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.

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47 comments

  1. begatts

    October 27, 2011 07:23 AM

    That 1993 Phils team used platoons to perfection that year. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team employ platoons at so many positions or so well. Wes Chamberlain a .986 OPS vs. LHP?!? Wow! This front office and manager could learn a lot from that team’s success. Platoons in LF, 3B and 1B until Howard returns.

  2. bob

    October 27, 2011 08:23 AM

    look at that bench!

    Duncan .282, inky .274, chamberlain .282, ricky jordan .289, batiste .282, pratt .287…

    think a bench of benny fresh, michael martinez, wilson valdez, schneider hitting a collective .280 – that’s a big difference in the two teams. ’93 phillies had someone who could fill in at any time. I don’t think we could say the same about recent phillies teams when we ran out Michael Martinez for 209 ABs at a .196 avg

  3. LTG

    October 27, 2011 08:43 AM

    Huzzah! I loved this post. When I’m depressed about having writer’s block, I peruse the 1993 Phillies pages on various sites.

  4. Robert

    October 27, 2011 09:28 AM

    The steroid era comment is a bit disingenuous. Either the ’93 Phillies team should be counted as part of the steroid era, too, or, if PED use was not yet as extensive as it became from ’94 until recently, we need to acknowledge players such as Lenny “Got me some good vitamins, dude” Dykstra, Danny “Pump you up” Jackson, Pete “no double-entendre catchphrase necessary–just look at the guy” Incaviglia, etc., did indeed gain an unfair competitive advantage as a result of their suspected PED use.

    Nevertheless, looking back on the ’93 Phillies team reminds me of how much fun it was to watch baseball that year compared to largely horrible ’84-92, 94-00 years, and in turn of how good we’ve had it since ’07.

    Please keep up the great work, Bill.

  5. mratfink

    October 27, 2011 09:38 AM

    this made me laugh happily because i realized that Billy Beane wasn’t original at all with his A’s teams, he just copied the 93 phillies.

  6. JB Allen

    October 27, 2011 10:05 AM

    Where’s the love for Head?

  7. RedBurb

    October 27, 2011 11:20 AM

    Robert – I think you misread Bill. He said that the league offense wasn’t up to “steriod era” levels yet.

  8. Scott G

    October 27, 2011 12:23 PM

    Ryan Howard is a bum. He was the last Phillie to make an out in the 2008 World Series, 2010 NLCS, and 2011 NLDS.

  9. Colin

    October 27, 2011 12:46 PM

    As a young Phillies fan born in 1992, I have a question. Why did the team fare so poorly in ’92, so well in ’93, then poorly again in ’94?

    Glancing at their respective BB-Ref pages, it does not seem like there was significant roster turnover over those three seasons. Also, Team ERA did not seem to change dramatically, actually going down from ’93 to ’94 (4.11 in ’92, to 3.95 in ’93, to 3.85 in ’94).

    Offensively, the overall team’s slash line went from .253/.320/.377 in ’92, to 274/.351/.426 in ’93, to .262/.332/.390 in ’94. The ’92 teams averaged 4.2 R/G, the ’93 team 5.4 R/G, the ’94 team 4.5 R/G.

    Is the higher run production in ’93 the answer? If so, why was the run production almost a full run higher in ’93 then in ’92 and ’94? Did they utilize the platoon advantage better in ’93 then the previous season or the season after? Did players just have career years in ’93 that they couldn’t duplicate again?

  10. Eric R

    October 27, 2011 12:52 PM

    Scott G:

    Maybe another post for this issue, but you cant take 3 at bats and call someone a bum. Your sample size is rediculously small. In the St. Louis series he had more RBIs than any other player, had one of the three home runs. Against the Giants in 2010 he led the team in Hits, doubles and had a .318 BA. And in 2009 in the World Series he was tied for at third for runs during the series. Rather than say he’s a bum or he sucks and picking three at bats, who can the Phillies get and afford that would do a better job. Ben Fran got some crucial hits this post season… I wouldn’t point to those good results and say he’s the best. Just saying.

  11. John M

    October 27, 2011 01:13 PM

    I loved that ’93 team. They seemed to take pitches all the time. Ahh.

    Speaking of platoons, if Howard didn’t earn so much, isn’t he a platoon first baseman? He’d bat against righties, and they’d have another guy to play against lefties. If Howard had been born 15 or 20 years earlier, isn’t that what he’d be?

  12. LTG

    October 27, 2011 01:34 PM

    Eric R,

    Knowing Scott G’s usual posts, I’m guessing he is fake trolling (aka, being sarcastic).

  13. LTG

    October 27, 2011 01:40 PM

    It is not a good inference from the numbers these guys put up to the claim that Phillies were onto sabermetrics back then. Perhaps they were, but it is more likely that they had sabermetrical success without using sabermetrics. The front office seemed to be throwing darts at a wall of pictures blindfolded during that era. They got very lucky in 1993 that the players they picked up did very well and the core players had career years.

  14. Bill Baer

    October 27, 2011 02:43 PM

    LTG,

    I had a feeling someone would interpret it that way. I simply meant the Phillies had a lot of smart people making decisions. Whether it was under the guise of Sabermetrics or just sound tactical thinking in general, it was a reason why they succeeded that season.

  15. Greg

    October 27, 2011 03:04 PM

    Is there any doubt that a good portion of this team was juicing? Maybe that’s why Schill didn’t seem to fit in.

    Also- i remember, back in 93, my ignorance of platoons and my die-hard phillies fandom led to a really, really terrible NL-only rotisserie team that year.

  16. Greg

    October 27, 2011 03:08 PM

    Is it out of the realm of possibility to go after Michael Young again? Especially with Howard’s injury (and the fact that he’s just plain useless against frisbee-throwing lefties even when healthy). Young’s pretty awful at first, but Howard’s not exactly Mex out there. And Young could play all of the infield positions too (admittedly, not very well, but enough to spell Rollins, Utley, and Polanco).

  17. Scott G

    October 27, 2011 04:14 PM

    Hey Eric R,

    I guess it went over your head that I was criticizing him in the 2008 WS. The Phillies actually won that one. I just think it’s hilarious that he made the last out for the Phillies in the last game of the season in 3 out of the last 4 seasons.

  18. LTG

    October 27, 2011 11:58 PM

    BB,

    You were not the target. mratfink was.

  19. LTG

    October 28, 2011 12:08 AM

    Hmmmm… I’m not sure I want to grant the smart people part though. They must have had some good scouts who picked out Kruk and Schilling as good trade pick ups. But the rest were just lucky free agent breaks. They certainly were not building for the long term back then, and they had plenty of signings blow up on them before (e.g., Herr, Thon, Murphy). Like I said above, I picture the decision-making process under Lee Thomas as blind dart-throwing. Okay, blind is a bit of an exaggeration, more like myopic dart-throwing.

  20. Bill Baer

    October 28, 2011 01:01 AM

    I think you’re on the mark there, but I think at least in terms of goals and strategies for 1993, they “got it” a lot better than just about any team before or after.

  21. Bob Steinhagen

    October 28, 2011 06:45 AM

    It might be against conventional wisdom, but should the Phillies consider getting older?

    (caveat, assuming Rollins stays)…

    The Saber tides are turning toward heavily discounting older players, and consequently many teams have recently risked little and gained much through additions like Vlad Guerrero and Lance Berkman. So long as these are 1 to 2 year, $5Mish/yr fliers, and these players are not expected to start everyday, the payoff can be huge.

    The Phillies offensive risk isn’t talent – each of their 9 potential offensive starters (counting Brown/Mayberry) have either the track record or the potential to put up very productive numbers. The issues have been inconsistencies and injuries and it’s very difficult to bank on where amongst those 9 we’ll see successes and failures.

    The Phillies will hopefully learn a lesson from the Rangers and how they handled Michael Young – before the season, it seemed like they didn’t have a spot for him, yet he somehow found 689 PA over 159 games. The addition of a couple of proven, veteran corner infielder/outfielder types, could provide the insurance against where-ever the production drop comes.

    The issue will then become positional flexibility – Mayberry has proven capable at all 3 outfield spots and 1B. Polanco has a track record at 2B/3B – it’s unlikely he can spot start in the OF or SS as he did when he was younger. Perhaps the addition of a Miguel Tejada or Rafael Furcal, plus a fat, slow, old grizzly bashing bat (Jim Thome, but not Jim Thome) could give the Phils the depth they need.

    They can get younger by developing prospects for subsequent years.

  22. LTG

    October 28, 2011 07:26 AM

    Tejada? Michael Martinez is better at baseball right now than Tejada.

  23. mratfink

    October 28, 2011 07:52 AM

    LTG
    i was actually joking above, but my point wasnt that the phillies were saber oriented but that a saber oriented person would look through past teams and see the 93 phils as almost the epitome of the 2000 A’s hitting philosophy. that team suffered from all the same supposed faults that beane’s early 00′s teams had but had the same skills. good obp,slow, highly variable defense etc. my point was that the phils whether by accident or on purpose happened to assemble a very good saber team in 93 before anyone knew that was an approach to take

  24. Phillie697

    October 28, 2011 08:39 AM

    The problem with taking risks on old players is that for every Lance Berkman, you have 10 Miguel Tejada/Pat Burrell/Raul Ibanez/Russell Branyan/Matt Diaz/Omar Infante. Plus, a player with Lance Berkman or Jim Thome’s track record isn’t exactly floating around the free agent market every year. Building a team is about maximizing talent while minimizing risks (at least it should be), and while an old player probably wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, he also take up a valuable roster spot (tell me we couldn’t have used someone else for Ibanez’s spot even IF we were paying him league minimum, let alone 10 mil).

    I have to say I really hate all the talks about “we should get this type of players” without actually identifying some player that’s available that fits that mold. Hey, we should get a player like Babe Ruth too! But unless someone learns how to clone him using his rotted corpse, I don’t think that’s gonna happen anytime soon.

  25. LTG

    October 28, 2011 10:46 AM

    MRF, Fair enough.

    Phillie, cloning would take too long. By the time Babe Ruth II had matured who knows whether he would make a difference to the team. A time machine would be a much better solution. Where’s my flux capacitor!

  26. hk

    October 28, 2011 11:59 AM

    Phillie697 is right. Instead of worrying about a player’s age, it’s time for this GM to sign some players who can help at a reasonable price. A lot of people are calling for the Phils to sign the likes of Michael Cuddyer, but I don’t see how they can make such a signing and stay under the luxury tax unless they purge some salary elsewhere (i.e. decide to go cheap at SS or closer). Personally, I think RAJ could do well to try to facilitate some other, smaller budget team’s salary dump and wait in free agency to shop at the bargain bin. For instance, Matt Thornton (assuming the White Sox want to dump his salary), Wilson Betemit and Alberto Callaspo are some names that could help the Phils next year without costing an arm and a leg.

  27. Mike

    October 28, 2011 03:44 PM

    Are you all kidding…Manuel using a platoon??? When asked what he thought about it he said “great movie”. Cholly is A. and idiot who can’t think ahead of the inning he’s in and B. So loyal to his players that a platoon would be in his mind an insult. Just like not hitting J roll leadoff or moving Howard to the 5 hole vs lefties. This teams won’t win anything ever again until that big boob is send to the retirement home

  28. jjj

    October 28, 2011 04:33 PM

    ^ is that you, robby bonfire?

  29. Eric R.

    October 28, 2011 07:01 PM

    Hey Scott G.:

    Maybe my post went over your head… You called him a bum, I’m just saying to give the name of a good replacement that is available who the Phillies can afford to sign. Its really a simple question. Since you said he’s a bum, you must have other names who the Phillies can sign who aren’t bums. I’m always happy to be enlightened… Looking forward to your reply.

  30. hk

    October 29, 2011 09:02 AM

    Eric R.,

    You’re still misunderstanding Scott G.’s comments. He’s mocking others, who call Howard a bum because he made the last out in three of the past four post-seasons. Having said that, I do know that Scott G. thinks Howard is an about-to-be overpaid player, who is in decline and who should most likely sit or get very few starts vs. left-handed starters. Your question about an available, affordable replacement is irrelevant because of the horrific contract extension RAJ bestowed upon Howard at the beginning of 2010. The real issue is that, if not for that contract extension, the Phils would be sitting pretty right now with a lot of leverage (no competition from the Yankees or Red Sox) to negotiate with three free agent 1B’s, Pujols, Fielder and Howard.

  31. LTG

    October 29, 2011 09:09 AM

    Eric R.,

    Chill. Scott G was being sarcastic, which means he is not calling Howard a bum.

    In other news, the Phillies have now lost in the postseason to the last 3 World Series champions. They too are bums.

  32. Phillie697

    October 29, 2011 12:27 PM

    Eric R.,

    I can think of PLENTY of 1B we can sign for CHEAPER than the $25 million we’re paying for that bum Ryan Howard. Just because RAJ made a collosal mistake doesn’t mean we have to either ignore it or not call it as it is.

    That’s right, I AM calling Ryan Howard a bum. Mark Trumbo, Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, Gaby Sanchez, hell even James Loney had a higher WAR than Howard. Eric Hosmer, who costs a cool league minimum salary and didn’t even play the whole season, had the same WAR as Howard. Carlos Lee, who Houston can’t get rid of due to his salary, which is less than Howard’s, had a WAR TWICE as high as Howard’s. That’s right, Phillies would be better off with CARLOS EFFING LEE on the roster than Ryan Howard. Go ahead and let me have it.

  33. Scott G

    October 29, 2011 02:08 PM

    I didn’t realize I had such an army at my disposal haha. Thanks everyone.

    Eric,

    I don’t think Ryan Howard is a bum, but I do think he is on the downward slope of his career, and he is just NOW beginning an ABSURD contract. Non of this was intended by my original TROLLING comment, but since you’ve prodded me, there are plenty of players who could provide adequate production at 1B that would most likely cost less than 50% of what Howard is costing the Phillies.

    In 2011, there were 16 1B that put up higher WAR than Howard. Hosmer’s was equal. Furthermore, I, as well as many others, am completely convinced that you could literally take any major league baseball player and throw him at 1B. It’s the easiest position to play, and if you can play any position, you can catch, which is the main responsibility of a 1B. This fact makes his contract that much more ridiculous in my opinion.

  34. LTG

    October 29, 2011 03:27 PM

    bWAR is kinder to Howard than fWAR. bWar has him ahead of Loney, Hosmer, and even Texeira. Of course, bWAR probably underweighs fielding and baserunning. Howard gets killed in fWAR by his inability to create runs on the bases. I tend to defer to fWAR because, from what I’ve read, the components that make up fWAR are more reliable reflections of runs that ought to be credited to a player’s performance. But I take it this is an unsettled matter.

    Even if bWAR is correct, Howard will be fantastically overpaid next season and for the rest of the contract. Maybe it is time to start an Occupy Ryan Howard movement.

  35. LTG

    October 29, 2011 03:35 PM

    Open question following Scott G’s “trolling”:

    Is it possible for a known non-troll member of a community to troll that community under the same guise/handle? Or is it just making a joke? Should we call it fauxlling?

  36. hk

    October 30, 2011 07:43 AM

    One thing to remember about WAR is that it is a descriptive figure and not necessarily a predictive one. This is important when considering how Howard’s ankle injuries may have impacted his power, base-running (factored into fWAR) and even his defense. If we are to believe that the injuries negatively impacted his performance this year and last year after he returned from the DL, it would be reasonable to expect Howard to return to the 3.0 WAR range (not worth $25M per year, but also not a bum) for a few more seasons.

  37. LTG

    October 30, 2011 10:30 AM

    hk, I don’t share your optimism. In part I am skeptical that his injuries will heal sufficiently, and in part I suspect Howard will start experiencing other decline factors that will undermine whatever benefit healing would provide. This fangraphs article (www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/how-will-prince-fielder-age/) suggests Howard is in store for a steep decline next year. Granted he is a borderline case of what the article defines as a heavy player, but he is so close that the difference is probably statistically negligible.

  38. Bill Baer

    October 30, 2011 10:44 AM

    I think it would be fair to say that Howard is among the hardest-working players in baseball, or at least among the hardest-working first basemen, anyway. If anyone can come back from that injury and stave off the effects of aging, it may be Howard. He’s in great shape, from everything I’ve seen and heard — especially over the past couple years.

  39. hk

    October 30, 2011 11:00 AM

    LTG,

    I read that article about heavy players and how they typically peak earlier. I’m just saying that we really don’t know how hurt Howard was this year, but his injuries seemed to hold him back on the basepaths to the extent that his base-running (per Fangraphs) was a -9.0 this year in his age 31 season whereas it was -2.5 just two years ago. The 6.5 drop, which is worth about 0.7 WAR, seems to be too significant even when recognizing his body type may decline earlier than other types. For comparison purposes, Carlos Lee and Dmitri Young, two other big bodied players who immediately came to mind, basically maintained or even slightly improved their base-running at similar ages. If we are willing to credit the injuries for about 0.7 WAR of base-running decline, it’s not too much of a reach to believe the injuries also affected his fielding and hitting.

    On the other hand, it is quite possible that Howard has just simply declined a lot and 1.6 WAR is a reasonable projection going forward. Time may tell whether we blame age alone or a combination of age plus injury for his decline. Regardless, I hope the Phillies give him ample time to fully recover from his injuries.

  40. Scott G

    October 30, 2011 01:16 PM

    BB,

    Perhaps you do know it to be true that he is one of the hardest working 1B in baseball, but that just seems like a cliche statement that you and I are exposed to because we watch the team daily. Do you know this to actually be true?

  41. Bill Baer

    October 30, 2011 06:55 PM

    No, that’s why I said “from everything I’ve seen and heard”. It could certainly be the case that I’ve missed out on specific details.

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