08 April 2008

Phillies Chances to Score 1,000 Runs? None and None.

Baseball fans do love their history, though some of them don't really know it all that well.

Heck, some people who work in baseball don't know their history. And I don't just mean the 20-something security guard I met at Yankee Stadium on Saturday who did not know that the Yankees used to play in Baltimore. (No offense to him, by the way. Most New Yorkers think the universe starts and ends at the George Washington Bridge.)

I'm talking about important people. (Again, no offense to that security guard, who was created in the image of God, just like the rest of us, and is therefore of preeminent importance...just like the rest of us.)

I mean people like Charlie Manuel, the field manager for the Philadelphia Phillies. Manuel was quoted before the season began as saying that he thought the 2008 Phillies could score 1,000 runs or more. His argument, essentially, was that they scored a lot of runs last year (892, leading the NL) and that they had some missed time by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. He thinks that Howard and Utley and Jimmy Rollins and others on the team have the potential to be even better than they were last year. He thinks that they could become the first team since the 1999 Cleveland Indians, for whom Manuel was the hitting coach, to score 1,000 or more runs.

Or at least he thought that in Spring Training. I didn't, so I didn't bother to mention it in my Phillies Preview, though I did think they'd be one of the better offensive teams in the NL. To date, in the regular season, the Phillies have scored only 32 runs in 7 games, a pace of only 740 runs. Better pick it up a little, guys.

But seriously, could they score that many runs? The sort answer is:


Doesn't get much shorter than that.

Want to know why? That's easy. Nobody ever has.

Well, that's not technically true. The 1930 St. Louis Cardinals scored 1004 runs, but no other National League team since the 1890's has scored 1,000 in a season. Those Cardinals managed that feat in a league that averaged 5.68 runs per game. At that rate, in today's 162 ganme schedule, an average team would score 920 runs. The 1930 Cards had 12 guys (including all eight regulars) who got at least 100 at bats and hit .303 or better. As a team, they hit .314. That was only 3rd in the NL that year. They had three Hall of Famers in their prime in the daily lineup (Chick Hafey, Jim Bottomley and Frankie Frisch). They had three guys who hit at least .366 on the bench(!)

The best mark in a 162-game season goes to the 2000 Colorado Rockies, who scored 968 runs. This, too, was largely a product of the run environment in which the team played. The national League that year averaged exactly 5.00 runs per game, which means that the average team scored 810 runs. However, Coors Field in Y2K was an insane hitter's park, the most severe in history, I think, increasing run scoring by about 25%. That means that a average hitting team would have scored 911 runs playing half its games in Coors Field. Their 968 runs were only about 6% better than average.

The best hitting team in history, taking league and ballpark context into account, is probably the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers. They scored "only" 955 runs, but they did it in a roughly neutral hitter's park (Ebbets Field), and in a league that averaged 4.75 runs per contest, about what the 2007 National League averaged. They scored about 28% more runs than an average team that year. Put the 1953 Dodgers in a neutral park in the 2007 National League, and they'd have scored about 977 runs. Still 23 shy of Charlie Manuel's prediction. With a little help from Citizens Bank Park (which increases runs by about 5%), they'd easily break the record, scoring about 1025 runs. In Colorado, even though it has been significantly tamed in recent years, tack on another 35-40 runs.

So what would have to happen for the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies to score 1,000 or more runs?

Assuming that Citizens Bank Park doesn't suddenly morph into a severe hitter's park, and that the trend toward normal offensive levels in the post-steroids era doesn't reverse itself abruptly, the Phillies will have to score about 25% more runs than an average NL team would, which is a huge number. Not only do they need to get virtually every game out of their stars Howard, Utley and reigning NL MVP Jimmy Rollins, they need just about everybody on the team to vastly out-perform their projected offensive levels.

The simple fact that they play ing the National League, with a pitcher hitting about twice a game or more, makes it all but impossible. The last team to score 1,000 runs, the 1999 Indians, did not have to watch their pitchers hit twice a game. In 1930, the Cardinals' pitchers collectively hit .213 and scored 51 runs. Last year, Phillies' pitchers hit just .155 as a group and scored 28 runs, and that was the best in the majors for a pitching staff.

But what might we expect, or need, from the rest of the lineup?

Baseball Prospectus uses percentiles in their projections, showing not only what a player is likely to do (his 50% projection) but also what he might do if he "kicks it up a notch" or, conversely, gets kicked. His 50% projection essentially means that about 50% of the players similar to him did better than that and 50% did worse. The 75% projection would mean a performance that's better than 3/4 of the players they deemed to be similar in that year.

As far as I can tell, you'd need just about everyone in the starting lineup to meet or exceed his 90th percentile projection, and for everyone on the bench to hit at least their 75% percentile, in order for the Phillies to score 1,000+ runs. That team would look like this at the end of the season:

Starters     PA    R    2B   HR  RBI   BB    SO   SB   AVG   OBP   SLG
Victorino 570 105 29 18 66 46 67 28 .315 .377 .501
Rollins 730 131 43 26 88 59 75 34 .318 .377 .532
Utley 646 122 39 34 103 68 100 10 .328 .408 .596
Howard 711 139 33 59 147 113 184 2 .302 .417 .665
Ruiz 454 72 27 13 57 42 56 7 .303 .374 .480
Feliz 487 67 26 21 74 28 67 2 .289 .332 .492
Burrell 536 97 26 33 86 101 121 2 .283 .420 .583
Jenkins 392 64 20 22 70 35 88 3 .300 .369 .559

Werth 289 49 14 10 33 41 69 7 .275 .385 .469
Taguchi 233 37 12 3 22 18 25 5 .297 .358 .405
Coste 252 33 12 7 32 15 39 1 .276 .325 .431
Dobbs 313 50 17 11 41 27 49 5 .288 .352 .484
Helms 241 36 15 9 35 19 43 1 .296 .357 .501
Bruntlett 95 13 5 1 7 10 16 4 .281 .371 .414
Snelling 143 21 8 4 16 17 29 2 .288 .383 .494
Total 6092 1036 326 275 860 635 1010 152 .301 .359 .501
There would need to be another 350 or so plate appearances for the pitchers as well, which might mean aonther 25-30 runs. Those are just guesses on the percentages at the bottom.

Anyway, I don't have to tell you that this would be an absolutely incredible team, and that it can only exist in Phantasy-delphia, where the Phans don't boo, the cheese steaks are free and don't contain any cholesterol, and every batter gets to have a career year simultaneously.

Not only would H.U.R. reach their full potential. Those three are in their prime, so any one or even two of them having their best years simultaneously (as Rollins and Utley did last year) is not totally out of the question, but all three of them? Again?!!??

Pat Burrell would need to out-do his career batting average by 25 points at age 31. Thirty-three year old mediocrity Pedro Feliz would need to hit almost 40 points above his career mark, without losing any power. Geoff Jenkins, 33 himself, will need to hit .300 for the first time in this milennium. Carlos Ruiz, who just made it to the show at 29, will have to buck every convention of baseball scouting history and hit over .300 in a full season. Shane Victorino will need to double his usual power level while increasing both his patience and his average, and can't let his speed be sacrificed.

And everyone on the bench needs to play well enough that they would force the issue of whether or not they deserve more playing time. That is, if everyone on the Phatasy-delphia Phillies wasn't having a career year. Which, as you'll recall, they are.

In the AL, with another All-Star playing as a DH, they might be able to do it.

But they aren't, and they don't, so they can't.

In short: It ain't gonna happen.

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