Philadelphia Phillies, World Series Champions.
It's got a nice ring to it. (Well, maybe only if you're a Phillies' fan.) In the mainstream media, Ryan Howard's second-half resurgence, Cole Hamels' left arm, and Brad Lidge's no-blown-saves season are getting all the attention, but who really deserves credit for the success of the Phillies over their first 162 games? By objectively dissecting the contributions of their players in the field, at the plate, and on the mound, we can hope to give credit where credit is due.
As you'll soon see, fielding is as good of a place to start as any. Using combined STATS and BIS zone ratings converted to runs, here is how many runs each of the Phillies' fielders saved relative to average at their position:
Nearly every player on the team was at least a league-average defender, four players were significantly above average, and Chase Utley was just insane. To put his contributions in perspective, he could have hit like Pedro Feliz and still would have been as productive as Ryan Howard was overall. Nearly as important was Pat Burrell -- not because he was that good, but because he wasn't nearly as dreadful as in past seasons.
As team, the Phillies narrowly edged out Oakland and St. Louis for the most runs saved with their gloves. Evidently defense does win championships.
As much as Citizens' Bank ballpark increases homeruns, it's really only a slight hitters' park overall. In the following chart, OPS is not park-adjusted, but RAR (runs above replacement) is. RAR uses linear weights to measure how many runs a player helped create beyond what a replacement-level hitter would have created using the same number of outs. Clutch is from Fangraphs and I've converted it onto the runs scale. I don't believe in clutch as a skill, but it does explain in retrospect why teams won or lost more games.
To some, it's a surprise to see Utley leading the pack, significantly more productive than anyone else on the team. But that's really nothing new. To have six players at least thirty runs better than replacement is a huge feat, especially considering three of them play up-the-middle positions: Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino. Overall, the Phillies' offense ranked a few spots higher the major-league average.
To judge the pitchers, I'm using a park-adjusted version of FIP, thanks to R.J. FIP uses only K-rate, BB-rate, and HR-rate to create a number representing a pitcher's skill on the ERA scale. Starters receive credit for how many runs they saved their team compared to replacement-level starter (5.75 ERA) in the same number of innings.
Cole Hamels got his due from the post-season coverage. Jamie Moyer certainly was impressive, and should have a couple more years left in him. Sticking Brett Myers back in the rotation was most definitely a smart move, and not just because the bullpen didn't need him. As for Joe Blanton, well, he pitched exactly as advertised, an Adam Eaton clone. Can anyone share what Kyle Kendrick's future looks like? He's probably more useful than that 5.44 FIP^ implies, since he keeps the ball on the ground, but there were much higher hopes once, right? As a whole, the Phillies' rotation was a couple steps below major-league average.
One requirement for judging a bullpen is weighting the contributions of relievers who pitch in important situations much more heavily than the contributions from mop-up guys. Therefore, I'm using pLI from Fangraphs, which measures the average importance of all the situations faced by each reliever, where 1.0 is average and 2.0 is a common number for a closer. I've also listed WPA (Win Probability Added) which measures the actual change in win expectancy when each reliever was pitching, in addition to FIP^ and RAR, which uses a replacement-level FIP^ of 4.75 and takes into account pLI.
Yep, Brad Lidge was the man, and deserves all the accolades he received. Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin also deserve a lot of credit, racking up the high-quality innings. JC Romero's WPA doesn't match his RAR, possibly because he was allowed to face righties in non-important situations, worsening his FIP^ when it really didn't matter. I'm guessing you won't be surprised to find out that the Phillies' bullpen ranked number one in the majors in terms of RAR.
Here's one last table which includes everyone that stepped to the plate or threw a pitch for the Phillies in 2008, sorted from most to least productive. For position players, I'm counting both fielding and hitting (without clutch) plus a position adjustment. For the pitchers, I'm using RAR (weighted by pLI for relievers).
In terms of total offensive and defensive runs above replacement, the Phillies ranked third in the majors, behind the Cubs and Dodgers, and just ahead of the Rays. Using a crude runs-to-wins adjustment, they demonstrated 92-win talent.
By the numbers, the most credit for the Phillies' season goes to a six-deep core of good-hitting, (mostly) good-fielding position players, led by team MVP Chase Utley. For good measure, the pitching staff was led by a true ace (Hamels) and an ace reliever (Lidge). Yeah, sounds like a team deserving to be called World Champions.