The game of baseball produces numbers that beget more numbers that are enough to keep any stat-head (sabermetrician or otherwise) in numerical heaven.
Yours truly is not a sabermetrician, per se, but I enjoy the occasional number crunch inspired by my hometown Philadelphia Phillies.
And yes, the early days of the 2011 season have already inspired some good, old-old fashioned number crunching. So crunch these and try to make sense of them.
Last night's 4-0 defeat at the hands of the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks marked the 14th straight game in which the Phillies offense exploded for four runs or fewer.
So how does one square these two sets of numbers? Easily—kind of. They've had timely hitting, excellent pitching and had a break or two go their way.
Let's take a look at those last 14 games from a run-producing (and results) standpoint:
- April 10: three runs (3-0 win)
- April 12: four runs (7-4 loss)
- April 13: three runs (3-2 win)
- April 14: four runs (4-0 win)
- April 15: three runs (4-3 loss)
- April 17: three runs (3-2 win)
- April 18: three runs (6-3 loss)
- April 19: zero runs (9-0 loss)
- April 20: four runs (4-3 win)
- April 21: three runs (3-0 win)
- April 22: two runs (2-0 win)
- April 23: four runs (4-2 win)
- April 24: three runs (3-1 win)
- April 25: zero runs (4-0 loss)
A couple quick observations come to mind.
If you strip away the dates and results, the Phillies have a pretty terrific round of golf going. A 39 after 14 holes to be exact, which is about 17 under par. Of course, a Major League Baseball offense is trying to shoot above par—and they've already survived Amen Corner, to use Masters parlance.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb reported today that the streak of 14 games without once scoring five or more runs is tied for their second longest since 1968. When it last occurred (1984), the Phillies only managed to win one of those games.
Of course, the excellent starting pitching has been enough to produce nine wins (and a remarkable four shutouts) during this power outage. So fans and pundits can think of this in one of two ways.
The Phillies' R2C2/Four Aces/Mound Rushmore—with occasional Blanton-ian assistance—is so great that they can still play .682 ball with a subpar offense. Let's call this the bases-are-full approach.
The Phillies have to make a major change, and soon. Did I mention that Jimmy Rollins is on the decline, Raul Ibanez is done and three members of our bullpen are injured? Let's call this the bases-are-empty approach.
Both approaches are equally valid, I suppose. Or they are both flawed. That analysis depends on one's philosophy.
But leaving philosophy and semantics aside, let's try to revisit some very basic numbers from the last two-plus seasons.
The numbers will validate that the Phillies have transitioned from a team that clubbed you to death with occasional clutch pitching to a club that outpitches you with an assist from its offense.
In 2009, the Phillies only hit .258 (tied for ninth in the NL), but they bombed 224 homers (about 1.39 per game) and led the league with 820 runs (5.06 per game).
The Phillies' pitching was sixth in the NL with a 4.16 ERA. If one recalls, by season's end, the staff was led by Cliff Lee, with occasional strong support from J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and occasionally Pedro Martinez. Cole Hamels had his one off year that season.
Last year, the Phillies hit for a slightly higher percentage (.260) but with less pop (166 homers, or roughly one per game). They were still second in the league with 772 runs scored but no longer averaged five runs per game (4.77).
By season's end, the Phillies had a great starting threesome (H2O) of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hamels, who led the team to a fifth-best ERA of 3.67.
After 22 games, this year's edition is hitting .255 (eighth out of 16 teams) with a total of 95 runs (ninth-best), good for 4.3 per game. They occasionally go deep (or inside-the-park): 16 times so far for an average of .73 per game.
So, Now What?
Many fans and pundits projected this to be a pitching-first squad that may not hit much, but it's a little different saying it than seeing it in action at its worst.
It seems prudent for the Phillies to sit tight trade-wise. When all is said and done, it's hard to know whether they may need to trade for more offense or for bullpen help (with Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero and Jose Contreras all out).
Per the bullpen, it will be exciting to see how young Mike Stutes will perform (his first inning looked good) and if Antonio Bastardo can continue to pitch lights-out with good control, or close to it.
Ryan Madson, always great in the eighth—if not in the ninth—will have another audition as the team's closer.
As for the offense, short of praying for Chase Utley's return and eventual help from Domonic Brown, it's hard to know exactly what to do,
Placido Polanco has been the team's best hitter this year, but I would hesitate to remove him from the No. 2 hole that he fills so professionally. But what about Utley's No. 3 spot, which Jimmy Rollins has not replaced adequately?
I would send Rollins down in the order (sixth) and play Ibanez (he had a very solid second half last year, and I'm not ready to give up on him yet) as part of a platoon. Play Ibanez in the No. 3 hole against righties only, and give John Mayberry a shot there against lefties.
What does the team have to lose? If one of them heats it up and/or the other stinks it up over time, the Phillies can feature one or the other.
In Jayson Werth's old No. 5 hole, Ben Francisco has not been producing since the first week of the season, but I'm not ready to give up on him in that role. One can always flip-flop him and Rollins (and don't even think about removing Jimmy's glove from the team).
At second base, in addition to pining away for Chase, it would make sense to platoon Wilson Valdez and Pete Orr. I love Valdez's glove and how he was the unsung hero of 2010, but it would be nice to occasionally see a second baseman hit one to the outfield. Give Orr a shot. Is his defense that inferior?
Since Carlos Ruiz was arguably the best No. 8 hitter in baseball last year, keep him there and let Valdez/Orr try to get something going from the seven-hole.
The worst thing the Phillies could do right now is to panic, but some shake-up of the lineup is in order.
Amazingly, the NL favorites are 15-7 and in first place. Even though most of their batters seem to be playing golf, the sky is not yet falling.
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