The Phillies dropped the first game of a playoff series for the first time since the 2007 National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies. This is a bit of an unfamiliar feeling to most fans, who had to watch the ace of the starting rotation labor through seven innings while the offense failed to manufacture runs last night in Game One of the NLCS.
Expectedly, some fans are already demanding Charlie Manuel make drastic changes to right the ship that has, apparently, gone adrift.
Jimmy Rollins is 1-for-15 so far in the 2010 post-season, with the lone hit being a single. Rollins failed to even make productive outs, popping out with a runner on first and one out in the second inning and striking out with a runner on first and no outs in the fourth. He struck out with a runner on first base and two outs (and a full count) in the eighth inning, the Phillies’ best attempt to tie the game.
In his last 22 games to end the regular season, Rollins compiled a .598 OPS including only five extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. Fans want to see Rollins benched in favor of Wilson Valdez. Rollins, in an injury-plagued season, finished with a .317 wOBA, just a few points behind the league average. Valdez, on the other hand, finished way behind at .294. Rollins walks more, strikes out less, hits for more power, and runs the bases better. Defensively, Valdez has a slightly better UZR/150 but Rollins has 11 times the defensive innings.
It is true that Valdez filled in admirably for Rollins while he battled oblique and hamstring injuries, but Rollins at 75% health is better than Valdez at 100%. Valdez is benefiting from low expectations while Rollins is suffering from high expectations. Don’t be fooled — there’s a reason why Valdez could never hold down a full-time job.
Other fans are, once again, calling for the promotion of Carlos Ruiz in the batting order. Ruiz had the third-highest OPS of the Phillies’ starting eight, including the highest on-base percentage. A promotion seems logical but a decent portion of his success is directly related to his hitting in front of the pitcher. If first base is open, most managers will direct their pitchers to pitch around and eventually unintentionally-intentionally walk Ruiz to face the much weaker-hitting pitcher. In other situations, Ruiz will see a lot of predictable pitches since opposing pitchers want to avoid turning the lineup over.
Ruiz is smart for recognizing how he’s being pitched and capitalizing on those situations. But if you move him from 8th to, say, 6th (Rollins’ spot), there is no guarantee that he has similar or better success. Overall, batting order — unless intentionally constructed in the least logical fashion — doesn’t affect run-scoring by a significant margin, especially within a span of seven games. So it’s usually better to keep hitters in the spots in which they are most familiar.
Overall, the one thing that the calls for change have in common is that they’re overreactions to small sample sizes. Rollins’ 15 at-bats — and even the 87 regular season PA cited above — are much too insignificant and thus not useful for drawing any conclusions.
Yes, the Phillies were rather ineffective manufacturing runs in Game One, but they were just as bad — if not worse — during the 2008 post-season and they ended up winning it all. In Game One of the ’08 World Series, the Phillies left 11 runners on base, including six in scoring position. Game Two had the same stats. They left six on in base in Game Three before the bats woke up in Four, and left 12 on base (7 RISP) in the fifth and final game.
It’s only natural to worry about the offense, especially going up against an elite starting rotation, but let’s give the Phillies a chance to even it out first.