What Exactly Is Ruben Amaro, Jr. Good At? Part 2 - Hitting

Jeff Zelevansky

In this second article, I look at what Amaro has done to the Phillies' hitting. Amaro has compiled a team that successfully avoids striking out, but other than that it's not pretty, as every other hitting indicator has plummeted under Amaro's reign.

The Phillies are Ruben Amaro's team. Other than Chase Utley, Amaro is responsible for every player on the Phillies right now. So what has Amaro given us with his team? In this second article evaluating what exactly Amaro is good at, I'll look at the Phillies' hitting. And I'll conclude this inquiry still searching for something Amaro is good at (which will be a recurring theme in this series, I'm afraid).

Amaro took over a very strong hitting team. The 2008 Phillies ranked highly in almost every hitting category. They were 2nd in the NL in runs scored, 3rd in OPS, 2nd in slugging percentage, 1st in home runs, and 3rd in wOBA. The only important category the Phillies were mediocre in was on-base percentage. The 2008 team was 7th in the NL in OBP.

Four years later, Amaro has decimated the team's hitting. In every relevant category, the team's hitting has gotten worse to the point of consistent mediocrity. In 2012, the Phillies were 8th in the NL in runs, 8th in OPS, 7th in slugging, 8th in home runs, and 8th in wOBA. They even slipped in on-base percentage, finishing the season 9th in the NL.

To be fair, it wasn't a clear steady drop under Amaro. The first year was another successful offensive year. But in that year, the only big difference was that Amaro did not re-sign Pat Burrell and instead replaced him with Raul Ibanez. Otherwise, the Phillies offense in 2009 was the same as in 2008 (including even the offensive-weak-link Pedro Feliz).

But after 2009, the trajectory is clear. The Phillies offense regressed toward mediocrity. Here's a chart of the team's NL rank in hitting categories. (Note, wOBA is used instead of fWAR because fWAR takes into account baserunning and fielding, two aspects of the team I'll address separately in future posts. wOBA includes only hitting.)

OBP SLG R HR OPS wOBA
2008 7 2 2 1 3 3
2009 8 1 1 1 2 2
2010 5 5 2 5 4 5
2011 6 7 7 8 7 7
2012 9 7 8 8 8 8

The evidence is clear - with the team fully Amaro's responsibility, its hitting results have plummeted. The franchise that was among the crown jewels of the NL in terms of hitting, has become just another baseball team.

If we look at how this happened, it's not as easy to blame Amaro as saying he brought in worse hitters. Of the starting 8 hitters this year, 4 will be the same as the starting 8 in 2008 -- Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz. But, in one very important way, they are not the same as in 2008; they are five years older. With age brings decreased production and increased risk of injury. Amaro has failed to account for that with these four, as all of them have suffered at times over the past 4 year because of age, injury, or both.

In the other four positions, Amaro has turned strengths into weaknesses in all but one. The productive outfield of Burrell, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth has turned into Ben Revere and two players among Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, Delmon Young, Laynce Nix, and John Mayberry Jr. For the 2008 or 2009 Phillies, Revere, the only guaranteed starter in 2013, is nothing but a late-inning defensive or base-running replacement. No doubt Revere is young, so hopefully he improves, but his complete lack of power (career ISO of .044!) and hardly-mediocre batting eye (career BB% of 5.4%!) do not bode well at all.

That leaves third base. Third base has bedeviled the Phillies ever since Scott Rolen left in a fit of half-righteous and half-manufactured anger. But what has passed for hitting by third basemen under Amaro should make us all long for the David Bell years. OK, maybe that's a stretch, but Pedro Feliz (2008 and 2009) gave way to Placido Polanco (2010 and 2011) who gave way to the ghost of Placido Polanco along with Kevin Frandsen, Ty Wigginton, Mike Fontenot, Michael Martinez, Pete Orr, and Hector Luna (all started at 3B in 2013). As much as third base was not a strength of the 2008 or 2009 Phillies (is that the nicest thing ever said about Pedro Feliz?), by the end of 2012, it was worse, much worse.

Michael Young, acquired this off-season by Amaro, has to be an improvement . . . doesn't he? If the Phillies get the 2009 to 2011 Michael Young, who averaged a .313/.361/.476 triple-slash line and a 118 OPS+, then absolutely yes. But, the 2012 Michael Young was a different creature. That Michael Young hit .277/.312/.370 with a 78 OPS+. That's only slightly better than the composite .272/.315/.357 line posted by the Phillies' 2012 third-basemen (that glorious list in the previous paragraph).

This is not a good overall track record for Amaro and hitting. He has planned poorly for aging players and is relying on late career injury comebacks. He has utterly destroyed the team's previously dominant outfield. And he is hoping that his new third baseman can re-discover performance he is a season removed from while re-learning a position in the field.

And the proof is in the numbers. The Phillies hitting has declined year after year, and Amaro is responsible.

So as not to unfairly besmirch Amaro, I'll be fair in concluding this piece and note that there is one number Amaro has improved. Here's a chart of the team rank in strikeout percentage and walk percentage:

K BB
2008 9 5
2009 6 8
2010 2 4
2011 2 6
2012 2 15

In other words, Amaro has done a great job of compiling a team that strikes out a lot less -- for the third year in a row, the Phillies were second best in the NL last year. But, the emphasis Amaro has repeatedly put on not striking out, while paying off in strikeout results, has come at the expense of walking, getting on base, hitting for power, and producing runs.

That, so far, has been Amaro's hitting legacy in a nutshell. The Phillies don't strike out much anymore, but they also don't produce much either. For all but the most strike-out-phobic, that's not a bargain that makes sense at all.

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