I’m an eternal optimist. With the addition of the second Wild Card, I won’t be counting the Phillies out of it until the last day of the season. That said, being five games under .500 is frustrating baseball. When things start to go right, for instance Polly getting hot or Freddy Galvis starting to put it together, something goes horribly south (Galvis breaks his back). Right now, Jim Thome is hitting .270 and looks like a brand new player and, with Jimmy Rollins, leading what feels like an offensive renaissance. Unfortunately, this renaissance has come at a time when pitching is letting them down the most.
The Phillies have averaged 2.85 runs per game in losses this year, losing by an average margin of 2.83 runs. In these losses, the bullpen has been on the hook for about 1.58 runs per game, or just over half of the margin of loss responsibility. But when looking at who was in the game when the lead changed hands, 12 of the games saw the lead change hands for good when the bullpen was in the game. The other 22? Came at the hands of the starters.
Out of the gate, I acknowledge that this shrewd method does not account for a few items on each side. For the bullpen, they take a hit for games that were out of control before they entered, such as the 15-13 loss to the Braves. For the starters, they are unfairly held on the hook for quality starts and low scoring 1-run losses that the offense could not dig their way out of.
The Phillies pitching as a whole ranks 7th in the MLB in fWAR, 4th in the NL, but only 3rd in the NL East behind the MLB-best Nationals and the Marlins. When adjusting for just starting pitching, the Phillies rank 2nd, leading MLB in innings pitched (405.1), BB/9 IP (2.02) and xFIP (3.34). The Phils’ bullpen, however, ranks 24th in WAR, possessing the 3rd worst ERA in the Majors. Are these stats reflective of mop-up stats skewed? 19 of the losses game by 3 or more runs, with the lead changing hands for good in only 4 of those because of the bullpen. It looks like the ‘pen may be off the hook.
If the problem is with the starters, or at least 50% or more of the issue, is it with managing starters? Would it help to take them out one inning prior to melting down? The meltdown innings, surprisingly, are always in the final inning that the starters pitch. Only once has a starter allowed 4 earned runs in his final inning, 8 times a starter has allowed 1 earned in his final inning, and 17 times the starters have allowed no earned. I don’t think jumping the gun an inning early is the solution, although there have been nine games where starters have given up 2 or more earned in their final inning.
The Phils’ scoring clip of nearly 3 runs in losses should be enough to win a number of those games. The Phils have only been shutout twice, but have scored 1 run 11 times. Obviously, the blame cannot be placed solely on the starting pitching, which has been at times electric, but it may force Phillies fans to re-evaluate their perception of the club. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee undoubtedly will pitch well enough most nights to keep the Fightins in the game – after that, the rest of the team is full of question marks that are more pronounced now than they were at the beginning of the season.