Despite Shutout, Friday’s Lineup Worked Well
Process, not results. It’s one of the tougher principles to keep in mind, especially as you’re watching your team fall into yet another slump. The Phillies were shut out 3-0 for the second consecutive game on Friday against the Cincinnati Reds and now have not scored since the seventh inning on Tuesday. It’s the third time they’ve been shut out since May 7 and they’re averaging 2.7 runs per game dating back to April 27. Yeah, it’s been bad.
Ryne Sandberg made a change in yesterday’s lineup. Ben Revere sat for the third time in seven games. Jimmy Rollins moved back to the lead-off spot, Carlos Ruiz went up to #2, and John Mayberry, Jr. hit 7th, playing center field. Though the Phillies were shut out, the lineup worked well and Sandberg should continue experimenting with it.
Rollins is slashing .261/.354/.413. If the season ended today, he would finish with his best wRC+ (116) since 2007 (119). He’s hit for a bit of power and swiped a few bags as he’s wont to do, but the surprising part is that he’s drawing walks. Adam Dembowitz covered this phenomenon recently. Rollins’ current 12.6 percent walk rate would be a career-high and the first time he’s been in double-digits since 2010.
Revere, sadly, has not had anything to write home about lately. He’s hitting .178 since April 29 and he has drawn only three walks all season. When Revere is hitting like he did in the two and a half months prior to his injury last season — .347 with 12 walks and 17 stolen bases in 240 plate appearances — he profiles as a decent lead-off hitter. But when he’s hitting like he is now — not at all — he merits hitting eighth, just ahead of the pitcher. Revere’s current slash line, .268/.284/.297, pales in comparison to Rollins’ and to just about anyone else’s on the team.
Putting Rollins back in the lead-off spot not only gives your higher on-base guy more plate appearances and your lower on-base guy fewer, but it allows the hitters behind Rollins to see more pitches early as he works the count. Rollins saw 24 pitches in four plate appearances yesterday against Reds starter Alfredo Simon.
Hitting Ruiz second is a change many have been suggesting for years and Sandberg has experimented with it a few times. After going 1-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch last night, Ruiz now has a .388 on-base percentage, second-best on the team behind Chase Utley. Ruiz has mostly hit seventh in the lineup this season, ahead of Cody Asche/Freddy Galvis/Jayson Nix. It’s wasting his on-base skills because Ruiz would get on, but the under-performing trio at third base in the eight-spot rarely got him in, and then that was followed up by the pitcher.
Putting Rollins first and Ruiz second stacks the lineup with the team’s third- and second-best on-base hitters, respectively, for Chase Utley, who has not only been the team’s best hitter, but one of the best hitters in baseball overall — his .415 weighted on-base average ranks sixth behind only Troy Tulowitzki, Yasiel Puig, Seth Smith, Jose Bautista, and Giancarlo Stanton. On average, Rollins and Ruiz will each get on base once or twice a game, which will give Utley — and Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd after him — opportunities to bring runners in.
Despite the shutout, the lineup worked as expected last night. Utley came to the plate with at least one runner on base twice out of four plate appearances (and he led off one inning, too). Utley went 2-for-4 but Howard, Byrd, Domonic Brown, and Mayberry combined to go 0-for-15 with a walk. Process, not results. On a different night, the Phillies would have been able to push in a few runs.
Until Rollins cools off and/or Revere starts hitting, Sandberg should give Friday’s lineup an extended look and give it a chance to turn his team’s fortunes around. There’s nothing to lose at this point and potentially a lot to gain. Their -37 run differential — third-worst in baseball — isn’t going to fix itself.