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 data:

Name BB% PA BB
Michael Young 11.6% 146 17
Delmon Young 10.0% 40 4
Kevin Frandsen 9.4% 32 3
John Mayberry 9.4% 96 9
Laynce Nix 9.2% 65 6
Chase Utley 8.3% 157 13
Freddy Galvis 7.3% 55 4
Domonic Brown 6.3% 143 9
Ben Revere 6.2% 129 8
Jimmy Rollins 6.2% 162 10
Erik Kratz 6.0% 83 5
Ryan Howard 5.4% 147 8
Carlos Ruiz 4.7% 43 2

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.

Analytics, schmanalytics.

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57 comments

  1. Phillie697

    May 14, 2013 11:28 AM

    @EricL,

    Everytime I say that joke (“”A man will pay $2 for a $1 item he needs; a woman will pay $1 for a $2 item she doesn’t need.”) to a woman friend of mine, and I have a lot of them, they nod and say, “yeah, that’s probably true.” It’s not at all accurate to assume that it applies to any one individual woman, but the generalization is only “stupid” because people are too afraid to make ANY distinctions between men and women for the fear of thinking that they might be discriminating against women. Excuse me, even IF the stereotype is true, what about it implies “stupid women” to you? Please don’t impute your prejudice to me, than you very much. A woman who wants to spend her money however the hell she wants doesn’t lose any respect from me.

  2. Phillie697

    May 14, 2013 11:37 AM

    @LTG,

    In a court of law, judges and juries don’t get to make generalized decisions. The focus on the litigants at hand, who are in fact individuals. This is why it gets more scrutiny, because we can’t apply generalizations as evidence of actual motive or conduct.

    I understand your point, but just like of course there are better alternative than swear words, none of them can carry the connotations that people have attached to those swear words. I’m not here to change how people think about gender equality; I rather spend my time not worrying about every word I say and address stuff like the marriage penalty, the inequality in pay, the general perception that women should be the one to bear the bulk of the responsibilities of raising a child, etc. Instead, I’m spending my copious time here arguing about a stupid sentence.

  3. Phillie697

    May 14, 2013 11:42 AM

    @LTG,

    I guess Richard, you and I will just have to agree to disagree. I will continue to put less stock to those “stablizing” statistics. There is no magic number of number of PAs that will all of a sudden give me more confidence because Dom Brown reached 120 PAs vs. 100 PAs. We are still talking about years of career numbers vs. 120 PAs from 2013. I will choose to trust those career numbers more.

  4. LTG

    May 14, 2013 03:21 PM

    Let me try to make EricL’s point clear:

    1) It is unlikely that the shopping stereotype is true. That even women tend to believe it just tells us that it is a stereotype.

    2) Even if it is true, it is likely made true by unjust gender norms, participation in which reinforces them. These norms do not only manifest in bad jokes; they also have an insidious effect on implicit judgments that reproduce inequality. That is a reason to eschew them in one’s explicit thoughts.

    3) The stereotype obviously is one manifestation of the general stereotype that men are more rational than women. When you refer to the shopping stereotype, you indirectly refer to the irrationality stereotype, even if you don’t consciously intend to.

  5. LTG

    May 14, 2013 03:28 PM

    No one thinks that there is a magic number that stabilization gets at. Regression happens on a sliding scale (that varies for each measurement) as Tango’s discussion reveals. The opponent you are imagining to your view is a strawman. Citing stabilization is simply a way of expressing how confident we should be that the measurement reflects true talent over a given period of the past.

    Also, it is likely that true talent can change quite a bit from year to year. When one hopes that Dom Brown’s BABIP will improve, one is hoping that his true talent, as it is usually conceived, will improve. Not all variance in the reliable, sabery measurements is attributable to chance.

  6. Phillie697

    May 16, 2013 09:37 AM

    @LTG,

    It’s up to you to believe whether you can somehow change the minds of billions of people around the world or not, but I have already stated my position: You’re not going to change the minds of anyone by focusing on what they say or think; slavery wasn’t abolished, and race relations didn’t improve, because we went around and told people, “slavery is bad, stereotyping against African Americans is bad, you shouldn’t perpetuate those thoughts.” The society, through the hard work of countless people, changed, and THEN the thoughts changed. I think you and EricL still holds that notion that somehow change is affected by you convincing other people to think differently. I had those thoughts once; I gave them up for more… efficient methods. As I stated, I cannot change how people perceive my statements, whether EricL wants to draw the conclusion that I was calling women stupid, or you wanting to draw the conclusion that I think women are irrational, those are your own thoughts and prejudices, and I don’t seek to change them.

  7. Phillie697

    May 16, 2013 09:49 AM

    I think the dispute is whether we should confidently cite those stablizing numbers as evidence of an underlying change in true talent. I’ll have to read the study again, but I think I remember thinking the problem with the study is that while it has correctly pointed out that at some sufficiently large enough PA, the numbers don’t fluctuate as much between buckets of data, it fails to realize that some of the buckets, in the grand scheme of baseball statistics, are quite tiny. Sure, at 120 PA statistic X no longer fluctuate wildly, i.e. the change between the first bucket and the second bucket aren’t likely to be drastically different, so we can have some confidence that the number obtained in the first bucket can be used to tell us something about the player’s immediate future behavior. Except 120 PA is TINY!!! What happens when you compare the first bucket with the third bucket? The fourth bucket? Do we measure a player’s success in buckets of 120 PAs, or do we usually look at the entire season’s worth of data? My inherent problem with the study is exactly that: While it has statistical relevance in telling us if the player has somehow changed his approach to a point that it has an effect on his true talent, it doesn’t tell us much about the player’s actual true talent, since, as you said, players adjust and adopt. I don’t view that as changes in “true” talent; I view that as just people doing their jobs.

    In the end, I agree with Richard. It may not be anything wrong with the study; it may just be in how people use it.

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