I’m going to preface this by saying that the following is an objective post based on reality, supported by stats. Try to remove any biases or homerism from your view of the Phillies offense.
The difference between how the Phillies hit through the first eight games of the season and the last eight is that this makes sense.
Through the first eight games, the Phillies had an insane, unsustainable .411 batting average on balls in play (BABIP.) Everything they made contact with fell in for a hit. Naturally, this led baseball, and the next closest team was 60 points behind. As expected, the team BABIP has since plummeted 96 points to .315. Two-thirds of teams end the season between .290 and .305.
The Phils are 4-4 since winning 10-2 in Atlanta on April 9, averaging a mere 2.9 runs per game. Every player’s numbers have dropped, but the corner outfield has been the most concerning. The Phillies corner outfielders (batting fifth and sixth in every game) have hit .145/.210/.145 during the last eight. They have gone 9-for-62 with no extra-base hits and only five RBI.
Contrast that to the fifth and sixth hitters of the Phillies’ opponents in that span, who have driven in 12 runs and hit .293/.379/.414.
Nobody on the Phillies is walking. Only Baltimore, Minnesota, and Houston have walked less, and those are currently the three worst offenses in baseball.
Nobody on the Phillies is hitting home runs. They are 22nd in the bigs, and only one of the eight teams with fewer homers has a winning record.
What the hell is going on?
What’s going on is that this Phillies offense is simply not built to walk or hit home runs. And that’s pretty scary.
Let’s take a look at the career on-base percentages of the Phillies eight regulars:
- Victorino: .343
- Polanco: .348
- Rollins: .328
- Howard: .371
- Francisco: .329
- Ibanez: .346
- Ruiz: .353
- Valdez: .294
That is ugly. Even uglier when you consider that Howard’s OBP was .397 through his first four seasons and only .349 since.
This is what happens when you lose Jayson Werth and don’t have Chase Utley. The dropoff from Werth and Utley to Francisco and Valdez is about 60 points of OBP. To explain that more practically, it’s a 6% decrease in the amount of times a Phillie will reach base.
Now, Utley is running again and may be back before June, but this is a pretty mediocre offense without him. We’d all be in agreement on that last statement if the Phillies didn’t run into a streak of BABIP luck to open the season.
The Phillies of 2007-09 were dynamic because they walked a lot and hit a ton of homers. Look at these MLB ranks:
Heck, even with all the injuries in 2010, the Phils were still in baseball’s top 10 in both categories. Walks and homers are integral to offensive success. There’s a reason OPS (on-base plus slugging) is such a popular method of player valuation.
This team is constructed to do neither, and that is not just an overly pessimistic statement derived from a cold streak of offense. Charlie Manuel, himself, noted the other day that aside from Howard, he is unsure of where the homers would come from.
Now, I am by no means indicating that walking and homering are the only ingredients to a productive offense. If you can remember, the Phillies of 2007-09 were a pretty pathetic situational hitting team. This season, they started out hot in that department. Polanco had a handful of two-strike RBI, Ibanez had his share of two-out RBI. The team is still stealing bases with efficiency.
But the problem is that the 2011 Phillies are, and will likely continue to be too heavily reliant upon singles. Think of Opening Day. How many times does a team hit six singles before making two outs?
A perfect example of the reliance on singles is this: the Phillies are hitting .307 with runners in scoring position but only slugging .392. Of the teams in the top twelve in RISP batting average, the Phillies have by far the lowest slugging percentage.
The difference between SLG and BA is known as isolated power. The common abbreviation is ISO.
There are only five teams with a worse ISO than the Phillies with men in scoring position, and four of those five teams rank 27-28-29-30 in RISP production. The old saying is that “with men in scoring position, the pressure is on the pitcher.” Well, the Phils sure haven’t been converting that additional pressure into barreled swings.
This is not a case of stats telling a story. It is a case of stats supplementing what our eyes are seeing. And boy, is it ugly beneath the surface.
The offense is neither as good as it was through the first eight, nor as bad as it’s been since. The totality of where it is now is probably a good indication of its overall talent.
The Phillies can, and will win 90+ games this season. But the days of explosive offenses are probably behind us.
In addition to writing for The Nation, Corey is the co-creator of Brotherly Glove, with his brother Eric of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus.