Sandberg, Franco, Bell and What Could Have Been – Phillies Nation

Sandberg, Franco, Bell and What Could Have Been

Were the Phillies so bad in the 80’s that adding three All-Stars wouldn’t have made them competitive?

As discussed yesterday, Pat and I have been preparing lists and things for the site. One of the lists we have been preparing is the 10 Worst Trades in Phillies History. Generally, it is better to have a Hall of Fame player than to not have a Hall of Fame player. There are exceptions, a player on the downswing of his career would be one, but Hall of Fame players in their prime are very, very obviously an asset to a team.

However, there are occasions where the difference between having a Hall of Fame player, in his prime, or even a Hall of Famer and two additional All-Stars just wouldn’t make that much of a difference. I present you the tale of the 1983 through 1989 Phillies.

A few comments were made both in our comments section here on the site and on our Facebook page on our “5-for-1” retrospective that the Phillies would have been better served had they kept Julio Franco, instead of trading him to Cleveland. There was further speculation, a few “what ifs”, regarding what a line-up might look like with Mike Schmidt, George Bell (claimed prior to the 1981 season in the Rule 5 draft), Julio Franco, Juan Samuel, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

The first thing that came to mind when I saw that speculation was “Wow, that could have been a pretty solid team.” My second thought was “Hmm. They have one too many middle infielders and not enough corner infielders. Franco, Samuel, and Sandberg’s values would have been decreased at a corner infield spot.” My third thought was “The mid and late-80’s Phillies were so bad. Would a Hall of Famer and two multiple-time All-Stars have made a difference?”

The answer? Not really.

There are a couple of reasons adding Bell, Franco, and Sandberg wouldn’t have magically turned the team around. Let’s start with Bell’s case. Taken from the Phillies’ ranks prior to the 1981 season, Bell had to stay on the Blue Jays’ 1981 roster the entire year. Bell appeared in just 60 games for the Jays in 1981, none in 1982, and 39 in 1983. Bell, now age 24, received his first significant playing time in 1984, hitting 26 homers with 11 steals, hitting .292 with a .498 SLG%.

Garry Matthews had solid years in 1981 and 1982, leaving Bell no hypothetical spot to play but injuries to Matthews in 1983 would have given Bell an opening. Had Bell bell played LF for the Phillies from 1983 through 1989, the following would have happened:

LFgraphSomewhat surprisingly,  Bell would have only been an improvement in LF in four out of seven seasons. In two seasons (1986 and 1988), the Phillies’ often duct-taped LF actually out-performed Bell and 1983 was a wash. Granted, Bell saw limited playing time in 1983 and there isn’t really a way to know how he would have done in 600 PA, but generally speaking, a rookie Bell might have produced at about the same level.

(Note: the green line reflects in gains or losses relative to the All-Star or Hall of Fame player. In this case, the Phillies would have netted about three additional wins with Bell in LF instead of the conglomeration of folks they ran out there in 1989.)

Moving on to Franco brings in some more convincing evidence that this hypothetical roster would have certainly won more games from 1983 through 1989 than they actually did:



Franco, on average, would have added 1.98, or 2, wins per year over what the Phillies had at shortstop from 1983 through 1989 and would have been a consistent improvement over the players they played there.

Finally, let’s compare what Sandberg would have contributed to the Phillies v. what their actual second baseman contributed. Note: This means that  Samuel would not have been on the roster as a regular and could have been used in trades:

2BgraphBy replacing, in generalities, Samuel with Sandberg, the Phillies would have been better off at second base in five out of seven seasons from 1983 through 1989.

In general, the Phillies would have been a better team from 1983 through 1989, on average, gaining about five more wins per season, assuming the Phillies would have been able to directly duplicate Hayes’ production somewhere else, which, as we will soon see, is a big, big assumption.



In 1983, the one-loss difference would not have cost them the pennant but, conversely, the wins added in the future years would  have put them in the playoffs in only one year, 1987:

Standings Constant


Where the math gets trickier is accounting for Hayes. If you assume the Phillies retain Franco, you then should assume the Phillies would not have Hayes. As demonstrated yesterday, Hayes was a very productive player in the 80’s and was surprisingly healthy throughout the decade. His production based on plate appearances alone would have been very tough to duplicate.

For each year from 1983 through 1989, I compared Hayes to players at his position(s) and saw how many players had at least that many plate appearances. I also compared Hayes to the average fWAR. Three out of seven seasons, including Hayes’ 1983 rookie campaign, Hayes was below the average expected output among qualified players with his # of PA or more.

In this, there is statistical bias: you have to be 1.) very good and 2.) very healthy to reach the number of plate appearances Hayes did in the 1980s or you simply wouldn’t play. If you don’t play, you cannot accumulate fWAR. To try to neutralize this element, I calculated the anticipated output of  an average Hayes replacement at that production level (# of players that hit Hayes’ PA mark or more divided by the number of MLB teams times the average fWAR for those players). In short, I tried to take WAR and make it WAVHL (Wins Above Von Hayes‘ Level).

Von  Hayes Factory


As illustrated above, the Phillies would have actually had a particularly hard time replacing Hayes’ production levels had he been dealt away. There just weren’t that many players that were able to stay as healthy, and productive, as Hayes was through the 1980s. In only 1983 and 1988 would it have been a relatively safe move to take “the field” at Hayes’ positions v. Hayes. Otherwise, Hayes was particularly valuable to bad Phillies clubs.

(Note: There are more complex ways, mathematically, of addressing these series of What Ifs but they are beyond my scope. I attempted to assume how realistic it was for the Phillies to be able to find someone of “average” contribution within the parameters of PA that Hayes had.)

Finally, let’s put it all together: what would a Phillies team with Bell, Franco, and Sandberg, but without Hayes and Samuel, have looked like, in a vacuum based on their actual production, versus what actually happened:


As you’ll notice, the Phillies once again top the eventual actual division winners only once in any scenario and that was, once again, in 1987.

This exercise may show the following:

1. The Phillies were pretty bad in a number of areas in the mid and late 80s. Even in their most competitive years, adding a Hall of Famer and two All-Stars only would have likely launched them to one division title. Granted, anything can happen in the playoffs, however, the 1987 team had a rotation of Shane Rawley, Don Carman, Bruce Ruffin, and Kevin Gross.

Which brings me to…

2. The Phillies had horrible, if not insurmountably bad, pitching in this time period. Despite having Schmidt for the last hurrah of his prime during this period and two Cy Young winners, the Phillies ranked 21st in fWAR from 1983 through 1989. At 60-66 with a 3.87 ERA, Gross led the team in wins during this period.

This really wasn’t all necessarily the pitchers’ faults, though because…

3. The defense was horrible. The Phillies ranked 26th out of 26 in Total Zone rating according to FanGraphs from 1983 through 1989. The defense was so bad that the Phillies had the 10th best FIP in the Majors during that time but somehow were only the 21st most valuable set of pitchers. You could argue that Bell, Franco, and Sandberg would have been improvements in this regard as well however, any improvement seen in defensive metrics would have come through in the overall fWAR calculations.

4. Von Hayes was a pretty good player and probably not as replaceable as many fans think.

5. Adding two players that won MVPs in the span of a set seven year period and another future All-Star really doesn’t improve a horrifically bad team’s chance of competing that drastically.

6. Finally, the competition was particularly strong in the NL East in most years. The Mets won 108 games in 1986 and 100 games in 1988. They would have been a hard team to catch regardless of who was on your roster. Additionally, the Cardinals won 101 games in 1985 to win the division crown.

I welcome any thoughts or counterpoints, particularly to the anticipated values portion, to this discussion.



  1. Archie

    May 2, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    You’re missing the Lonnie Smith in LF part of the team that would have made that lineup even more dynamic. Lonnie Smith for Bo Diaz was part of those selling out the future trades that ruined the Phillies of the 1980’s.

    • Ian Riccaboni

      May 2, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      Smith and Bell both played left field. I chose Bell because Bell had better numbers over that time period.

      • Alan

        May 3, 2014 at 8:21 pm

        We could have played Samuel in outfield during that period of time. He could have played left or center.

    • Tom

      June 21, 2014 at 7:22 pm

      November 20, 1981: Traded as part of a 3-team trade by the Cleveland Indians to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Philadelphia Phillies sent a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. The Philadelphia Phillies sent Lonnie Smith to the St. Louis Cardinals. The St. Louis Cardinals sent Silvio Martinez and Lary Sorensen to the Cleveland Indians. The Philadelphia Phillies sent Scott Munninghoff (December 9, 1981) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.

      Source: Baseball Reference

  2. Archie

    May 2, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    Players, as part of a lineup, complement each other and don’t operate independently of each other. Using stats to prove that one player was this or that doesn’t prove much. The strength would have been a natural lineup with speed, then power:
    1) Lonnie Smith’
    2) Juan Samuel
    3) Ryne Sandberg
    4) George Bell
    5) Mike Schmidt (getting older but still powerful)
    6) Julio Franco

    • Ian Riccaboni

      May 2, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      But what I am saying is that you are not using an optimal line-up: you have two left fielders and three middle infielders. Neither Smith nor Bell was competent enough defensively to play right field and you would lose any surplus value gained from any of your middle infielders by moving them to first, or even third if you moved Schmidt to first earlier, base.

      Also, line-up placement and position has no bearing on how a player performs historically:

      The difference between an optimal line-up and a non-optimal line-up is about a swing of two wins over the course of the season.

      I am also in the camp that line-up protection is not a real thing, either. I think ensuring L/R are split is significantly more important than who is protecting who.

      • wbramh

        May 2, 2014 at 7:52 pm

        I agree with you about the L/R split (the other stuff, too).

        Especially in a tight game when many managers tend to manage to death, changing pitchers seemingly with every pitch. A good L/R balance with fairly even talent depletes defensive reserves.

      • antsal

        July 29, 2014 at 10:15 am

        You have to also remember this is pre-sabermetrics days for most teams. They generally weren’t looking at fWAR and other stats that are common nowadays when analyzing teams. It would not have been far-fetched for the 1984 team to look like this:

        1B – Schmidt
        2B – Samuel
        SS- Franco
        3B – Sandberg
        LF – Matthews or Bell or Smith or Glenn Wilson
        CF – Dernier
        RF- Bell or Smith or Glenn Wilson or Sixto Lezcano
        C – Bob Boone/Ozzie Virgil mentoring their successor Darren Daulton

        1 Samuel 2B
        2 Franco SS
        3 Sandberg 3B
        4 Schmidt 1B
        5 Matthews or Lonnie Smith LF
        6 Bell or Wilson RF
        7 Boone C
        8 Dernier CF

        You still could have made the trade for Mike Krukow (and tried to keep him for more than one year), you could have still made the move to get and ultimately trade Willie Hernandez for Glenn Wilson, you had a 31 year old John Denny coming off a Cy Young season, and aging Steve Carlton, an upcoming Charles Hudson & Kevin Gross and a 28 year old Shane Rawley. In hindsight it’s easy to say how those pitchers turned out but who knows how they would have fared with a better (though defensively weaker) hitting team.

        Potential Starters:

        SP – Denny
        SP- Carlton
        SP – Krukow
        SP – Rawley (acquired a few months into the 1984 season)
        SP – Hudson
        SP – Koosman
        SP – Gross

  3. Archie

    May 2, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    As for the defense, with Franco at SS and Sandberg at 2B.Juan Samuel would have been in his natural position in CF. . Samuel had many errors at 2B. .Plus, Schmidt at 3B It would have been much better for everyone.

    • Ian Riccaboni

      May 2, 2014 at 5:19 pm

      Samuel cost his teams -21 runs in 271 games in the outfield. He was not a natural outfielder.

  4. bacardipr

    May 2, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    This seems like Schmenkan type of article…

  5. Bob D

    May 3, 2014 at 7:08 am

    Good article these last 2 on Hayes and What if.

    It would have been interesting with Franco S, Sandberg 2B, Bell OF, Schmidt 3B or 1B (may have stayed longer too with a better team, but not much longer. Samuel may have been switched to CF or remain at 2B or would Sandberg be moved to 3B??? Something would have changed there, but moving a player from their ideal position doesn’t always work.

    Then you have who would be 1B of OF to replace Von Hayes. They may have signed a top free agent. They did that with Lance Parrish C in 1987, but he proved he hit better in AL than NL.

  6. Rob

    May 3, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Very great break down on this subject.I hated when the Phils broke the 1980-81 teams apart.I never understood why the Phils gave up on Lonnie Smith and George Vukovich.I thought Smith was a star right from his rookie campaign and Vukovich was definitely gonna be a very good player until he was traded to the AL and basically ruined his career switching leagues.But then I guess we wouldn’t of had Sarge and Hayes then.

    • Rob

      May 3, 2014 at 8:20 am

      Also Keith Moreland would of looked good in the lineup for years if he wasn’t traded either.Seems the Phils really traded away these good young players and made some very questionable, dumb signings.

      • Ian Riccaboni

        May 5, 2014 at 11:17 am

        Interesting pull with Keith Moreland.

        I think I’d give them a pass on Moreland, only because he was a late bloomer. He showed some flashes of being able to break out in 1980 behind the plate but didn’t really have his big breakout year until 1983 at age 29. Those ones are a little easier to digest!

  7. CharlieD729

    May 3, 2014 at 9:50 am

    This reminds me of a story I read by one of the longtime Philly baseball writers wrote several years ago.
    It is about how the Phillies would have been a dynasty in the 70’s based on their pitching. It starts out with what if the Phils never traded Fergie Jenkins. Then goes on to tell how the Mets approached the Phillies about 3rd baseman Don Money. The Phils declined a trade of Don Money for Nolan Ryan because Mike Schmidt was not quite ready for the big leagues at the time, he needed another year in the minors. The Mets ultimately traded Ryan to the Angels for Jim Fregosi.
    Then the Phillies did acquire Steve Carlton.
    So we were very close to going through the decade of the 70’s with a pitching rotation that included Carlton, Ryan and Jenkins! Ah, good old hindsight, it really is 20/20.

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