Phillies’ reliance on pitching beginning to haunt them

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 2: Pitcher Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on after allowing a solo home run to Daniel Murphy #3 of the Chicago Cubs in the top of the third inning at Citizens Bank Park on September 2, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 2: Pitcher Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on after allowing a solo home run to Daniel Murphy #3 of the Chicago Cubs in the top of the third inning at Citizens Bank Park on September 2, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

At 74-62, the Phillies are where they are courtesy of their pitching. Just how lacking is every other facet of their game?

“A loss is a loss, no matter how bad it is.” Those words echoed from Phillies radio color analyst Larry Andersen in the bottom of the eighth inning in Sunday’s demoralizing and now-somewhat-routine blowout loss, this time an 8-1 defeat at the hands of the NL-best Chicago Cubs.

Alright, bad loss today. But, at what point does it become concerning to say such a thing so often?

The Phillies now possess a record of 72-64 and sit 3.5 games back of the Atlanta Braves in the division, who play at the time of writing this. But the team looked lifeless today, no matter how many times manager Gabe Kapler says that his players battled hard.

Last week, I wrote a post about how the Phillies should trade second baseman Cesar Hernandez this offseason. What I did not recognize, however, is that he possesses the highest Wins-Above-Replacement (WAR) of any position player on the team at 1.6, making him the Phillies’ 8th best player.

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Who contributes more overall? In order of descending WAR, the leaders are Aaron Nola (9.0), Jake Arrieta (3.2), Vince Velasquez (2.9), Zach Eflin (2.1), Nick Pivetta (2.1), Seranthony Dominguez (1.9), and Victor Arano (1.8). As a matter of fact, the only other position player who possesses a WAR of at least 1.0 is Carlos Santana, at 1.0.

Since practically all those players are pitchers, let’s examine some pitching statistics.

This season, the Phillies have the ninth-fewest walks allowed, eighth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio, and baseball’s fifth-best Fielding-Independent Pitching, which measures a pitcher’s effectiveness at preventing home runs, walks, and hits by pitch while causing strikeouts. They have done all this while being the third-youngest pitching staff in the league. Meaning, the pitchers are good and will continue to be for a while.

In contrast to the good pitching, Hernandez and Santana specifically have been consistently average on both sides of the ball this season. For everyone else, for all positive return provided to the team, there is a drawback that makes the contributions almost entirely negligible.

That could be the fault of either the fielding strategy deployed by Kapler or having so many players play out of position, but the Phillies find themselves consistently lacking in every non-pitching category.

Among qualified hitters, the Phillies have no one with a slugging percentage (SLG) above .500, and as a collective have a .396 SLG, ranked 23rd in all of baseball, are 20th in runs scored at 581, and 23rd in stolen bases with 56. They have the seventh-most walks with 485, but the third-most strikeouts with 1,266. They have fewer strikeouts than only the White Sox and the Padres, and slightly more than the Texas Rangers, all teams near or at the bottom of their respective divisions.

The closest Phillie to a .500 SLG is Rhys Hoskins (.493), who is playing out of position, thus taking away nearly all of his offensive contribution with a -22 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). His offensive WAR is 2.9, but his defensive WAR is -3.0. Translation: he is not an outfielder, and the signing of Carlos Santana pushed him into a position that sacrifices his offensive contributions with bad fielding.

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Speaking of bad fielding, the Phillies have 5 players with a positive DRS. Those five players are Arrieta, Jose Bautista (yes, in 14 innings), Aaron Altherr, Enyel De Los Santos, and Velasquez. They have 5 players with double-digit negative DRS, four of whom are the Phillies’ four best OPS hitters in Hoskins, Odubel Herrera (0.9 WAR), Maikel Franco (-0.1 WAR), and Nick Williams (-0.3 WAR). The other is once-backup catcher Andrew Knapp. As a team, the Phillies have -111 DRS, worst in baseball, trailing 29th place Baltimore by 14 and 28th place New York Mets by 33.

Let’s now compare the Phillies to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are only 2 spots ahead of the Phillies in SLG at .402.

The difference? Arizona has baseball’s best DRS at +102 to compensate. Effectively, they have scored 16 more runs and saved 213 more on defense, ultimately yielding 229 more runs than the Phillies. Subsequently, Arizona is tied at the top of a tight NL West.

So, while Kapler and GM Matt Klentak like players who walk a lot and run deep counts every time they bat, they seem to be forgetting three things:

  1. With lots of walks come lots of strikeouts if batters have poor plate discipline.
  2. Getting on base via walks and singles is great, but you need to drive the runners in with extra-base hits while not just relying on home runs.
  3. If you aren’t a great slugging and run-scoring team, the defense better pick up the slack.

So far, the Phillies batters this season are exuding poor plate discipline, are failing to hit extra-base hits that are not home runs (where they are 15th in MLB), and are not getting defensive contributions to pick up for the lack of slugging. Not to mention, they have made many mistakes on the bases that have cost them both in runs and in intangibles in the middle of the game, and potential wins (see Odubel Herrera in the Phillies’ loss to the Red Sox on July 30, where he single-handedly cost the team the game).

That said, the Phillies must make major changes to the entire non-pitching roster and/or rethink their fielding strategy this season, where they seem to get beaten by their own shifts night after night.

While they have ridden their pitching to a good record, relying on just one facet of the game to carry you throughout the season is not sustainable. That is why in the month of August we have seen the Phillies win just one series, and it was against the Miami Marlins. I don’t see a change in the trend coming in September. I certainly hope I am wrong.

dark. Next. Phillies announce September call-ups

All stats are as of the beginning of play on Sunday 9/2/18 and are provided by