Pinch Me: Phillies' Bench Bats Boom

Hunter Martin

A year after getting almost nothing from their pinch-hitters, the Phillies are pacing the NL in average and power off the bench.

Notwithstanding this weekend's outburst of adequacy during a sweep of the Mets, the Phillies' offense thus far in 2013 has looked less like the league-best attack of 2007-2009 than the feeble bunch of 2012... but with the returnees a year older, and whatever Ben Revere thinks he's doing out there. There's one area of striking exception, though: the team's pinch-hitters are tearing it up, pacing the National League with a collective .310/.341/.571 line as well as three home runs and 11 RBI. The pinch-hitters' collective .912 OPS compares favorably to the best-hitting lineup regular: Michael Young, at .850 (.352/.412/.438).

The biggest bat off the bench has been Laynce Nix, who collected his seventh pinch-hit of the season Sunday to start the decisive three-run rally against the Mets--the big blow of which was Ryan Howard's two-run pinch-double. Nix is now 7 for 13, with two pinch-homers; Chase Utley has the third. Kevin Frandsen has been the second-best reserve bat, with four hits in ten tries including a walkoff three-run double against the Royals on April 6.

The Phils' early-season success in the pinch comes in stark contrast to last season's results. The 2012 club got a collective .206/.270/.290 line from pinch-hitters, for a .560 OPS that was 13th among the 16 NL teams. (I guess the upside is that Charlie Manuel pretty clearly was starting the right guys.) Things were better in 2011, when Phillies pinch-hitters combined for a .648 OPS that was fourth in the NL. The recent high mark was 2008, when a reserve corps led by Greg Dobbs and, later, Matt Stairs hit .253/.309/.415, good for a .724 OPS that was second in the NL.

With five regulars in their mid-30s and ongoing ambiguity in the outfield, Manuel should continue to have plenty of opportunities to make sure everyone gets at-bats. While it would be preferable to have a writ-in-stone lineup of the sort that chewed up the league in 2009, the bats off the bench have kept the team in game after game and done as much as any group to salvage an otherwise rough first month.

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