Not in the mood for a lyrical summary of the 2006 season? Neither am I. Beerleaguer explores a key statistic that may have cost the Phillies a post-season birth.
With 162 games officially in the books, let an offseason of statistical scrutiny begin. Black Monday is typically reserved for columnists to wax poetic about this or that, usually boiling down to how the Phillies need more pitching. Fine. They need more pitching.
With the season still fresh in our minds, this is an excellent time to look at the finalized numbers, because we’ll never be able to interpret them with this level of clarity. However, for this particular statistic, I believe our final perceptions actually skew the truth.
Before the season, many insiders believed the bullpen would become the Phillies biggest crutch, yet the final perception is that pitchers like Geoff Geary, Tom Gordon and some unexpected surprise performances actually made the bullpen formidable. We heard for several months how the pen ranked third in bullpen ERA among National League teams, and how late-season additions like Rick White and Matt Smith actually did okay.
Here’s the reality. The performance of a few select relievers can’t even begin to mask just how hideous the Phillies were late in a ballgame. The Phillies allowed more earned runs than any major league team in close and late-game situations: 117. How bad is that? That’s more than any major league team over the last five seasons – and that’s only as far back as ESPN’s database goes.
To put it in context, that’s 73 more earned runs than the AL-best Twins, 52 more than the Padres and 57 more than the Mets. Even if the Phils were only league average - about where they were last season - they’d have 30-35 more runs to play with.
In that regard, the final seven games, starting with Houston, were a perfect model for the rest of the regular season. The Phillies scored enough runs – as they had all season (865 R, 1st in NL), but couldn’t hold it late. They also choked in tough, critical spots. The bottom line: for the bullpen to perform, the offense and starting pitching needed to gift wrap a handful of runs.
The offensive, the lineup, the manager, the future of third base, catcher and the starting rotation all make for easier, black and white debate, but this down-and-dirty area of Phillies baseball known as the bullpen is perhaps the single biggest reason they're on the outside looking in yet again.