Phils Playoff Chances Heading Into Halfway Point

How Many Wins Will the Phillies Need to Make the Playoffs?

June 21, 2012, 2:10 pm
By Andrew Kulp  (email)
The700Level.com
The Daily News ran a column this morning that set out to answer that very question. David Murphy did the leg work, and based on results from previous years, he concluded the Phillies need to reach the 88-win markto qualify for the postseason.The reasoning is simple. In each full season since the Wild Card was adopted in 1995, the club that would have earned the newly invented second WC spot finished with at least 88 wins on all but two out of 16 occasions.

In practice, the path to get there is not nearly so simple. With a record of 33-37, in order for the Phils to reach 88 wins, they need to go 55-37 the rest of the way — and even that might not be enough. Nine times, or more than half, the runner-up’s win total actually eclipsed 88.

Murphy seems to be operating under the assumption the Phillies won’t win the NL East, a conclusion we’ve more or less drawn on our own. Regardless, sneaking in through the back door doesn’t diagram much easier.

The plan he sets out would require Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Vance Worley to revert to their 2011 performances, when the club combined to go 39-17 over their last 56 combined starts. So far this season, the Phils are 11-3 when Hamels starts, but 7-14 when Lee or Worley are pitching. Lee and Worley have also missed games due to injury.

That’s an optimistic projection, though clearly achievable. Plus Roy Halladaywill eventually return, which should help prop up the rest of the rotation, and actually lessen the load on the other three.Yet you can see how staggering a hole the Phillies are in when you break it down like that. A team that has been hovering around or below .500 for the majority of the year likely needs to win at close to a .600 clip for the next three months — and they’re still missing players.

Think they have it in them?

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Philadelphia Phillies: How Chase Utley‘s Return Impacts Team’s Playoff Chances

By

 (Featured Columnist) on June 22, 2012

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The result of Thursday night’s Philadelphia Phillies game, a 4-1 loss to theColorado Rockies, pretty much sums up how the entire season has been going.

Citizen’s Bank Park, a place that boasts loud and passionate fans, used to be a place that other teams dreaded to play in. The home-field advantage was never more obvious than when the Phils took the field at their stadium in the heart of their beloved city. In 2012, however, it has just been a place where the Phillies play their home games. Nothing much is special about it, no added advantage is obvious. The team isn’t winning any more games at home. They aren’t winning games period.

Nothing has been easy for the Phils this season. Whether it has been the injuries to key members of the team, uncharacteristic errors in the field, a lack of success against other teams’ bullpens or just an inability to score with runners on base with less than two outs, the championship formula this team has had in the past few years is not there.

Morale is down and frustration is obvious. It is on the faces of the players, the dumbfounded looks of the manager and the disappointment from the fans.

This team needs something, well a lot of things. It needs to get help in the bullpen. It needs to get its ace and sluggers off of the DL. It needs its other ace to find a way to win a game. It needs to score more runs. It needs to make less errors, both mental and on the score sheet. It needs to take action, to play inspired baseball. Most importantly, this team needs to get its swagger, its confidence, its personality back.

Most of what the Phils need, most of what I described, is embodied in the heart and soul of one player. He is someone who doesn’t shy away from a challenge, someone who plays with grit and passion, someone who is a leader. He may have arthritic knees but that doesn’t change the fact that when healthy, he can really smack the cover off of a baseball.

Will Chase Utley’s return make the Phils a better team?

No, one player is not enough to solve their problems.Yes, Utley will help this team make up ground in the East.It depends on how his knees are for the rest of the season.Submit Vote vote to see results

If you haven’t figured it out, the person I am referring to is All-Star second baseman Chase Utley.

Having yet to face major league pitching and the wear and tear of major league fielding, Utley is close to making his 2012 debut. In fact, according to a recent report via AOL Sporting News, Utley could be back before the calendar turns to July.

While Utley’s return has been long anticipated, at this point in the season, one has to wonder if it will be enough or if the Phils have already dug themselves a hole too deep to climb out of.

Even then, a bigger question arises. When Utley comes back, how will he be? Will he go back to how he was pre-2011? Will he be able to play back-to-back games? Will his knees hold up for the rest of the season?

With all of these questions and so far, not enough information to create the answers, it is hard to predict how Utley’s return will impact the team’s chances at a sixth consecutive playoff berth. If Utley is healthy, however, and returns to the form he has had in the best years of his career, it would not be surprising to see the Phillies once again atop the NL East.

On the field, Utley brings solid defensive skills. He has never been perfect in the field but it is something he has invested time and energy in improving. With the bat, Utley has offensive prowess. His quick swing enables him to get the barrel on the ball and helps him get around on pitches. He grinds out each at-bat and is rarely ever an easy out.

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Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Something else that the Phillies desperately need is situational hitting and when at his best, Utley does this as well as anyone else in the game. With a runner on second, nobody out, such as in Thursday’s game when Ty Wigginton led off the inning with a double, Utley knows what he has to do and more often than not executes.

In addition to what Utley offers with his bat and his glove, depending on his knees, he can also be a threat on the bases. Although not the fastest, Utley has also had good career numbers in base stealing percentage. Just like every other aspect of his game, he works so hard at it and as a result, when he does run, he picks his moments, and more often than not, he chooses them wisely.

In the dugout, in the clubhouse, in the locker room and on the field, Chase Utley is a leader. For someone who keeps his life relatively under wraps in terms of the media, Utley has proven himself to be a vital part of who the team is. Much of the confidence, swagger and personality this team alludes comes from the way Utley plays the game. The younger players on the team imitate him and the older players respect him.

If Jimmy Rollins is the fire and Ryan Howard is the heart of the line up, Chase Utley is obviously the soul. Without its heart and soul, Rollins’ fire is just an extinguishing flame. It goes without saying that with Utley back, this team will start to get some of its morale back. Rollins’ flame, which has been starting to light up, will catch fire. Led by Rollins and Utley, the rest of this offense will catch fire too, just in time for a late playoff push in the heat of the summer months.

So even though the Chase Utley Phillies fans will see is still in question, what isn’t in question is what he means to this team. So much of Utley’s value is not measured in a box score. It is in the intangibles he exudes just when he takes the field. For the Phils, getting Utley back will impact their playoff chances and could very well make them a playoff team again.

No matter what, though, the Phillies will be an interesting story to watch as the final, pivotal months of the season are underway.

Sophomore Jinx For Vance?

Will Worley regress in sophomore season?

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There are no real reasons to expect Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels to regress in 2012. The peripherals of Lee and Hamels (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) fell in line with their ERAs last year, and in Halladay’s case, his supporting numbers actually outperformed his ERA. Doc finished with a 2.35 ERA that easily could have been 2.20.

English: Vance Worley, pitching for the Philad...

The Phillies know what they’ll get from Halladay, Lee and Hamels. These are three pitchers with track records as defined as their pitching identities. Halladay is the craftsman with a killer instinct that supersedes the skill-set of whoever he faces. Lee is the pinpoint lefty who, when on his game, is better than anyone in the sport. Hamels is the ever-evolving “stuff” guy who transformed from a two-pitch pitcher into one with four weapons.

The question mark is Vance Worley. We spent the majority of 2011 waiting for the other shoe to drop … and it never really did. Does that mean we can expect him to roll right along in 2012?

Not quite.

After a complete game in San Francisco in late July, Worley improved to 7-1 with a 2.02 ERA. To that point Worley had a .199 opponents’ batting average, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2-to-1 and only three home runs allowed in 11 starts.

Over his next 10 starts, Worley had a 4.18 ERA in 60 innings, allowing the opposition a .278 batting average. One looks at that and forms the opinion that Worley’s numbers regressed to his true talent level. But that isn’t exactly the case.

Worley’s K/BB ratio actually improved over those 10 starts. The 2-to-1 figure from the first 11 starts jumped up to nearly 3.5-to-1. Worley kept getting better, but we’re a results-based society so we noticed the increasing ERA rather than the 24-year-old’s developing process and prowess on the mound.

How can it be that Worley had a 2.02 ERA with mediocre command through the first 11 starts, then a 4.18 ERA with much-improved command over the next 10?

Two reasons: worse luck with fly balls and a higher line drive rate.
Through 11 starts, Worley allowed three home runs on 180 fly balls. The average home run per fly ball rate is around 10 percent, or one homer per 10 fly balls. Worley was at 1.6 percent, allowing one homer every 60 fly balls.

Worley wasn’t drinking a magic potion that made his fly balls die in the outfield. Some pitchers excel at keeping batters off-balance and jamming them, inducing weaker fly balls, but even they don’t sustain obscenely low home run per fly ball rates. Remember how good Halladay was his first year with the Phillies? His HR/FB rate that year was 11.3 percent.
Sure enough, seven of Worley’s next 60 fly balls left the yard to balance out his home run rate.

So that was reason No. 1 for Worley’s ERA increasing despite his better command. Reason No. 2 was an uptick in his line drives allowed.
Worley allowed line drives on 18 percent of balls in play through his first 11 starts. In his next 10, it was 26 percent. Line drives are the hardest balls to field because they travel and fall rapidly. Thus, line drives fall in for hits at a much greater rate than grounders or fly balls. Liners are hits, league-wide, about 73 percent of the time. Ground balls go for hits 23 percent of the time.

An eight-percent increase in line drives is significant, and was one of the root causes of Worley’s opponents’ batting average going from .199 to .278.

Despite those added homers and line drives during the second half of Worley’s season, we should be confident that he can be a successful major league pitcher moving forward. As mentioned several times, his command only got better as his 2011 season went on. His batting average on balls in play was reasonable, as was his strand rate.*

*BABIP and strand rate are usually the two telltale signs that a pitcher was lucky and/or underperformed despite his ERA. J.A. Happ is the best case in recent memory. Happ’s ERAs were always low in Philly despite every other number suggesting they should be high. Look what’s happened for Happ in Houston as things have balanced out.

Worley has shown that he can strike batters out. The league will catch up a bit to his two-seam fastball, but even when it does it is very hard for a right-handed batter to pull the trigger when it is running back across the plate. Any successful starter needs a go-to pitch. That two-seamer is a weapon.

Can we expect Worley to finish 2012 with an ERA of 3.01? No. But we shouldn’t expect him to have a 4.18 ERA, either. Something between 3.50 and 3.70 is reasonable. Any team would love that production from a cheap fourth starter.

For more statistical musings from Corey Seidman, visit Brotherly Glove and Phillies Nation.