There has been a lot of optimism surrounding Clearwater, Florida these days, which is where the Philadelphia Phillies hold their annual spring training. But hold on a second, weren’t they lucky last season even to get back to a .500 record? Yeah, you could say that, but things aren’t always black and white. Underachieving was prevelant, but there were many of the Phils’ main contributors that lost significant playing time, mainly Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy “Doc” Halladay.
Halladay showed some promising signs in his first 3 appearances, Utley is playing in Spring Training games for the first time in years with no signs of discomfort, and Domonic Brown has 3 HR already. But one of the biggest reasons for fans in Philadelphia to be optimistic is Phillies’ slugger Ryan Howard seemingly returning to form after a ruptured Achilles injury cost him half of the 2012 season. Even after he came back in July, it was obvious that he was not at full strength, and it severely affected most of his stats.
One thing that Philly fans did learn in the second half of the season last year was that when “The Big Piece” is out of the lineup, the effects are felt throughout the entire squad. One could make a case that it put more pressure on the pitching staff, especially with the performances from pitchers like Antonio Bastardo looking as different as night and day from the first half to the second half. He had an ERA over 5.00 in the first half, and it hovered just over 3.00 in the second. Obviously, that is quite a disparity and I don’t believe in coincidences.
One area where it is almost impossible to dispute Howard’s effect on the team is in the overall results.
In the first half of the season, things seemed as dismal for the Phils as they had been since the first half of the 2000′s, where it seemed like we would never get back to the playoffs much of the time. We ended up with a 37-50 W-L record heading into the All-Star break. Both Utley and Howard had just returned off the DL, but nothing had really changed, yet.
The Phillies then proceeded to play more like they had from 2007-2011, ending up with a 44-31 record in the second half. That is a Win% of about .567, which, if you do the math over a 162 game season, would equate to 95 wins. So, even with the plethora of issues plaguing the Phils over the first half of the season, they still managed to come out and play like a contender for the remainder of the season once the team was healthy.
Like I said above, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Last year after Howard returned from his time on the DL, his presence was felt throughout the lineup, but his performance was still lacking in most tangible metrics. He did manage to slug 14 dingers and plated 56 RBI in only 71 games, but other than that, his numbers were pretty poor.
The good news is that Howard has now had a full offseason to work on getting back to 100% health, and all signs are pointing toward the fact that he has achieved that. He is also showing that there is a good chance that he can still be productive for the Phillies this season. He has played in every single game up until today, going 12 for 33 with a triple slash of .364/.389/.727 and 3 HR.
Now obviously this is just spring training, and numbers don’t mean much of anything right now…or do they?
Yesterday, Todd Zolecki, beat writer for the Phils, pointed out an interesting prediction system originated by John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions. It’s quite simple actually, unlike many of the prediction systems around these days, and this is how he explained it…
“Baseball statistician and author John Dewan found that players who beat their career slugging percentage by more than 200 points in Spring Training have more than a 60 percent chance at beating their career slugging percentage during the regular season (minimum 200 regular season at-bats and 40 Spring Training at-bats).”
It’s an interesting theory, but this is the Phillies, it couldn’t possibly work for us, could it? It sure seems that everything that makes logical sense just doesn’t seem to have a place in the city of brotherly love and their sports teams. But wait, what was that Todd?
“It is not a fail-proof predictor obviously, but it is something interesting to watch before the Phillies open the regular season April 1 in Atlanta. Consider for a moment that since Dewan started writing about his Spring Training predictor in 2005, eight of the 12 Phillies on his list ended up surpassing their career slugging percentages during the regular season. And of the four players that fell short, two were not everyday players (Eric Bruntlett in 2009 and Pete Orr in 2011) and one got injured midway through the season (Jim Thome in 2005).”
Well, Okay, but you didn’t give any examples of the players that this system actually did predict outcomes for. Who exactly are we talking about here? Wilson Valdez, Mini-Mart, other utility guys like that? No? Well, who then?
“…the list successfully predicted good seasons for Pat Burrell and Placido Polanco in 2005, Howard in 2006, Chase Utley and Greg Dobbs in 2007, Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz in 2009 and Ruiz again in 2012.”
So, regardless of how corny that faux convo that I had with Mr. Zolecki was, you probably see what I’m getting at. It is possible that the mashing that is going on this spring could foretell good things to come for the Phils in 2013.
By the time Zolecki wrote his article, there were 3 Phillies that were looking like they could fit that bill. Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown, and Kevin Frandsen.
Yes, you are reading that correctly, it says Kevin Frandsen. Yeah, the Kevin Frandsen that “doesn’t have the power to be an every day third baseman”. Oh and by the way, he went 2 for 3 today with a solo shot off David Price. You may know David Price from the 2008 World Series, and, oh yeah, winning the Cy Young Award last year. That puts Frandsen at a .808 SLG percentage for spring training so far, only about .444 above his career average of .364 SLG. That would be a decent OPS during the regular season, but that is his slugging percentage through 26 AB’s this spring.
Brown has regressed a little since Zolecki stated that he had an .808 slugging percentage through 26 AB’s before yesterdays game. He has smacked 2 base-hits in each of the past 2 games (2 for 3 each game), so although his batting average has been rising, his slugging percentage has dropped 50 points to a pathetic .758 SLG. Psshhh! I could do that…but seriously, that is almost double his career mark of .388 SLG in the majors over the past 3 seasons.
The only person that isn’t in line to be .200+ over their career slugging mark as of right now is Ryan Howard. who dipped down to .727 SLG in yesterday’s game, and is getting his first day off today with the team facing the Tampa Bay Rays. That is .176 above his career mark of .551 SLG, so he could still end up toppling that mark by the end of spring training. Even if he can’t top his previous career mark, just achieving close to that mark would be sufficient in my eyes.
Obviously, no matter what prediction methods we use, we will not know how the team will do during the regular season until it’s the regular season, but Philly at least has a reason to be excited for April 1st when we start the season down in Atlanta against the Braves. Hopefully we can put the Braves’ shiny new outfield to the test.
UPDATE (3/9/2013 @ 4:45 pm): Ryan Howard, after going 1 for 3 today with his 4th HR of spring training, raised his slugging percentage back up to .778. This means he is at +.227 SLG over his career mark of .551. We’ll see if he can keep it in that range the remainder of Grapefruit League play.