That the Phillies are struggling offensively is no secret. Much electronic ink has been spilled regarding this topic over the last week or so, and many of us fans are in the beginning stages of full-out panic mode. We’re watching a number of our greatest fears become realized, one of which is a complete lack of competent plate discipline. While the Phillies weren’t exactly expected to take pitches, draw walks, and stay away from junk outside of the zone, they’ve done an absolutely poor job with these things so far, and it’s certainly one of the reasons why the team finds itself ranking near the bottom in all offensive categories. Let’s take a look at where they currently stand in terms of plate discipline (all numbers as of 4/24).
Having only drawn 36 walks in 623 plate appearances, the Phillies sport a 5.5% walk rate (league average currently stands at 8.4%). That ranks second to last in the entire MLB, just edging out the Pirates. Their on-base percentage (.286) has mighty suffered because of this, despite putting up a not-entirely-abominable .243 batting average. This problem is to be expected however, with both Utley and Howard out of the lineup. Both have shown a propensity take ball four over the years, and their OBP skills would be warmly welcomed in this struggling lineup.
While most of the regulars’ walk rates are in line with their career figures, both Ruiz and Rollins have underperformed so far. Chooch, who has walked at a rate of 11% over his career, stands at just 5.7% through 53 plate appearances. To a lesser extent, Rollins has been underwhelming as well, with his 5.6% BB% dropping off from 9.2% last season. While it’s admittedly too soon to draw conclusions from individual rate stats at this point, these are trends worth monitoring as the season progresses.
It’s worth noting that the Phillies aren’t performing particularly poorly when it comes to strikeouts. Their mark of 18.5% is 10th lowest in the MLB, indicating that the club is at least putting the ball in play (albeit these balls in play are mostly weak grounders). Yet when we look at BB/K ratio, the Phillies rank 28th in majors with a 0.30 figure, whereas current league average is 0.44.
One of the most commonly voiced complaints this offseason was that the Phillies needed to do a better job of working the count and seeing more pitches. It appears the Phillies have failed to address this. With an average of 3.68 pitches seen per plate appearance, they narrowly miss being last in the majors by 2 hundredths of a pitch. Among qualified hitters, a surprising trio of Polanco (4.02), Mayberry (3.93), and Pierre (3.90) lead the team.
Per Fangraphs.com, it appears that the Phillies have been swinging at some bad pitches. O-swing%, a metric that tells us how often a player/team swings at pitches outside of the strike zone, claims that the Phillies have been particularly bad—their figure of 34.1% is highest in the majors. Swinging at stuff outside of the zone isn’t exactly conducive to making good contact. Those who have been particularly guilty in this area are Mayberry (44%), Pierre (39.3%), Galvis (38.5%), and Pence (37.8%).
But interestingly enough, the Phils have been excellent at simply making contact when they choose to swing, ranking first overall with a rate of 83.3%. But of course, making contact alone isn’t enough. Any fan that’s watched the Phillies this year has seen their fair share of weak groundballs dribble to an infielder.
If the Phillies do end up being successful, it will be on the backs of their pitching, not their batting. If they want to stand a chance at contending, they’re going to need to improve upon some of the most basic aspects of hitting—taking pitches, drawing walks, and being more careful with selecting pitches to swing at. According to wRC+, the Phillies’ offense is 13th in the NL, and a little improvement in plate discipline could potentially go a long way.