The Phillies offensive struggles this year don’t seem all that bad. They are near, but not at, the bottom in several categories. As a team, they are 8th in the NL in runs (548) and runs per game (3.94), 10th in average (.245), and 12th in OPS (.676). Their walk rate (7.4%) and strikeout rate (20.8%) are both 9th, and have an ISO (SLG minus AVG) of .125–11th in the NL. Those numbers just reek of mediocrity.
But nothing there really suggests that they are completely inept, offensively. At least in comparison to the other NL teams. In fact, they are 3rd in the NL in stolen bases–thanks in large part to 42 from Ben Revere and 28 from Jimmy Rollins–and hit line drives at a rate that is good for 5th in the NL.
But let’s look at some of those numbers in relation to team history. Their current runs per game in 2014 is ranked 97th out of 132 recorded Phillies seasons. Their batting average is 107th, and their OPS is 91st.
Their walk rate is 95th, but their strikeout rate is…drumroll…dead last. That’s right. The worst in franchise history. Their 2013 strikeout rate? 2nd to last, and both are an entire 1.4% higher than the 3rd highest year, which was 1969. On a per-game basis (K% is calculated per plate appearance), 2014 is still the worst of all time at 8.04 per game.
I should mention that strikeouts across the entire league have been up in the last few seasons, with 2014 being the highest of all time. The worst 15 K% individual seasons of all time have all come since 2001, as well.
Still, it doesn’t mean you can assume that the Phillies massive amount of strikeouts are simply an effect of the league wide increase. The Cardinals, at 18.3%, are the lowest in the NL. There have been 129 team seasons with K% higher than 18.3%, including six of their own.
Back to the Phillies–the two biggest contributors are Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd. They are both in the bottom four in the NL in K%–Byrd at 2nd at 29.3%, and Howard at 4th at 28.1%. Byrd’s is the highest of his career, and Howard’s is the 3rd highest of his. Dave Buchanan, a pitcher, strikes out at a lower rate than both of them (33 PA). Not coincidentally, both Howard and Byrd are, again, in the bottom four in the rate at which they swing and miss at pitches. Byrd is worst in the NL at 16.0%, and Howard is 4th at 14.9%. (NOTE: This number is the amount of whiffs divided by pitches–not the percentage of whiffs divided by swings.)
In relation to Phillies history, Byrd’s K% is 2nd to last in team history–only behind Howard’s 2007 season. Howard’s 2014 season is 6th worst. This is the second season in Phillies history with at least two players with a K% at or above 28.1%. 1969 saw Larry Hisle (28.3%) and Dick Allen (28.5%) reach those numbers.
So, while the Phillies offense hasn’t necessarily been horrid this year, they are striking out more than ever (as is the rest of the NL as a whole), a trend that will likely continue–so we better get used to it.