Phillies: Young Talent Not Holding Club Back


The Philadelphia Phillies are in the midst of a rebuild—which is not a surprise to anyone in or around baseball. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008, decided to stick with an aging core and are now stuck on a hundred plus loss pace.

However, it is important to maintain a cautious level of optimism when looking at this current team. Of course the Philadelphia fan base is upset with the work of the front-office in recent seasons, but they really has not been that bad of late. The new analytics department is a step in the right direction for the Phillies as well. The new direction of the team, which was addressed by John Middleton while introducing Andy MacPhail, brings some optimism to the table. The other aspect of optimism is the plus-value from players under the age of 27.

The subject that I will be discussing was sparked by an article by FiveThirtyEight, which is an analytical site owned by ESPN. In the article (linked above), the author speaks about the youth movement in baseball compared to Wins above Replacement. Some immediately dismiss WAR as a valid measure of player performance, but that should not be the case. The Wins above Replacement metric consistently points out the best performers in the game, and just because it is not easy to quantify, doesn’t mean it should be dismissed.

FiveThirtyEight’s article talks about how younger players have been finishing with higher WAR totals. This sparked by interest of where the Phillies rank compared to the other organizations in baseball. To an extent, the results are surprising.

For this comparison, the criteria I used is 100 plate appearances for a hitter and 10 innings pitched for all pitchers. This filters out some pitchers from the position players and the position players from the pitchers (scenarios like Jeff Francoeur). This leaves us with a pretty good sample of where the Phillies youth has played compared to the rest of the league. 

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Despite the record, the Phillies’ position players have been pretty good. In fact, of all teams in baseball, the Phillies’ position players 27-years of age or younger have the 13th best WAR at 5. That places their position player production in the top-half of the league. I bet that comes as a surprise. Some individuals greatly benefit from their 27 and under production, like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. But the Phillies have four position players with a WAR total greater than or equal to 1.3. Those four Phillies are Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, and Ben Revere. As a matter of fact, Cody Asche is the only Phillies position player in the sample with a negative WAR value (-0.8).

In this Phillies’ group, there are other numbers that should be evaluated, but we are talking Wins above Replacement for now.

If we move the age to 25 years-of-age or younger, the Phillies stay locked in at 13. In this sample, the Phillies lose the WAR totals of Ben Revere and Cameron Rupp, but still have three players who have been worth 1.3 WAR. As far as I am concerned, that is a plus for the Phillies.

On the mound things take a turn. The Phillies pitching staff started the season with a front-two of Cole Hamels and Aaron Harang—both over the age-27 criteria. The best value would come from the back-end starters and the bullpen, which also features a valuable reliever over age-27 in Jonathan Papelbon.

As a group, the Phillies pitchers at least 27-years of age or younger have the second lowest WAR total in baseball. The Detroit Tigers -0.5-WAR is the only total lower than the Phillies 0.4-WAR. Some of the value is because of players not being in a constant role with the club, and the other part is Sean O’Sullivan. I hate to say it, but O’Sullivan, who was just DFA’d, was -0.9-WAR for Philadelphia. If we removed him from this equation, the 27-and-under bullpen WAR moves to the ninth-worst in baseball. Not great, but not as brutal.

Now if we drop the age criteria to 25-and-younger, the Phillies WAR total moves to 1.2. The Phillies 25-and-under pitching WAR is tied for 18th in baseball. This group consists of Adam Morgan, Ken Giles, Elvis Araujo, and Severino Gonzalez. Morgan and Gonzalez have combined for eight starts this year with a 0.2-WAR. Giles and Araujo have appeared in 61 games and have been a combined 0.9-WAR. The small group and lack of key roles and time hurt the Phillies in this sampling. I do expect the overall WAR total to end up higher than this because Morgan, Gonzalez and Aaron Nola could end up as full-time pieces in the Phillies rotation by the end of the season.

As a group, the Phillies youth hasn’t played that bad. They are young, and to be honest, I am not sure much was expected from them. Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez are both playing the best baseball of their career, which is a bright spot for Philadelphia. The scorching-hot start of Maikel Franco has added value as well. The Phillies position players, from a youth production perspective, aren’t playing that bad in terms of WAR.

While WAR would tell us the youth is not performing that bad, there is room for improvement. I used wRC+, which measures a player’s weighted runs created (wRC) factoring in park factor. The average wRC+ is 100 and the higher the number the better. For instance, a 130 wRC+ means that a player is creating 30-percent more runs than the average player.

Now that we covered that, I will move into the 27-and-under wRC+. As a 27-and-under group, the Phillies have just two players with a wRC+ of 100 or greater. Those two players are Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco who own a wRC+ of 120 and 144, respectively. Ben Revere and Odubel Herrera are getting close to league-average as they both sit above 90 but below 100. The average wRC+ for players 27-and-under is 98. The Phillies 27-and-under position players have a 96 wRC+. They are pretty much performing at the same rate as the rest of the group.

The next metric to focus on with the offensive group is their OPS. Batting average is a fun statistic and all, but you should really put more weight on a player’s on base and slugging percentages. These are two very big factors in run creation. The league average OPS is .710. The 27-and-under group of Phillies has an OPS of .703—which is pretty close to the league average. As most of their numbers suggest, this group is performing around the league average on offense and overall WAR.

As stated above, the pitching has been a step behind but we should break down all the numbers to see where they actually stand. When we measure the Phillies 27-and-under group against all of baseball this year, they don’t measure up. The league average ERA, FIP and xFIP is 3.82—which is very interesting on its own. As a group, the Phillies 27-and-under group own a 4.98 ERA, 4.42 FIP and 4.40 xFIP in 289 innings pitched. This is far from impressive. The average ERA, FIP and xFIP for M.L pitchers 27-and-under is 3.80, 3.74 and 3.78, respectively. The Phillies youth has just not performed to the league average.

The Phillies youth movement is happening. The offense has basically performed at league average for their age. The growth of their skills will determine whether or not they stay an average offensive group of not. The pitching has not lived up to the hype, but the group really has not been put together yet. The Phillies have Jesse Biddle and Aaron Nola in Triple-A right now. Add in the additions of Severino Gonzalez and Adam Morgan to the Major League rotation and the push for a youthful rotation is coming.

The blame shouldn’t be directly pointed at the youth of the team, but the lack of production from players on the wrong side of 30. In that category, the Phillies position players are dead last in Wins above Replacement, 29th in batting average, 28th in on-base percentage, 26th in wRC+ and 24th in slugging. The 30-and-up crowd also has the 16th most plate appearances in baseball, so it isn’t as if other teams aren’t getting production from their elder statesmen.

On the mound, the Phillies 30-and-up group has been the 10th best group in baseball, according to WAR. This group does feature Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Aaron Harang, who have all pitched very well to decent this year. From an ERA, FIP and xFIP standpoint, the group has struggled. Right now, the group holds a 4.48 ERA, 4.39 FIP and 4.14 xFIP—all of which are in the bottom 10 in baseball. I dove into these numbers because WAR can be misleading here. The group was in mainly Hamels, Papelbon and Harang with the rest producing at replacement level (0 WAR) or worse.

It has been a rough season in Philadelphia, and you won’t hear anyone trying to deny that. The fans would be best served focusing on the youth movement occurring. Maikel Franco is leading the way with the position players and Aaron Nola and company are not far away. The Phillies’ youth has produced this season to the league average—which some may find surprising. From the Phillies’ perspective, it isn’t sunny in Philadelphia, but don’t worry, the young players are looking to add a ray of sunshine.

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