Phillies Offense: Just Inconsistent, or in Decline?

Jack McCaffrey of the Delaware County Daily Times writes:

Improvement has been slower than postgame traffic, the Phillies’ offense remaining tantalizingly inconsistent.


It had been Jeff Carter in the playoffs, Andy Reid late in a Super Bowl, Eddie Jordan’s Princeton system, but with less movement. Where did the offense go? And is it time to bring out the binoculars for a search party?

The Phillies’ offense isn’t any more inconsistent this year than it was last year, believe it or not. The standard deviation on runs per game this year is 3.42; last year, it was 3.43. The difference is that the Phillies’ offense is flat-out worse, averaging just 4.6 runs per game compared to 5.1 last year.

A good portion of the decline can be blamed on injuries and the substitute players. The Opening Day eight has accrued 71 percent of the team’s 5,295 plate appearances so far this season. Last year, the starting eight accrued 80 percent. Using last year’s PA total (6,338), that’s a difference of 570 PA — almost a full season’s worth for a regular player. In ’09, none of the bench players reached the 170 PA plateau. Already this season, Wilson Valdez and Ben Francisco have surpassed that. Greg Dobbs could join them with 17 more PA.

wOBA 2010 2009
Utley 0.364 0.402
Howard 0.359 0.393
Ibanez 0.324 0.379

While Carlos Ruiz and Jayson Werth are enjoying improvements on their ’09 campaigns — and the Phillies upgraded at third base when they swapped Pedro Feliz out for Placido Polanco — the meat of the lineup has gone in the other direction. The numbers of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Raul Ibanez are all in decline from one year ago.

People often speak of the Phillies’ offensive struggles as an illness and the team just needs to take some Robitussin. It isn’t that simple. This is not a young offense in its prime anymore. Shane Victorino is the only regular not yet in his 30’s, and he’s 29. Among National League teams, the Phillies have the oldest average age for both hitters and pitchers.

Players typically start to decline in their 30’s. They don’t pick up bat speed; they lose it. They don’t get healthier; they land on the DL more often. The National League opposition now has a plethora of information on the weaknesses of the Phillies’ hitters. Ryan Howard, for example, is neutralized with a left-handed reliever that throws him nothing but low-and-outside sliders.

There is no easy solution to this problem. With as many franchise players as the Phillies currently have, you can only cross your fingers and hope they age gracefully — hope that these struggles are just a minor blip on the radar, and that GM Ruben Amaro can fill in around the edges adequately. Realistically, though, you can’t expect an aging, injury-prone team to continue to lead the league in offense year after year.