Guest Post: Culture Shock

Culture Shock: Patience at the Plate Needed Most for Phillies in 2012

Tom Holzerman (or TH, if you will) is a wrestling blogger found at a few sites on the web, most prominently at his site, The Wrestling Blog. He also has some things to say about other topics, baseball being one of them. If you have any feedback, questions or angry missives, send them to his Twitter, @tholzerman.

Ask a random Phillies fan what the team needs to do most in the offseason, and one might probably get a bevy of different answers, ranging from firing affable yet flawed manager Charlie Manuel all the way down to signing Albert Pujols. For a team that won 102 games in the regular season, it might be hard to justify any major shake-up, but losing in the Divisional Series when the World Series was the only conceivable satisfying goal will leave bad tastes in the mouths of even the most rational fan.

That being said, there are things that need to be done to ensure that 2012 is at the very least as successful as 2011 was, if not more so. From where I sit, it has nothing to do with the actual players as much as it has to do with their philosophies at the plate. The offense came up small in their last three playoff series, and it showed with two devastating series losses. In the Divisional Series last year, pitching and defense (mainly the Reds’ lack of defense) was able to overcome the lack of offensive clout, but against the Giants and Cardinals, it just wasn’t enough.

The reason for this was clearly a lack of patience at the plate. This is both supported anecdotally and statistically. The feeling watching the team against the Cardinals was that the batters were hacking at first pitches, connecting and putting balls in play weakly in play right at fielders. The stats bore truth for those feelings, as the Cardinals saw an average of 14 more pitches per game over the entire series. Furthermore, the disparity in BABIP was a staggering 83 points in favor of the Cardinals. I haven’t done a whole lot of research in the correlation between those two stats, but to the perceptive mind, it makes sense. The Cardinals were choosier with their pitches, and the more pitches a team sees, the likelihood for “mistake pitches”. Even aces throw them. While BABIP is a stat that’s mostly associated with luck, it makes sense that a team would make its own luck through taking pitches and being selective.

The Cardinals provided the blueprint to break the maxim “good pitching beats good hitting”. The Phillies would have been better served to do the same, but instead, they hacked at Chris Carpenter like he was throwing batting practice. The story was the same against Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner last year. There isn’t a magic kryptonite that allows teams to get hits against Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and even Roy Halladay that prevents the Phils from doing the same against other ace-level pitchers. It’s a philosophy, a tangible one that is not currently being espoused by the team.

How can this culture change? If the Phillies were ready to rebuild, then maybe it could come gradually. However, the team is built to compete now. Even if Roy Oswalt leaves town, the team will still have three starting pitchers who’ve averaged over 4 WAR over the last three years (according to FanGraphs), with two in Halladay and Lee who’ve both averaged over 6.5. This team could very easily skate into the playoffs on the strength of their starting pitching. With that rock in place, I believe the team can afford to implement culture shock.

This is going to take more than just replacing Greg Gross as the hitting coach. It’s going to take bringing in players who are already inclined to take pitches, work counts and draw walks to work. IF that means letting Jimmy Rollins walk to the Yankees, Giants or any other team willing to break the bank for him, then as painful as that can be for fans (such as myself, who loves J-Roll and his contributions to the team), then so be it. If it means holding Ryan Howard out of the lineup the entire year to let him recover while going with another option at first, then it has to happen. If it means that Ruben Amaro and Manuel are shoved into a dark room, eyelids taped open and made to listen to readings of Moneyball on loop for 24 hours, then actually, that sounds like a good idea to me.

Regardless of how the change comes about, change does have to come about. This team is good enough to make the playoffs, but they lack fundamentals that allow them to tackle good pitching. Let’s face it, teams don’t make the playoffs with league average pitchers. Teams don’t need to have four aces to make it to the postseason, and teams don’t have to be stocked with lineups full of all-stars to hit those aces. All they need is patience. The Giants and Cardinals had it in spades in the last two respective postseasons. The Phillies did not. That’s why those two teams advanced and the Phillies did not.

Ed. Note: Thanks to Thomas for the guest post. Check out his blog The Wrestling Blog as well as his Twitter, @tholzerman.

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36 comments

  1. gfweb

    October 11, 2011 07:09 AM

    Never thought I’d tend to agree with firing Charlie, but here we are. There were some culture-shock-y things that Charlie could have done with no change in personnel. Bench/rest Polly and Howard…they weren’t slumping, they was hurt. Sit Raul more for defensive purposes.

    But he didn’t, even in the face of elimination and watching the example of LaRussa making every change in the book.

    Keep Charlie around for the press conferences and let Makannin manage.

  2. Ajay

    October 11, 2011 08:12 AM

    You seem to frown on two ideas in this post: firing Charlie Manuel and replacing Greg Gross as hitting coach. But it seems to me that these two things would go a long way towards solving the problem you highlight: making hitters more patient at the plate. Am I right?

  3. Richard

    October 11, 2011 09:05 AM

    “The feeling watching the team against the Cardinals was that the batters were hacking at first pitches, connecting and putting balls in play weakly in play right at fielders.”

    This is simply false. And the stats you introduce in the next sentence have no relationship to this “feeling”. The “feeling” I had was of a team consistently letting first-pitch hittable pitches go by without swinging.

    Where did the 2011 Phillies rank in terms of plate discipline this season? In terms of pitches per plate appearance? Or in terms of first-pitch swinging? Or walk rate? Or strikeout rate? I can only assume you’ve checked all these figures before concluding that the team, as a whole, lacked patience this season.

    I’m not suggesting the Phillies showed awesome plate discipline in the NLDS, but you need to do better than this. (How many foul balls did the Cardinals hit? How much of the difference in pitches seen is the Phillies putting balls in play rather than being fortunate enough to merely foul them off?)

  4. NickFromGermantown

    October 11, 2011 09:33 AM

    I don’t know. I’d love to see more discipline at the plate, but you need to look deeper than that. Howard obviously has awful discipline at the plate. He recently took some of the worst ABs I have ever seen. If Manual is such a hitting guru, can’t he get it through Howard’s head that the down-and-away pitch is a real threat?

    And you also have to factor in other issues. Polanco was obviously hurt. Ibanez is having trouble getting around on the ball anymore. Ruiz was mired in a horrific slump. Pence seemed impetuous towards the end. It’s hard to expect much.

    We need some of our young talent in the minors to start proving itself so that we cannot only get good production, but also so we can get it at very little cost. That’s really the key now until we can digest Howard’s asinine contract.

  5. scott

    October 11, 2011 09:40 AM

    Richard and I must have watched the same games. Phils were too patient. I was so tired of them looking at first pitches grooved down the center of the plate. When will Howard listen to Charlie and move closer to the plate? Watching him was a repeat of last year’s playoff. The Cards jumped all over first pitches. When will Howard listen toWhat bothers me most about the Phils, is that they lack intensity. They look slumber coming to the plate, even when they score runs there is no excitement. Maybe it comes from the manger or the core of players. The Phils need to get fired up. Why Pence was such a shot in the arm.

  6. Nick

    October 11, 2011 09:54 AM

    FIRE CHARLIE!!! HE had to be a hero and have the most wins in phillies history. He shouldnt have let the Cards into the playoffs. He should have sat his starters against the Braves. Cards wouldnt have made the playoffs and we wouldnt be sitting home now. This is single handly Charlies fault. Fire HIM!!!!! Get rid of Howard and J-Roll.. Jimmy is a bum we need someone like Reyes who can actually hit unlike Jimmy. Adding Reyes adds the power the phillies lack.. Think of this… Utley, Polanco, Reyes, Pence, Brown, Ibanez, Martienz, and my main man Shane!!! they would dominate especially with their pitching..

  7. KH

    October 11, 2011 10:57 AM

    Three guys had series so unbelievably bad at the plate its almost impossible to predict it happenning. Thats the main reason they lost imo. Take away Howard’s game one performance and look at what he, Polanco, and Ruiz provided in the series and you will see what I am talking about. I personally would bring in somebody to platoon with Polanco next year and while it may be pie in the sky I would explore what it took to get Jose Reyes $$$$ wise. Regardless I am not investing in Rollins for anything more then three year or possible three years and a mutual option. This team needs to get younger in spots.

  8. LeftysCurve

    October 11, 2011 12:32 PM

    Concur 100%. And so does RAJ apparently, from his quip “we need more .300 hitters”

    So, hire back Tito; Trade Cholly, Mackanin, Utley Dom and Howard to Boston for Pedroia, Crawford and Aviles. (Howard as replacement for Papi). Probably have to pick up most of next years 25M on Howard K, and some % each year after but worth it.

    Sorry but I have given up on Howard ever obtaining the necessary level of plate discipline and I think RAJ is beginning to doubt it too.

    Oh and is Cito Gaston available even as just a hired gun for Spring training next year? Better yet, hire him as bench coach emeritus or something.

  9. hk

    October 11, 2011 12:57 PM

    From my perspective, the truth lies somewhere between Richard’s comments and the author’s blog. In many at bats, they took first pitch strikes right down the middle which immediately put them on the defensive later in the count and led them chasing bad pitches. And, when they did show some restaint early in the counts, they (and their manager) seemed to think that taking a walk was a bad thing. What is so wrong with the manager giving the take sign once in a while? Halladay should never swing at any 1-0 pitch, much less one from Chris Carpenter in a deciding game where Halladay and his team are losing by one run. While Carpenter would most likely not have walked Halladay, if nothing else, he could have increased Carpenter’s pitch count while making him throw strike one before Roy even considered swinging at a pitch. Worse yet, it is unconscionable that Charlie would let Howard swing at a 3-0 pitch leading off the 7th inning and trailing by one run. This team’s (save for Utley) and it’s manager’s lack of understanding of the importance of getting on base is what doomed it.

  10. hk

    October 11, 2011 01:04 PM

    The problem with RAJ is that he’s still talking about batting average rather than on base percentage. I would much rather RAJ quip that we need more guys who get on base in 3/8 of their plate appearances, regardless of whether they do so while hitting .240 or .300, not that we need more .300 hitters (if said .300 hitters have OBP’s of .330 or so).

  11. hk

    October 11, 2011 01:13 PM

    When I consider that the Phillies outscored the Giants in last year’s series and outscored the Cardinals in this year’s series, it is tough for me to draw any blanket conclusions that the approaches used by the Phillies or their opposition were right or wrong.

  12. KH

    October 11, 2011 02:19 PM

    I think its disconcerting that RAJ seems to think veteran players who have played one way their entire careers can just over-night change there approach at the plate and become higher average hitters and get on base significantly more. These guys are all what they are at this point and will probably only continue to get worse as they get older. Thats why we need some strategic infusions of youth.

  13. Dante

    October 11, 2011 02:21 PM

    For Richard:

    Phils had the second lowest swing % in the NL, and second lowest zone swing %. They take too much, not too little. Had the lowest zone % in the NL. They were middle of the pack in Pitches/PA. Had the second lowest K%, but the second lowest BABIP. This means they put a lot of balls in play but didn’t get much out of it, though they aren’t at the extremes for the batted ball types. Basically, they saw the fewest strikes, but when they hit them they didn’t hit for a high BA.

  14. TH

    October 11, 2011 02:26 PM

    @ajay

    I’m ambivalent on keeping Manuel (like him, but he could be part of the bad culture), but I absolutely think Gross has to go. If I didn’t make that clear in the main column, then I apologize. Gross needs to be a fall guy, if anyone does.

    As for being “too” patient, I’m not sure there is such a thing. Yeah, they did take a few first pitch strikes, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, especially against pitchers like Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse or Edwin Jackson. Now against Carpenter, the first pitch might have been the only “good” pitch they would have seen, but simultaneously, how many times did they take a “good” first pitch and then swing at junk the next one, just like Carpenter seemingly wanted them to? Great pitchers don’t just beat you with “stuff”, especially as they get older. Carpenter seemed really cerebral.

    That being said, the general feeling I got was that they hacked the first time around and then took pitches the second time around, which seems to me to be the opposite of what they should have done, especially against a good pitcher. Look at the converse. Halladay didn’t get into trouble in the first inning in either game because the batters were impatient. Furcal’s triple in Game 5 might have been off the first pitch, but other batters frustrated him by taking a bunch of pitches. Look at the pitch counts, 22 in game 1 and 30 in game 5.

    I will say this, however. I do think it’s interesting to do a bit of research between the correlation, if one exists, between BABIP and pitches taken. It also bears researching average pitches per game taken by the Phillies in the regular season and in the postseason, as well as how taking pitches impacts certain players’ OPS. I thought Jeff Barnes made a real eye-opening revelation on here when he wrote about Jimmy Rollins’ higher OPS on first pitch swings than if he would take 1 or more pitches.

  15. Dante

    October 11, 2011 03:03 PM

    The correlation, or r squared, on BABIP to pitches taken is .02. For OPS to pitches taken its .06. For wOBA its .10. For wRC its .27. Basically nil across the board.

  16. Dante

    October 11, 2011 03:09 PM

    This was just 2011, 145 hitters to qualify for the batting title.

  17. LTG

    October 11, 2011 04:16 PM

    Dante’s picture is still a bit incomplete. We also need to look at how good the Phillies are at taking pitches out of the strike zone, which is another aspect of patience. On that count the Phils this year were in the middle of the pack. They swung at 30.9% of pitches out of the zone (compared to Cards 29.5 or As league best 26.1). As far as I can tell this data also does not pick out the Phils as particularly impatient, although they are particularly patient either.

    These stats, however, don’t really give us a glimpse into how patient the Phils were during the Cardinals series. And that is the main point. We want to know whether the Phils have been especially impatient compared to an MLB norm and their own norm in the last two or three playoff series (and perhaps against high quality starting pitchers generally). Anyone have this information for us?

    Lastly, an interesting stat that says nothing about patience and might tell us that the Phils just aren’t good at hitting. Their weighted BR on fastballs this year was -26.9 (5th worst but nearly 8 ahead of Giants). They were best on curveballs, hitting at 23.3. Perhaps the old age has slowed their bats and patience has nothing to do with their inability to get baserunners.

  18. LTG

    October 11, 2011 04:19 PM

    Oh and one more thing,

    Richard’s post suggested that whether the Phils foul off pitches rather than put them in play is just a matter of luck. Well, Phillie### posted here just the other day that studies show that good hitters tend to foul pitches off in pitchers’ counts while bad hitters tend to foul pitches off in hitters’ counts. That indicates a skill or at least a disposition that results from a skill. Apparently, the Phils might lack the requisite skill. More stats would have to be evinced for any sound conclusion.

  19. RyanFromBoston

    October 11, 2011 05:50 PM

    NickFromGermantown,

    What talent in the minors are you speaking of (beyond Dom Brown)?

  20. Phillie697

    October 11, 2011 07:50 PM

    LOL, trade Dom? Dom might be one of the few hitters we have left who actually knows the value of working the count, although neither the manager nor the GM seem to realize this.

    And please, I don’t want to talk about Howard anymore. The fact that his extension is JUST starting to pay him $25 million a year depresses me even more. No one will take him, and writing off $25 million a year is too much even for the Phillies.

    One last comment, JRoll has his flaws, but he’s still one of the better shortstops out there. We are not going to sign Reyes, trust me (ain’t got the money, thanks to Howard). We should resign JRoll IMO, but let’s please end this fascination of batting him first. Problem solved.

  21. NickFromGermantown

    October 11, 2011 08:49 PM

    Hitting wise, I suppose it would be Brown mainly. We have Valle too, but there really isn’t much left now that Singleton is gone. I guess there is Rizzotti too, whi out together a nice season in Reading.

    You can look at some of our pitching prospects such as Schwimer, De Fratus, and Aumont. This would keep us from having to sign veterans like Contreras, Lidge and Baez to deals that cost more. While I am not holding my breath, if Worley can keep it up, the need to keep Oswalt is diminished.

    Side note: you should call yourself “RyanInBoston” as “RyanFromBoston” makes you look you look like you sold out. Unless of course you did.

  22. LTG

    October 11, 2011 08:54 PM

    ouch, above my last sentence in the first paragraph should read “although they are NOT particularly patient either.”

    I’d like to echo KH’s point about Polanco. He seems to be dead weight in the lineup now. The outfield plays him like a pitcher, and he’s got Rafael Belliard’s power these days. And reputation aside, he is a hacker at the plate. Even if this change in his abilities is due to injuries, they seem like injuries that aren’t going away.

  23. DBAGS

    October 12, 2011 03:06 AM

    I agree on the patience at the plate. In 2008 I think that’s what we did really well. It was hard to watch the last two years of the Phillies swinging at bad pitches and letting good ones go right by. No bunting and running or not much. Too many situations that a bunt could have moved the runner so many times. Victorino lead off double and nothing?? We need big changes and I think we go after big names, can Pujos play 3rd? Young from Texas? Need a big time closer as well. Maybe even try our SS in the minors. Just an opinion. How about trying to get Bourne back to lead off?? thanks.

  24. DBAGS

    October 12, 2011 03:19 AM

    Have to give the Cards hitting coach credit…from what I was reading he worked on his teams selection of pitches to hit and keeping their mind set on that all year and it worked. Phillies really need that style of play at the plate!! Don’t know if Gross is the guy for that. They all have mechanics its pitch selection that kills us..

  25. gfweb

    October 12, 2011 07:01 AM

    When I watch desperate lunges at bad pitches all year there is no stat in the world that can convince me that they don’t need to be more selective. RAJ agrees. Stats are great and illuminating, but they do not always trump observation.

  26. Phillie697

    October 12, 2011 08:25 AM

    @LTG,

    Polanco’s value doesn’t come from his hitting. It comes from his defense. That alone, given the lack of decent 3B options out there, makes him deserving of a spot on the team. Granted, this would mean we have to compensate in the hitting department for him, when we already have to do so for Howard’s diminishing production. Tough call imo, but I wouldn’t be upset if we stick with Polanco.

  27. KH

    October 12, 2011 09:31 AM

    I dont buy players that only justify there spots with defense at a spot like 3rd base. He has to hit better or he is a liability. I know people say it all the time but I don’t totally buy the advanced metrics for fielding. Polanco is a very good fielder but imo not good enough if he is going to get one base only 1/3 of the time or less and hit with zero power. The lineup is not good enough for that never mind his constant injuries. This is what happens to old players they get worse and they get injured.

  28. LTG

    October 12, 2011 10:32 AM

    @Phillie,

    I agree with you about Polly’s defense. That’s why I didn’t call for getting rid of him. And, like you say, it is a tough call whether replacing Polly’s glove with a better bat will net an improved team. I also wonder whether some of his injuries, especially the back problem, will soon limit his range and diminish his defensive value as well.

  29. Phillie697

    October 12, 2011 12:59 PM

    @KH,

    A run saved is exactly the same as a run scored. You just don’t have faith in defensive metrics because you don’t trust them, and that we don’t really know how to measure defense as well as we do offense. But even the naked-eye observation can tell you Polanco is a plus-defender. Way plus.

    Besides, after Zimmerman and Wright, it’s not like there are a lot of 3B options out there that hit THAT much better than Polanco in the first place, and I’m thinking Ryan and David aren’t going to be Phillies anytime soon. Whatever difference in hitting in any replacement we get for Polanco 1) probably won’t make up for the defensive difference, and 2) doesn’t justify us eating the remaining year of Polanco’s contract.

  30. Jeff

    October 12, 2011 06:01 PM

    I’m embarrassed that our 2nd-most selective hitter in the playoffs (by P/PA) was Roy Halladay (!). But, for those who think firing Gross and/or Manuel will fix the problem, consider these:

    (1) Our only home-grown hitters are Utley, Rollins, Howard, and Ruiz. Everyone else, including the entire bench, is an import. Why do we have so few home-grown hitters? Maybe because they’re unselective in the minors and thus don’t pan out — which is an issue with drafting and/or player development, not the MLB coaches.

    (2) If the front office drafts unselective players and then signs unselective players to staff the MLB roster when the draftees don’t pan out, then maybe the front office philosophy is an issue.

    (3) Howard and Sheffield trained with Bonds a few summers ago. Howard’s reaction afterward was: that’s the stuff Charlie’s been telling me. Not trying to pick on Howard, just noting that some guys just won’t take coaching until they’re ready.

  31. Jeff

    October 13, 2011 11:16 AM

    Correction: Howard trained with Bonds a few winters ago (not summers). Duh.

  32. Rick

    October 14, 2011 02:02 PM

    I think that the best approach to hitting is the one that Ted Williams preached. When you come up to the plate you should have imagine a small box in area that you think you hit best. If the ball is in the zone, attack. If not, let it go. If you have one strike, the box is bigger and even bigger with 2 strikes. The key isn’t patience per se it’s making sure that you are swinging at good pitches. The Cardinals got a lot of hits on first pitches (get me over fastballs). Howard took a lot of those pitches and started in the hole. Utley took the first pitch every at bat but the last. On that one, he jumped on a pitch down the middle in the bottom of the 9th and hit the ball to dead center. The Cardinals were successful because they fouled off a lot of strikes to extend the pitchs for that at bat.

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