Five-Year Trends with the Phillies Offense

I don’t need to tell you that the 2012 season was a disappointment. The Phillies failed to reach the post-season for the first time since 2006, thanks to several big reasons — injuries befell the team like a plague, the young bullpen didn’t meet expectations for most of the year, and the starting pitching regressed. Today’s chart will focus on the effect that first reason had on the offense.

Injuries, of course, force a player to sit on the bench, but they also cause lesser players to get a larger share of the playing time. For instance, while Ryan Howard was out, Ty Wigginton played 62 games at first base with a total of 208 plate appearances. Likewise, Freddy Galvis got the lion’s share of the playing time at second base (50 games, 178 PA) in Chase Utley‘s wake before suffering an injury himself. Neither replacement held a candle to his predecessor offensively, which drastically affected the Phillies’ offense.

The following chart shows the amount of runs above average per 600 plate appearances the Phillies got from each position over the last five years.

Since ten runs roughly equates to one win, each horizontal line signifies about one win.

The runs above average data:

PHI C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF
2008 -5 8 31 -17 1 -1 10 1
2009 8 17 23 -15 -2 6 11 17
2010 19 7 9 -9 -11 5 5 20
2011 1 -2 -5 -11 7 2 23 1
2012 26 -9 -5 -9 10 -5 -4 -1

Runs above average was calculated by finding the difference between the Phillies’ positional wOBA and the National League average, dividing by 1.15 (that number is used to put wOBA on the same scale as on-base percentage), and multiplying it by 600 (plate appearances).

The Phillies received above-average offensive contributions from just two positions — catcher and shortstop — after having no fewer than five such positions qualify in the previous four years. Let’s look at each position one at a time.

Catcher

Carlos Ruiz‘s 2012 season was the culmination of expectation-defying season after season. He moved into the upper echelon of catchers, joining names like Buster Posey and Yadier Molina before succumbing to a foot injury. In fact, among catchers with at least 400 PA, Ruiz had the second-highest wOBA at .398, trailing Posey at .406.

Erik Kratz was also a pleasant surprise, coming up from the Minor Leagues to become one of the best back-up catchers in baseball — at least, before September hit. The Phillies, like most teams around baseball, rarely got anything out of their back-up catchers, so 2012 was a pleasant surprise with Kratz’s arrival. Going forward, however, we should expect both players to regress offensively.

The Phillies will pick up Ruiz’s $5 million option for the upcoming season. As a result, 2013 will be Ruiz’s last year before free agency, who will be 35 years old entering 2014. The Phillies will use the season to judge catching prospects Tommy Joseph, Sebastian Valle, and Cameron Rupp. The 32-year-old Kratz has a good shot at becoming the team’s back-up catcher when the regular season begins.

First Base

In the first year of Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract extension, the big left-hander missed the first three months of the season. Many felt he returned from his injury too early, as his defensive mobility and ability to run the bases both lacked severely, and his offense was nothing to write home about as well. Of the 47 first basemen who logged at least 250 trips to the dish in 2012, Howard’s .303 wOBA ranked 38th. The biggest disappointment was the loss of Howard’s pull-side power. Howard broke his toe at the end of the season, but should be ready to go when spring training begins in February.

There aren’t too many changes the Phillies can make at first base unless they can, through some stroke of black magic, find a team to take on some portion of Howard’s massive contract. However, I recently suggested that the Phillies consider utilizing a platoon at first base, letting Howard face only right-handed pitchers while pairing him up with a right-handed hitter (John Mayberry, Darin Ruf, etc.) to take care of the lefties. While the Phillies should expect some improvement after Howard has an entire spring to get himself in the flow of things, they shouldn’t expect any more than league average offense unless they get creative and open-minded.

Second Base

It has been disappointing to see Chase Utley miss so much time over the last two seasons. Utley had been baseball’s best second baseman by far between 2006-10. According to FanGraphs, Utley’s 37.2 WAR is nearly double that of runner-up Dan Uggla‘s 19.5. Baseball Reference paints a similar picture, putting Utley at 37.0 WAR and second-place Robinson Cano at 20.2. In Utley’s absence during the 2012 season, the Phillies relied on the light-hitting Freddy Galvis. Of the 51 second baseman to accrue at least 200 PA, Freddy’s .267 wOBA was the eighth-lowest.

Like Howard, the Phillies are expecting Utley to have a full spring training and enter 2013 ready to go. Unlike Howard, however, Utley can still contribute in other ways when his bat isn’t all there by playing superb defense, running the bases well, and making excellent decisions. Next season will potentially be Utley’s last in a Phillies uniform, though. With his age, injury history, and salary expectations, the Phillies may feel they are best suited moving on with Utley. A lot of that will depend on the improvements Galvis makes in one of the many roles in which the Phillies can utilize him going forward.

Third Base

Ever since Scott Rolen left, third base has been a veritable offensive black hole for the Phillies. There was David Bell, then Abraham Nunez, then Pedro Feliz, then Placido Polanco. The Phillies will likely buy out Polanco’s contract for $1 million rather than pick up his $5 million mutual option for 2013. As a result, they are looking at a rather barren market for third basemen. It is not going to be easy to put them back in the green, so to speak (referring to the above data table). Many speculate that Kevin Frandsen could be a part of their plans, at least for the coming season, while others are interested in seeing Galvis handle the hot corner. There are, realistically, no great solutions to the Phillies’ third base situation, so it is going to be by far their biggest concern going into the off-season.

Shortstop

“Welcome back Jimmy Rollins,” we say, wiping our brow. The Phillies could have ended the Rollins era in Philadelphia when he became a free agent after the 2011 season, but the two sides agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract to keep him around through 2014. Rollins’ 2009-10 seasons were disappointing and injury-plagued (respectively), which prompted the idea that the Phillies might have been able to put Galvis at shortstop and move on. Thankfully, Rollins had a very successful season. His .177 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) was the fourth-best among all everyday shortstops, and it was his highest since 2007 when he won the NL MVP award. His 4.9 WAR, per FanGraphs, was also the third-best in the Majors behind Ben Zobrist and Ian Desmond.

Shortstop is now the least of the Phillies’ concerns going into 2013. Barring an unfortunate injury during the off-season or spring training, the Phillies can write Rollins’ name in pen and focus their attention elsewhere.

Left Field

For as good as Juan Pierre appeared throughout the season, his offensive contributions still fell below the league average and failed to recapture the offense provided by Raul Ibanez. Pierre hit .307, but 86 percent of his hits were singles. With 37 stolen bases in 44 attempts (84%), he was able to effectively extend singles into doubles (27 steals of second base) and triples (10 steals of third base). Overall, though, the lack of power from a corner outfield position was a concern all year.

Domonic Brown came up late in the year and spent his time in both left and right field. However, with the Phillies looking both internally and externally for right fielders (e.g. Nate Schierholtz; Nick Swisher, et. al.), Brown has a good shot to be the everyday left fielder on Opening Day. Brown didn’t do anything particularly impressive, but it makes more sense for the Phillies to rely on the 25-year-old than to bring back the 35-year-old Pierre. A full season with regular at-bats, which Brown has gone without in each of the past two seasons, might help him reach his potential as well.

Center Field

The Phillies’ offense declined the steepest in center field for two reasons: Shane Victorino regressed heavily from a career-best 2011, and John Mayberry didn’t hit well when he took over center field after Victorino was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in late July. Victorino posted a career-high .368 wOBA in 2011, but could only muster a .317 mark in his four months with the Phillies and .297 in two months with the Dodgers. Mayberry didn’t help much with his .303 wOBA.

With a giant question mark in center field, the Phillies are expected to be players for one of the many free agent center fielders, such as Michael Bourn. Even beyond the free agents, there will be various options that may become available via trade, such as Denard Span, which was discussed here recently. Victorino could even be brought back on a short, team-friendly deal if he ends up drawing little or no interest in free agency. With the lowered expectations at catcher, first, and second base, as well as the question mark at third base, the Phillies need to play their cards right in bringing aboard a center fielder.

Right Field

Like Victorino, Hunter Pence had a great 2011 (.377 wOBA) but regressed heavily in 2012 (.340). The Phillies sent Pence to the San Francisco Giants in late July, replacing him mostly with Domonic Brown (.309). The Phillies have a number of ways to address the right field situation, such as acquiring a free agent (Nick Swisher), utilizing an in-house platoon (Nate Schierholtz, Mayberry), or using Brown in right field while addressing left field in another way. Right field is not as high a priority as third base or center field, so don’t expect the Phillies to swing for the proverbial fences here.