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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Phillies Patience at the Plate is Painfully Petulant





by: Chris Creighton
Follow him on Twitter @WarRoomPHLChris by clicking here
Watch the latest episode of the War Room on UStream by clicking here

Phillies Swinging Away
Photo courtesy of CSN Philly
We woke up today with the Phillies still flirting with our feelings by taking two steps forward, three steps back over the long weekend, unable to overtake the struggling Washington Nationals for second place while falling flat in Boston on Monday. However, with the team driving in a division where neither of the top three teams seem to want to take the wheel and steer it to Titletown, the Phillies still remain within a decent hot streak of making some noise and maybe gaining some confidence in the process.

With the Memorial Day weekend in the rear view mirror, there's no more room for excuses and it's certainly getting a little too late to say "It's early" anymore as almost a third of the season is in the history books. Luckily for the Phillies, they are playing in a division which many might call weak with the Braves and Nationals battling their own demons. Last night's 3-1 victory over the Red Sox was sweet, but in reality was largely due to Cliff Lee limiting the Boston nine to only four hits over eight innings. The Nationals and Braves were busy yesterday polishing off their own victories plating nine and seven runs respectively.

National League East Division

TmWLW-L%GB
Atlanta BravesATL3120.608--
Washington NationalsWSN2725.5194.5
Philadelphia PhilliesPHI2527.4816.5
New York MetsNYM2029.40810.0
Miami MarlinsMIA1339.25018.5

Last night, the Phillies scratched three runs across and were 1-6 with runners in scoring position. In the victory, Domonic Brown (1/4) did smoke another screamer over the right-center field wall in the top of the ninth inning, but still only saw 10 pitches in his four at-bats. Hacking away in the 5-spot yet again, Delmon Young saw FIVE pitches over four at-bats. The hardest out in their lineup, Michael Young, saw 25 pitches in his five forays to the plate and currently holds an OBP of .347, one of only four Phillies from last night's lineup to top the .300 mark in that category. In comparison, the Red Sox lineup saw eight men well over the .300 mark (low of .322), including .422, .397, and .392 from regulars Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Daniel Nava. No surprise the Sox are second in the league in walks and third in runs scored. Bookmark that stat for later.

So, how do they get hot? For starters, in order for the Phillies batsmen to gather any kind of momentum, they're going to need to change their approach at the plate from one less like this to one which shrinks down their own strike zone resembling something closer to this. I've mentioned it here before, but patience at the plate will not only give you a better chance to see your pitch, but will also make you a tougher out and wear down the pitcher in the process. And if you don't get your pitch, the worst thing that could happen is that you draw a walk, should you choose to wait. 

There is the old saying that says we must learn to walk before we can run. This has never been more apparent than in today's game of baseball, and if you're among the three remaining baseball fans who haven't yet seen Moneyball, teams have learned how to walk in order to run...and score runs. Clearly evident in the numbers, it's no coincidence that five of the six most patient National League teams at the plate are not only at or near the top of their division, they are also the same top five of six teams in scoring runs. It's a carbon copy in the American League, as well.

National League Leaders: Walks (as of 5/28)
Team (Place)Base on Balls ▾
CIN (2nd, 1.5 out)205
ATL (1st)174
LAD163
ARI (1st)161
STL (1st)157
COL (3rd, 2.5 out)154
*Phillies 12th out of 15 NL Teams with 129 BB

National League Leaders: Runs Scored (as of 5/28)
TeamRuns per GameRuns Scored ▾
COL4.82246
CIN4.80245
STL4.78239
SFG4.49229
ATL4.44222
ARI4.13215
*Phillies 12th out of 15 NL Teams with 178 runs scored

Base runners can cause indecision on the mound and create mild havoc among opposing players in the field, especially if they have some speed. They can take a pitcher, catcher and any infielder off their game and even slightly away from their normal position. Different pitches are called with runners aboard and there's greater likelihood for those pitches to be in the zone rather than risk a wild pitch or issue any additional free passes. The basic fact is that the game changes completely when runners are on base and they increase the chances for batters to drive in runs as seen in the below graphic, which shows four of those same five teams mentioned above knocking in more runs per at-bat than any other in the National League.

TeamAt Bats per RBI ▴
STL7.5
CIN7.5
COL7.5
ATL7.7
SFG8.1
NYM8.7
PIT8.7
ARI8.8
League Avg8.8
MIL8.8
SDP8.9
CHC9.1
LAD9.9
WSN9.9
PHI10.1
MIA13.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/28/2013.

But can Charlie Manuel, along with Batting Coaches Wally Joyner and Steve Henderson, teach a team of mostly veterans how to unlearn their lack of discipline or to set aside their ego for a few at bats per game just to take a walk or two?

Ben Revere
courtesy of Philly.com
Sometimes players paid to set the table often try to do too much with the bat when it's their legs on the base paths which hold much higher value. Speedsters Jimmy Rollins and Ben Revere are each carrying dismal OBP's of .306 and .303 as two of the fastest players in Major League Baseball. They should be at least near the .320 mark accidentally with their legs, but still need to be much better with their pitch selection. Ideally, they should be around the .350 mark.

Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown
courtesy of the ZoZone
Where the big boys play, Delmon Young and Domonic Brown reaching base at a percentage of .281 and .294 adds up to zero protection behind Ryan Howard in the fifth and sixth spots in the lineup, hacking at anything thrown in their general direction. These three sluggers must become more difficult to pitch to if they are going to catch fire at some point. This is not to say they need to walk all that much more, just need to be tougher outs. Even Chase Utley's OBP of .339 is very un-Utley like as his career numbers boasts a mark of .375. When he returns, he'll also need to make life harder for the opposing pitchers.

Cole Hamels
courtesy of SI.com
It's quite simple, really. Do the Phillies want to win enough to dedicate themselves to make the necessary changes at the plate? Or do they continue down the same path, hoping that solo home runs and scratching the occasional run on the board will be enough to support their own pitching staff? Just ask Cole Hamels how that's working out for him as he's seen his team score 20 runs in the 69 innings he has pitched in 2013.

This Phillies offense must embrace the change I've suggested above because gems like Lee's outing from last night won't happen every day. If they cannot make the adjustments, the only change they will see come July will be the familiar names and faces heading to either of the contending teams that know what it takes to play baseball in October.

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