An overview of team offense.
In preparing tonight’s pregame post for the Phillies matchup with Arizona, I wanted to find out why the Phillies have had so much trouble against sinkerball pitchers like Brandon Webb, tonight’s starter for the D-Backs.
The search took me to ESPN.com sortable stats page to research an area I haven’t discussed much this season: Team batting.
The Phillies lineup has a reputation for dysfunction, believe to be a group that strikes out too much, delivers poor situational hitting and impatient at bats, does not have a proper leadoff presence and is generally too slow on the bases. Their strengths are believed to include on-base percentage and power.
Here are a few numbers compiled from ESPN’s team batting page, as applied to groundball pitchers. Some will prove conventional wisdom correct, others will debunk a few myths.
Why do the Phillies seem to struggle against sinkerball pitchers?
The two noteworthy examples this season are Aaron Cook for Colorado and Derek Lowe of the Dodgers. These are terrific pitchers, and in the case of both, specifically Colorado, they are backed by good defenders. (In hindsight, the Phillies should have done everything in their power to sign Lowe instead of Jon Lieber from last season's FA crop.)
Cook and Lowe have managed to make easy work of the Phillies this season because the Phillies, frankly, hit a lot of ground balls anyway. They have the fourth-highest groundball to flyball ratio in the National League, about 1.34 ground balls to every flyball. David Bell and Bobby Abreu are hitting about half of their balls on the ground. Abraham Nunez is hitting grounders at a rate of 65 percent.
Are the Phillies too impatient at the plate?
ESPN says the Phillies are the fifth-most patient team in the NL with an average of 3.89 pitches per plate appearance, but I would argue that it is entirely do to three hitters: Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Chase Utley. The rest are impatient to varying degrees.
Against sinkerball pitchers, it generally pays to be a little more patient, but the Phillies have a number of first-pitch, fastball hitters, including Mike Lieberthal and Aaron Rowand. Lieberthal sees the fewest pitches, only 3.02 per plate appearance, while Rowand, in his brief time with the Phils, sees 3.23. Jimmy Rollins sees 3.45 pitches per at bat, far fewer than most leadoff hitters.
Why does the Phillies offense tend to get in a funk?
First reason: Reading quotes from players and the manager, left-hand pitching is a major boogyman for the Phillies, and has thrown even good hitters like Bobby Abreu out of rhythm this season. The Phillies have played in 45 games where a left-hander was used, tied for second in the National League. They create far fewer runs against left-handers, about 4.56 runs for every 27 outs, fourth worst in the NL.
From a team standpoint, there couldn’t have been a more frustrating stretch than that series loss to the left-handers of lowly Pittsburgh. After that, they faced a nice stretch of mostly right-handed pitching, including Atlanta and San Francisco, scored more runs and went on a winning streak.
The second reason is immeasurable, but has no doubt effected the offense: They always play from behind because starting pitching is so poor. They have outscored only one team this season: Washington. That's desperation baseball. The 2006 Phillies pull more hitters and pitchers out of ballgames more than any team I can remember.
Chase Utley in yesterday’s paper: "When you're always trying to come back, it makes it more difficult. But when you're in those situations, you have to do whatever it takes to get on base, just to put some runs across the board."
Does the black hole still exist?
More than ever. Measuring runs created by the 7-8-9 hitters of the Phillies:
7-hitter: 25.2 RC (10th in NL)
8-hitter: 14.0 RC (Last in NL)
9-hitter: 0.5 RC (Last in NL)
To make matters worse, the black hole has sucked an additional entity into the darkness:
1-hitter: 29.6 RC (11th in NL)
In general, how does the Phillies offense rank?
The solid five-man show of Utley, Abreu, Burrell, Howard and Rowand makes them a little better than average, a reflection of their overall record. They are one of the best teams in the league in terms of isolated power (SLG - AVG), rank 6th in OPS, and will create 5.05 runs a game, which is 7th in the NL.
However, they are the most top-heavy lineup in baseball, and opposing pitchers are getting through hitters 7-through-1 with steady ease.