The Phillies Offense Has A Glaring Weakness But It’s Not Age

During the offseason, jokes about the advanced age of the Phillies roster were as ubiquitous as loud middle schoolers on awkward group dates at your local movie theater. Did you hear the one about Ruben Amaro scouting a game at a retirement community?! Or the call he put in to Ron Reed while evaluating his bullpen options?! Well, I hope you got your jollies in while you had a chance, because the Phillies well-seasoned veterans are no laughing matter.

Since 1901, only two teams have had five position players age 34 or older qualify for the batting title. The 1985 California Angels did so with Bob Boone, Rod Carew, Brian Downing, Bobby Grich, and Reggie Jackson and in 1945 when younger players were busy fighting World War II, the Chicago White Sox pulled off the feat with Tony Cuccinello, Oris Hockett, Wally Moses, Roy Schalk and the man with the greatest name in baseball history, Johnny “Ugly” Dickshot. The Phillies’ quintet of Marlon Byrd, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, and Chase Utley are currently on pace to join them, but Carlos Ruiz has never qualified for the batting title in his career, coming closest to the requisite 502 PAs with 472 in 2011. Needless to say, the chances the 2014 Phillies join this exclusive club are slim, but the point stands that depending heavily on position players in their mid- to late-30s is a risky and unconventional strategy.

The nature of risk is that sometimes it yields great rewards and so far this particular risk has paid off for Ruben Amaro, Jr. Of the 15 position players the Phillies have used this season, only seven have hit for a wRC+ above 100 (a wRC+ of 100 is exactly league average offensive production after adjusting for park and league). Included in those seven productive batters are all six of the Phillies elder statesmen batters: Utley, Ruiz, Howard, Rollins, Byrd and 36-year-old backup catcher, Wil Nieves.

Chase Utley 35 149 0.338 0.396 0.549 0.403 158 1.7
Jimmy Rollins 35 147 0.276 0.370 0.441 0.359 128 1.5
Marlon Byrd 36 148 0.312 0.358 0.507 0.374 138 1.0
Carlos Ruiz 35 123 0.279 0.390 0.423 0.363 130 1.0
Ryan Howard 34 152 0.255 0.322 0.460 0.337 112 0.3
Wil Nieves 36 29 0.296 0.321 0.407 0.323 103 0.2

After being the butt of jokes all winter long, Utley and Rollins currently look like bona fide All-Stars and Byrd and Ruiz are pushing their way into the All-Star conversation. Ryan Howard is performing about as well as can be expected for a slugger with no speed and extreme platoon splits and Nieves has been a pleasant surprise with the bat in an extremely small sample size.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they’ve had to send nine other position players to the plate this season and despite their theoretical age advantage (they are all 31 or younger) they’ve ranged from almost exactly league average at the plate (Asche) to truly abysmal (sorry, Freddy).

Ben Revere 26 134 0.277 0.293 0.308 0.268 65 0.2
John Mayberry 30 35 0.138 0.286 0.276 0.267 64 0.0
Reid Brignac 28 2 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 -100 0.0
Cesar Hernandez 24 14 0.231 0.286 0.308 0.269 65 -0.1
Cody Asche 24 103 0.233 0.330 0.400 0.321 101 -0.2
Jayson Nix 31 43 0.154 0.214 0.231 0.207 23 -0.3
Tony Gwynn 31 63 0.189 0.295 0.226 0.250 53 -0.3
Domonic Brown 26 141 0.225 0.284 0.287 0.251 53 -0.5
Freddy Galvis 24 46 0.048 0.109 0.048 0.084 -62 -0.9

This stark division of offensive statistics between age groups is primarily a meaningless bit of trivia, but it highlights a very real problem for the 2014 Phillies: depth. If early season statistics are any indication, it’s certainly conceivable the Phillies aging core has another run in them, but they don’t currently have the requisite supporting pieces to succeed. The ’07-’11 Phillies had a supporting cast that included starters such as Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Pat Burrell and productive bench pieces like Matt Stairs, Greg Dobbs, and even the 2011 version of John Mayberry, Jr. Unless Brown, Asche, Darin Ruf, or other complementary players literally step up to the plate and succeed, the Phillies unbalanced offense could be their Achilles’ heel.

Add into the mix the fact that the core’s current production has almost nowhere to go but down and it’s possible that the Phillies offense is currently in the midst of its best days. Despite the superlative performance of their star players, the Phillies rank 9th in the NL in both runs (137) and team wOBA (.306). If the current roster’s true talent is a middling offense, they’ll need Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and A.J. Burnett to be a truly dominant top of the rotation and a dramatically improved bullpen if they hope to stay relevant.

It’s not that the Phillies don’t have a path forward that keeps them competitive in 2014, it’s that they have one overflowing with unlikely qualifiers.

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  1. Alex Riley - Hitter's Count

    May 12, 2014 09:47 AM

    This really bodes well for 2015 and beyond… Sounds like a talent evaluation problem to me if we’re not producing anything out of the farm system. What do you think Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels think when they come across this sort of stuff and they both have multiple years left on their deals? They’re probably calling their agents is my guess..

    • Tom

      May 12, 2014 10:21 AM

      i hear ya…but how many guys were “calling their agents” when lee blew the st louis series.

    • Mark66

      May 12, 2014 12:50 PM

      9 position players that can’t hit and a bullpen that can’t pitch. What you’re saying is BIG changes need to be made.

  2. Beez Nutz

    May 12, 2014 10:10 AM

    “If the current roster’s true talent is a middling offense, they’ll need Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and A.J. Burnett to be a truly dominant top of the rotation and a dramatically improved bullpen if they hope to stay relevant.”

    Seriously, how many games has the pen blown now?

    • Joe D

      May 12, 2014 12:23 PM

      While I agree with the premise of this article, I think Beez Nutz is right, the bullpen is he biggest issue facing this team. The Phillies could EASILY have 4 more wins / 4 less losses, and that is not including all the games that the bullpen has given away, just the most painful ones! This is surely even more apparent to the starting pitchers than the lack of depth on offense…

    • Mark66

      May 12, 2014 12:45 PM

      Lee and Hamels, the way they are being paid they need to pitch better. When hits exceed innings pitched then you are not earning your pay.

      • Chris S.

        May 12, 2014 12:56 PM

        I could care less how many hits are given up just as long as those hits don’t cross the plate, which Hamels prevented in Sunday’s game. The name of the game isn’t to prevent hits it is to prevent runs. Obviously giving up hits isn’t a good thing, but they don’t hurt too much if they don’t cross home plate. Not only did Hamels keep the Mets to one run he went deep into the game as well which is all that you can ask for from one of your aces. I will take 7 innings of one run ball from Hamels everytime he steps on the rubber.

      • Mark66

        May 12, 2014 02:42 PM

        Chris S–you apparently don’t read very much but stats are true to form. There is a direct correlation by the end of the year when it comes to ERA, Runs and Hits allowed. And by the way Lee and Hamels ERA is way North of the border or where it should be for 2 pitchers being paid what they are getting.

  3. Bob

    May 12, 2014 12:28 PM

    I’m a huge fan of Domonic Brown, but he is the biggest disappointment to me on this team. He is bringing nothing to the table. He’s swinging outside the zone about 5% more and hitting about 10% more gbs at the expense of both flyballs and line drives equally. With respect to pitch type, he’s getting more change ups and fastballs but less sliders, splitters, sinkers, etc. He’s just not getting it done. A team with championship aspirations cannot have a LF with a .251 wOBA.

    • Mark66

      May 12, 2014 12:43 PM

      That is why I am calling for changes at the GM level as well as other staff changes. If changes aren’t made it will be a long year and the excuse list will explode.

  4. Mark66

    May 12, 2014 12:28 PM

    I know I sound like a broken record. 1-The Phils have 3 out of the top 10 salaried players in MLB today. EARN YOUR KEEP ! 2-change needs to come at the GM level as well as other front office or staff personnel 3- Look at what the Phils are spending 185,000,000 , now lets look at the Astros–they are spending 44,000,000 Who’s getting screwed on what they are paying for ?? Answer–the Phils are managing their salaries extremely poorly considering what they are getting for return on their $$$$. Look at Sun loss to the Mets–disgraceful. So stop with the excuses and make the changes that need to be made. I bleed Phillies !

    • George Callanan

      May 12, 2014 06:26 PM

      I agree with Mark 66 , not only do we have 3 of the top 10 paid players in MLB, they are 3 of the top 10 in all of sports. You get a small sample here or there of performance, like Cole Hamels yesterday. But when you make really big money it can not be a small sample. They need to bring it all the time. The big three Howard, Hamels and Lee don’t. The end result will be the firing of Amaro. He is the one who gave them the contracts. So he has to be accountable for his decisions. His future is in jeopardy. Being a GM is rough. Especially when you are given a team who won a World Championship.

      • George Callanan

        May 13, 2014 07:06 AM

        Bill I looked at the chart you posted unfortunately we live in a world of what a pitcher is doing now not in 2010, 2011 etc. what would that chart look like if it only included 2013 and 2014?

  5. Kyle

    May 12, 2014 01:34 PM

    Ugly Dickshot may be the best baseball name ever, but Cannonball Titcomb is a close second.

  6. Pop-Pop Ralph

    May 12, 2014 03:55 PM

    This could still turn around, but the youngsters are the ones many doubters wanted tthe Phils to go with and scrap the core. I wonder where these guys are now? Probably going YEA CHASE!, YEA MARLON, etc.

  7. Royal

    May 13, 2014 10:22 PM

    Another big problem for the Phil’s is too many of the losses can be attributed to one player. Way too many games where 8+ players do an ok job and one player gives the game away e.g. Bastardo and Asche the last two games

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