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Last night, the Phillies made two base running blunders against the Marlins. In the second inning, Darin Ruf was on first base when Kevin Frandsen hit a ground ball single to right field. Ruf decided to test Giancarlo Stanton, well-regarded around the league for his cannon of an arm, by attempting to advance to third base. Stanton’s throw reached third baseman Chris Coghlan on the fly and Ruf was a dead duck.
In the bottom of the third, starter Brian Flynn uncorked a wild pitch with Carlos Ruiz on first base. Ruiz easily advanced to second, but upon seeing that catcher Jeff Mathis hadn’t yet corralled the ball, attempted to get to third base as well. First baseman Ed Lucas retrieved the baseball and fired to Coghlan at third. Ruiz was out with plenty of room to spare.
Fortunately for the Phillies, that was the last of their base running blunders but it was just the latest example of the Phillies trending in the wrong direction when it comes to avoiding outs on the bases. From 2008-11, the Phillies made a combined 39 fewer outs on the bases than the average National League team. In fact, in 2009-10, they made the fewest outs on the bases of any team in the league. In 2011, they made the second-fewest outs. This year, they have made 56, tied for the third-most in the league.
What hurts most is that the Phillies’ on-base percentage has dropped in each season since they were last in the World Series (2009). So not only have the Phillies made more outs on the bases, but they have done so when outs are relatively more hurtful.
We have cataloged many different instances when Ryne Sandberg, then the third base coach of the Phillies, sent runners to their doom needlessly. But it isn’t just him. Juan Samuel, the new third base coach, sent Brown home last night on Cody Asche‘s single to right field, testing Stanton’s arm. Brown was only safe because the catcher, Mathis, couldn’t corral the ball (Brown also collided with him but it didn’t affect the outcome).
Some of the problem is poor third-base coaching; some of the problem is poor decision-making by the runners themselves; and some of the problem is formerly-agile players succumbing to Father Time. The Phillies can’t afford to give away outs the way they have over the last two seasons. And while base running isn’t as important an area of the game as starting pitching or hitting for power, it is not insignificant and when added up with all of the other mistakes the Phillies have made in recent times, it adds up. Base running is just one of many areas hurt with personnel decisions like signing Michael Young and Delmon Young.