Analysis

The Phillies Ace Effect

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Roy Halladay is on the mound. Everyone in attendance at Citizens Bank Park knows he is on today–that his stuff is good stuff today. The first three batters of the game look like they’ve never swung a baseball bat in their life as they flailed in vain at the perfectly placed pitches by Halladay. The next eight innings play out in similar fashion, with maybe a few seeing eye singles and a lone run on the scoreboard.

But there’s a problem. The home team hasn’t scored, even though the opposing pitcher has an ERA in the upper stratosphere.

Sound familiar? It seemed like this happened far too often in 2011, and never more apparent in Game 5 of the NLDS, when the Phillies were incapable of scratching off just one run against Christ Carpenter–who is an elite pitcher–when their own Roy Halladay pitched his ass off for them, allowing just a single run. It was a painful way to end the season, and a microcosm of the seemingly many times that Halladay–or any of the Aces–did not get sufficient run support.

The Phillies scored 4.4 runs per game in 2011, but just 3.84 behind Cole Hamels. And 3.97 behind Cliff Lee. They scored 4.78 behind Halladay, but combined the Phils only scored 4.2 runs behind their three aces, while scoring an average of 4.69 runs per game in all other games.

I thought this was interesting, so I investigated the other two pitchers in the top five of the Cy Young Award voting, and the results were not similar. The Dodgers scored 4.33 runs in games that Clayton Kershaw started, and just 3.88 in games he didn’t, while the Diamondbacks scored 4.58 runs in games that Ian Kennedy started, and 4.5 in all other games. Since it seems to be a Phillies-only problem, I turned my attention back to them.

Going a little deeper, the Phillies averaged 8.2  hits per game behind the aces, and 8.9 hits per game in the rest. This means that the Phillies were getting about the same amount of opportunities to score runs, but couldn’t capitalize as much. You would think that this means that they left more men on base, but that’s not the case. In games started by the aces, they stranded an average of 7 runners per game, but in other games, they stranded runners a little more, averaging 7.94 per game. They even struck out less in “aces” games than in other games–6.08 behind the aces and 6.66 in others. What this tells me is that the Phils’ offense was putting the ball in play more, but not getting good enough contact.

The cause of this could be one of many things. First, I think you have to figure out why this seems to happen to only the Aces on the Phillies, and not the other pitchers. A common theory says that if a guy like Halladay, Hamels, or Lee is on the mound, the offense becomes complacent, knowing that it doesn’t have to put up a ton of runs to win the game. Imagine being at your job, knowing that the guy next to you is going to get done 80% of the project you both are contributing to. Are you not likely to do only 20% of the work, even though it should be 50/50? It’s a mental thing, and something that is very real, even though it can’t be completely explained by numbers.

Another reason for this phenomenon could simply be coincidence. The numbers are not that far off, and the data compiled is from just one season. Maybe 2012 will be different, but for now, aces on the mound means less run production from this Phillies lineup and more frustration from fans that miss the high powered offense that the Phillies used to have.

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