While the Phillies are enjoying a “better than expected” season so far, they are still suffering through a lot of failure. Sometimes it’s pitching, sometimes it’s defense, but the recurring nightmare that haunts this team and its’ fan base is a lack of offense.
Like the Friday The 13th film franchise, the 2016 Phillies offense is redundantly bad, seemingly thoughtless and practically unwatchable.
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What can you do? This Phillies incarnation is a work in progress, made up of some young guys who are part of the future, some young guys who could be part of the future, some placeholders, and a guy who was a big piece of a glorious past.
Let’s start by looking at a key factor: age. As it is, the Phillies have the third youngest average age for batters in all of major league baseball at 27-years-old. And while that alone shouldn’t qualify the problems they’ve had offensively, it sure helps.
The Astro’s have the youngest average batters age in MLB, and currently sit at eight games over .500; the Cubs have the best record (by far) in all of baseball and they’re the fifth youngest. However, the difference with the Phils is that they are not currently built to win, as those two teams are.
Of the major offensive categories, the Phillies are at the bottom of the list in: walks (last in NL, second to last in MLB), hits (second to last in NL and MLB), and consequently on-base-percentage (last in MLB).
It’s tough to score if you can’t get on base, and as it turns out the Phillies are dead last in the majors in scoring runs.
This has to improve going forward. If you’re not going to hit, you have to at least be selective enough to walk. And in a game with no clock and the pace progresses by making outs, not getting on base is the essence of how you lose.
A look into the advanced metrics tells you the Phillies batters have had more chances to walk then they took advantage of.
Phillies batters swing at more pitches than any team in the National league and the second most in baseball. They swing at an embarrassing 49% of the pitches they see.
That stat alone is really bad, but when you see that they’re the third worst team at making contact in the NL, and seventh worst in baseball, it looks frighteningly bad. They swing at the most pitches yet they are among the worst at making contact.
No team in the NL swings and misses more than the Phillies.
The Phillies swing at pitches 77% of the time, but they are doing so at pitches that were actually out of the strike zone a whopping 32.8% of the time. That’s good for worst in the NL and third worst in all of baseball. They only make contact 62.3% of the time, fourth worst in the NL and seventh worst in MLB. To make matters worse, hitters swing at the first pitch they see in an at bat the second most in the NL and fourth most in baseball.
When you consider that those non-strikes would have helped them get ahead in the count, a more favorable batting position as the pitcher is pressured to throw a strike, or maybe even walked them, it turns into a very big deal and a huge part of why they couldn’t get on base and in turn score runs.
One of the side effects of hitting a ball that’s out of the strike zone and/or hitting a pitch that you can’t handle is not making solid contact. Obviously, pitches in the zone are not only easier to hit, but they’re easier to hit hard .
It might not surprise you that the Phillies lead the league in what’s termed “soft-contact percentage,” defined as a ball not hit hard in the soft, medium and hard varieties. As a team the Phillies hit the ball softly 20.9% of the time, worst in the majors, and on a line drive 19.9% of the time, sixth worst in the majors.
Hitting a soft, non-line drive, aka an “easy out,” is probably a big reason why they have the majors third worst BaBip, which is the batting average on balls actually put into play.
Jul 21, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco (7) tosses his bat after striking out in the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. The Miami Marlins won 9-3. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
With regards to the count, it’s obviously more advantageous to the hitter to be ahead. Being in a 3-1 or 2-0 count the batter is more likely to see a good pitch as the pitcher doesn’t want to just give you the base via the walk. The Phillies see the least 3-1 and 2-0 counts (combined) than any other team in baseball.
For context, when the count is 3-1 all major league players combined have a slash line of .370/.699/..675 for an OPS of 1.373. That’s how powerful getting to that count is.
Not only did they see the least amount of pitches in those counts, they also saw the second least amount of total pitches per plate appearance in the NL at 3.79.
Even further, they saw the least overall total of pitches in all of baseball. It’s important to see a lot of pitches as that’s the definition of a tough out. The more pitches you see the better chance you have of eventually being in a favorable count.
Popular baseball statistics website Fangraphs keeps a stat called Batting Value. It represents the number of runs above or below average a hitter adds or a team full of hitters is worth. The Phillies are dead last at -128.6.
You could say that the team is offset by a bunch of guys who won’t be around by the time this team contends, but when the numbers are as bad as they are everyone plays a part in it.
Statistically speaking, the best player they had in terms of these stats was recently traded to the Dodgers (Carlos Ruiz) and their second best is Cesar Hernandez.
Obviously Ruiz and Hernandez aren’t the teams best hitters, although a case could be made in Cesar’s case. Most fans who watch the game probably wouldn’t be surprised that Freddy Galvis, as a free swinging non-disciplined batter, really adds a lot to these negative stats.
When you step back and look at these stats it seems pretty amazing that the team doesn’t have a worse record then it does.
Despite being as poor as they are offensively they’ve managed to win more games than they should have.
This is represented by a stat called Pythagorean Luck, which uses the number of runs scored against and the number of runs allowed to propose what that team’s record should be. In actuality the Phillies are 61-76, however they should be 53-84 according to their run differential.
That’s an eight game difference, the second highest amount of “luck” wins.
You can take all of these bad stats and really boil it down to one thing: approach. While approach doesn’t have an actual definition, simply put it’s the way the batter strategizes his at bats. Is he taking balls out of the zone, working a pitch count, and balancing aggression.
The approach this team takes at the plate is awful, and it’s showing up across the board statistically. This team has to get a better approach at the plate. They need to swing less, let pitches out of the zone go by, and make better contact.
If they can’t change these basic fundamentals, they’re never going to succeed.