Analysis

Small Ball? Not So Much



PHOTO: AP

PHOTO: AP

Coming into the season, the Phillies offense wasn’t expected to be much of anything. So manager Ryne Sandberg figured that the best way to get these guys to produce would be small ball. Here’s what he told MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki in March:

That’s something that I’m stressing this spring. We’re working on it. We’re practicing it. If it’s not a bunt, it could be a hit and run. Get a baserunner, make something happen–really to set the tone for the season. … I look at our bats and our type of team, and I think we’re going to have to be good at that game.

And so far in 2015, they’ve been trying. Kind of. They’ve been one of the worst teams at the plate–last in the league in total runs and runs per game, last in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, and more. But they have the most sacrifice bunt attempts (17) and successes (8) in all of baseball. However, their 47% success rate is near the bottom of the league at 26th. So in reality, they aren’t that good at sac bunts, they just lead the league because they attempt so many.

So what about other forms of “small ball”? I define small ball as advancing the most baserunners as possible. That can come in the form of bunts and steals, but also things like going 1st-to-3rd on a single to right, or advancing a runner from 2nd to 3rd on a ground ball. Elias/ESPN classify a “productive out” as (1) successful sac bunt by a pitcher with one out, or (2) advancing any runner with none out, or (3) driving in a baserunner with the second out of the inning. A failure is determined as making an out without advancing the runner(s). Using that criteria, the Phillies are 11th in the league in with 22 successes in 61 opportunities. So at least they’re in the top half in that category.

But how about baserunning? They have 10 stolen bases in 13 attempts, which is about the league average. However, they haven’t been very good on the basebaths. According to Baseball Reference, the Phillies have taken extra bases (defined as taking more than one base on a single or more than two on a double) at a rate good for third-worst in the league. Furthermore, they are 2nd-to-last in the rate at which any baserunner scores on a batter’s play. They are last in total baserunners that scored and last at advancing a runner from second with none out as well.

So, the Phillies are trying the small ball thing with lots of bunts, but they don’t do the other things that are required to make “small ball” successful. If they really want to stress this play style, they need to do a better job, as Andy Reid would say, of situational hitting and running the bases. They could vastly improve their run output if they just improve in those areas.

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