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Breaking down the 2018 Phillies to find a likely record

I love sabermetrics. Use them all the time. They’re valuable and important.

WAR is well known to this point, and at times it can be seen as gospel. It’s not. In fact, because the statistic is reliant on several variables including other statistics that aren’t always precise, there can be quite a bit of noise in a final WAR calculation. Plus, multiple sources have their own versions of WAR. What Baseball Reference calculates (rWAR) isn’t what Fangraphs calculates (fWAR). Still, despite all this, it’s a great indicator. It’s generally accurate in comparing players, and especially groups of players.

Way back in the offseason, ZiPS projected the Phillies’ likely 25-man roster to be worth around 34 WAR. That was before Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta, and before we said goodbye to Freddy Galvis and Cameron Rupp, and before we said hello to Scott Kingery. Anyway, that projection might be more around 40-43 WAR, which … whatever, we’re not doing this again.

This exercise is not about data. There is no data crunching. Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to go through the mess in front of us – the roster, the other teams out there, the schedule – and try to come up with some sort of grand prediction. Yesterday in our staff predictions I put the Phils down for an 83-79 record. That’s not enough for a playoff spot. It’s close, but not enough. But I could be wrong. Let’s relitigate this thing.

The Players and Coaches

So who should really win us games here? Like, if we added every contribution from a player or coach, how many wins should that equal?

  1. Aaron Nola probably wins us the most games. Pitching is half the game, which means a starter wields tremendous power. Nola has that power for hopefully 30 or so starts. I say he, by himself, wins us 12 games. His pitching will be good enough to win us 12. I’m feeling good about Nola.
  2. Jake Arrieta also is a starter, and he is good, so he should also win us some games. Let’s say 8.
  3. The other starters aren’t so good. So let’s move to hitting, and hey, there’s Rhys Hoskins. He will win us games. Almost as many as Arrieta. I’m saying 7.
  4. I think there’s an offensive dropoff after Hoskins. Back to pitching. I think Ben Lively pitches better than expected. Give him 5 wins.
  5. Vince Velasquez will find enough rabbits in enough hats to pull off another 5 wins.
  6. And Nick Pivetta. I think he could get more wins, but I’m sticking to 5 here, too.
  7. Back to the offense. Let’s be bullish about Scott Kingery: 4 wins!
  8. Carlos Santana wins us 4. That’s about right.
  9. Odubel Herrera is worth a clean 4.
  10. J.P. Crawford will be better than we expect, I think. His defense is also really good. He’s worth 3.
  11. More 3s: Jorge Alfaro, Aaron Altherr. Another 6 total.
  12. The 2s: Maikel Franco, Nick Williams, Cesar Hernandez (if he’s traded I guess), Hector Neris, and let’s say Pat Neshek. Also a starter … let’s say Tom Eshelman. Another 12 there.
  13. But what about coaches? Well I think Gabe Kapler does enough little stuff to add up to 2 wins. Collectively the other coaches may add up to 2. So that’s 4 total.
  14. I’d give a couple relievers (Edubray Ramos, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano, Adam Morgan) and a bench player (Roman Quinn) 1 win each. So that’s 5.
  15. Finally, there’s a win out there in the random talent that finds its way to Philly during the season.

So that equals 85 wins. Hey, that’s not bad!

So imagine the Phillies land, say, a good starting pitcher at the trade deadline. That could add 2-3 wins, but you’d have to take away close to a win from another pitcher, so let’s put it at 2.

That means 87 wins. Holy crap, the wild card is in play!

The Other Teams

So it’s not just about the Phillies itself. They have to play other teams, and some of them a lot:

  • Washington: 19 games
  • Atlanta: 19 games
  • New York Mets: 19 games
  • Miami: 19 games
  • Pittsburgh: 7 games
  • St. Louis: 7 games
  • Cincinnati: 7 games
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 7 games
  • San Francisco: 7 games
  • Colorado: 7 games
  • Chicago Cubs: 6 games
  • Milwaukee: 6 games
  • Arizona: 6 games
  • San Diego: 6 games
  • Toronto: 6 games
  • Boston: 4 games
  • Baltimore: 4 games
  • New York Yankees: 3 games
  • Tampa Bay: 3 games

Let’s do the dumb exercise where we predict the Phillies’ record against these teams!

  • Washington: Very good team. Maybe some blowouts, but maybe some really tight games. I said 9-10 yesterday; I’m changing this: 7-12.
  • Atlanta: These games are mostly early, and the Phils need to capitalize before Ronald Acuna arrives and brings us hellfire and brimstone. I think they will? 11-8.
  • New York Mets: Who else is ready for these games to matter again? Who else is ready to be shouted at by New Yorkers for an entire summer? THIS GUY. 9-10.
  • Miami: Please, Phillies, do what you’re supposed to do here. 14-5.
  • Pittsburgh: The Pirates will be like the Phils: decent but with obvious flaws. I like our chances. 4-3.
  • St. Louis: Ugh. I never like the Cardinals. 2-5.
  • Cincinnati: This is the year we don’t drop two of three at Great American … primarily because we have a four-game series there. 5-2.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: In case you haven’t heard, the Dodgers are good. 2-5.
  • San Francisco: I don’t understand why the Giants think they have a shot this year. They should’ve done a full tank this year. 4-3.
  • Colorado: I feel like we play the Rockies well, but I’m basing this off absolutely nothing. 4-3.
  • Chicago Cubs: I think we’ll play the Cubs well, but not *too* well. 2-4.
  • Milwaukee: Give me an even split against a good but flawed team. 3-3.
  • Arizona: This is the team we have trouble with this year. 1-5.
  • San Diego: This is the team we don’t have trouble with this year. 5-1.
  • Toronto: I really like the Jays – they’re fun, have great fans and HAVE YOU SEEN VLAD GUERRERO JR.? 3-3.
  • Boston: Ugh. 1-3.
  • Baltimore: Better. 3-1.
  • New York Yankees: These are at home. This is great because (watches Aaron Judge square up against Nick Pivetta) … 1-2.
  • Tampa Bay: Not that good, Jim. 2-1.

Adding it up, the Phillies will go … 83-79. Right in line with my original prediction, though if I go back to my original record vs. Washington, and I find another place for a win … 85!

The Schedule

The Phillies won’t play these teams independent of context. There’s a schedule to understand – road trips, days off, how good and bad stretches align. The Phillies are on the positive end of schedule strength in the National League, basically because they’re not half bad and they play in a division with teams projected to be bad. That’s good! But where could they fall? Or where could they rise?

So the Phils have gotten off to hot (or lukewarm) starts the last few years; I think this is because young teams are fresher and there’s more room for noise early on. Well, this year could be something else, friends. Combine the team’s youth, the happy vibe of spring training, a new manager with new tricks, and – hell – it’s 2018 Philadelphia … this team could start off scorching hot. I’m talking articles written about sustainability and comparisons to the 2015 Astros.

The schedule backs this up. The Phils’ first 22 games are against the Braves, Mets, Marlins, Reds, Rays and Pirates, teams predicted to either hover around .500 or finish well below. I’m not saying 17-5 is out of the question, but I’m not saying …

The schedule gets a little harder as we hit May, with Arizona coming in, followed 10 days later by the first visit to Washington. Then the Giants and Mets come in. Basically, I really wouldn’t be surprised if we’re talking about a first-place team on May 14.

Then we get down to business: at the Orioles, at the Cardinals, Braves, Blue Jays, at the Dodgers, at the Giants, at the Cubs, Brewers, Rockies, at the Brewers, Cardinals, at the Nationals, Yankees, Nationals, Orioles.

That first part could be okay, but then the road trip begins May 28 and we’re not up for air until July 1. June will tell us everything about this team’s baseline. It could get really ugly. It should drop this team back under .500, and a bit below, too.

The first half ends with a road trip against meh teams: Pirates, Mets, Marlins. That could also go poorly, but it could be a little rebound. I don’t know. I’m saying this team is 44-52 at the break with bad memories of June.

The second half starts with balance: Six against the Padres and Dodgers, then six against the Reds and Red Sox. A run against the Marlins, Diamondbacks and Padres after that is a golden opportunity to get closer to .500. Then another tough stretch: Red Sox, Mets (including the Williamsport game), at Nationals, at Blue Jays, Nationals, Mets. I’m going to say this team is still six to seven games under .500 by this point (65-71), and now we’re in September.

But September. Seven against the Braves, six against the Marlins, six against the Mets. These games could mean a ton, but they could also be somewhat hollow in that the Phils win a bunch only to get from six-under to two-over. Plus they go to Colorado in this stretch and play the Nationals once more.

This schedule has me thinking more like 81-81 at best. Honestly, June looks terrifying.

Then again, maybe the Phils handle Milwaukee and Colorado in mid-June, which could be just enough to break up the hell that precedes and follows.

So what’s the deal then?

This team looks destined to win anywhere from 75 to 90 games.

Wait, that’s not focused enough.

I feel like 85 is a best-case scenario if the club doesn’t upgrade at the trade deadline. And June … okay, June has me thinking 75-79 is entirely possible. So if I went down the middle I’m at … 81-81. Which is where I thought this team was before Arrieta.

Okay, I’m going to hope for 85 while preparing for 78. Let’s just get on with it already.

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