When Cliff Lee signed with the Philadelphia Phillies this off-season, the immediate reaction by most in the baseball world was the Phillies would cruise through the National League East and valet park at the World Series.
On paper, the addition of Lee to an already impressive staff of reigning Cy Young award winner Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt has swayed the public perception dramatically. In the process, the media have done their share to stir the pot by comparing the new rotation with the all-time greats in baseball history.
In Las Vegas, everyone has an opinion, but unlike other cities, you can actually put your money where your mouth is. The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book and Lucky’s sports books have offered a wide array of baseball propositions for the upcoming season that can have even the smartest of know-it-alls slow their talk when it comes to actually taking dollar bills out of their wallets.
Over at Lucky’s, they posted the season win totals for each team allowing bettors to bet over or under the number. Because of the media hype and public opinion, not to mention a pretty good ball club, the Phillies are listed with the highest total of 97½ wins.
Last season the Phillies went 97-65 and claimed the best record in baseball. Surely, with the addition of Lee – even with the departure of Jayson Werth– Philadelphia can top that number, right?
When looking at the schedule, it’s easy to see why the Phillies season wins are so high even though they have won the NL East four straight years. When glancing at the bulk of their schedule against teams in their division, no where on Lucky’s list of teams is there a greater top-heavy disparity between the expected first-place team and second-place in any division. The Braves are the closest with 87½ wins, followed by the Marlins at 82½, Mets at 77½ and the Nationals at 72.
The Phillies also get the benefit of playing nine of their inter-league games against the worst competitive division, the AL West, with three games each against the Rangers, Mariners and Athletics.
The most interesting proposition of all came from the Hilton where they have put up a number on how many wins the “Philly Fab Four” rotation would win between them. In my discussion with Assistant Manager Jeff Sherman, I told him to wait before he told me the number so I could blindly guess.
Off the top of my head, I just shot out 70 just because I had this vision of the 1971 Orioles with four studs each winning 20 or more games. Sherman said my guess was way too high.
I then go through the numbers of each pitcher and come up with 22 wins from Halladay, 15 by Oswalt, 14 for Lee and 13 for Hamels, giving my adjusted guess with some actual thought making my total 64 wins. I’m thinking I have to be right on the money with that one. Lee and Hamel’s total appear to be low from the public perception rationale, but Sherman informed me I was too high again.
“Try 59½ wins,” Sherman excitedly said as he stumped me multiple times on my guesses.
So we started to talk more about it – analyzing the number a bit – and he started off by saying that he has Halladay posted at 17½ wins, which would then take me to their number if I agreed, which I still don’t.
“The real equalizer to the prop is injuries, which are sure to occur, and none of those starting four have been immune to it over their careers,” Sherman explained.
“If we just look at last year with 96 wins and combine both of Oswalt and Lee’s wins with their other clubs, you’re still only looking at 58 wins, and that’s with Halladay having a career year.”
Even more logic can be gathered to support the Hilton’s proper number. For all the greatness we’ve seen out of Lee in the playoffs, let’s not forget he has only 26 wins combined in the last two regular seasons while playing for four different teams.
Oswalt was a terrific acquisition for the stretch run last year going 7-1, but he still had 13 combined losses on the year and is now going into his 11th season.
If looking at some of the greatest pitching staffs of all-time, like most recently the 1995 Braves, they had only 54 combined wins. Going back to the 1971 Orioles, they had a four man rotation and combined for 81 wins. Same goes for the rotation of the 1965 Dodgers who got 71 wins from their top four, led by Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen each starting 40 or more games.
Last season Halladay was the workhorse with 33 starts while Lee made only 28 starts between Seattle and Texas.
“When we put the number up on Tuesday, we immediately got bet over the number, said Sherman. We moved the money a little bit, shading the over, but we’re still sitting at 59½.”
When looking at history and understanding the Hilton’s injury aspect a little more, I would have a tough time betting over 59½ wins. In today’s baseball world, high priced pitchers just don’t make starts with sore arms anymore. They did it all the time just two decades ago, but it’s too costly for the long term investment of the team, player and player-agent to allow it now.
Having said all that, I would have a tough time betting under 97½ wins and much of that precaution stems from their winning attitude year after year, along with the weak divisional foes they’ll play the most.
• Phillies to finish 99-63.
• “Fab Four” nets 57 wins.
• Halladay to go 20-10.