2015 Phillies Lineup: How Many Runs Might They Score?


It’s projection season, so many of the websites out there have begun making their 2015 predictions. I’ve already looked at PECOTA and how it perceives the 2015 Phillies to perform this coming season (spoiler: not good), and on Wednesday, we were treated to Fangraphs’ ZiPS projections as well.

Running through all of these projections, as well as some of the reports we’ve seen, one might get confused, since some bench players are given projections for 500+ plate appearances. It’s hard enough to peg who will be on the final Phillies 25-man roster, let alone how well these players will actually perform.

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ZiPS pegs Maikel Franco for 23 HR and 95 RBI, and this gets you get excited. Then you realize that those numbers would come in 600+ plate appearances, which most are in agreement he will not receive, and it begins to raise validity questions.

Looking at all of the projections got me to thinking: how many runs might the possible Opening Day lineup score over a 162 game season?

Now, I know that the Opening Day lineup hasn’t been set, and the situation as far as starting jobs is incredibly fluid at certain positions. For example, we don’t know the plans the team has for Franco: will he be the starting 3B or in the minor leagues?

The Phils lineup has so many questions, even Francoeur could surprise with playing time.

(Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

We also do not know who will be in left field. Will it be Darin Ruf or Grady Sizemore? Might Cody Asche, or even Jeff Francoeur, sneak onto the green expanse come April? It’s just too far out to actually know.

However, for a team that is supposed to be so bad, they have surprisingly few lineup spots up for grabs. As many as 6 of the 8 defensive positions appear to have already been settled, with only left field and third base to figure out.

One would think that a team with so much projected roster talent deficiency might have an open mind about the starting lineup, but as it stands now, we have a pretty good idea about who will be in those six spots.

Carlos Ruiz will be behind the plate, Ryan Howard is still likely to man first, Chase Utley will be at the keystone, and Freddy Galvis will likely open at shortstop. In the outfield, Ben Revere will occupy center, while Domonic Brown will be in right. Knowing these positions makes it a lot easier to determine how many runs a team might score.

For fun, I decided to go to Baseball Musings, and play around with their lineup generator. This is a fantastic tool that allows a user to input data on a group of players, and then spits out the optimal lineup, according to “The Book” by Tom Tango.

You put in the player’s OBP and SLG and the optimal lineup is then spit out. There are two options: a 1989-2002 model, and a 1959-2004 model. I decided that I would use the ’59-’04 model, as it accounts for a larger period of scoring in baseball history, whereas the ’89-’02 model focuses on a time when offense was booming, thus skewing numbers quite a bit.

I then took the liberty of creating what I think to be the best possible lineup the Phillies could have on Opening Day. When I say “lineup”, I mean the players I think will be starting, not where I think they will hit in the lineup. Using hitting slots makes no sense, because as I said before, the tool is looking for the optimal lineup. In the case of the pitcher’s spot, I used the numbers for last year’s Phillies’ pitchers whenever they took up the lumber (.143/.168/.163), and threw that in.

Again, I feel comfortable saying that these 6 players are more or less guaranteed starting jobs – Ruiz, Howard, Utley, Galvis, Revere, and Brown. As I’ve written previously, Cody Asche looks like he will be starting at third base to begin the season. Grady Sizemore looks to have the inside job for the left field spot as well. That gives us nine spots to put into the tool. What do the results look like?

Not good. For starters, the team is projected by PECOTA to score only 578 runs. Using the Baseball Musings tool, inserting those players gives the Phillies a 3.606 runs per game projection, which would equal out to be about 584 runs over a 162 game season, eerily close to what PECOTA sees. Which lineup construction would give us these numbers? It came out to be this:

pitcher’s spot

Looking a little more closely, it does make some sense. Ruiz is projected to have the best OBP among the starters (.342), so you’d want him seeing the most at-bats leading off. Putting Utley in the second spot would mean he also gets more at bats, and perhaps those at bats would be with runners on base.

Where it gets interesting seems to be in having Brown bat fourth (*Note: another projection has Howard and Brown flip-flopping, scoring the same number of runs per game). Brown looks like he will have the second best SLG among the starters (.412), so one would want him able to drive in those runners who are on base.

Batting Revere at the top is a mistake, but it is likely to happen.

(Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

The rest of the lineup doesn’t seem so crazy. Revere batting seventh does make some sense, as he doesn’t reach base enough to warrant being a leadoff man, nor does he have much power to warrant a higher spot. Batting seventh would allow him to continue hitting the ball on the ground, and attempt stealing bases where it won’t penalize the team too much if he is caught, since their weakest hitters are after him and aren’t expected to drive him in.

Of course, the age-old preference of having speed at the top of the order means Ryne Sandberg will probably be penciling him daily at the top. I’m not exactly sure I would have Asche batting third, but since he is one of the few players on the team who still has upside remaining, should he improve with the bat, one would want him to get more plate appearances.

In order to play devil’s advocate, I substituted two players to see if any difference could be made as far as the potential for more offense. Franco went in for Asche, and Ruf went in for Sizemore. The result? The team actually gained a tenth of a run, bumping up to 3.723 runs per game. That added about 19 runs to their previous total, which would equal about 2 more wins added for the season. The lineup looked like this:

pitcher’s spot

What was really interesting was that Franco was put in to bat eighth, due to his projected lack of on-base skills. His crazy aggressiveness with the bat makes this projection somewhat plausible, as he seems to swing at anything in his area code. Batting Ruf second would seem to go against every intuition even the average fan has, but when receiving regular at bats in the minors, Ruf did show some good on-base skills, sporting a career .375 OBP in over 2,000 ABs.

I know it doesn’t look good. I seem to remember an old saying about putting lipstick on a pig, and while I think that might be a little harsh in this case (these are major league players with pride after all), it’s pretty safe to say that this year’s lineup will struggle to score runs.

Having a breakout year from Domonic Brown or Cody Asche, combined with the emergence of a player like Franco, would help this lineup immensely. That would be asking a lot, to have 3 different players breakout at the same time. Let’s just hope that at least one of these players does improve. Then we Phillies fans will much more reason to watch with excitement.