The Phillies Should Outperform Low Projections

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:

 2015 SeasonProjected
PlayerPA/IP2015 fWAR2015 WARPPA/IP2016 fWARPA/IP2016 WARP
Maikel Franco3351.52.15602.65841.4
Odubel Herrera5373.92.85951.25980.7
Aaron Altherr1611.71.44410.64920.3
Aaron Nola77.20.91.41812.51381.4
Jerad Eickhoff511.21.41131.21311.1

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

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman

Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.

10 comments

  1. Dan Fink

    Keep up the great work. What’s your sense of Altherr? Can he do what he did last year after his call up, or do you expect him to regress some? Also, I think you have a typo in the lede – should be 2016.

  2. Alright, Matt. What is your 2016 win projection, then?

  3. Matt Sullivan

    Hey Matt thanks.

    Do you feel like Odubel gets enough respect league-wide? I means he’s hit and defended well at every level but people continue to write him off. Agree or disagree?

  4. Yes, the Phillies have the flexibility that they don’t need to stick with a vet who is playing badly. The projection problem is that until the new team proves different from the old team there is no reason a forecaster should assume that the Phillies will quickly move on to Option B. Given the amount of time they’ve stuck with Utley last year, Howard for years, even Delmon Young, there is just no way a prognosticator can assume the Phillies will move on from the fading vet.

    Herrera had such a high BABIP last season that he is almost certain to regress.

    It is really hard to forecast the future of pitchers who have just 2-3 months of MLB experience, because you may be seeing first time around the year effect.

    I think Howard and Ruiz could well be historically bad.

    I think something like 67-70 wins is reasonable. for 2016. Once again, the second half is likely better than the first half.

    • Eddie

      Projection systems are not about a “forecaster” doing anything. Stats are put into a computer and a projection comes out, period. There’s no human factoring in what the Phillies did with Delmon Young three years ago.

      • allentown1

        I was referring to Matt’s commentary, not the computer projections.

  5. Murray

    Thanks Matt, I agree with your thoughts. My thinking is that they should end around 70-72 wins. My goal is 72 and then 82 in 2017 as we fight back to become a contender in 2018. I’m clearly hoping for some more late season graduates (Thompson, Williams, Knapp, Cordero, Roibal, etc) to help the cause.

  6. B-dog

    I’m on the fence. While I agree wholeheartedly with most of your sentiments, I don’t believe they significantly alter our place in the standings. Depends- is winning 5-7 more games “significant” improvement? Or are those 71 wins just a sign of how deep the hole was initially? I do not fully grasp how an “above replacement” sum total translates to a team’s W-L record, but I feel like you could be right and wrong at the same time. We could revel in the rapid improvement of the Phillies youth movement and still pick 1st in the 2017 draft. I don’t think it would be a bad thing.

    Velasquez is being slept on majorly, in my opinion. He hardly pitched in AA before his strong MLB debut, followed by 5 quality starts. The passable, underwhelming stretch in Houston’s bullpen hurt his overall stats, but remaining in the rotation might have boosted his value considerably. His stuff is top-notch and he seems downright eager to challenge MLB hitters with it. As with Hamels, VV’s only knock is the perception of his health. If he adjusts to his role, stays healthy and pitches to his ability, Velazquez might be the Phillies best player next season. The chances of that aren’t particularly low either. Velasquez could single-handedly make us forget Giles with a solid couple months. VV might truly have the best stuff in the organization and he’s ready to join Nola and Eickhoff in the beginnings of a strong rotation.

  7. Tim

    I think Herrera and Franco plus Nola , Thompson etc will help better the win total .the sooner the kids come up the better the win total I hope .