The Wrong Focus: Why the Phillies Should Focus on Offense Off the Bench

Ruben Amaro Jr. is reportedly so content with the offense that Ben Francisco and Greg Dobbs can provide off the bench next year that he thinks that the Phillies should focus on defense with their other bench positions.  Here's the Inquirer's introductory take on the matter:

The Phillies will emphasize defense when working to improve their bench this off-season, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said yesterday.

While the team would love to add part-time players who can hit for batting average and power, they will "err on getting defense over offense," Amaro said.

Amaro is wrong here for two reasons that can be encapsulated with the following numbers:  .630 and .447.

First, Amaro is wrong because the Phillies as a team had an awful .186/.284/.346 triple slash line and .630 OPS last year when pinch hitting.  That .630 OPS was 12th in the NL.  Their .186 batting average when pinch hitting was 15th in the NL.  This is awful production from the bench, especially given that the bench usually comes into play in important game situations.

Second, the Phillies were 8-16 in interleague play last year (when you add in the World Series) and have a .447 overall winning record against the AL since interleague play has begun (including World Series appearances).  As was quite clear in the World Series, the Phillies suffered with the DH at Yankee Stadium and Hideki Matsui being the main pinch hit threat at Citizens Bank Park.  With a bench that's weak offensively, the Phillies will not eliminate their NL East disadvantage in interleague play or give themselves more options if they reach the World Series again.

Both of these reasons indicate the Amaro is foolish to emphasize defense over offense in his quest to fill out the bench this off-season.

But, there is one possible way that I could be less angry with this decision.  In filling the third base spot, as PhillyFriar has noted over the past week, there are players available by free agency or trade who might be offensive assets but defensive liabilities.  If Amaro were to pursue one of those players, it might be worth backing him up with a more defense-oriented infielder who can sub for the new third baseman when appropriate.

However, even this possibility would explain just one position.  Even if that were to come to pass, the Phillies need more offense off the bench.  Focusing on defense is wrong.

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