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April 08, 2015

Phillies could be all-time bad and you should be just fine with that

Phillies MLB
020315_Phillies-fan_AP Matt Slocum/AP

A lonely Phillies fan sits in the upper deck of Citizens Bank Park.

Let’s just be honest. The Phillies are going to be terrible this season. The sooner you come to terms with that fact, the better off you’ll be.

That’s because once you step back and look at it — and I mean really look at it — you realize not only are they bad, but the only way they can improve is by "climbing down."

In that respect, Opening Day was a success for the Phillies, who started the season on Monday with an 8-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Cole Hamels tied a career-high with four home runs allowed. Offensively, the team was held to just three hits while striking out nine times.

You may be thinking that facing two-time all star Clay Buchholz had something to do with the team's offensive struggles. Not so fast. Buchholz was far from an all star in 2014. In fact, he was downright bad, finishing with an 8-11 record to go with a 5.34 ERA and a -1.6 WAR (-3.1 WAA), the worst in any of his first eight season.

For the Phillies, it's only going to get worse from here. There will be injuries, which isn't something specific to this team. However, they tend to happen more often when you have so many aging players.

But the way Ruben Amaro can really "climb down" and improve his team is by making savvy trades, something he's had trouble with over the years, both as a buyer and as a seller. As the team will likely ship some of its more established players to contenders -- in exchange for prospects that likely aren't ready to make an impact at the Major League level -- once we get closer to the trade deadline, their on-field performance will likely suffer even more.

It's the only way for them improve. They have to get worse -- yes, worse than this -- before they can begin to improve. And because of this, despite just a one-game sample, it wouldn’t be out of line to question whether this Phillies team will be among the worst in franchise history.

Currently, that honor belongs to the 1942 Phillies, who finished 42-109. Earlier this year, had the following to say about those Phillies when it listed the best and worst seasons for all 30 big league clubs:

In 151 games, the Phillies scored just 394 runs while coughing up 706. Yes, that's a negative-312 run differential, one of the worst figures in MLB history (the worst since 1900 is -349, by the 1932 Red Sox).
Offensively, the '42 Phillies hit .232/.289/.306, which was good for a 79 OPS+ for the entire team. That is, they were collectively 21 percent below league average at getting on base and hitting for power. They were last in the NL in runs, hits, homers, steals, OBP and slugging.
The pitching staff wasn't much different, with an 80 ERA+ (so 20 percent below league average). They were last in ERA and allowed the most walks.
Oh, and defensively the Phillies committed the most errors and had the worst fielding percentage.
So, yes, they sucked at everything.  []
The 2015 Phillies may not be that bad, but just to be sure, here's a look at some of the franchise's records for futility, from fewest runs scored to worst home attendance and everything in between. 


That record does not belong to the 1942 Phillies. The season before, the team lost 111 games. The '42 team may have broken that record, but they played four fewer games (151 to 155), so the record holds at 43-111-1 in 1941.

The Phillies' record for losses in a 162-game season was 99 by the 1969 team. This season, the Phillies could threaten that number, as they are projected by Vegas sports books to win just 68.5 games. At least that's where Bovada put the over/under for wins for the 2015 Phillies. They'd need to fall just 5.5 wins shy of that to tie the 1969 team with 99 losses.

It's definitely possible.


There's no way the Phillies come close to that number this season, no matter how bad they are. That's because this "record" is over 130 years old. 

In 1883, during a 99-game season, they went 17-81-1. If you extrapolate that winning percentage out over a 162-game season, the Phillies record would have to be 28-134 to get them to a .173 winning percentage. Like I said, not going to happen. However, their worst in a season with at least 150 games played was .278 back in 1942. That's still going to be hard to catch, as the team would have to go 45-117 to match the '42 team.

Their worst in a 162-game season is certainly attainable. Currently, that number is .389, which the team was in 1969. To match it, the Phillies would need to be 63-99.

So while the .173 winning percentage seems a little far fetched, the .389 number the team posted in 1969 is definitely within their grasp. Remember, if Amaro does this right, they're going to get worse as the season goes along.


Since the 1969 MLB expansion, the most games the Phillies have finished behind the division leader was 37.5 in 1972, when  they went 59-97. The Pirates (96-59) won the six-team NL East that season.

That’s also the season Steve Carlton won his first Cy Young, going 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA and a WAR of 12.0, which has only been topped by a pitcher once since (Doc Gooden in 1985, 12.2). In the last 100 years, only one other pitcher has had a season with a higher WAR than Carlton did in ’72 (Pete Alexander, 12.1 in 1920).

Back in the present, the Phillies are projected to win 68.5 games while the Washington Nationals are projected to win the NL East with 93 wins. That puts the Phillies 24.5 games back. Getting to the 37.5-game mark will be difficult, but the Phillies are in a position to do it. Considering their division is home to one of the best teams in baseball, the Nats, and not much else, it's not out of the realm of possibilities that they could win 99 games, meaning the Phillies could match this record with a 62-100 record. 


Back in 1883, the Phillies started 0-8. They have a long way to go to match that feat this season, but in there are more recent examples of the team struggling out of the gate.

In 1934, the team started 0-7. A few years later, in 1938, the Phillies posted their worst start in franchise history, losing nine of their first 10 games. 2006 marks the last time the Phillies lost more than three-straight to start a season. They started 0-4 that year.


Here's a look at some of their worst offensive seasons in franchise history:

Fewest runs* scored: 543 in 1968

*In a 162-game season

Per game (since 1900): 2.61 in 1942 (in 151 games)

Most strikeouts*: 1306 in 2014

*In a 162-game season

In 2013, they struck out 1205 times. This is definitely one they can break.

Worst team batting AVG.: .242 in 1942


Most runs allowed: 846 in 1999

*In 162-game season

Per game (since 1900): 7.69 in 1930 (allowed 1199 in 156 games)

Worst team ERA*: 4.92 in 1999

*Since 1950

Home runs allowed: 214 in 2004

And finally...


*Only includes seasons played at Citizens Bank Park (since 2004)

If you include seasons at Veterans Stadium, it drops to 17,004 in 1972, when they finished 59-97.

On Monday, the Phillies had a sellout crowd of over 45,000 fans at the ballpark. That number will likely continue to plummet as the season progresses, beginning Wednesday night when they take on Rick Porcello and the Red Sox in the second game of their three-game series.

So there you have it. The Phillies will have their work cut out for them if they want to push aside the 1942 team and stake their claim as the worst in franchise history.

And remember, this team is climbing down, further into the darkness. While not "tanking" like the Sixers, there is still a similar idea at work. It's one that will require patience from fans and some smart decisions from Amaro. I'm just not sure which is more unlikely at this point.

However, if Amaro can somehow turn this team around, his only way of doing so is by riding it into the ground. It may cost him his job, but at the end of the long climb down, we'll be able to look him in the eye and say, "Connie Chung, you did the right thing."