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.