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Why can’t the Phillies beat bad teams?

Thankfully, the Phillies salvaged the series – and their dignity – against the Pirates yesterday with a 5-1 win behind Gavin Floyd who was "effectively wild enough to be successful".  In the first two games of the weekend, the Phils pitching only surrendered 3 runs per game, but the offensive only managed run totals of 1 and 2.  This series has left me wondering why aren’t the Phillies rolling over these below-average teams?  In the last half of April, the Phils faced Washington (8-17), Florida (6-16), Colorado (15-10) and Pittsburgh (7-19).  Amazingly they took the Colorado series, but split with Florida and lost to Pittsburgh and Washington.  Before this supposedly soft part of the schedule hit, everyone was saying here’s where the Phils can get back on track if they take or maybe even sweep a few of these series.  Well, we closed the book on April and Phils are no better for it.  It’s not quite time to panic, but for how much longer can we say, "oh, they just have to win the next few series and they’ll be ok"?

Back to the question of why aren’t the Phillies winning the games they’re supposed to?  Well, if I was Chris Wheeler I might say it’s because they are allowing more runs then they score.  But I’m not, so I will dig a little deeper with a quick look at the Phillies pitching today – offensive and defensive analysis will come tomorrow.

Below is a chart showing the expected win-loss record for Phillies starters alongside their actual record.  The expected record for the pitcher is based on how often pitchers with the same innings pitched and runs allowed earned a win or loss historically.

  eW eL W L
Myers 2.2 .9 2 1
Lidle 1.7 1.8 2 3
Lieber 1.3 2.8 0 4
Floyd 1.2 3.0 2 2
Madson 0.9 2.4 2 1

As you can expect, Jon Lieber’s numbers are the most contrasting.  Part of this discrepancy can be explained by his bullpen support, which is second worst in the majors.  So in his case, a lot of extra runs are charged to him after he leaves the game (5 out of 5 bequeathed runners have scored) – of which, of course he is still partly to blame.  Myers is about on target with his expectations, Lidle is a bit below and Floyd and Madson are actually surpassing their expected totals.  Really what this means, when you factor in runs allowed, is that Floyd and Madson give up a lot of runs, which is not surprising with their ERAs of 6.57 and 8.05 respectively.  Lieber also gives up a lot of runs but (7.04 ERA) but has pitched more innings than Floyd and Madson.  Taken on its own, these stats for Phillies starters paint a pretty opaque picture of why the Phillies are losing.  On average the expected outcome for starters is just about the same as the actual result.

The bullpen has been similarly decent on average, but with plenty of ups and downs along the way.  There’s little argument that Tom Gordon has successfully replaced Billy Wagner thus far as he has converted all of his save opportunities.  Arthur Rhodes in just under 8 innings of work has allowed 5 runs while Ryan Franklin has allowed 6 in 13.3.  Franklin’s runs obviously hurt more as his 2 losses will testify.  Fultz and Geary have been used the most this season but according to Baseball Prospectus it’s been mostly in mop-up situations.  Julio Santana has himself a 7.71 ERA after just seven innings of work, so he certainly isn’t helping matters.  Thus the bullpen – save Tom Gordon – can be described as inconsistent at best.

A rudimentary conclusion we can draw concerning the Phillies pitching is that while it isn’t terrible, it’s definitely not taking charge and winning games.  In my opinion, the most pressing concern is getting Jon Lieber his first win of the season.  Even thought he’s a veteran, he’s confidence has to be hurting and with the "throw strikes first, ask questions later" philosophy of his, that is not a good mix.  While the pitching hasn’t looked great in April, I can’t say it has significantly been the cause of the Phillies losses — especially before we look at the offensive and fielding tomorrow.  I suspect the since the 8 of the Phillies 14 losses have come by 2 runs or less that offensive might be the issue.  Let’s hope not because tonight the Fightins are scheduled for a pitchers duel as Ryan Madson locks up against Dontrelle Willis.  Fortunately, JRoll loves playing against his high school sweetheart.  The Phils might have to rely on him because as Paul Hagen pointed out today, (though something we already know) the Phils do not fare well against left-handed pitching.

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