Phillies Pitchers Getting Ahead But Not Getting It Done

There’s no doubt the Phillies are fielding a very young staff of pitchers, both starting and relief, and with that youth comes inexperience. While the staff has had its ups this season, it’s also had its downs.

The problem becomes, what exactly are Phillies fans getting in the future? How can you tell if pitchers are doing their job or if they’re not going to cut it at baseball’s highest level?

One of the more interesting factors that showcases the best and the worst of the staff may be exactly what happens in each at bat with regards to the pitching count.

The Phillies staff has for the most part done a nice job with strikeouts this season. They’re currently 11th in the majors and sixth in the NL in strikeouts and that’s not bad, especially when you consider that with eight more punch-outs they’d be eighth in all of baseball.

Additionally, all but 3 of the 10 teams in front of them would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. But like anything, it could be better. Something that could vastly improve the Phillies strikeout numbers is finishing off the hitter when they’re ahead in the count, something the staff hasn’t proven it can do consistently.

Phillies

Apr 9, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Vince Velasquez (28) throws the ball during the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

So far this season, Phillies pitchers have been ahead in the count 1419 times, good for ninth most in the Majors. Considering the average age of this staff was 26.6 years old at the start of the season (which included Charlie Morton at the time) that’s very impressive.

It shows the ability to put hitters in what should be a bad position; if you are ahead in the count, theoretically the batter is going to be more defensive and more apt to swing at a non-strike and make poor contact. The Phillies staff also ranks seventh in the majors in getting to a 0-2 count (again, five more puts them in third), the absolute worst of the worst with regards to being behind in the count.

They’ve put hitters in this bad position 426 times, while a team with a strong rotation such as the Mets lead the way at 504.

As a pitcher, this is exactly where you want to be in an at bat; you’ve got the batter on the ropes and you’ve got three pitches to punch them out.

However, for the Phillies staff, this hasn’t been the case a lot of the time. While they’ve been able to turn 0-2 into a strike-out 221 times, good for ninth most K’s at that count, they also have the fourth highest OPS (.453) at that count.

 

Additionally, they are tied for third in most HR’s given up with seven. Getting to 0-2 has been a needless trouble spot for the team. For comparison, The Mets have an OPS of .392 at 0-2, the Royals have the second most AB’s at that count and have a .329 OPS and the Nats are third in AB’s and boast a .321 OPS. [Side note: How’s ‘bout that NL East pitching?]

As the at-bat goes on it doesn’t get any better for the Phil’s. Looking at the stats for “After 0-2,” which is self-explanatory, the one thing that becomes clear is that the Phillies staff isn’t taking advantage of their favorable count position.

They are dead last in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. They are first in HR’s with 24. From 0-2 to a HR is just plain demoralizing.

One of the most disconcerting stats you can glean from both at 0-2 and after 0-2 is how high the opponent BaBIP is. This is the batting average of balls put into play, and while often it’s used to measure a hitters “luck,” it’s a more telling stat for a pitcher and what kind of contact their opponent is making on their pitches.

A higher BaBIP for a pitcher would suggest that the hitter’s are making good, solid contact; a lower one is indicative of weak contact.  The Phillies staff has the worst BaBIP in baseball at .340 for 0-2 counts and .346 after 0-2.

When the batter should be defensive and making weak contact they’re actually making solid, base hit contact.

A number of factors could be causing this. One could be inexperience and age – not just from the pitchers themselves, but also the team’s catcher. Cameron Rupp, who’s in his first year as an everyday catcher in the majors, is still learning as well. His own inexperience could be expressing itself as not knowing how to set up a batter with pitches out of the zone for the final strike.

That would be a great case for the Phils as it most likely means that as they gain playing time and experience they’ll formulate better strategies to convert two strikes into three.

They are dead last in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

The Phillies staff has the worst BaBIP in baseball at .340 for 0-2 counts and .346 after 0-2.

Another less optimistic cause could just be that the staff just doesn’t have “put away stuff”; that they don’t possess the necessary “strike out pitch” to put batters away. The good news with that scenario though is that maybe their stuff could develop, maybe they can learn a new pitch and add it to their arsenal.

Cole Hamels did this to an extent after the teams World Series runs of ’08 and ’09 when he added a fairly devastating curve ball to compliment his fastball/change up combination. Where previously Cole would generate a lot of foul balls at two strikes, elevating his pitch count and cutting into how deep he could stay in a game, he began to finish off the batters once he got to two strikes.

As it currently stands though, it appears that we’ll just have to pray that they can get through a game without too much two-strike damage.