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Phillies Stage Comeback, Win on Opening Day

Opening Day appeared to be a cold, dreary, roughly three-hour loss for the Phillies. The Astros chased Roy Halladay after six innings and 101 pitches, then bolstered their lead to 4-0 when they tagged J.C. Romero and David Herndon for three runs. Through six innings, the Phillies could only muster three base runners and mounted no offensive threats against Brett Myers.

Then, in the seventh, they worked counts better, their batted balls found holes, and they made productive outs. A sacrifice fly by Ryan Howard and an RBI ground out from Raul Ibanez brought the Phillies back to 4-2. After an unproductive eighth inning, the Phillies needed to score at least two runs in the ninth against closer Brandon Lyon. After two singles and a stolen base, they had runners on first and third with one out. From there, it was the story of Phillies should-be reserves. Ben Francisco, Wilson Valdez, and John Mayberry each hit RBI singles and the Phillies had completed the highly unlikely: they had come back from a four-run deficit with nine outs to go.

As the win probability graph (via FanGraphs) illustrates, the Phillies had about a 10 percent chance to win at the start of the seventh inning. As the seventh inning came to a close, after the Phillies had halved their deficit, their win probability was still only 13 percent.

Despite the great ending, I was a bit disappointed by the Phillies’ lack of plate discipline. 36 Phillies came to the plate yesterday, 20 of them saw three pitches or fewer. Four swung at the first pitch. Through six innings, the Phillies had seen a grand total of 56 pitches from Myers, an average of less than ten pitches per inning.

With Chase Utley injured and Jayson Werth elsewhere in the NL East, the Phillies do not have many players adept at working counts. The chart below shows their average pitches seen per plate appearance from 2010.

The top-three in the Phillies’ batting order — Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, and Jimmy Rollins — each saw 3.75 or fewer pitches per plate appearance last year, which is not great. Prorating their averages over 650 plate appearances, Werth would have seen 2,840 pitches while Rollins comes in at 2,420; Victorino 2,387; and Polanco 2,303. The difference of 400 pitches accounts for about one-sixth of their pitches seen.

Seeing pitches has more than the obvious benefit of wearing a pitcher out and getting into the opposing team’s bullpen: it allows hitters to more accurately predict which pitches are coming, which leads to better offensive success. It should come as no surprise that, last year, hitters posted an OPS 270 points higher in hitter-favored counts than in even counts.

Previously, I had remarked that the Phillies don’t have many hitters with good on-base skills. Their relative lack of plate discipline plays a large role in that. If the Phillies intend on remaining near the top of the National League in offense, they will need to have a more disciplined approach in the batter’s box.