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Why the Phillies can’t beat bad teams – Part II

The Phillies had a rare late-in-the-game come-from-behind victory last night thanks to some heads up baserunning in the seventh and some insurance runs sparked by a Pat Burrell homer.  Dontelle Willis was dealing, but luckily the young minnows behind him had some trouble in the field.  If you were watching closely when David Bell scored in the eighth, you might have seen veteran Mike Lieberthal neglecting his on-deck duties by not moving the Alex Gonzalez’s bat out of the baseline.  Tsk, tsk, Mike, that could be dangerous.  The pitching was on the whole good enough, though Madson gave up 5 runs through 5 and a third, the bullpen shut down the Marlins the rest of the way.  This allowed the Phils do what they haven’t done enough – and what we’ve been talking about lately here – that is:  beat a bad team. 

I know I said yesterday that we would cover offensive and defense today, but I became so engrossed in Baseball Prospectus’ custom reports (and so depressed by the Phillies figures) that only offensive numbers will be covered.  Fielding, along with a full final assessment, will come tomorrow.

We’ve heard all season how the Phillies fail to drive in runners in scoring position.  They rank 13th in the NL with a .225 average in such situations; yet with no runners on they are 3rd with a .270 average.  We also know that the top half of the lineup does well to get on base:  the Rollins-Utley-Abreu-Burrell lineup averages a .373 OBP.  But when you look more closely at the individual situations you’ll see the majority of runners are on first base with less on second and even less on third.  While this may seem like an obvious distribution, the Phillies show a higher percentage of runners on first than the league average.  This means that besides the more noticeable poor performance with runners in scoring position, the Phillies aren’t moving runners around the bases.  They are 11th in the league with just 8 sacrifices.  Another less significant indicator of this issue is seen in the fact that the Cory Lidle recorded the team’s first triple on Sunday; meaning the Phils are last in the league in that category and subsequently have runners on third less frequently.  They are 5th in the NL in doubles with 46 which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t 13th in both RBIs and runs scored and 10th in total bases. 

Another depressing situational rank comes with the bases loaded.  With 16 of these at bats for Phillies hitters going into last night’s game, there have been opportunities for 64 RBIs (including the batter driving in himself) with 32 of the runners being in scoring position.  In those at bats the Phillies have tallied only 7 RBIs (last in the NL) off 5 hits.  Though that gives you a .313 batting average with the bases loaded it certainly would not be described as clutch.  Similarly the Phillies bench has been less than stellar in his category with 1 RBI off 5 hits in 39 at bats (also worse in the NL).

Just the same the Phillies ground into their fair share of double plays.  Although Bobby Abreu leads the team with 4 GIDPs, the percent of times a double play opportunity was converted by him stands at 14.8%.  Alex Gonzalez leads the team in that category with a DP% of 66.7%, with 2 out of 3 double play opportunities converted, including the game-ending one on Saturday.  Mike Lieberthal (33.3%) and Abraham Nunez (28.6%) are also dangerously high in that category.

With JRoll’s penchant for not being a prototypical leadoff hitter the Phillies lineup on a whole ranks twelfth in the league in pitches seen.  They average 4.2 pitches per AB or 3.7 per plate appearance, which isn’t terrible (though Houston averages 4.5 per AB) except they still rank twelfth in walks.  This could mean the Phils are fouling more balls off then they should (i.e. swinging at balls).

So what’s this all mean then?  Well, for one the Phillies, except for Bobby Abreu (29% of the team’s walks) are not that disciplined at the plate; nor are they proficient in situational hitting.  This is very disconcerting due to the fact that Charlie Manuel, for all his faults, is supposed to be a great hitting coach.  Sure they hit the long ball every now and again and propel the team to victory, but that is not a sustainable offense.  Now understandably this argument is not a new one, but I hope now you might see it in a different light and realize it’s a bit more complicated than ‘the Phillies need to manufacture runs.’

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