Analysis

Phillies Offense Has Spurts in a Blank Generation

Howard has been unquestionably the Phillies' best hitter over the last fourteen days and largely responsible for their recent tear.

Howard has been unquestionably the Phillies’ best hitter over the last fourteen days and largely responsible for their recent tear.

A lot of folks who know me know that I’m a yard sale and flea market pack rat when it comes to vinyl LPs. I’m always on the lookout for things I’ve heard of but never heard, things I’ve seen on lists but haven’t physically seen. My genres of choice are 70s and 80s power pop. My collection is already full of local favorites like Todd Rundgren and Tim Moore but also tons of Marshall Crenshaw, Squeeze, and Rockpile. I also keep my eye out for 70s punk. One LP that has escaped my grasp thus far is Richard Hell’s Blank Generation.

The opening track of Hell’s debut solo album is a tune called “Love Comes in Spurts”. The opening guitar riff is a series of nearly-dissonant triplets before forcefully and quickly diving into the chorus:

Love comes in spurts (oh no, it hurts!)
Love comes in spurts (oh no, it hurts!)
Love comes in spurts (it always hurts!)
Love comes in spurts (oh no!) 

This season, the Phillies offense has been among the worst in baseball. Among traditional statistics, the Phillies currently rank 25th in OBP and SLG while ranking 26th in wOBA and wRC+ among more advanced stats. In everyone’s favorite stat, fWAR, the Phillies’ offense ranks 29th, ahead of only the White Sox. In Hell’s titular track, “Blank Generation”, Hell is fighting a duality, expressing frustrations with being labeled as a part of a particular generation, saying he could take it or leave it, while also seemingly lamenting that his identity is linked to a generation whose identity is that they have no identity.

Sadly, this group of Phillies seemingly belongs to a Blank Generation of their own, not so much frustrated with a particular label but literally having having a blank space in front of generation as their defining characteristic. The 2015 Phillies were a boring, lifeless squad with few prospects, both actual or hypothetical, with a wasted ace and a few nice complimentary parts.

That descriptor fit until the All-Star Break. Since then, the offense is coming in spurts and it is winning them ballgames.

Prior to the All-Star Break, the Phillies had just one streak of three wins or more. Since the All-Star Break, which ended just 17 days ago, the Phillies are 12-3, have not lost back-to-back games, and have had three such streaks of three wins or more. An offense that had no identity is suddenly in the upper half of Major League offenses in the last fourteen days, among teams like the Blue Jays (higher OBP) and the Astros (more runs scored) while out-slugging the Rangers, Pirates, Rays, Angels, Cardinals, and Dodgers.

The Phillies, whose offense has been worth 4.3 fWAR all year, has been worth 2.5 fWAR just in the last 14 days. The sources of offensive output don’t make it any easier to identify this team: Ryan Howard has been on a tear over the last 14 days, hitting .341/.426/.585, a clip better than any Howard that has ever existed while Dom Brown has finally shown a pulse (.366/.381/.585, 2 HR) and Jeff Francoeur leads the team in almost every triple-slash or advanced statistic variant over this stretch among players with 20 PA or more (.421/.450/.684).

But these spurts are coming from sources that are promising for the future, too. Odubel Herrera has hit .343/.378/.514 in this stretch while fellow rookie Maikel Franco has hit .300/.370/.500. The Phillies suddenly have a swagger about their offense akin to that of which Hell had when he himself sang of spurts and generations, even if much of it is coming from two players, Howard and Francoeur, that likely won’t be apart of the next set of Phillies that find their identity. And despite a lack of identity, the Phillies suddenly have one of the top offenses in baseball and have become almost appointment viewing once again. This spurt, my friends, does not hurt.

 

 

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