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Phillies Hitters’ Second-Half Itinerary

Posted By Bill Baer On July 14, 2010 @ 3:59 pm In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 17 Comments

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The Phillies went into the All-Star break on a positive note, sweeping the Cincinnati Reds in four games and finishing at seven games over .500. They are presenty on pace for 88 wins. While that is lower than we would expect from the Phils, it does not require the Phillies to make drastic changes in an attempt to secure a playoff spot. If the Phillies had gone into the break at say 42-45, the fan base may have shrieked enough to pressure Ruben Amaro into making a foolish acquisition or two. They need only stay the course — unless it involves trading for Dan Haren — and pray that Chase Utley is back by September. But there are some other things that need to fall in place to increase the odds of making the post-season.

Jimmy Rollins

Rollins has had a couple clutch hits since he was activated from the disabled list late in June. He hit a walk-off home run against Kerry Wood on June 23 and a walk-off single against Logan Ondrusek. But overall, he has a triple-slash line of .208/.287/.338 since his return from the DL. Charlie Manuel has used Rollins at the top of the lineup in all but four games since his return. If the Phillies plan to win baseball games on a consistent basis, Rollins needs to get on base at a higher clip as they cannot rely on Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels to put up goose eggs every night, as they did to close out the Reds series.

Shane Victorino

Tell me if you notice anything peculiar:

  • 2009: .315 BABIP, 21.7% line drives, 33.2% fly balls
  • 2010: .253 BABIP, 15.2% line drives, 41.3% fly balls

Victorino has magically morphed line drives into fly balls. It was well-documented on the Phillies broadcasts that Charlie Manuel had noticed mechanical flaws in Vic’s swing but given his July OPS falling in the low .700’s, it doesn’t look like there has been a cure yet. The good news is that, with the increased fly balls, he has also increased his HR/FB rate from 5.5% last year to 11.2% this year. As a result, he went into the break with 14 home runs, tying a career high. With a complimentary 17 stolen bases, Victorino projects to be one of the few 20 HR/25 SB players in baseball.

Chase Utley

Despite a down year by his standards, Utley was still on pace for another seven-win season. The biggest change was Utley’s lack of power as a result of a significant increase in ground balls. Last year, his GB/FB split was 34.0%/47.5% with a HR/FB rate of 14%. In 2010, those numbers changed to 41.6%/38.5% with a HR/FB rate of 12.4%. As a result, his isolated power dropped from .226 to .189. He hit only 11 home runs before landing on the disabled list. Dates when Utley hit his 11th home run in previous years:

  • 2005: June 29
  • 2006: June 4
  • 2007: June 5
  • 2008: April 30
  • 2009: May 21
  • 2010: June 18

When Utley comes back in late August or early September, it will be nice to have his pristine defense. But it would be even better if he came back having found his power.

Ryan Howard

Just by reading the heading “Ryan Howard” you most likely know what will be discussed here. His power has vanished. Sure, he has a team-high 17 home runs but his ISO is 77 points lower than it was last year. He was a maven of extra-base hits in previous years — roughly one out of every two hits was a double or better. This year, however, 65% of his hits are singles. His slugging percentage is at a meager .509, which would easily beat his career low .543 set in 2008.

The reason for Howard’s loss in power may surprise you. His struggles against left-handed pitchers are well-documented, but it isn’t southpaws causing him the trouble; it’s right-handers. Over his career, Howard has a .340 ISO against RHP and .214 against LHP. This year, those numbers are .231 and .185, declines of 109 and 29 points ┬árespectively. Additionally, while his rate of fly balls is right at his career averages, he is not turning those fly balls into home runs at a similar clip:

  • 2010 vs. RHP: 37.5% fly balls, 16.7% HR/FB
  • Career vs. RHP: 37.5% fly balls, 33.3% HR/FB

When Howard was given his five-year, $125 million extension, all of us — even the Sabermetrically-inclined — assumed he would not have problems with right-handers. Rather, most of us already knew that Howard struggled with lefties and that would continue to plague him throughout his career. His mediocre production against RHP should come as a complete shock to everyone, although I don’t think many people are aware of it.

Jayson Werth

Despite some prolonged cold streaks offensively, Werth has been the team’s best hitter (tied with the injured Utley in wOBA at .377). Werth’s itinerary for the second-half? Keep on doing what he’s doing.

Raul Ibanez

From the time he started playing every day in 2002 through ’09, Ibanez’s career-low in wOBA was .342 in ’03. His wOBA this year is .313. You can understand why there is a lot of concern over the 38-year-old. This was exactly the problem most people had when Ruben Amaro signed Ibanez as a free agent prior to last season. The objectors said that he was old, poor defensively, and that his recent production against left-handed pitchers was a fluke.

Ibanez had a triple-slash line of .232/.323/.448 following his month-long stint on the disabled list. His struggles have continued into 2010 as he is hitting .243/.326/.397. Despite his .413 wOBA against left-handers last year, he is hitting only .274 against them this year.

His struggles have brought about the possibility that Ben Francisco becomes his platoon partner in left field. Raul would get right-handers while Ben would get the lefties. Sadly, this is what it has come to for the 38-year-old to whom the Phillies pledged $31.5 million over three years (and to whom they still owe $11.5 million next year). It is still unlikely that Ibanez will be demoted to a platoon as Charlie Manuel, a player’s manager, isn’t one to embarrass an established veteran. However, it may be the Phillies’ best chance at getting the most production out of the left field position.

Placido Polanco

As with Werth, Polanco has been solid in 2010. Currently on the disabled list, Polanco was one of the consistent hitters buoying an aging and declining Phillies offense. His itinerary is to simply work his way back to a clean bill of health and try to recapture his first-half production.

Carlos Ruiz

If I told you that, through May 10, Ruiz had a .969 OPS, would you believe me? Well, it’s true. However, since then, Ruiz has tapered and dealt with concussion symptoms after being hit in the head with a shard of Jason Kubel‘s bat on June 18. Since May 10, Ruiz had a triple-slash line of .208/.315/.286. In his two games since returning from the disabled list, though, Ruiz has three hits (all doubles) in seven at-bats.

Ruiz has increased his walk rate but he has not shown the same power we saw last year when he finished with nine home runs. He has two presently. This is because he is hitting a lot fewer fly balls and a lot more line drives and ground balls. I call that a fair exchange. As a #7/8 hitter, it is better for him to work on getting on base rather than developing a power swing.


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