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Cliff Lee and playoff improvement


The trade deadline always has either the bottom line, the future, or the playoffs in mind. Today's deal by the Philadelphia Phillies to acquire Cliff Lee clearly is of the latter category. But as vivaelpujols' Playoff Odds already showed us, the Phillies have a very nice chance to make the playoffs anyway. What they want is another flag to fly over Citzen's Bank Park. How can Lee help the Phillies accomplish that? I did a sort of quick spreadsheet to calculate two given teams' chances to win a five- or seven-game playoff series. I then put the Phillies up against the Los Angeles Dodgers, their primary roadblock to the World Series, before and after the Lee trade.

 

Let's first begin with the methodology. Based on the National League's run environment, games played, the Phillies' and Dodgers' component runs above average, and the resulting respective run enviroments, I came up with Pythagoreans for both teams. Both teams' park-adjusted batting and fielding runs above average were from FanGraphs, while the pitching runs above average come from StatCorner.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

Philadelphia Phillies

bRAA

35.9

48.8

pRAA

42.0

-28.4

fRAA

-4.7

7.7

Pythagorean Win%

.576

.528

Head-to-Head Win%

.522

.478

With that, I ran a simple calculation on Excel to predict playoff series win% in a 7-game series. The sheet used simple probability trees and did not take into account home-field advantage. Here were the results.

Win%

Los Angeles Dodgers

Philadelphia Phillies

Head to Head

0.522

0.478

4 games

0.074

0.052

5 games

0.142

0.109

6 games

0.170

0.142

7 games

0.162

0.149

Series

0.548

0.452

That's a pretty significant margin but the Dodgers are still expected to win the series only ten more times out of a hundred series. There were some other interesting things, particularly the observation that the Dodgers' chances to win a seven-game series are worse than those to win a six-game series, which I thought was strange, but I might get into that a bit later.

Now that we know an expected win% for the Phillies without Cliff Lee, let's see what they can expect with Lee on board. This is where my estimate is sort of rought. With 64 games left to go, I gave Lee ten more starts and 70 more innings. Given his current expected out rate, he'd rack up 207 expected outs and, given his current tRA, a league-adjusted 10.2 pitching runs above average. Given that he'd be replacing a fifth starter for the Phillies, a group that has been worth 7.2 runs below average over the same number of expected outs, we could expect Lee to add 17.4 runs above average over the course of the rest of the season. If we extrapolate the remainder of the team's performance through 98 games, here's what we get from the Phillies through 162 games.

 

Philladelphia Phillies

bRAA

80.7

pRAA

-29.5

fRAA

12.7

Pythagorean Win%

.545

Head-to-Head Win%

.486

The head-to-head win% increased by less than 1%. This doesn't seem to bode all that well for the playoff series percentage. And sure enough:

Win%

Los Angeles Dodgers

Philadelphia Phillies

 

0.516

0.484

4 games

0.071

0.055

5 games

0.137

0.113

6 games

0.166

0.146

7 games

0.161

0.151

Odds

0.535

0.465

That's a 1.3% increase in the chances of winning a seven-game series. In other words, we'd expect to win just over one extra series if the Dodgers and Phillies played 100 seven-game sets. The difference here is that unfortunately, the Phillies only get one crack at the Dodgers this season, so was that extra one in 100 shots worth the investment? Of course, there's more to the investment, and Erik has already covered that pretty well with the vaunted Trade Value Calculator. But if the Phillies are really aiming at winning another title, the odds aren't that much better in their favor.

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