June 15, 2015
Let’s talk about offense and the Philadelphia sports scene. Chip Kelly once told Riley Cooper, “F***ing score points, what’s your plan?” His plan generally works out, even if Mark Sanchez is driving the bus. The Flyers were below average in goals per game, but they at least have a high-powered top line that includes the likes of Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. As for the other two teams that play at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex? Eh, they’re working on it.
Largely by design, the Sixers lacked any semblance of floor spacing and the result was the worst offense in the NBA by a mile. Not as much by design, the Phillies also currently have the worst offense in Major League Baseball. Over the weekend in a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phils were kept off the scoreboard twice in games that went to extra innings. The struggle is real.
The Phils aren’t even halfway through their season yet, so they can theoretically improve or get worse at the plate. Still, they’ve provided us with a decent sample of what they can do. While watching A.J. Burnett mow them down on Sunday, a fairly simple question popped into my head: How historically bad are both the Sixers and Phillies’ offenses?
There’s no definitive answer, but I wanted to use a couple of metrics that I like looking at to compare the two offenses in a historical context: offensive rating and weighted runs created plus. Before you get freaked out about the numbers, here’s a quick and easy way to know what we’re dealing with.
Offensive Rating (basketball): The Memphis Grizzlies were 20th in the NBA in points per game last year, but they had the 12th-best offense. Why? Because they play at an extremely slow pace and try to muck the game up on both sides, but they’re above average at using the possessions they do get. Offensive rating answers the question, “How would every team fare if they received the exact same number of possessions (100)?”
Weighted Runs Created Plus (baseball): This one is tougher to spell out in layman’s terms (especially from a non-expert), but here it goes. Basically, baseball stats are so good that they can quantify how much singles, doubles, triples, and homers affect scoring (hint: it’s not on a 1-2-3-4 scale). Ditto for things like sac flies and HBP’s. This stat accounts for all of that good stuff, with two more important tweaks at the end: Adjust for park effects (30 homers with half of your games is Coors Field isn’t as good 30 homers anywhere else) and set everything to the league average for that season (Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera’s offensive output is more impressive now than when utility infielders were routinely hitting 400-foot bombs the other way). That way, it’s much easier to compare players and teams from different eras.
When looking at these stats, both the 2015 Phillies and 2014-15 Sixers are both really, really awful.
According to Basketball Reference’s database, 1103 teams have played single seasons in the NBA since 1973-74. Of those 1103 teams, the Sixers’ 95.5 points per 100 possessions ranks 1094th. Let that sink in for a moment. The Sixers just had the ninth worst offense of the last 41 years!
If you’re wondering how the Sixers hid this fact pretty well, it’s that they still played fast through their offensive futility. Brett Brown got his young troops to play at the seventh fastest pace in the league and they still finished 29th in points per game (just 0.1 ahead of the Triangle lovin’ New York Knicks). That’s pretty hard to do.
What’s amazing to me is that there is four teams the 2014-15 Sixers scored a full three points per 100 possessions better than. One of them was the 1998-99 Bulls, the year after Jerry Krause broke up the band. Another was a dreadful Nuggets team looking to get in pole position for the LeBron lottery. They got Carmelo instead.
Now to the Phillies. According to FanGraphs’ database, 1168 teams have played single seasons in the MLB since 1974 (including the ones currently in progress). Of those 1168 teams, the 2015 Phillies’ 75 weighted runs created plus ranks 1164th. There are only four teams in the past 41 years with a worse mark, and we’re officially currently witnessing a golden era of offensive ineptitude in Philadelphia.
As mentioned above, the Phillies obviously still have a lot of season left. Maikel Franco has performed well, and maybe Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can figure out even just a few things out at some point. wRC+ isn’t the only way to measure offensive performance, either, so I don’t want to pretend it’s the be-all and end-all. Right now, though, things are trending pretty poorly.
So what I’m trying to say here is no pressure, J.P. Crawford and Joel Embiid-If-He’s-Healthy. On the offensive side of things, there’s hardly anywhere to go but up.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann