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Series Preview #40: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Philadelphia Phillies

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On August 15, with nearly 4.5 months worth of baseball data to go off, the Phillies have a winning percentage of .655.

I bring this up because, in 2010, no team had a Win% of .655 on August 15.  2010 wasn't a fluke, either, since nobody had a Win% of .655 in 2009.  Or 2008.  And especially not 2007.  Indeed, since 2000, only four teams have managed the feat: the 2006 Tigers, the 2004 Cardinals, the 2002 Braves, and the 2001 Mariners

And what's more, of those four teams, only the '01 Mariners, who would go on to win a staggering 116 games, had a better Pythagorean W/L on August 15 than the Phillies do now.  Sure, August 15th is kind of a random date, and a team's record on that date is in no way predictive of their future success in the playoffs.  But my larger point is this: the 2011 Phillies are really, really good.

I've seen a fair bit of criticism on this site and elsewhere toward Phillie fans and national reporters for treating a World Series featuring the Phillies as something of an inevitability.  But while some of that goes a little overboard, these Phillies really are in a rarefied air.  They're the best team in baseball right now, and they might just be the best team baseball has seen in a long time.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):

Hitting (wRC+): 96 96
Pitching (FIP-):
100 82
Fielding (UZR):
44.6 -11.9 Arizona


You may have heard that Philadelphia has four pitchers who are pretty good.  This is untrue: the Phillies have significantly more than four pitchers who are pretty good.  In fact, every single pitcher on the Phillies who has thrown more than 40 innings this season has an ERA+ over 100.  Take a look at that again: every single pitcher who has played even a moderately important role on the 2011 Phillies has been above-average.  The list includes every Phillies pitcher who has started a game since May 15 (when Joe Blanton was dropped from the rotation), and the team's three top relievers.  This is, top to bottom, the best pitching staff in baseball by any conceivable metric you want to use.

Luckily, the Phillies' lineup isn't spectacular, but it is more than capable of supporting that pitching staff.  That wRC+ is tied for 12th in baseball, and the team is also 12th in Runs Scored.  One interesting stat to keep in mind the Phillies' home run total.  Despite Citizen's Bank Park's reputation as a bandbox, the Phillies are only in the middle of the pack in home runs and Sluggling Percentage. 

Starting Lineups

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Willie Bloomquist, SS
2. Ryan Roberts, 3B
3. Justin Upton, RF
4. Chris Young, CF
5. Miguel Montero, C
6. Kelly Johnson, 2B
7. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
8. Gerardo Parra, LF

Philadelphia Phillies

1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
2. Shane Victorino, CF
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Hunter Pence, RF
6. Raul Ibanez, LF
7. Carlos Ruiz, C
8. Wilson Valdez, 3B

For all the name recognition that guys like Rollins, Utley, Howard and Pence have, the best player in the lineup in 2011 is Shane Victorino, who is best known for being from Hawaii and getting voted to the All-Star Game even when he doesn't deserve it.  This year however, he has vaulted himself into the MVP race by posting the ninth-best OPS (.926)  and the third-best fWAR (5.8) in the NL. 

Of course, Victorino is just one piece of a loaded top half of the order.  Jimmy Rollins is overrated, as evidenced by his ever-so-slightly-above-average 101 OPS+, but an OBP of .340 is certainly passable for a lead-off hitter.  Chase Utley currently has a OPS+ of 122, and it says a lot about him that this would be his lowest OPS+ ever in a full season.  Likewise, Ryan Howard's OPS is the lowest of his career, but still solidly above-average at .840.  Additionally, Hunter Pence has played well since coming over from Houston.  Even though he fills a hole that never actually existed in the first place, he's a clear upgrade over 23-year-old incumbent Dominic Brown.

Starting third baseman Placido Polanco is unlikely to play in the series, so we're probably going to see a lot of Wilson Valdez and his 59 OPS+.  Raul Ibanez is probably nearing the end of his career, and has almost certainly passed the end of his usefulness, as he has produced all of -1.2 fWAR at the age of 39. 

Pitching Matchups:

Tuesday: Josh Collmenter (7-7, 3.51) vs. Roy Halladay (15-4, 2.51)

Insightful Commentary: Roy Halladay leads all pitchers in fWAR.  He has a 2.51 ERA, which typically means that a pitcher is getting at least a little lucky.  Except for Roy Halladay, whose BABIP is above .300, and whose FIP is only 2.23.  He has struck out more than seven times as many batters as he has walked in 2011.  He threw a no-hitter in 2010, just to see how it felt, and he liked it so much that he threw another in the playoffs for the lulz.  Roy Halladay: you know he's awesome, but he's still so much better than you expect.

It's getting a little frightening now: whatever I predict for Josh Collmenter, he goes out and does the opposite.  So this time, I'm playing it safe.  Josh Collmenter is a baseball pitcher who will start on Tuesday.  He will throw somewhere between 0 and 120 pitches at various speeds to opposing batters.  Some pitches will be hit, some will be taken for balls.  Who knows, there might even be some swings and misses involved.  You just never know with Josh Collmenter...

Wednesday: Joe Saunders (8-9, 3.76) vs. Cliff Lee (12-7, 2.83)

Insightful Commentary: And just like that, Joe Saunders has given up 19 hits and 9 runs in his past two games.  This is likely just long-overdue regression, as his FIP remains almost a run above his ERA.  Still, if he could avoid regressing any more until after the pennant race, that would just be lovely.

From the MLB write-up: "Lee has thrown 17 scoreless innings this month."  This is how it goes with Cliff Lee: other pitchers throw scoreless innings, he has scoreless months.  For example, he almost had a scoreless month in June, but allowed a run in his last start.  Lazy.  Also, like Halladay, Lee has a sub-3 ERA.  Again, this normally means that the pitcher is getting a little lucky in addition to being really good, but again, this is not the case as Lee's ERA is a bit above his FIP.  Imagine how good this team would be if they actually got some batted-ball luck.

Thursday: Ian Kennedy (15-3, 3.12) vs. Vance Worley (8-1, 2.85)

Insightful Commentary: HA HA!  Looks like we don't have to face another of the Phillies' four ac--oh.  Oh dear.  All Vance Worley has done this year is start 16 games with yet another sub-3 ERA.  His main trick so far is not allowing home runs, as his HR/9 is 0.61 so far this year.  I'm not going to lie, Philadelphia, this feels like a slap in the face: I'm okay with you guys having four aces, you gave me three months to get my head around that in the offseason.  But then you find some 23-year-old kid who can touch the mid-90s with his fastball and who has an ERA under 3 right off the bat?  That is against literally everything the Geneva Convention stands for.

Ian Kennedy has 15 wins.  I know wins are an utterly useless statistic, but that does nothing to change the fact that Kennedy has 15 of them.  Somehow, when I was going over ways that this team might somehow compete back in March, the plan of "Wait for Ian Kennedy to transform himself into an ace who accumulates 15 wins by mid-August" didn't even cross my mind.  In retrospect, it would have made things a lot easier: it's as simple as it is completely insane.

Final Verdict: No one thinks the Diamondbacks are going to win this series.  They're on the road, and at least two of the three pitching matchups strongly favor the Phillies.  But if the team somehow does win the series, they will have put themselves on the radar of the entire East Coast by beating the assumed best team in baseball.  It could happen, but I'm not betting on it.  Phillies two games to one.

Head over to The Good Phight if you pheel like phraternizing with Phillie fans. 

All batting data courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise mentioned, all pitching data courtesy of Fangraphs.