, right there with Lance McCullers and Carlos Martinez. And Nola is in the 79th percentile, by Sonny Gray and Hisashi Iwakuma. Velasquez, so far this year, has improved. Eickhoff has improved. And Nola has improved. It’s not yet at all fair to say these arms are on the level of the Mets’ best, but you can get dreaming. At these performance levels, the differences aren’t enormous, and the Mets have built around the pitching. Good rotations are almost necessary for good teams, and the Phillies have quickly found most of one. Long-term, I mean. I’m not even bothering to address the early success of Jeremy Hellickson.
Again, you see the hallmarks of rebuilding teams who succeed early. Nola has simply been developed well by the organization. Velasquez was taken from an organization less willing to give him a starting opportunity. And Eickhoff must have been scouted well, because at the time of the Cole Hamels blockbuster, he was anything but the centerpiece.
From never playing Major League ball before last season to the Phillies’ most surprising star, Herrera is currently third in the NL in on-base percentage (.450), first in the NL in times on base (50), and second in the NL in walks (23). He’s only five bases on balls away from matching his 2015 number, all that while only being walked intentionally twice. All eyes are on Maikel Franco, but Herrera is playing out of his mind and well beyond expectations.
What Does It All Mean?
Hell if I know. No one expected the Phils to be playing as well as they are right now… but they’re still third in the division. I expect them to regress to the mean. If they’re still a handful of games above .500 at the All-Star Break, maybe I’ll revise my prediction. I’m still at 74-88. With each win I’m tempted to inch that win total up, but every seven-run loss levels me out.
Is this a good team? Probably not. But are they fun? Absolutely, and this fan base needs that.
Kyle: I’d argue they have the makings of what will be a good team. They could be good-ish this year, if only because their pitching is so good and they have a bunch of guys who seem like they actually care. Either way, all good signs for what’s to come.