Can the Phillies Change their Approach in 2014?

Can J-Roll change? (MLB)

Can J-Roll change? (MLB)

It’s not hard to see a direct correlation between getting on base, scoring runs, and winning games.

Phillies Runs Scored:

2007: 892
2008: 799
2009: 820
2010: 772
2011: 713
2012: 684
2013: 464 (on pace – 606)

Phillies On-Base Percentage:

2007: .354
2008: .332
2009: .334
2010: .332
2011: .323
2012: .317
2013: .303 (as of 8/20)

Phillies Record:

2007: 89-73
2008: 92-70
2009: 93-69
2010: 97-65
2011: 102-60
2012: 81-81
2013: 55-69 (as of 8/20)

We know how each Phillies team, year-by year beginning in 2007, was constructed. From 2007 to 2009, they scored between 5 and 5.5 runs per game, while getting just enough pitching to go with the monster lineup. In 2010, the offense was still productive, but their pitching was stronger than in previous years.

In 2011, the pitching staff put up ludicrous numbers, allowing just 3.27 runs per game, while leading the club to 102 wins. It overshadowed a declining, yet just-about-good-enough offense. In 2012, it all began to fall apart. And here we stand, in 2013, with a team that has totally imploded.

On the offensive side of things, it’s plain to see what ails the Phillies. They can’t get on base, therefore they cannot score enough runs to keep up with the rest of the league.

Their .303 OBP currently ranks 27th in baseball, just ahead of the Cubs, Astros, and Marlins. With 464 runs, only the White Sox and Marlins are deeper into the abyss.

The question now becomes: what will change in 2014? Or, more importantly, can they change?

We’re done beating into the ground the fact that 2013 is over. With sights set on next season, the Phillies need a major philosophical change in how they approach the game.

The “what” is the need to draw more walks and deeper counts.

Of players with at least 200 plate appearances, only one Phillie ranks in the Top 50 in the NL in pitches per plate appearance. That would be Ryan Howard. John Mayberry Jr. ranks 60th in the NL, Domonic Brown 61.

Among qualified batters, only Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins rank in the top 40 of the NL in walks; Young has 39, Rollins 38.

“Can they change” is where the water gets murky.

Ryne Sandberg has set the wheels in motion by opening up dialogue with Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies leadoff hitter for the better part of a decade. Rollins – he of the .260 on-base percentage since the all-star break – is at the top of the list of players who need to retune their approach. Adapt or die, as they say.

Sandberg was candid when talking about his discussions with Rollins, and you can read them all here as Ryan Lawrence of the Daily News goes word-for-word.

What I think for Jimmy at the top of the lineup with his speed and his baserunning and as good as he is as a baserunner, he’s got to get on base. I don’t think him focusing on hitting 15 to 20 home runs in the right approach for him. If he wants to score 100 runs per year, I think that’s the proper approach — not hitting solo home runs. That’s any guy at the top of the order- that’s making the pitcher come to him and if you get your walks, battle in your at-bats and try to get on base. He has enough pop to hit the ball in the gaps and get his doubles, so I think for me and keeping a line drive stroke and improving the on-base percentage. That’s what the team needs.

The gist is this: we’ll see. Sandberg says he sees a willingness in Rollins to change. We’ll see about some others.

A healthy Ryan Howard will hopefully bring better plate discipline to a team sorely lacking in that department. But the Big Piece is still a Big If. Domonic Brown continues to go through the developmental process as a hitter. Darin Ruf has a keen eye, but what about Cody Asche?

Here’s what next year’s lineup could look like:

Revere CF
Utley 2B
Ruf LF
Brown RF
Howard 1B
Rollins SS
Asche 3B
Ruiz C

It’s possible that four of the top six in the order could reach .330-plus OBP (take your pick on who that will be, but my money is at least on Revere and Utley). That’s not all that bad. If you mix in a little power from the 3-4-5 hitters, perhaps the lineup can trend upward.

Again, adapt or die. If the Phillies as a whole don’t start to make pitchers work and get on base by any means necessary, their offensive numbers will continue to suffer as a result. And if next season does not yield more runs for the club, they won’t go far. It will not be 2011, when the “4 Aces” reign supreme. It will not look like 2009, when they slugged 224 home runs. It will be 2014, with much the same lineup as 2013, and much the same in terms of output…unless the players get wise.

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