Plate Discipline Key to Phillies’ Offensive Success

While most of the baseball community frantically F5’s MLB Trade Rumors, I would like to point out something that piqued my interest as I was perusing FanGraphs. The Phillies’ offense has the fourth-best walk-to-strikeout ratio in baseball at 0.54. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals have a three-way tie for first place at 0.57. Individually, the Phillies have the sixth-highest walk rate and the fifth-lowest strikeout rate.









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At the moment, four Phillies are walking at least as often as they are striking out:

Interestingly, Utley’s BB/K ratio has improved in every season dating back to 2006. His walk rate peaked at 12.6 percent in ’08, then declined along with his strikeout rate. Utley’s current strikeout rate is six percent lower than his career average. Since strikeout and walk rates stabilize between 150-200 PA and Utley has accrued 228 to this point,we can make a reasonable conclusion that his improved plate discipline is real. However, has it come at the expense of his power? He is sitting on a .200 ISO at the moment, which is a career-low, excluding last year’s injury-shortened season. Overall, Utley has been incredibly productive since returning to the lineup (.391 wOBA), so the change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, Utley is 32 years old and hitters do lose power and improve plate discipline as they age.

There is nothing too interesting about Ruiz’s walk and strikeout rates. Over the past four seasons, Ruiz has shown himself to have a very good eye at the plate. He has walked more than he has struck out over the course of his career, so 2011 is just par for the course. Many fans will point out that his production has declined from last year (.366 wOBA to .332), but as I pointed out in December, Ruiz was getting lucky on balls in play and should be expected to regress:

Overall, he was pitched almost exactly the same. The weird thing is, even though Ruiz’s power shifted to the outside part of the strike zone, he had tremendous success going to left field. Per FanGraphs, his career wOBA going to left field is .395. In 2010, that number sat at a lofty .509. Was it due to batted ball luck? You betcha! His career average BABIP to left is .295; last year, it was .413.

In 2011, you can count on Ruiz being the jewel of the pitching staff’s collective eye and playing decent defense. Expect his offensive output to regress significantly, to around the league average in the .325-.330 [wOBA] range. That is plenty good for a Phillies offense that will still be among the league’s best.

Polanco, currently on the shelf but close to a return, is similarly uninteresting. However, he has had a slight increase in walks. His current 8.1 percent walk rate would easily be a career high, representing nearly a three percent increase over his career average. His current 7.8 percent strikeout rate would tie a career-high, excluding his 1998-2000 partial seasons. Polanco’s problems since May (.537 OPS) have more to do with a lack of quality contact than changes in walk and strikeout rates.

Finally, there’s Rollins, who I recently argued should be taken off of the market. Since winning the NL MVP award in 2007, Rollins changed into a different hitter. In 2006 and ’07, his ISO was .200 and .235 respectively. Since then, his power has declined, particularly in the last two years (.131 and .129). Rollins also became more selective at the plate. From 2001-07, Rollins’ walk rate never climbed above eight percent; in the four seasons since, it has been 9.3, 6.1, 10.2, and 9.2 percent. Additionally, from ’01-07, Rollins’ strikeout rate fell below ten percent just once; in the four seasons since, it has been 8.8, 9.7, 8.1, and 9.2 percent. While Rollins is no longer a 20-20-20-20 threat, his improved place discipline has made his power decline rather tolerable and is a big reason why he is still among the game’s elite shortstops.

In previous years, the Phillies have always been in the top-half in BB-K ratio. They used to be a team that hit for tremendous power, but as the lineup got older and injuries became more commonplace, the power waned and the plate discipline improved. Currently, the Phillies rank eighth in the National League in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. The reason why they have the league’s sixth-best runs-per-game average is their elite plate discipline.