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.

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37 comments

  1. nik

    September 07, 2010 08:46 AM

    All the more reason I was disappointed with the smallish draft budget this year. We need as many young prospects in the pipeline as possible as this core begins to age.

  2. Ajay

    September 07, 2010 09:58 AM

    Well now I’m just sad.

  3. Robert Pidich

    September 07, 2010 10:52 AM

    No reason to panic.

    These are the same hitters that were tearing up the league in the first month of the season. They haven’t aged that much in a few months. Charlie needs to tweak the lineup a little ( get JRO out of the lead, move Ruiz up).

    The only age problem in the line up is Raul, but he seems to be getting his hits lately.

    As for Howard, every Lefthander in the league is weak against low outside sliders. (if they’re strikes).

  4. Scott G

    September 07, 2010 10:55 AM

    Nik,

    With an aging core, I am curious how people look at the team from a “get young perspective”. When Howard, Utley, Werth, Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels are at their best, there is a very slim chance the Phillies will ever have even 3 players of their caliber on their team again. Howard (at his best) is one of the best power hitters in history. Chase Utley is one of the best all around 2B to play baseball. Halladay and Oswalt are self explanatory. Werth is an exceptional player. Hamels could be Oswalt and Halladay status in a few years. Win now while you have one of the best collections of talent in Phillies history.

    Anyway. Victorino’s offensive production has dropped off since last year as well. Don’t forget about that. He’s OBPing .322 compared to .351 last year. His slugging is down as well.

  5. LarryM

    September 07, 2010 11:34 AM

    How about neither? Or, to be more specific, maybe a little bit “in decline,” and a bit inconsistency (no worse than last year in that regard, but worse than average both years) but mainly:

    (a) injuries (b) secondary effects of injuries (i.e., decreased effectiveness upon return from injuries) and (c) just bad luck.

    I’d say that the real decline (which is a little less that 1/2 a run a game because league wide scoring is down a little) is probably 1/2 to 2/3 the direct and indirect result of injuries; the remainder is equally age and luck.

    Given the injury and luck factors, I think that, all else being equal, we could expect the offense to rebound a little next year despite the aging factor. Of course all else isn’t equal; losing Werth will hurt.

    Fortunately, pitching is now the team’s strength, so I think they’ll still contend next year. IMO it won’t be until 2011-2012 that the age factor starts to become a real problem.

  6. NV

    September 07, 2010 12:51 PM

    Hi Bill,
    I think you actually can make the argument that they are more inconsistent this year because the stdev of runs scored as a % of the mean is higher this year (a team scoring an average of 3 with +/- 2 stdev is more inconsistent than one scoring an ave of 6 with a +/-2 stdev).

  7. Steve

    September 07, 2010 01:26 PM

    I like NV’s point about the STD % of the mean.

    I also wonder how much aging decline in production is linked to injuries (i.e. bigger decline in production after returning from injuries because it takes longer to heal from said injuries) and not just loss of power

  8. NoelP

    September 07, 2010 01:30 PM

    This is clearly an offense in decline at two critical hitting positions. First is leadoff always a weakness with this dynasty. Rollins has never had the OBP to be a good leadoff man. He is now a low average, low power liability. Best shortstop in franchise history, but always has been an over-rated hitter. Second is left field, along with first, the classic power hitter’s slot. I was very skeptical of the Ibanez acquisition. A life time 280 hitter with ordinary power and no walks has little value. He now is a 250 hitter with no power. He is a definate downgrade from Pat the bat. Throw in Shane Victorino’s regression back to his ordinary life time stats and you have two major holes in the lineup.

  9. sneed

    September 07, 2010 03:07 PM

    Bill,

    I love your work here. One bone to pick in this case: Ibanez has actually improved throughout his 30′s, so I don’t know how he fits in. It’s tough to say that a guy who had a career year at 37 is absolutely in sudden decline at 38, although something similar happened to Jamie Moyer. Both are obvious outliers.

    I don’t think Utley is going to decline dramatically. He is really starting to swing the bat better – as if he’s finding a rhythm after an extended absence. On the other hand, Howard is what he is at this point. He’s, as you said, neutralized by lefties who throw him breaking stuff down and out of the zone. On top of that, he spent time this summer working on his ability to hit more contact, which has had the confounding effect of reducing his power, or so it seems. If Howard was striking out more and hitting more home runs, his wOBA would probably be closer to last year, but fans would still have their usual gripes with the Big Piece. I wonder what he will do in 2011. Or 2017 for that matter.

  10. Jim

    September 07, 2010 04:39 PM

    @Steve,

    What does it matter? If age = more injuries = less production, or age = less power = less bat speed = less production, either way it means the more you age, the less valuable you are. I don’t think it matters on the stats sheet if you struck out because your back hurts and you can’t swing the bat as you normally can or if you’re just getting old and your bat speed has declined. In the end, it’s a strikeout regardless.

    I suppose if it’s more injury-related you can just hope the player won’t get injured as often. However, one thing I think history has proven is that if you run your baseball team based on hope, you’re in a LOT of trouble.

  11. micah

    September 07, 2010 05:54 PM

    If ryan howard lost some bat speed and starting hitting grounders to the left side of the infield, the Phillies would benefit tremendously.

  12. Anonymous

    September 07, 2010 07:54 PM

    There is a certain well known local radio personality who has spent this entire season blaming the problems on the fact that the regular stars have “played too many games in the last few years”. I think this is ridiculous, and you SHOULD be playing your best players every chance you get. What do you think, Bill?

  13. Bill Baer

    September 07, 2010 08:13 PM

    There’s something to be said for getting them rest every so often, but I don’t think they’ve been overextended.

    You can’t predict injuries. Howard and Utley’s injuries were not indicative of overuse, just bad luck. Polanco was hit in the wrist by a Tim Hudson pitch.

  14. JR

    September 07, 2010 09:01 PM

    What is wrong with the Phillies – watch the bottom of the 8th of tonights game.

  15. JR

    September 07, 2010 09:08 PM

    I, of course, meant the top of the eighth!

  16. Jon

    September 07, 2010 09:53 PM

    That wasn’t an aura the last two years, it was the stench off Pedro Feliz’s bat.

  17. Jim

    September 07, 2010 09:55 PM

    I’ll tell you this… As much as I’m still “sentimental” to Lidge (just can’t overlook the magic season when we won it all and he was, literally, perfect), let’s just say when Madson walked out of the dugout for the 9th inning, I yelled out, “Praise Jesus, he has granted Charlie wisdom.” First place finally, all is right with the world.

    @micah – I LOL’ed when I read your post about Howard, hahahaha…

    @Bill – don’t worry, winning will create much “aura” to be “seen” by those great “fans.”

  18. G. A. Volb

    September 07, 2010 11:33 PM

    Hey, my Phills are back in first place. And if that doesn’t scare the rest of the league, given all their injuries, it should. They’re winning and not playing very well at the moment … which is bad news for everyone else. Add one more starter during the off season and we’ll be unstoppable. Yeah, I said it, now back up off me!

  19. Scott G

    September 08, 2010 07:33 AM

    Jim,

    He didn’t go to Lidge because as Charlie put it in the postgame interview, “Lidge’s elbow is a littler tender”. You didn’t actually think he got smarter overnight did you? Heck this was the same night that Dom Brown went down, and he simply inserted Jayson Werth into his slot. The 7 hole. The Phillies two highest OBPs last night batted 7th and 8th. Awful.

  20. Eric

    September 08, 2010 09:13 AM

    There should be no panic about the Phillies offense. Judgment should at least be reserved to see if the trend continues next summer. I don’t think anyone here could miss the time from their day job that Utley and Howard have missed and expect to be their most productive. Anyone that has played a sport also knows that if you haven’t gotten out there in a month or two it takes a few weeks to get back to your best. Going forward the smartest thing the Phillies can do to maintain their offense is to sign Werth and platoon Ibanez and Brown until Brown can hit lefties.

  21. Jim

    September 08, 2010 11:06 AM

    BTW, I checked Ibanez’s stats last night… If he has just a career average year next year (not a guarantee of course), because of his great season last year, he will actually earn/play to about how much he got paid for his 3 year contract: $30 million. Funny how we keep saying that was a bad contract, when in the end, it really wasn’t that bad… Of course he’s not earning his salary for this year, and probably won’t next year, but I guess I can think of it as deferred payment for last year.

    Now, I’m sorry, any way you calculate it, no freaking way Howard earns his damn contract. Impossible.

  22. Bill Baer

    September 08, 2010 02:07 PM

    While Ibanez could very well earn his contract, the sheer size of it has actually prevented the Phillies from being able to re-sign Werth. To be fair, you can actually cite some other factors as possibilities (i.e. Howard’s extension) but the Phillies have about one large contract too many and it’s going to hurt their outfield for 2011.

  23. Jim

    September 08, 2010 02:40 PM

    @Bill,

    Agreed, but can’t argue with Ibanez being a significant reason why we won the WS in 2008. Hind sight is always easy, but if someone told you before 2008 that we can sign Ibanez to a contract (that he will earn) that will allow us to win a WS in 2008, but hinder our ability to compete in 2011, I’m pretty sure you would have said, “Sign him up.”

  24. Jim

    September 08, 2010 02:56 PM

    Oooops, of course you’re right :)

  25. Kit

    September 08, 2010 03:34 PM

    There are some points about the Phillies that I think too often get overlooked when you try and evaluate this team based on stats and individual’s numbers.
    Despite how their stats look this year vs. previous years, they are still in contention for the NL East pennant, and as of today, are in first place again. When looking back over this season, so far, there is no one place you can point to and have something jump out at you that tells you why that is. If anything you are almost left to scratch your head, and ask, “How did they do this?”. Obviously, with this particular group of core players, their individual stats have never been what you would call “classic” for a championship caliber team. What they do possess is incredible “heart” and a will to get done whatever it takes to win. In the last ten years this team has become a favored destination for many players, especially when you listen to quotes from a guy like Halladay, or Cliff Lee when he found out he wasn’t going to be here. Players WANT to play here because of their nucleus. And Ruben is very careful and sensitive as to who is brought in here or who he adds to the roster. I see and look over the stats like everyone else. After these last 5 seasons, you just have to throw the stats out the window and enjoy and cherish what we are witnessing, and that’s winning baseball. We don’t have any classic baseball stars on this team. But what we do have is a group of players with guts, heart, tremendous work ethic and not just desire to win, but a determination to win. Its why guys like Cliff Lee, Oswalt, Polanco, Halladay, Mike Sweeney, and Ibanez wanted to be here. All of this is worth way more than any stats.

  26. Ted

    September 08, 2010 04:11 PM

    Phillies wRAA (Weighted Runs Above Average):
    2010: -2 (17th MLB/9th NL)
    2009: 62 (5th MLB/1st NL)
    2008: 43 (8th MLB/3rd NL)
    2007: 124 (2nd MLB/1st NL)

  27. Scott G

    September 08, 2010 04:50 PM

    Are you joking, Kit?

    Chase Utley is probably one of the best all around 2nd basemen to ever play the game. He is easily one of the best hitting second basemen, and the metrics say he’s probably currently the best defensive 2B in the game.

    Ryan Howard has put up amazing power numbers sans 2008 and 2010. Comparable to just about anyone short of Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez.

    Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt are some of the best pitchers in baseball.

    Jayson Werth is not slouch. Jimmy Rollins is a very good defensive shortstop.

    While I think there is something to be said for a cohesive clubhouse, do not belittle the offensive contributions of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth.

  28. Kit

    September 08, 2010 07:58 PM

    Hi Scott G,
    No, I am not kidding. Not in the least. While its very easy to point at the “positive” stats as you have, you also cannot overlook the negative ones, either. They strike out as a team way too much, they had no closer last year and the jury is still out as to whether they really have one this year. If you examine the stats this year, none of what you see makes sense as to why they have the most wins in the NL (as of tonight) this year except maybe for the starting pitching. I agree with your point about Chase Utley. One of my favorite players of all time and perhaps a HOFer someday. Many of their other stats are way off from previous years, too. Their HR’s are way down, their SB’s are way down, the team BA is way down and they have been shut out and scored less than 2 runs in an exorbitant number of games this year, as well. Yet, here we are on 9/8 in first place. This is why I say that with this team and its core, stats are secondary to their determination, knowing that they can win, and knowing HOW to win.

  29. Kit

    September 08, 2010 08:03 PM

    And I love Ryan Howard to death but he can’t be put in a group with Pujols or Manny Ramirez. Neither strikes out as much as Howard and both have career BA’s over .300.

  30. Bill Baer

    September 08, 2010 08:03 PM

    Chase Utley’s counting stats are down because he missed so much time due to injury. His rate stats are down as well, but not nearly as much.

  31. Dan

    September 09, 2010 01:26 AM

    Kit, while I agree that the Phillies have a lot of intangibles that make them a special team, they do have a nucleus of prototypical star players of TODAY’S game. You’ve got the big guns like Howard who strike out a lot, but have those 50 HR seasons. You’ve got the guy who hits for a pretty good average, has some power, and at least some decent speed, like Utley. You’ve got the 5 tool players, who can hurt you in any number of ways like Werth. The fact that we have a nucleus of them is just astounding. Most teams make do with one or two stars, we’ve arguably got 5-7 (even 8, depending on what you define as a star). We are essentially the Yankees of the NL… minus the ridiculous amount of money thrown at players (save for Howard… ugh).

    That being said, Pujols and Ramirez are absolute anomalies in today’s game. They are the purest type of hitter, and they even have a lot of pop to back it up. Pujols even brings above average defense to the game. Even so, Pujols will never be a .400+ average hitter… and he’s easily the best hitter in today’s game. It’s a different time, we will likely never again see anyone bat .400+, and if we do (which is a stretch), you can bet they won’t be blasting 30-40 HR a year. What you will see now is dominant pitchers who have more ways to get a guy out than we can think of. We have honestly entered the era of the pitcher.

  32. Scott G

    September 09, 2010 12:09 PM

    Kit,

    In 2006 and 2007, Ryan Howard has Pujols and Manny-like numbers. He OPSed 1.084 in 2006 and 0.976 in 2007. Not saying he’s as good as them, but he certainly was close for those 2 seasons.

    Also, studies have been done to examine how crucial individual’s strikeouts are. I remember reading that they deduct .001 runs more than any other type of out.

    There are definitely instances when a strikeout would be preferred over just putting the ball in play. Any time there is a force with fewer than two outs, I’m sure it would be beneficial to produce an out by means of K’ing over hitting a weak groundball.

    For instance, this past Sunday, Ryan Howard put one of the weakest swings on the ball I have ever seen. He merely tossed the bat out at the ball and grounded into a double play. One play, but this is the type of situation where after knowing the result is an out, I’d rather he struck out.

    Citing AVG being down isn’t the whole story. Bill James found the most important thing towards scoring runs is not getting out. OBP is an indicator of this, as it records how frequently a player does not make an out.

  33. The Truth

    September 10, 2010 12:50 PM

    Could the core just be hurt? That happens sometimes.

  34. Brad C

    September 15, 2010 01:06 AM

    the Phillies have had almost every star player on the team go through an injury plagued year. Despite it all, the team is playing its best ball right now and in first place. With a good off season, I would expect much better numbers from the core players next year. Rollins needs to be permanently moved to the 6th or 7th spot. Victorino brings more energy to the leadoff spot. I dont see any way Werth returns next year.Despite Werth’s good looking stats, he has been an absolute failure with runners on and his stats are greatly overrated this year. The question is what will Ruben do to replace him? Is Brown ready to play next year? He showed flashes but still has a way to go.. Ruben needs to spend the money he will be saving on Werth on rebuilding the pen. I’d like to see them keep Durbin. We need to let Romero go and get a better lefty. I’d also love to see Herndon let go as well.. he’ll never be a good major league pitcher.

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