Phillies Drop Another Series Opener

The Phillies dropped yet another series opener, this time against the Milwaukee Brewers — their fifth consecutive series-opening loss out of six. The offense continued to struggle, scoring only three runs through 12 innings against Shaun Marcum and the Brewers’ bullpen. The Phillies’ hitters showed better plate discipline, but their nine hits were all singles and they drew only three walks in 50 plate appearances (six percent). They couldn’t mount any offensive threats in extra innings before Kyle Kendrick punted the game in the 12th inning.

I took umbrage with two more of Charlie Manuel’s decisions tonight.

The first problem was using J.C. Romero to start the ninth against pinch-hitter Erick Almonte, Rickie Weeks, and Carlos Gomez. They are all right-handed hitters. I’ve written about why Romero should be used strictly as a LOOGY before — he is absolutely terrible against right-handed hitters (5.33 xFIP) and effective against lefties (3.58 xFIP).

It turned out that using Romero didn’t kill the Phillies as Romero got two outs and narrowly missed a third on an infield single by Gomez. However, Romero came up limping and left the game with a right calf strain. A completely avoidable injury in hindsight, but the egregious offense wasn’t that Romero was injured unnecessarily, but that he was used against right-handed hitters.

The second problem was bunting with a runner on first and no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with Wilson Valdez at the plate. When I tweeted this, many people responded that Valdez is a double-play machine. I’ve joked around with that on Twitter many times, but the reality is that the GIDP’s are a minor side effect of his ground ball tendency. The run expectancy with a runner on first and no outs is 0.87, which lowers to 0.66 when you give up an out to move that runner to second base. A bunt eliminates the roughly 25 percent chance that Valdez gets a single, which could potentially mean a first and third with no outs (run expectancy: 1.70), or better.

Valdez does hit a lot of ground balls — 60 percent over his career, entering tonight. 154 of his 776 career plate appearances have come with a runner on first base. Only 21 of them ended in a double play (14 percent), so the GIDP threat wasn’t a huge issue.

I have one more gripe, and that’s with the fact that Kendrick is still on a Major League roster with nearly 500 innings under his belt, despite his inability to miss bats (career K/9 is barely above 4.0) and a barely above-average ability to induce ground balls (46 percent) and prevent hits (career .291 BABIP). His career xFIP is 4.72, yet was given $2.45 million by the Phillies in avoiding arbitration. That, when the Phillies have a horde of good, cheap arms capable of handling Kendrick’s low-leverage role in the bullpen, including:

Kendrick’s punting of tonight’s game was extremely frustrating and entirely predictable. However, it really isn’t his fault. The Phillies have had ample time to evaluate him and have wrongly concluded that he is capable of succeeding at the Major League level. Kendrick didn’t steal $2.45 million from the Phillies; they gave it to him. I’m guilty of directing my frustration at him, but it should really be directed at the front office. Kendrick is doing his best in a tough environment, which just isn’t enough.

With the last few posts being rather pessimistic towards the Phillies, how about a tip of the cap to Joe Blanton, who rebounded from two tough starts to begin the season by throwing seven innings of two-run baseball tonight? He’s the forgotten one (literally) among the Phillies’ starters, and is the victim of low expectations, but will be more than capable of holding his own every five days.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

This is the first Graph post of the 2011 season. Hooray! Sadly, it’s not a particularly encouraging graph. I’ve complained about the Phillies’ plate discipline on several other occasions here on the blog, but it’s worth pointing out until the problem is fixed. The Phillies haven’t scored more than four runs in a game since they scored 10 runs against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday April 9.

Here’s a graphical look at the Phillies’ overall plate discipline:

In only four of their 14 games have the Phillies beaten the 2010 National League average of 3.83 pitches per plate appearance. The current league average is 3.77; the Phillies’ overall team average is 3.59. Only three players are better than the average: Jimmy Rollins (3.91), Ben Francisco (3.89), and Carlos Ruiz (3.83).

As of this writing (after Sunday’s games, but before Baseball Reference updated), the Phillies are third in the National League in on-base percentage at .349, but .298 of that comes from batting average. The Cincinnati Reds led the league in batting average last year at .272, and the NL average was .255, so we should expect the Phillies’ average to fall even further down. Subsequently, their OBP and thus their run-scoring, will suffer as well — unless they start drawing walks.

In last week’s post examining the Phillies’ power potential, I talked about how much the absence of Chase Utley and Jayson Werth will be felt, and that is just as true in terms of on-base percentage as well. Werth has a career .365 OBP and Utley is at .380. One of Utley’s unique on-base skills is his propensity to get hit by pitches. He led the league from 2007-09 with 76 total plunks, looking quite Biggio-esque in the process. The HBP’s represented about 10 percent of Utley’s total times on base, which is quite significant.

Charlie Manuel has been known as a miracle worker when he gets his hitters in the batting cages, but plate discipline is not something that can be learned overnight. If the Phillies don’t fix this problem soon, we could be in store for offensive droughts we haven’t seen since May 22-27 last year, when they were shut out in four of five games.