As I mentioned earlier this week, projections for the Phillies in 2016 have been bleak. It is not just a couple of spots on the roster that look poor, the whole roster is projected to be horrible. By Fangraph’s projections, the only two players expected to be above average are Maikel Franco (2.7 WAR) and Aaron Nola (2.5 WAR). It gets worse if you look at Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections which have no player on the roster projected to be above 2 WARP, with the closest being Maikel Franco at 1.5 WARP. Beyond individual players, the two projection systems have the Phillies winning 66 (FG) and 65 (BP) games during the 2016 season. I don’t think the Phillies are a juggernaut for the 2016 season, but I do think that for myriad of reasons the Phillies are being underrated by projection systems.
1. There is upside everywhere
Projection systems are not the best at predicting breakouts, PECOTA does the best with its percentile outcomes, but in general projections are conservative. Humans are not great at predicting breakouts either. Coming into the 2016 season, every position on the Phillies roster has upside. At catcher, Cameron Rupp won’t be great, but he should be an improvement on Ruiz, and if he stumbles there is Knapp and Alfaro waiting in the wings. At first base a platoon of Howard and Ruf should bring out the best in both. Second base might be my worst case for upside, but some guys really like him and there are also believers in Darnell Sweeney. Galvis has some bounceback potential, but it is really Crawford’s spot. A full year of Maikel Franco is better than half a season of Maikel Franco. In the outfield it will be tough for Herrera to top 2015, but projections are seeing him collapse. I wrote about Altherr earlier, but he could be very valuable if he can replicate part of his success. Peter Bourjos might have some bounce back potential, but if not, he is followed by Tyler Goeddel, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, and Cody Asche all who have varying amounts of upside.
2. The 2015 Rookie Class All Got Low Projections
The Phillies graduated a large rookie class during the 2015 season that provided a lot of hope for the future with their production. There is not a lot of optimism about repeat performances:
|Player||PA/IP||2015 fWAR||2015 WARP||PA/IP||2016 fWAR||PA/IP||2016 WARP|
It would be irresponsible to have extrapolated any of their performances out over a 162 game season, but that is not where most fans are in projecting these players going forward. All of them are young enough, and have enough tools that there is reason to think they will improve, even if their numbers slip some, but it appears the projections have them just falling off the map this season.
3. Depth Insulates Them From Sustained Bad Performances
A hallmark of the 2015 Phillies was sustained performances by bad baseball players because of their lack of options, whether it was Sean O’Sullivan or Jeff Francoeur those players put up sustained bad numbers. Projection systems are bad with depth charts and playing time, and beyond that, they cannot account for roster decisions based on performance. This means that you see players like Peter Bourjos have large amounts of plate appearances on projection systems with poor numbers. That is not really the reality of the 2016 Phillies. Because of their depth, non-critical players are not going to have the leash to continue to put up bad results without being replaced by another player. The only players with some amount of rope are probably Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, and Aaron Nola. If any of the starting pitchers struggle or are hurt, the Phillies have Brett Oberholtzer, Adam Morgan, Jake Thompson, and Mark Appel that they can plug in for another chance at upside. In the outfield a poor Bourjos performance could mean more time for Tyler Goeddel or eventually Nick Williams. At catcher and shortstop, there are prospects lurking. Either way, there is not going to be opportunity for a player to put up 100 innings of 5.00+ ERA pitching or a 400 PAs of a .220 batting average.
There is no place this is more evident than the bullpen. Matt Klentak has not built a bullpen of shutdown relievers, what he has built is a lot of depth to sort through to find successful pitchers. The Phillies under Klentak have shown no problem with churning through relievers to keep bringing in more arms to try. Outside of the sheer volume, the Phillies have a large contingent of relievers with minor league options remaining, which gives them flexibility to send guys up and down as different players have success. This won’t move the needle too much, but it should help shelter from complete disaster.
4. There is Not Much Room to Fall
To have a 65 or 66 win projection, you must have near nothing, and I think the Phillies fall under this distinction. That also means there is not much to fall from. Because of the low projections all around, there is not a single player where an injury or regression would hurt the team vs their projections (it would hurt their ability to beat the projections by a large margin). Additionally, unlike 2015, the Phillies don’t have good players that they will trade at the deadline and cut into their projected win total. If any player reaches a point where they have trade value, it means they have already exceeded expectations.
I may be an optimist, but to me there is little doubt that the Phillies exceed their projections during the 2016 season. I don’t think this is a problem with projection systems, they struggle with change and limited sample sizes, two things that are in large supply for the 2016 Phillies. The Phillies as a whole are all upside, which should make them very fun to follow this season. It won’t be all wins and smiles, nor will there be a parade in 2016, but they should win more than they did in 2015, and for that we should celebrate.
Photo by Baseball Betsy