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2005 Season in Review: Hitting

2005 Phillies Hitting NL Ranks (out of 16)

Home: .361 (2nd)
Road: .336 (1st)
Overall: .348 (1st)

Home: .172 (5th)
Road: .136 (13th)
Overall: .154 (7th)

Let's get one thing straight off the bat: the Phillies' overall offensive production was not the team's problem in 2005. But, it could have been more of the solution.

The Phillies were among the top four teams in the NL in the following categories: runs scored (second), batting average (fourth), on-base percentage (first), slugging percentage (fourth), OPS (second), stolen bases (second), stolen base percentage (first), walks (first), and walks per strikeout (second). Ranking all 270 lineup positions in baseball by OPS, the Phillies had five of the top 85. That is an across-the-board stellar offense: the team got on base and got them home. There's not much more you can ask from an offense as a whole.

Anyone who consumes Philadelphia sports media in whatever form is probably taken aback by this information. The conventional wisdom holds that the team's offense has been dysfunctional for years now: they strike out too much and can't hit with men on base. Much like pre-war notions of Saddam Hussein's possession of WMDs, conventional wisdom is wrong again. Contrary to popular perception, the Phillies had only the 9th highest total strikeouts in the NL. And, with men on base, the team was downright stellar: first in runs scored with runners on, with runners in scoring position, and with runners in scoring position with two outs. They were third in OPS with runners on, first with runners in scoring position, and third with runners in scoring position and two outs.

A look at the team's stats with bases loaded illustrates just how good this offense was. A team that loads the bases frequently is obviously doing something right with getting men on base, and a team that scores runs with the bases loaded is obviously doing something right at the plate in key situations. The Phillies were superb with the bases loaded. They had 50 more bases loaded opportunities (233) than the Dodgers, who had the second most in the NL with 183. Their 175 runs scored with the bases loaded were 24 more than the second-place Reds. The team was only sixth in OPS with the bases loaded, but that's still in the upper half of the league and better in that situation than division leader Atlanta and the best-record-in-the-NL Cardinals.

One more stat to put the team's overall offensive prowess in perspective: they had the most total plate appearances in the NL--but the fewest plate appearances without runners on base. That's an excellent combination that speaks volumes.

So, was it all wine and roses for the Phillies' offense in 2005? Was there nothing to be concerned about? Should Ed Wade have been given credit for assembling a flawless offensive powerhouse? Well, no. Not exactly.

Good as the offense was overall, the team's pitching problems meant the Phillies needed every run--and there's no doubt that this very good offense could have been even better. Ed Wade did a great job in putting many of the pieces together to produce this offense, but he did a terrible job at identifying where it could be improved and making those improvements.

How could this offense have been better? Let's focus on the three and a half black holes within the lineup, from which all too little run production escaped. Bobby Abreu (1.079 mOPS (mOPS is modified OPS, from Beyond the Boxscore, which is 2.2*OBP + ISO), Pat Burrell (1.079), Chase Utley (1.076), Ryan Howard (1.062), the platoon of Jason Michaels (.989) and Kenny Lofton (.947), and even Mike Lieberthal (.894) were all productive hitters, particularly in relation to their positional peers. It was the other offensive performers that sucked the life out of this lineup. Here's the rundown:

1) "2005 Phillies' offensive problem" is almost synonymous with the name David Bell. At the start of the season, the Phillies had three players for two positions: Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and David Bell for second and third base. By early June, the Phils made a commitment to Bell and Utley, trading away Polanco. The commitment to Utley proved to be an excellent decision, as he played everyday after that and had the best season of any NL second baseman. Polanco went to the Tigers; his .331 average would have won the batting title if he'd posted it in just one league over the course of the year.

Bell, on the other hand, proved that he should have been the one given a one-way ticket to Motor City. He sported a lousy .795 mOPS for the year. Pitchers loved facing him with a man on first as he was the 10th easiest player in all of baseball to hit into a double play. By Lee Sinins' RCAA (runs created above average) measure, he was the worst hitter in all of baseball in 2005, sporting a -35 RCAA, even worse than Cristian Guzman or Neifi Perez. That's bad, real bad. Bell was absolutely horrific against right-handed pitching, posting a .660 mOPS against them. He did, however, mash lefties (1.207 mOPS), which meant an astute general manager would have found a platoon partner for him. Readily available talent such as Russell Branyan, Joe Randa, or even Ty Wigginton would have been suitable matches. Keeping Bell in the lineup everyday against righties was an inexcusable error on the part of Phillies' management, one that cost the team extra runs throughout the season.

2) Jimmy Rollins' season was an absolute waste . . . until late August. We all know about his 36 game hitting streak and his amazing September, during which he posted a 1.351 mOPS. But until late August, his performance was so bad that many questioned whether he would ever show improved strike zone judgment to make him a legitimate major league hitter, let alone a suitable major league leadoff hitter. (The five-year deal Wade bestowed upon him in May came in for major second-guessing as well.)

Rollins started off the season cold, with a .733 mOPS through May 17. He hovered around .800 for the next three months, accumulating an awful .785 mOPS up to the day his hitting streak started. Then on August 23, the streak began, and Rollins showed what he could do. For the next 36 games, he ignited the Phillies' offense, hitting .379, with a .442 on-base percentage, and a .602 slugging percentage with .379 isolated power. His superb performance at the top of the lineup was invaluable to the Phils' charge for the post-season.

But, it's impossible to ignore the harm that he did through mid-August. Placing him at the top of the lineup day in/day out was a horrible decision for a team with middle-of-the-lineup thumpers like Abreu, Burrell, Howard, and Utley, especially given the great on-base skills the platoon of Michaels and Lofton had. Those two were an ideal leadoff choice, but Charlie Manuel refused to reconsider the roles he'd set at the beginning of the season already written in stone. Rollins was their leadoff man; Michaels and Lofton were not. End of story.

3) "And, batting ninth, the second-biggest waste of a lineup spot in all of baseball!" All National League teams suffer in the nine-hole because their pitchers hit, but the Phillies suffered more than all but the Pirates. The Phillies' .431 OPS (sorry, no mOPS numbers for this analysis) from the ninth spot was the second-lowest OPS in all baseball. (The Pirates were even worse, considerably worse, at .404.) With their .208 on-base percentage in that spot, the Phillies saw their ninth batter make an out almost 80 percent of the time. Following this spot in the lineup with the pre-hit streak Jimmy Rollins meant that opposing pitchers were essentially looking at two easy outs in a row.

A bigger problem than the pitchers' performance at the plate was the team's utterly atrocious pinch hitting performance in that lineup spot. As discussed in the roster and resource decision analysis posted separately, the Phillies' bench was atrocious in 2005. For most of the season, the team's pinch options in the 9-hole were Endy Chavez (.658 mOPS), Tomas Perez (.680 mOPS), Ramon Martinez (.733 mOPS), Matt Kata (half a year of .737 mOPS), and whichever of the platoon of Lofton or Michaels who wasn't starting. (Whoever wasn't starting between catchers Todd Pratt or Mike Lieberthal was very rarely used to pinch hit because of the old baseball notion to never be caught without a backup catcher riding the pine in late innings.) The team had options to improve their awful bench, including the quicker promotion of Shane Victorino, an earlier trade for someone like Michael Tucker, whom Wade picked up in late August, or the acquisition of someone, anyone, who could play third base and hit right-handers better than could Bell. They just didn't pursue them or failed to do so until it was essentially too late. Without good options to pinch hit for the pitchers, the Phillies' 9-hole hitting killed them.

3.5) Maybe Jim Thome proved his manliness or toughness by playing hurt. Or maybe he was just being stubborn. In either case, as discussed earlier, he joined the long list of athletes who hurt their team by covering up a serious injury. While Ryan Howard was in Scranton mastering the kids' game of AAA baseball, Thome hit .207 with a .360 on-base percentage and a .352 slugging percentage in 59 games. Once ensconced as the regular at first base, Howard posted an excellent 1.062 mOPS. Had Howard been inserted into the lineup much earlier in the season, the offense likely would have been that much stronger.

When a team finds itself in races as tight as those the Phillies engaged in for the division crown and wild-card berth, every asset must be maximized. While the Braves cut bait early with failed veteran outfielders Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan, and Houston continually tinkered with its lineup to squeeze every run out of an unimpressive bunch of hitters, the Phillies stayed with Bell, left Rollins in the leadoff spot, and were too little, too late in strengthening the bench or replacing the obviously-injured Thome. As much as anything else, these failures to adjust explain why the Phillies found themselves cleaning out lockers, rather than boarding a playoff-bound plane, on October 3.