With Chase Utley's knee problems growing worse by the day, it's becoming pretty apparent that the Phillies will need their pitching and defense to carry even more of the load than many expected. The offense was by no means young and many players were beginning to show signs of decline, but if the team losses Utley for the season can they still produce enough runs to make the playoffs?
I decided to do some quick, back-of-the-envolope analysis and here's what I came up with.
Over the past decade, the best runs allowed performance by a team was posted by the 2003 Dodgers (556). Let's assume the Phillies are that good and only allow 556 runs. What's the minimum number of runs they would have to score to still make the playoffs?
Let's further assume the Phillies need to get to 90 wins. Since 2001, 87% of teams that posted >=90 wins qualified for the playoffs. If they only allow 556 runs that means they would need a run differential of +66 to get to 90 wins.
The Phils can get to +66 if they score 622 runs. Can they do this if, worst case, they lose Utley for the year?
Well, according to Marcel, Utley should create about 134 runs if he plays all of 2011. Let's say the Phillies offense was set to decline 10% from last year (695 runs scored) due to general ageing, the loss of Werth, etc, and you take Utley's 134 runs away, you are left with 561 runs scored. Utley's replacement would have to create 61 runs for the team to score 622 runs and an expected record of 90 wins. Marcel also predicts Wilson Valdez, Utley's likely replacement, will post 87 runs created and that's without starting everyday.
So it's feasible the Phillies could still make the playoffs (although it's interesting that no team, regardless of runs allowed, has made the playoffs in the past 10 years by scoring less than 684 runs). But what if they don't have a historic runs allowed year? What if they do no better than last year's 640 runs allowed?
In that case, the Phillies would need to score 715 runs. If you remove Utley for the entire season you are now talking about finding another 154 runs. Unfortunately, Wilson Valdez isn't gonna get you there.
So, yes, the Phillies can still make it to the playoffs without Utley, but it will heap a ton of additional pressure on that pitching staff.
If he is unable to take the field for all or part of the season, the Phillies and their fans will have to pray that their starters make it through the year unscathed by injury, age, or bad luck.