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Phillies Will Lack Plate Discipline in 2013

From 2006-10, a five-year span, the Phillies laid claim to one of the most prolific offenses in Major League Baseball. Behind one of baseball’s youngest, most-talented cores — Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Jayson Werth — the Phillies did it all: they hit for average, they hit for power, they drew a lot of walks, and they ran the bases often and efficiently. Offense across baseball began to decline in 2010, but the Phillies declined much more sharply as that once-young core succumbed to older age and injury woes.

The Phillies finished in MLB’s top-ten in walk rate in five of six seasons between 2006-11, the outlier being 2009 when they finished eleventh. In 2012, they finished 26th in walk rate.

Year BB% MLB Rank
2006 9.6% 5
2007 9.8% 3
2008 9.3% 8
2009 9.3% 11
2010 8.9% 8
2011 8.6% 9
2012 7.4% 26

Injuries played a big role in that decline. Consider the injured players and their replacements.

Howard and Ruiz’s walk rates were also under their typical rates, 12.0 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively, so the baseline for comparison was even lower than it should have been.

Although Utley, Howard, and Ruiz will be healthy, the Phillies aren’t expected to improve much in the walks department. ZiPS projects only two Phillies to finish with a double-digit walk rate: Utley and Howard, and just barely at 10.4 and 10.1 percent, respectively. Lower the threshold to nine percent and only Ruiz joins the party. Domonic Brown just misses the cut at 8.9 percent. The off-season additions of Michael Young (projected 5.8%), Ben Revere (5.2%), and Delmon Young (3.6%) don’t exactly help matters.

Walks, of course, are a big part of on-base percentage, and on-base percentage is heavily positively correlated with run-scoring. The Phillies finished ninth in on-base percentage last season and would have been much worse if not for the fluky-high batting averages of Frandsen (.338), Ruiz (.325), and Juan Pierre (.307). PECOTA projects the Phillies to finish with the fourth-worst OBP in the National League in 2013, and subsequently the third-fewest runs scored.

As a result, the Phillies will be depending on their pitching to win a plethora of low-scoring affairs in 2013. Behind two perennial Cy Young candidates in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee and one of baseball’s most dominant closers in Jonathan Papelbon, that may not be such a bad idea. Indeed, PECOTA projects the pitching staff to allow the fourth-fewest runs in the league. However, a lot is riding on the good health of Roy Halladay and Mike Adams, and better-than-expected performance from the back of the rotation and bullpen. The Phillies don’t have any margin for error as they did a few years ago when a playoff berth was all but guaranteed.