Some of us can spout out so many statistical initials and acronyms related to Sabermetrics, it can make your head spin. Personally, I’ve never found stats very attractive. Let me see the player perform, what is sneered at by some as the “eye test”, and I can tell you his value.
Then in 2011, I read Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game.” Had the movie been true to the book, it would have turned movie theaters into snore-filled napping zones. Statistics just aren’t very sexy to the average fan.
Delving into the baseball brain of Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane was fascinating. His idea was so simple, it makes one wonder why it took so long to come to light: put a high number of hitters on-base, you stand a good a chance of winning. Simple, huh? But if it really is that easy, why are Phillies coaches not teaching this basic strategy?
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I have to admit that in researching for this piece, I was amazed at one now ex-Phillie’s pitches-seen-per-plate-appearance ratio: Jimmy Rollins.
For some personal reasons, Rollins will always be one of, if not my all time favorite Phillies player. Yet it seemed to me he was always swinging at the first pitch, and popping out. He did this so often that I crowned him “King of Pop-Ups.”
To my astonishment, not only did JRoll see the most pitches-per-plate-appearance (4.14) among Phillies regulars, he actually finished 12th in the entire National League last season. So, I offer my apologies to Jimmy, even though he never knew of the dubious moniker I had attached to his name. Rollins is gone now, and his former team needs to learn patience, especially those at the top of the line up.
Taking pitches offers many benefits. It gives players on the bench the opportunity to see what the opposing pitcher has working on that particular day. It proffers the chance for the rival hurler to wear down earlier in the game.
A nibbling pitcher stands the chance of becoming frustrated which leads to mistakes. A truly frazzled pitcher could start balking, throwing wild pitches, errant pick-off throws, all of this leading to some chaos on the base paths.
Ryne Sandberg has stated that the team will be stressing “small ball” this upcoming season. If guys with the speed of Ben Revere and Odubel Herrera can get on-base more frequently, it would be entertaining for fans to watch them whip around the bases.
One of my favorite memories from the recent Phillies era of success was watching Rollins on September 30th, 2007, tearing around the bases in the 6th inning. On that mad dash on the final day of the regular season, in the game in which the Phils clinched their first division crown since 1993, Rollins collected his 20th triple of the year.
The triple earned Rollins a spot in the very exclusive 20-20-20-20 club: 20 homers, 20 doubles, 20 triple, 20 steals. He was and remains only the 4th player in history to accomplish this feat.
Home runs are fun to watch, no doubt about it. This season, however, we will have to look elsewhere for amusement. The Phillies will need to be able to take pitches, and get on-base. Force mental mistakes from the opponents, and score runs by playing small ball. Let’s see some dirty uniforms, sweaty faces, and gasping for breath after crossing the plate.
It all starts with that basic “Moneyball” idea of taking pitches and getting those runners on base, and then advances with Sandberg’s “small ball” ideas of taking the extra-base, bunting, sacrificing, stealing, hustling. Take more pitches, and the Phils just might end up taking home more wins than anyone expects.