The Phillies’ Walk Rate Crashed Back To Earth
It turns out there might be a bit of truth to that cliché about old dogs and new tricks. Two weeks into the season, the Phillies’ offense garnered attention due to a development in their collective plate discipline. In 2013, the Phillies’ sub-par 6.9% walk rate was tied for 25th in MLB and 13th in the NL, but on April 15th of this year they sat atop the NL with a dramatically improved rate of 10.3%. Was this a hint that Ryne Sandberg was putting an increased emphasis on plate discipline and times they were a-changin’?
Eh, maybe not. Since April 15th, the Phillies have walked at an astonishingly low rate of 5.4%, the worst rate in MLB over that time period. Combine the early searing hot streak with the recent ice cold stretch and the 2014 Phillies are walking at a 7.7% rate, a reasonable improvement over their 2013 mark, but not the type of change that is likely to make a vast difference in overall offensive performance. Last year, the average NL team had 6,141 plate appearances and if the Phillies were to maintain their current rate, that would translate to about 49 additional walks over the full season or one more walk for every 3.3 games.
Curiously, the pitches per plate appearance seen by the Phillies was virtually unchanged during their two stretches of polar opposite walk rates. On April 15th, the Phillies sported a 3.88 P/PA and in the sixteen games since they have seen 3.84 P/PA. This consistency may be an indicator that the Phillies true talent walk-rate is neither their early league-best rate or their recent league-worst rate, but instead lies somewhere in between.
This team may walk a bit more and see a few more pitches than last year’s team, but it seems increasingly unlikely that a massive turnaround is afoot. The sky-high walk rate in mid-April was a fun throwback to the glory days of ’07-’11 when the Phillies were regularly atop the league in walk rate, but also appears to be little more than a simple case of statistical noise.