A 1993 Retrospective

A few days ago, while doing research for my book, 100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, I scanned over the 1993 Phillies page on Baseball Reference. I can’t remember who, but someone aptly referred to that team as Saber-porn when I mentioned it on Twitter. Maybe it’s because 1993 was a year in which blogs and Twitter were not yet a thing, but it seems like that Phillies team doesn’t get its due credit for being Saber-savvy.

One word I found fitting to describe that offense was relentless. The Phillies led the league with a .351 on-base percentage. John Kruk, astoundingly, finished the year with a .430 OBP* while Lenny Dykstra wasn’t far behind at .420. Kevin Stocker finished at .409 and Darren Daulton came in at .392. Dykstra, Daulton, and Kruk drew 129, 117, and 111 walks, respectively.

* Is Kruk one of the most underrated hitters off all time? He retired with a .397 career on-base percentage. Since 1961, Kruk is one of just 20 players to finish with a career OBP at .395 or better. The list is filled with current and future Hall of Famers. Obviously, Kruk has the fewest plate appearances of anyone on the list, but it is impressive nonetheless.

The Phillies outpaced the National League with 877 runs scored, averaging 5.4 runs per game. Although the league average RPG increased from 3.9 in 1992 to 4.5 in ’93, it was not yet at “steroid era” levels (e.g. 5.0 RPG in 1999-2000). The Phillies finished fifth in the league with 156 home runs. However, the Phillies led in hits (1,555) and doubles (297) with the second-most triples (51). As expected, the Phillies weren’t mobile on the bases (second-fewest stolen bases, 91) but were efficient (74 percent success rate was second-best).

Manager Jim Fregosi squeezed additional runs out of his team by utilizing platoons in left and right field as well as second base and shortstop. As a result, the Phillies had the best OPS in the league against right-handed pitching (.765) and the second-highest OPS against lefties (.802). In left field, Pete Incaviglia handled lefties (.904 OPS) while Milt Thompson faced mostly right-handers (.745 OPS). In right field, Jim Eisenreich faced right-handers (.816) and Wes Chamberlain faced lefties (.986). Although Mariano Duncan didn’t have much of a platoon split (.721 vs. RHP/.720 vs. LHP), he spent time at both second base and shortstop. Second baseman Mickey Morandini‘s .688 OPS was more than 100 points higher than against lefties whom he faced only about 25 percent of the time. At shortstop, the switch-hitting Kevin Stocker hit lefties well (.936) but faced them at about half the rate as right-handers (.780).

The Phillies finished with the fifth-highest percentage of plate appearances with the platoon advantage (65 percent) despite having only two switch-hitters rack up 100 or more trips to the dish. The four teams ahead of them had the benefit of many switch hitters:

  • New York Mets (77 percent, eight switch hitters)
  • Atlanta Braves (68 percent, four switch-hitters)
  • Florida Marlins (67 percent, five switch-hitters)
  • St. Louis Cardinals (66 percent, five switch-hitters)

Early in 2010, I explained why I felt the Phillies were more Sabermetrically-inclined than they let on. Like the 1993 team, the Phillies teams of the 2000’s drew a lot of walks and stole bases with great efficiency. Additionally, the Phillies have ranked in the top-five in platoon advantage percentage going all the way back to 2005, including having the second-highest percentage in two out of the last three seasons. Is it a coincidence that, under two different managers, the Phillies have been so consistent in seeking the platoon advantage?

The Phillies have left a lot to be desired over the last couple years offensively. Some of the problems can be blamed on injuries (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins) while others can be blamed on general decline (Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez). With the team’s weaknesses being patently obvious, it may make sense to go with a platoon at shortstop in the event Jimmy Rollins leaves, find a left-handed hitter that can split time with Polanco at third base, and maybe even use a two-headed monster at first in the wake of Ryan Howard‘s injury. With a starting rotation that figures to be just as elite in 2012 as it was in 2011, the Phillies do not have to scramble to fix their flaws; they simply need to mimic the 1993 Phillies by making smart, calculated personnel decisions.