Is the Phillies’ Offense A Concern?

The past two seasons have been rather disappointing for the Phillies. Ruben Amaro constructed what can best be described as superteams, but the Phillies have exited the post-season with a whimper at the hands of the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, both teams considered prohibitive underdogs at the time. In the 2010 NLCS, the Phillies scored 20 runs in six games against a daunting Giants pitching staff. More disappointingly, after the Phillies trounced the Cardinals for 11 runs in Game One of the 2011 NLDS, they managed just ten runs in the final four games of the series, including a goose egg in all nine innings of the rubber match.

As a result of the depressing finishes, the big concern for the Phillies going into the off-season is offense, or at least that’s what the fans and media would like you to believe. The truth is that the Phillies’ offense is fine and has been fine for quite some time. Fans, of course, are used to the powerhouse offenses of the mid-2000’s that put up 700-plus runs with reckless abandon. The end of the decade saw a dramatic shift in offense across the expanse of Major League Baseball. The league average runs per game has been in decline since 2008 and with it many components of run-scoring, such as overall hits, doubles, home runs, walks, and strikeouts (which have gone up). Whatever the cause may be — stricter drug policies, better and younger pitching, etc. — 2011 saw offense at its lowest level since 1992, when baseball had 26 teams.

When you compare the Phillies’ offensive output, it has more or less declined at the same rate as the league. Peep the following line graph:

Another way to visualize the data is to use an “index” that compares the Phillies’ offense to the league’s and scales it such that 100 is considered average, over is above-average and under is below-average. That is done as such: ((Phillies RPG / League RPG) * 100)

  • 2007: Phillies 5.51, NL 4.71 (117)
  • 2008: Phillies 4.93, NL 4.54 (109)
  • 2009: Phillies 5.06, NL 4.43 (114)
  • 2010: Phillies 4.77, NL 4.33 (110)
  • 2011: Phillies 4.40, NL 4.13 (107)

The three percent decline in offense, relative to the league, from 2010 to ’11 is lower than the decline from ’07 to ’08 (eight percent) and ’09 to ’10 (four percent). If offense wasn’t a concern for you in either of those years, then it shouldn’t be now.

There are symptoms that can be identified and hopefully treated, though. For instance, the 2011 Phillies collectively walked at their lowest rate (3.33 per game) since 1998 (3.14). Similarly, they stole bases at their lowest rate (0.59 per game) since ’06 (0.54). Only one of their ten hitters with 250 or more plate appearances hit .280 or better (Carlos Ruiz). Ruiz was also the only hitter in that threshold with an on-base percentage above .360.

Sure, the last two post-seasons left a very sour taste in our mouths, but it was not evidence of a systemic problem. By tweaking a few small components here and there (speed at the top of the line-up here, good on-base skills here…), the Phillies can turn an above-average offense back into a league-leading offense.