Ask any Phillies fan and they will tell you that these first few weeks for the Phillies has been anything but what they would have hoped. The pitching has been there, but the offense has sputtered through the first month squandered a myriad of good pitching performances by the Phillies’ aces.
The slow start has helped cause a wave of panic and worry among Phillies fans; myself included. Now there are normal slumps that team’s go through, but these struggles seem to branch out further than that. The Phillies hitters are simply not struggling, but failing to adapt to the changing climate of their lineup and the league itself.
The days of the 2008/2009 Phillies are long gone. The Phillies lineup is no longer set to outslug their opponents. Gone are the days of the home run dependency. Now are the days of the strong pitching staffs and low scoring offenses. The Phillies are not immune to this change, they simply must learn to “outscore” their competition rather than “outslug” them. This process better known as “small ball” is a simple process that requires players to change their approach at the plate.
However the Phillies hitters are failing at developing this new look and that, my friends, is the problem with this current roster.
I don’t see any reason why Jimmy Rollins or Shane Victorino go up to the plate with a plan. Taking the current circumstances (count – runners on base – score) into account, they know when they need to take a pitch or swing away. Swinging at a 2-0 pitch in the dirt,especially following a walk, is NOT acceptable. It doesn’t hurt taking a walk instead of swinging like crazy trying to park a ball over the park.
A walk if the equivalent of a hit; it produces base runners. The Phillies are at the bottom of the league in pitches seen per at-bat, walks taken, and runs. Runs are all that matter in this game, no matter how you manage them. Its the hits, walks, moving runners over by trying to hit the ball to a certain part of the field, making contact with a runner on third, that encompass this simple system. With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley missing from this lineup, this is a vital time for the Phillies to adapt this small ball type attitude.
Aside from missing those key players, the league has gotten stronger on the mound. The National League has stacked up the pitching with teams like the Braves, Nationals, Mets, Marlins, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers, Giants, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and even Padres having above average starting staffs. Nobody in the National League is going to be putting up monster runs total this year so this small ball system is vital to competing, and winning, this league.
Don’t buy this approach? You clearly didn’t watch the NLDS last year. What set the Cardinals apart from the rest of the league was their small ball ability plus a hot streak they needed to just get into the playoffs. St. Louis thrived at making contact, working the counts, fouling off pitches that were close, taking walks when they needed to, and moving runners over. Most importantly, they made pitchers work. They raised our starters’ pitch counts and caused early exits.
Need some examples?
Let’s look at the third game of that series. Crazily enough, the Phillies actually won 3-2, mainly thanks for Ben Francisco.
In that game, Cole Hamels threw 117 pitches in just 6 innings of work. Close to 20 pitches per inning. The Cardinals pitchers, for the entire game, threw just 4 more pitches; 121 total. Overall, the Phillies pitchers threw 167 pitches over those 9 innings. During that game, the Phillies saw 3.36 pitches per at bat while the Cardinals saw just about 4 pitches per at bat. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, in the end, it makes a vast difference.
In the final game of that series, the Phillies pitchers threw 30 more pitches than Chris Carpenter. The Cardinals hitters saw an uncanny 4.25 pitches per at bat while the Phillies just saw 3.6 per plate appearance.
The reason for my fear?
I honestly think that some of the Phillies hitters are too stubborn to even consider this change. Not with Shane Victorino jumping at the first pitch he sees each time while Jimmy Rollins constantly tries to lift every single pitch he sees out of the park, resulting in a frustrating number of high pop-ups in the middle of the diamond. Hunter Pence will most likely never be disciplined enough to accept this approach, but what he has been doing has worked thus far, so we’ll leave him out of this. We’ll also exclude Freddy Galvis from this because he’s a rookie and has time to be developed and molded. Sometimes, even Carlos Ruiz has shown impatience, but he is having a career year at the plate.
How bad is it? As a team, the Phillies have drawn the 29th most walks in all of baseball. They have drawn only one more walk than the 30th-ranked Pirates. Their .293 on base percentage sits 25th out of 30 within the MLB.
And, who has produced solidly this season?
Well, it is really no surprise that it has been the new guys; Juan Pierre, Laynce Nix, and Ty Wiggington. Those 3 guys have the 3 highest on-base percentages amongst all the Phillies hitters. These are all players that were not in the Phillies system last year and are well aware of the new style of play in the National League. No, I am not blaming Charlie Manuel for this nor the hitter coach, but somebody has to wake these players up to the reality.
Don’t get me wrong, at times this team has put together successful innings. However, there is no consistency.
Look at last night’s game for example. The Phillies had a brilliant first inning scoring those 4 runs and giving Vance Worley a big enough lead. After that first inning, there was nothing. In fact, that lack of extra runs nearly cost them last night. Now that 8th inning was solid, but still, this team lacks this consistency that championship teams have.
Maybe it is a simple approach change, maybe they need a shakeup of the roster. Either way, something has got to change and soon.
Alright. Now that I have broken down some of these negative aspects of these teams, let us take a look at the positive points from this issue.
First off, this is something easily corrected. The very definition of the game of baseball is adaptation. Players adapt their hitting approaches and pitchers change their pitching styles all the time. As the game changes, so must the players. The Phillies can become the small ball team that they need to be and turn this offensive slump around.
Secondly, our starting pitching is astonishing (no comment on the bullpen) and always seems to keep us in games, but as the 10-11 record shows, we still need to improve upon the offense.
The final spark of hope is that the division leading Nationals are in the exact same spot we are in. Their starters have been exceptional while their offense has scored even less than the Phillies have. Thanks for their current 4 game losing streak, the Phillies sit just 3.5 games out.
This race is not over by a long shot.