Graph of the Intermittent Time Period
It is May 13. The Phillies have played 39 games and only three players have crossed the double-digit walk plateau. Michael Young is the team leader in walks with 17 and he has a career-high of 58 in a single season (2005). As a point of comparison, former Phillie Pat Burrell walked 114 times by himself in 2007 — nearly double Young’s career-high. Burrell crossed the double-digit plateau on April 19 in his team’s 14th game in ’07. The Phillies have the third-lowest on-base percentage in the National League, and they have scored four runs or fewer in each of their last five games and in 28 of their 39 games overall (72 percent).
Yeah, it’s bad.
A cursory glance at the Phillies’ individual walk rates might make you think it’s not so bad as six of 13 players (min. 30 PA) have a walk rate above the 8.1 percent National League average. As the following chart shows, however, when you look at who is getting the majority of the plate appearances, it isn’t players prone to take a free pass.
(click to enlarge)
The larger the circle, the more plate appearances the player has taken. Many of the higher walk rates have smaller circles, and lower walk rates have larger circles.
The Phillies have other problems — their .240 batting average and .135 isolated power are both fifth-worst in the league — but walking was an easily-preventable problem that has been left to fester. GM Ruben Amaro controversially stated “I don’t care about walks; I care about production” back in January and has now learned a painful lesson about the importance of plate discipline.
On the above chart, the most striking thing (aside from the Youngs) is that Domonic Brown is only at six percent. Brown was lauded for his plate discipline as he went through the Phillies’ Minor League system, earning praise from former Baseball Prospectus expert Kevin Goldstein (now with the Houston Astros). Goldstein wrote, “Brown is a special talent who could hit 20-25 home runs a year [...] and [draw] a good number of walks”. When Brown was promoted to Triple-A in 2010, he quickly made an impression on manager Dave Huppert:
Huppert praised the outfielder for his plate discipline, admitting a lot of young hitters come into this level and start “hacking and slashing” while opposing pitchers fool them with offspeed pitches.
In 2011-12, when Brown had 210 and 212 plate appearances, his walk rates were 12 and 10 percent. This year, it is 6.3 percent in 138 plate appearances. Such a decline isn’t completely unheard of and it may be attributed to a small sample size (though walk rate stabilizes at 120 PA), but it is still concerning when a player stops walking all of a sudden. Perhaps the organization’s aversion to walks has led to those in power instructing Brown to swing away rather than take walks.
Whatever the case, the prognosis is not good. So long as the Phillies hire players with poor plate discipline and promote an anti-walk attitude, they will continue to participate in low-offense games that leave the manager scratching his head.