The Philadelphia Phillies deserve a lot of credit. There’s nothing I hate more than a team that makes a run and rests on its laurels. For the Phillies, that run actually died before the final month of the regular season, but it’s pretty clear that they don’t want to let it happen again.
The Bryce Harper signing grabbed all the headlines, but I was very excited with the Phillies offseason signings of David Robertson, Andrew McCutchen, and Jean Segura long before Harper signed his mega deal. No offense to Phillies fans, but I’m actually frustrated about the Harper signing because it has effectively taken away any value we had in backing this team.
Now the Phillies are front and center on everybody’s radar. Add in all of the articles being written about Nick Pivetta’s breakout and we won’t even be able to back him. The pendulum may have swung in the other direction, honestly, as the Phillies will likely be overvalued in the marketplace. Those are hard bets to make.
Philadelphia went 80-82 last season with some extremely pronounced splits, as the Phillies were 49-32 at home and 31-50 on the road. Philadelphia went 2-8 over the last 10, 6-14 over the last 20, and 10-20 over the last 30. This is a team that was 70-62 and in the playoff hunt before a disastrous last 30 games. In fact, the Phillies were in first place as late as August 12. They finished 10 games out.
Money Line Spots
Meh. As mentioned, so much value has been extracted from this team with the Harper signing. McCutchen and Segura were a great combo at the top to add some batting average and on-base percentage to a lineup lacking the former. That might have flown under the radar a little bit. When you sign Harper, the radar blows up.
So, what does that leave us with? Well, the Phillies were bad on the road. Citizens Bank Park does slant towards offense, but scoring 63 fewer runs on the road was a surprise, even with Marlins Park and Citi Field in the division. In fact, the Phillies did only score 29 runs in nine games in Miami and 28 runs in nine games at Citi Field. They were shut out twice in Queens. In the other 63 road games, the Phillies still only scored 3.96 runs per game. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but this year’s lineup is significantly better. Maybe we can prey on that a little bit.
There won’t be any value in Aaron Nola, but there is usually very little value in fading a guy like Aaron Nola. I’ll talk about Pivetta and Vince Velasquez down the way.
I do think Jake Arrieta is a guy we may get some value on. Arrieta pitched hurt last season and also had some philosophical differences with Gabe Kapler and the front office. With some time to iron those things out, and improved defense across the board, that’s a guy I’ll be looking to play in spots.
The top of the Phillies lineup has been completely rebuilt with Cutch, Segura, and Harper. Oh, yeah, and they went ahead and added probably the best offensive catcher in baseball in JT Realmuto. I’m really intrigued to see how this plays out. Even though the advanced metrics looked a lot better for Pivetta and Velasquez, Nola was the only starter with an ERA under 3.96. Arrieta was at 3.96, with Pivetta at 4.77, Velasquez at 4.85, and Zach Eflin at 4.36.
This makes it tough to bet and set totals. Oddsmakers will likely inflate Philadelphia totals because of the offensive skill set of the lineup. Because of the way I study baseball, I expect Pivetta and Velasquez to positively regress in the direction of their FIPs. Pivetta’s was 3.80 and Velasquez came in at 3.75. I already mentioned that I like Arrieta moving forward.
The Phillies defense was an atrocity last season. Nola had an 82.5 percent LOB% because he’s awesome and apparently good enough to work around it. Pivetta was at 69 percent. Velasquez 66.8 percent. Eflin 68.4 percent. Arrieta 68.1 percent. League average for starters was 72.6 percent. The offense will be better, but so will the pitching staff. What that means for totals remains to be seen.
Individual Players to Watch
Nick Pivetta – Pivetta is getting a ton of run. Eno Sarris re-ran a piece from last year. Mike Petriello chimed in. David Adler had this eye-opening tweet. There’s a lot more out there. Look, Pivetta had a 4.77 ERA with a 3.80 FIP and a 3.42 xFIP. He allowed too many home runs, but he was the victim of bad luck and bad defense as well, as he had that low LOB% and a .326 BABIP against. Pivetta struck out 188 in 164 innings and had a strong walk rate. He had a 12 percent swinging strike rate, which is well above league average.
It’s as simple as this. If you want to bet Pivetta, do it on the overnights because that line will move and move fast. There is a “FanGraphs bump”, which may be an “Athletic bump” now. When guys get buzz, the market takes notice. Pivetta’s getting a ton of it. Frankly, he was already a guy that was going to take steam with a 4.77 ERA and a 3.42 xFIP, but it will be out of control now, especially with an improved Phillies team. Play overnights, take your CLV or play some arbitrage. If you bet day of the game, you won’t get much Pivetta value.
Vince Velasquez – To a lesser degree than Pivetta, Velasquez is another guy to watch. Health is a question with him also, but he did make 30 starts last year and one relief outing over 146.2 innings. He bumped his strikeout rate closer to his 2016 numbers and had a 4.85 ERA with a 3.75 FIP and a 4.12 xFIP. Like Pivetta, bet early to get line value and figure out if you want to hold that position or not once the line peaks.