It’s not easy to win with regularity in baseball, a sport with such parity and competitiveness. You need either a collection of really good players for a sustained period of time, or you have to consistently play flawless games where mistakes don’t happen, capitalizing on nearly every opportunity you get. The Phillies do not have a collection of really good players, and as such they need to play good, solid ball if they want to win.
They’re 28-56, so, yeah, not so much good, solid ball … not at all.
The Phillies don’t play good small ball. Perhaps this is why they currently own an 11-23 record in one run games. No other team has lost more than 20 one run games; the closest amount of losses to the Phils 23 is the Yankees with 17. The 34 one-run games is the most in baseball with only the Cardinals and the Diamondbacks coming close (29 each). The Phils’ .344 win percentage in one-run games is the third worst in the majors behind only Cincinnatti (6-12, .333) and Texas (6-14, 300).
League average in one-run games is a .508 win percentage, so if the Phillies could have managed that it would add about six wins, bringing them to 35-50. But alas, they continue to lose when the difference is that of a single run.
So, how can they get that extra run to at least force a tie?
You score runs by having runners on the bases and moving them around, not forcing them into outs from what’s supposed to be “run producing” spots in the lineup. Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit in those “run-producing spots” in the middle of the lineup and they are ranked first and second in the top of “grounded into double play” outs in all of baseball. Joseph is tied for third in baseball with 15, and Franco is tied for the MLB lead with 17.
These two players are being counted on to drive in runs, but they’re forcing them into outs at an increased rate.
Franco has hit into a double play in five of the team’s one-run losses, and Joseph has done it three times. Had things gone the other way in any of those eight double plays then perhaps they would be one-run wins instead of losses.
One way to stay out of double plays is to steal, which brings us to …
Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr was the lead runner in a combined 16 of the Franco/Joseph double plays. These are guys that should be able to easily steal a bag to stay out of the twin-killing opportunity, but for all the speed they have they just aren’t proving to be solid basestealers. Both have been caught stealing as many times as they’ve stolen successfully: four each for Altherr and five each for Herrera. Why do they get caught as much as they succeed, but also, why haven’t they tried to steal more?
As a team, the Phillies are very poor baserunners. In addition to ushering their lead runners to slaughter like defenseless lambs, they also get picked off a lot. They are currently tied for second in times picked off (10) and are fourth in baseball at making outs on the base paths (34), including 12 times at home plate.
These baserunners are crucial to this team, since they get fewer than most teams (27th in baseball in on-base percentage at .303), and that’s ridiculously evident by their win/loss record in those one-run games. They cannot afford to lose guys who have managed to get on base and have put themselves that much closer to scoring. And that leads us to …
Runners in scoring position
The Phillies hit .235 with runners in scoring position. That’s fourth worst in baseball. They hit .248 overall (non-pitcher total), so why does the average drop 13 points when it would matter? They slug .366 and that’s the absolute worst in baseball, but again, would that even matter if they could just hit a single and score the run?
Having a runner on third and less than two outs should be the easiest run you can score – you don’t even need a hit. For the most part all you have to do is not strike out and not hit a pop up. But the Phillies are the second-worst team in baseball in strikeout percentage in this situation. They strike out – again one of the only things you can’t do – in 32 percent of these easy run-scoring chances. Only Detroit is worse at 34 percent.
How important is it for them to score the run in that situation? 11-23 in one-run games, that’s how important it is.