The Halcyon Days

Not too long ago, the page was turned on a dark era of Phillies baseball. They bet the future of the franchise on top prospects Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Little did they know they would re-brand the club as an offensive powerhouse.

In 2005, the Phillies hit 167 home runs, just six more than the National League average. In ’06, thanks to Howard, Utley, and Pat Burrell, they hit 216 round-trippers in total, with that fearsome trio accounting for 119 of them. The Phillies tagged 213 in ’07 en route to ending a playoff drought, a league-best 214 in ’08 when they won it all, and another league-best 224 in ’09 when they attempted to repeat as champions.

Last year, an injury-plagued season, the Phillies only managed to hit 166 home runs, just 16 more than the league average. They allotted Wilson Valdez 363 plate appearances as well as 136 for Greg Dobbs, who OPS’ed .583, and 136 for Juan Castro, who OPS’ed .475. Only two regulars finished with a slugging percentage above .500 (Howard and Jayson Werth), compared to five on the 2007 roster.

The news hasn’t gotten any better for the Phillies in 2011. They are without Utley for at least “a while” forcing Valdez into an everyday role, Werth moved on to another team, and Ben Francisco is the everyday right fielder. This is without mentioning that Jimmy Rollins‘ potential is still¬†unknown after two poor, injury-plagued seasons, and Carlos Ruiz is expected to regress offensively. The days of the Phillies posting prodigious power numbers may be over.

While some of the offensive regression is related to a league-wide drop, the Phillies have tumbled faster than one would expect. The following two graphs display the hitters’ fly ball rate and their home run per fly ball rate.

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I included the 2011 numbers just for illustrative purposes. The sample size for this year is still small, so we can’t make any legitimate inferences yet.

However, there is reason to believe the Phillies can fall further. Utley has averaged 42 percent fly balls over his career; Valdez 20 percent; Werth 41 percent; Francisco 45 percent. And in terms of HR/FB%, Utley averaged 14 percent; Valdez four percent; Werth 16 percent; Francisco 10 percent.

Rollins has evolved into a more frequent ground ball hitter as well, averaging over 58 percent this year and nearly 46 percent in 2010. Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Ruiz, Brian Schneider, and Placido Polanco each hit ground balls at a 45 percent rate last year.

To make matters worse, the Phillies’ plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired. At the time of this writing, the Phillies are tied for last in the National League in walks with just 24 in 390 plate appearances (6.2 percent). The bulk of the Phillies’ offense thus far has come from an unsustainably-high BABIP.

To summarize:

  • The Phillies have been excessively fortunate on balls in play not being converted into outs by opposing pitchers and defenses
  • The Phillies are not drawing walks, or even seeing many pitches relative to the league average
  • The Phillies do not have the same type of power in the lineup that they had relied on in previous years

The Phillies will miss Utley more than many people realize, and the drop-off from Werth to Francisco (and, later, Domonic Brown) cannot be discounted. It’s a good thing GM Ruben Amaro stocked up on starting pitching, because the Phillies will need to win more low-scoring games than they’re used to going forward.