Whimsy

Simulating … err … ruining the Phillies: Part 5 (the all-time team)

Our Daniel Walsh simulated the Phillies in a variety of experiments in the game Out of the Park Baseball. Each day this week, Walsh chronicles his simulations. 

You deserve to be happy.

You deserve a good baseball team to watch and the chance to dwell in nostalgia every now and then.

For that reason, I’ve fired up the ol’ time machine, dusted off the cryogenics lab, taken an antacid, and brought you the Phillies team you deserve: one made entirely of all-time great Phillies.

EXPERIMENT 4: THE ALL-TIME TEAM

schmidt_back_large.jpgThe selection methodology was a mix between the Phillies who had the best career at a position and those who had the best season at a position, which is how Ken Giles wound up on the roster despite not being a Phil for very long and how Brad Lidge got there despite one really painful season. The single-season stipulation was a helpful tie-breaker in a few of the positions that could be tossups between multiple very good players. And when in doubt, I just chose a guy I liked (looking at you, Larry Andersen).

I also made sure to revert players back to their best year of production as a Phillie. So, for example, this is 2006 Ryan Howard being used, not 2016 Ryan Howard.

The roster

I’m sure there are guys I put on this list who some don’t want on it. I’m sure there are others I left off who deserve to be on it. I did the best I could, and this is a curatorial process to a certain extent. Don’t @ me.

Starting offense
C – Darren Daulton
1B – Ryan Howard
2B – Chase Utley
3B – Mike Schmidt
SS – Jimmy Rollins
LF – Ed Delahanty
CF – Billy Hamilton
RF – Bobby Abreu

Bench
C – Mike Lieberthal
1B – Jim Thome
3B – Dick Allen
CF – Richie Ashburn
OF – Chuck Klein

Starting rotation
SP – Roy Halladay
SP – Jim Bunning
SP – Pete Alexander
SP – Robin Roberts
SP – Steve Carlton

Bullpen
RP – Ken Giles
RP – Larry Andersen
RP – Jonathan Papelbon
RP – Billy Wagner
RP – Tug McGraw
RP – Brad Lidge
RP – Ron Reed

A few notes on my selections

  • I considered including Curt Schilling in my rotation, but ultimately went with other options. Fortunately, Schill has a history of responding well to rejection.
  • Bobby Abreu was a phenomenal hitter with the Phillies, but lots of fans had very negative feelings toward him. To those of you, I say: look at his stats. Seriously. During his time with the Phillies, only seven players in baseball had a higher on-base percentage than him: Barry Bonds, Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez. Only four were worth more fWAR in that same timespan: Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen.Bobby Abreu was a fantastic Phillie. Get on board.
  • The bullpen was the hardest part to decide. There are fewer standout relievers on a career level, and the single-season tiebreaker is less effective with relievers because of their volatility. With other positions, I at least knew that choosing between, for example, Del Ennis and Chuck Klein gets me a good player either way, but the same was not true of relievers. Again, Lidge is an example.

Results

For the first time, the results can include the playoffs. But first, the regular season:

The team was the best offensive team in baseball, which should come as no surprise. It led in runs scored (923), batting average (.276), OBP (.362), home runs (213), and steals (131).

The historical position players contributed just as much as the modern guys. Billy Hamilton reached 10.3 WAR due to his .393/.516/.527 slash line. He stole 52 bases. Honestly, being on base that often sounds exhausting and kind of boring, but I appreciated his effort.

Every starter but Rollins had an OPS+ above 100, and Rollins’ was 98, and he did hit 17 home runs and steal 35 bases. This seems super obvious in a post about the all-time greatest Phillies team, but there was no weak link on offense.

Pitching was another matter entirely. Not only was it not dominant, but it wasn’t even very good, ranking 11th in the National League in runs against and starter ERA. The defense may have been cause for this, as the team was second-worst in the NL in defensive efficiency.

My other explanation – other than the bullpen being less star-studded than the rest of the roster – is in how the game takes a player’s era into account when developing his more detailed ratings, like “stuff” and individual pitch quality. Pete Alexander, for example, was a great talent in his day, but his day was 1915. Pitchers at the time didn’t have the “stuff” expected of pitchers today and don’t seem to have had the same quality or variety of breaking pitches.

No starter had a sub-3 ERA. Even Halladay – the 2011 version – pitched to a 3.82 ERA, which, for what it’s worth, was close to his FIP.

If I were making this team again, I would recruit more starters and transition some of them into relief roles. Some of the starters that didn’t make the cut could definitely have displaced some of the relievers, especially if the goal is consistency.

All told, the team won 100 games but only finished in second place behind the Nationals, who won 109 games. I don’t want to talk about it. I will say that I hoped this team would at least set a new win record, but that honor can remain with the 2011 crew.

The playoffs!

The 100-win, all-time Phillies sealed a wild card spot and faced off against the Mets to start the postseason. They won 5-1 behind a strong effort from Halladay and advanced to the Division Series against Washington, who they swept, outscoring them 21-6. Justice.

They were, however, knocked out by the Cubs in a five-game Championship Series. The pitching really fell apart, allowing eight, three, eight, five and six runs in the 5 games. As it turns out, Curt Schilling, being a prolific postseason performer who narrowly missed the cut for my team, probably would have been a difference-maker. Sorry, Curt.

Somebody probably won the World Series after that.

Conclusion

I don’t know how to put a bow on the 6,500 words I’ve written about this game of spreadsheets and bad baseball decisions. I don’t know if the premise will interest readers as much as it interested me to see the game crunch numbers and carry out a computational version of a sport that offers so much uncertainty and random variation, or if all the silly time-wasting I did will make for much of a spectator sport. Honestly, I don’t know if any of it has even been readable. I do sincerely hope someone will get a kick out of this pet project, though.

I’m not sure we learned anything, so at least we have that going for us.

There is something about what-if scenarios that makes it impossible to follow sports without indulging in them from time to time. What if the Phillies’ best-ever infield core of Howard, Utley and Rollins had been complemented by the greatest Phillie of all time at the hot corner? What if the club had been more conservative with its trades toward the end of its competitive window and held on to more prospects? What if some players start hitting in 2017? What if they’re good in 2017?

What the Out of the Park Baseball series offers is the chance to carry out even the most far-fetched hypotheticals and, by running them through a quantitative, stat-oriented simulation, feel like they’ve been carried out in some tangible way that we can actually talk about. The intended purpose of the game is to live out the possibility of what would happen if you were the manager or general manager of the club, but I’ve played enough times to know how that turns out: everyone would hate me.

Instead, I started this series as something funny to do during the deepest, darkest, most boring part of the offseason. In a few places, I was carrying out genuine inquiries and curiosities of mine, like what the prospects might have played like if they filled out the big league roster last season. Mostly, I just wanted to push a baseball management simulator into some pretty weird scenarios to see how much I could break baseball.

I don’t think I broke baseball, but I definitely killed some time. Put that on my tombstone.

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