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.

Leave a Reply

*

36 comments

  1. Bill Pettti

    November 16, 2011 08:54 AM

    True, the declines are smaller than ’07-’08, but there you were talking about an elite run scoring team that really had nowhere to go but down.

    Also, the trend over the past few years is that the gap between the Phillies’ O and the NL average is narrowing. This corresponds to the fact that those hitters that fuel the offense are ageing (some faster than others), and there’s not a whole lot of young talent in the pipeline that could realistically be the equivalent of a prime Utley or Howard, or even Rollins.

    Not saying it’s doom and gloom. Certainly, with their pitching a league-average offense could still net them a top run differential, but I wouldn’t dismiss the offensive concerns too easily.

  2. JB Allen

    November 16, 2011 10:38 AM

    I agree mostly with your general point, but I think your narrative is a bit misleading here:

    1. I think concerns about the offense aren’t just about the post-season. Phrasing it that way is a stealthy way of separating the saber-lovers from the irrational masses with their clutchiness fixations. But many readers on this site have expressed concerns about the offense without focusing on the post-season, and without resorting to Morganesque histrionics.

    2. I don’t think the offense’s prognosis can be discussed without addressing the effects of age. Howard, Polanco, Rollins and probably Utley are all in decline. Much of that is due to injury, but injuries don’t tend to dwindle with age. You were absolutely right in pointing out that age by itself should not the primary focus, but I think it should be a factor here. Even if the league-wide decline in offense was to stop, the Phillies’ will likely continue for this reason.

    3. You use the passive voice in the last two paragraphs, and that ignores the problem of who is managing the Phillies. I’m probably not making waves in suggesting that moving a powerless, slow-footed .340 OBP hitter like Polanco down in the lineup would make sense, but that’s not how Manuel rolls. We’re probably not going to see much platooning going on, either, except where it will prevent the Phillies from utilizing Dom Brown. I guess what I’m saying is, I would have a lot more confidence in your points if Amaro and Manuel were reading this and paying attention.

  3. LTG

    November 16, 2011 11:08 AM

    I agree with JB’s points. As I read the article, its arguments are aimed at the extreme view that the Phillies’ offense has been insufficient to compete in the postseason. That view of the offense is false, but we still might think that the offense needs improvement in order to reduce the role that luck plays in the postseason as much as possible. We also might think that the prognosis for the offense is worse now that the team is one year older and that, consequently, it will become insufficient to compete in the postseason.

    As an article against doom-and-gloomers its great, but it seems to de-emphasize legitimate concerns about the offense.

  4. Michael

    November 16, 2011 11:32 AM

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the point made in the article isn’t that the phillies offense is the best in the league, its that the phillies offense is fine given the organizations shift from offense to pitching in the past few years. Reducing ‘the role that luck plays in the postseason’ is only really achievable by having a lineup with eight all stars. While the phillies have a massive payroll, it is finite and given the money on the books there is not much that can be done, aside from hopefully extending hamels and resigning rollins. The phillies are takong a chance that average (actually above average) offense and historically great pitching can win a championship. The offense’s subpar play over the course of four games is not enough to measure the talent of the offense as a team, and we shouldn’t assume it to be.

  5. Michael

    November 16, 2011 11:43 AM

    To statistically back up my sentiments that the Phillies offensive “struggles” are overexaggerated, let’s take a look at the Phillies run differential from 06-11:

    +53 – +71 – +119 – +111 – +132 – +184

    2011’s run differential is a 259% increase from the peak of the Phillies offensive production, in 2007. Aside from a small 8-run hiccup in 2009 (ironically, the only season where offensive production increased from the previous year), the run differential has gradually increased since the Phillies streak of winning began.

  6. JC

    November 16, 2011 12:05 PM

    I don’t think that it totally sidesteps the concerns bout the offense. I think Bill actually dealt with that (sort of) in the second to last paragraph. He did reference the need to get on base more. Hopefully if they did that, the offensive production would be even better.

  7. JB Allen

    November 16, 2011 12:19 PM

    Michael –

    Run differential has been improving, and I think the organization has done a great job in improving run prevention. My response was intended to clarify that concerns over offense are not merely based on subpar post-season performance, but other more troubling factors, such as an aging lineup and a counter-productive mindset among management. I agree that the Phillies’ offense has been above-average and better the past few years, but I think there’s a very significant risk that it will dip below average in the years to come.

  8. KH

    November 16, 2011 12:22 PM

    Apparently I missed the World Series parade. We just need to slay the luck dragon is all I guess since nothing is really a concern for this team. Don’t get me wrong Bill puts out a nice argument but come on this team can be improved and offense is the spot as your really can’t improve there pitching.

  9. Michael

    November 16, 2011 12:52 PM

    JB-

    I guess I never really concluded in my posts. The two points I was trying to make were:

    1. Offensive production does not have a direct effect on overall team production (actually an inverse effect in this case, but that’s obviously a fluke). Because the Phillies can compensate for even a subpar offense with their pitching, the concern about the offense’s steady decline is blown out of proportion.

    2. There aren’t any logical moves the Phillies can make to significantly improve the offense (aside from signing Reyes, who presents a significant injury risk of his own)

    No one’s arguing that Charlie Manuel is a great manager (aside from Brad Lidge), but it’s clear he isn’t going anywhere, so any point against him is basically moot.

    Ruben Amaro Jr. has spent like crazy and traded like crazy, but he has assembled top-of-the-line players for this Phillies team (that still might not warrant him a pass for that Howard extension, but that’s an argument for another day).

    I just find it incredibly hard to fault the Phillies for the position they’re in. The concern about the offense feels like nitpicking to me, as we pretty much have the same team coming back with a better closer, a better lefty bench bat, a full season from Pence, and very likely a better left fielder in Mayberry. Even with the decline of the older offensive players, I still can’t see them not taking the NL East again.

  10. DP

    November 16, 2011 01:17 PM

    Michael –

    I agree overall and especially with your last post to JB. The truth is there simply aren’t many alternatives to upgrade with on the offensive side. If people flipped about the Papelbon contract, how would they react to an overinflated Cuddyer contract, for example. At least Papelbon is an undisputed top tier talent whereas Cuddyer is the product of a thin market for offensive upgrade.

    I think another area that isn’t stressed enough is the ability of a NL team to be able to attract a solid bench. Our bench was deeper in 2007, 2008 etc. b/c guys like Werth, Victorino etc. were willing to play for less money and a shot. This team is largely set at the every day positions so a good player is less likely to come because (a) he’ll want playing time that he won’t otherwise get sans injuries, and (b) he’ll want more money than a team is usually willing to pay a “bench” player. It’s easier for super utility types in the AL where teams may be willing to pay a little more b/c they can get more production wise with the flexibility of the DH.

  11. LTG

    November 16, 2011 01:57 PM

    What could it possibly mean that offensive production does not have a direct effect on team production? I assume that team production = offensive production + defensive production. So, if I hold DP constant and vary OP, then TP varies directly with OP. That OP can decrease and TP increase only shows that TP contains two variables. No one believed otherwise. But, most people believe that DP is not improving much more and that, therefore, improvements should be made to the OP, if they can be. And, of course, they can be made if the front office gets creative. (Actually, the shift from Ibanez to Mayberry should already improve OP significantly. No need for creativity there.)

    And of course any improvement to average run differential per game will mitigate the toll that luck takes on a team. This strikes me as trivially true. Whether the team can make the improvement statistically significant is another question and one that should be addressed when asking which players to acquire.

  12. ChrisD

    November 16, 2011 02:25 PM

    The issue for the Phils (and one which you did discuss) is their over-reliance on power. Their OPS and average numbers look fine, but they disguise the high variance in their scoring. Talking about averages simply masks the topic of how much you are likely to score in the next given game.

    On average, the Phils beat the Cards, right (21 total runs to 19)? I don’t feel any better knowing this. Luck definitely plays a role, but you would be better off having a team score 3,4,4,6,2 runs than 11,7,0,1,2 in a 5-game playoff series. Phils have already crossed that bridge with their lineup unfortunately with many power hitters, but when we talk about playoff success variance in run-scoring might be the most important offensive consideration.

  13. patrick

    November 16, 2011 02:40 PM

    we’re really trying to address here the problems the phillies have faced in the last two post seasons and utilizing data from complete regular seasons to understand an offense shutting down in a post season series.

    This article here www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/132621748.html?ref=facebook.com

    does the best job of anything I’ve read this offseason to explain recent postseason issues.

    Basically, regular season stats don’t explain postseason failure because they Phillies destroy bad pitching. Since you are unlikely to face bad pitching in the playoffs, the Phils need to alter their approach.

    As much as I love Charlie, LaRussa outmanaged him by a significant margin by adjusting the way his team played in order to win. Charlie is a great guy who loves “his guys” but he loves them a little too much and doesn’t adjust to changing circumstances effectively.

    LaRussa never would have started Polanco at 3rd in game 5…and LaRussa would have sent Victorino to 3rd in the 5th inning with one out, no one else on, and an 0-2 count. You can’t just refuse to play small ball because you have faith your bangers will hit HR and bail you out. You have to look at the evidence you’ve been presented and adjust accordingly. Charlie never did that against St. Louis this year, and he never did it against SF last year.

  14. JB Allen

    November 16, 2011 02:43 PM

    Michael –

    I think your argument is different from Bill’s, in that Bill was suggesting that the offense will be just fine (or fine enough) with some relatively minor tweaking. You and I may agree that this tweaking won’t likely happen, although replacing Ibanez with Mayberry is definitely an improvement. As I understand it, you think that improvements in pitching are significant enough for the Phillies to contend even without any tweaking, at least through next year.

    Hmm. Yeah, 2012 should be good, provided Rollins is re-signed and Howard comes back and is decent. The infield could use a decent-hitting utility man even with Howard back, but the outfield is in better shape. At some point, I can’t help but see the Phillies’ offense dropping off a cliff, but I can be stoked for 2012.

    Abstract question: if two teams have the exact same run differentials, but one team does it with great pitching and average hitting, and the other does it with average pitching and great hitting, do both teams stand to have the same chances of success (assume the players are all about the same age and injury risk), or is there any variance?

  15. Bill Baer

    November 16, 2011 02:46 PM

    Is there any evidence that A) the Phillies do, in fact, perform better against worse pitchers at a statistically significant level and B) that this differential is among the most of other NL/MLB teams?

    I hear that claim a lot but I haven’t seen the data to back it up. I’m not saying it’s incorrect, just that I’m not accepting the premise until I see evidence.

  16. ChrisD

    November 16, 2011 03:01 PM

    Bill,

    Phils murdering bad pitching sounds like a just-so story to me. Everyone hits better against bad pitching, that’s what makes it bad.

    A different issue for the Phils is the disproportional attention that Phils hitters get nationally by being seen in so many high-profile games. They must be the most over-scouted line-up in baseball history with their sustained success and lack of turnover. They have now had the sustained attention of baseball fans and scouts/coaches for years. There is a ton of accumulated knowledge about pitching to Howard and Utley (for example) that is not out there for, say, Joey Votto…etc. b/c he has not had years of playoff runs.

  17. Bill Baer

    November 16, 2011 03:21 PM

    @ ChrisD

    I think that might have been true, say, 20 years ago, but with the prevalence of computers, iPads, handheld devices, etc. players have no shortage of information even on the most obscure players. I, a layman, can dig up intricate scouting info on Rene Rivera — what a time we live in!

  18. LTG

    November 16, 2011 04:37 PM

    BB,

    I have a question similar to yours, especially since the anecdotal evidence about the Phillies’ performance against postseason worthy teams in the regular season is usually good. (Exception this year was their performance against the Cardinals, but that was SSS’d and had injury-explanations.)

    But there are other questions to ask as well. Such as why the Phillies were so terrible against fastballs this past season year? And do they work counts as well as other teams by fouling good pitches off? I’d like to know the answers to these questions. Indeed I’d really like to be better informed about pitch-counts, foul balls, and offensive production in general.

  19. Bill Baer

    November 16, 2011 05:01 PM

    @ LTG

    League average wOBA against fastballs, 2011: .346

    Phillies wOBA against fastballs, 2011…

    – Ryan Howard: .417
    – Shane Victorino: .380
    – Carlos Ruiz: .369
    – Jimmy Rollins: .362
    – John Mayberry, Jr.: .359
    – Chase Utley: .336
    – Domonic Brown: .322
    – Placido Polanco .316
    – Raul Ibanez: .316
    – Ben Francisco: .313
    – Wilson Valdez: .296

    As for foul balls, I’m not sure about percentages as the database I have access to doesn’t have it, but here are the raw numbers.

    National League (297 players)

    – Ryan Howard: 408 (22nd)
    – Jimmy Rollins: 347 (56th)
    – Shane Victorino: 330 (64th)
    – Raul Ibanez: 325 (70th)
    – Placido Polanco: 319 (71st)
    – Carlos Ruiz: 271 (99th)
    – Chase Utley: 263 (103rd)
    – Wilson Valdez: 197 (135th)
    – John Mayberry, Jr.: 179 (148th)

    Count data can be found here.

  20. LTG

    November 16, 2011 05:09 PM

    BB,

    So, given the wOBAs you posted, which I’ve looked at before but forgotten because I have extended-mind disorder, why do the Phils as a team have a wFB of -33.5?

    And the foul ball data is hard to read for a number of reasons. One important one is that we’d want to distinguish between fouling off good pitches and fouling off cupcakes, or, if that distinction is bogus, distinguish between fouling off pitches when down in the count and fouling off pitches when ahead in the count.

  21. smittyboy

    November 16, 2011 05:24 PM

    Let’s not lose sight in looking at these offensive stats from a sabermetrician’s viewpoint or otherwise, that the frequent injuries due to age, bad luck etc. resulted in the use of sub-prime offensive players,i.e., Martinez, Dobbs (in other years and frequent minor league catchers), and the well armed wizard Valdez as primary starters for a significant number of plate appearances. While not uncommon, the problem could also lie in the Phillies reliance on a bench(s) that can “prevent runs” rather than create them.

  22. LTG

    November 16, 2011 06:45 PM

    SB: I agree that some of the wFB number can be explained that way, I would like an analysis that shows just how much can be explained that way. The number is much lower than it has been in the past, even when the Phillies have suffered from lots of injuries.

    BP: Thanks for the link.

  23. Phillie697

    November 16, 2011 08:29 PM

    LTG,

    Don’t forget, people who can’t hit FBs tend to get fed more FBs (the wonders of advanced scouting). You made the assumption that the people at the top of the list get the same number of FBs per PA than the people at the bottom, which we know isn’t true, particular Howard.

  24. LTG

    November 17, 2011 12:56 AM

    Again, I agree with the stipulation as an abstract principle, but as I recall when I actually did this research a month ago the pitch percentages for the Phillies’ players were not much different this season than they have been over the last few years. Yet the wFB is much lower.

  25. Phillie697

    November 17, 2011 10:34 AM

    @LTG,

    If you want one significant empirical data point that explains part of it, two words: Jayson Werth. Destroys FBs, and replaced by such mediocrities against FB like Dom Brown and Benny Fresh, for a significant part of 2011.

  26. hk

    November 17, 2011 11:25 AM

    “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.”

    I’m not sure that the issue is the size of this year’s decline as much as it’s the fact that it was the second consecutive yearly decline and whether there is a reason to expect further declines. If there’s reason to believe that the team is in a declining trend and the index number will drop from 7% better than average to 3% or 4% better, there is a reason to be concerned that the margin for error for the pitching staff will be reduced. However, if there’s reason to believe that the offense will improve with Utley (hopefully) and Pence around for the entire 2012 season and Ibanez around for none of it offsetting the time Howard misses while rehabbing, there’s little or no reason to be concerned.

    Before deciding whether to be concerned about the offense, I want to see how the rest of the off-season plays out, particularly who they sign to play SS, what’s the plan for 3B and how they’re going to replace Howard.

  27. Phillie697

    November 17, 2011 03:24 PM

    @hk,

    Unforunately, don’t forget the likely decline of the 2011 offensive MVP, the Flying Hawaiian. Plus, Rey Ordonez won’t be as good as JRoll.

  28. hk

    November 17, 2011 03:47 PM

    Phillie697,

    But RAJ says that overpaying Papelbon (in $ and years) won’t prevent him from overpaying Rollins (in $ and years).

  29. Phillie697

    November 17, 2011 04:08 PM

    @hk,

    Not if he overpays for Cuddyer. What do you think? 4 years, $60 mil? Sounds about right for RAJ, no? I mean, Cuddyer IS 30-something!!!

  30. hk

    November 17, 2011 04:47 PM

    I never really got the Cuddyer love when I thought he could play 3B and LF. Once I learned that he’s deaf in his left ear and can’t really play those positions because of communication issues, it made absolutely no sense to me. Therefore, yes 4 years and $60M sounds about right.

  31. Rick

    November 17, 2011 06:17 PM

    Have you done a similar analysis for Pat Gillick’s tenure with the Phillies? He had some bad deals: Eaton, Jenkins, Feliz, Lidge, Nunez, Helms. Gillick always has been an advocate of taking a chance and realizing that some deals will not turn out well. Thoughts?

  32. LTG

    November 17, 2011 09:10 PM

    I’m not sure Feliz should be on that list. He was relatively cheap and he produced more or less what he was expected to produce. Not much run production but good run prevention. That deal might not be a good deal but it doesn’t look bad. And what options did the Phils have that would have been better than Feliz?

  33. hk

    November 20, 2011 08:07 PM

    Phillie697,

    Is Ty Wigginton the Rey Ordonez of corner IF’s?

  34. hk

    November 21, 2011 07:02 AM

    From MLBTradeRumors.com:

    Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggests that the Phils should re-sign Raul Ibanez, a favorite of both fans and Amaro, for something like one year and $4MM, as he could be useful as a platoonmate with the right-handed-hitting John Mayberry Jr. in left field.

    The offense will be a concern if this is even being considered as part of the plan.

Next ArticleBrief Thoughts on the NL Cy Young Award