In the fifth inning on Sunday, Phillies starter Zach Eflin was pitching to Adam Duvall of the Reds. Joey Votto was on first and Eflin had Duvall down in the count 0-2. Eflin could go anywhere with his next pitch – up and in, down and away, literally anywhere. At 0-2 the pitcher supposedly has the batter set up and has four pitches to work with to get the out.
He threw a fastball not far enough up and not far enough in and Duvall crushed it for a two-run homer.
And so it goes for Phillies pitching. Getting ahead, not getting it done. Still.
This isn’t a new problem for the Phils pitchers – it’s been going on for well over a year now. In fact, it was almost a year ago when I covered the issue initially and it’s seemingly only become worse … it sure hasn’t gotten any better.
As it currently stands, when facing Phillies pitchers at an 0-2 count, batters are slashing .227/.235/.387 for an OPS of .622. The Phils have given up a major-league leading seven home runs.
To illustrate how poor that is, at 0-2 the league as a whole hits .156/.162/.230 for an OPS of .393.
Consider for a moment the Phillies pitching staff numbers at 1-2. They’re remarkably more efficient at this less favorable count then they are at 0-2; while they carry the worst OPS in baseball at 0-2, they have the 12th best at 1-2. Maybe throw a ball now and then – or at least a more competitive pitch than they have been.
This could be a function of youth – both on the part of the catching staff and the pitchers themselves. The Phillies feature an extremely young pitching staff, and for the most part they’re the ones being victimized when they’re at 0-2. Jeremy Hellickson has not contributed to the 0-2 home run parade while Nola, Eflin and Velasquez have, the latter two having given up two each.
With regards to catching, Cameron Rupp has the second-highest home run per nine inning rate among the 33 catchers who have caught at least 1,000 innings for one team since 2015. His 1.42 HR per nine is beaten only by the Reds’ Tucker Barnhart, who gives up 1.49 HR per nine. Both play in a home run friendly environment but the Reds Great American Ballpark is a decidedly moreso, so for Cameron to be that close to Barnhart warrants concern. For a somewhat more apples-to-apples comparison, Carlos Ruiz had a home run per nine rate of .92 from 2013-15, and that was in well over 500 more innings.
With regards to the other side of the spectrum, strikeouts per nine, Rupp’s rate ranks as tied for the sixth worst, 7.5, among that same group with 1,000 innings caught for one team.
This could also be caused by pitchers not having a solid secondary pitch. Hellickson, who has an especially nasty change up, can use that pitch to either induce weak contact or earn a strikeout once burying the hitter. Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit, two of the more experienced Phillies pitchers who both have an exceptional breaking ball, have held their batters to below league average numbers when reaching 0-2. It’s also worth noting that Benoit and Neshek have considerable experience in the majors.
Whther it’s youth or pitch selection or stuff, it has to be cleaned up if the Phils wish to see any success, either as a team or individually. Batters may be too comfortable when down as far as they can be in the count. Those 0-2 counts have to be turned into more outs, not runs.