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A Look Behind the Streak

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In the past 8 games, the Phils have gone from 9-14 to 17-14, courtesy of their 8 game win streak. After the team's dismal start, and especially after the team lost the first two games of their three game series against the Pirates, an 8 game streak seemed as likely as the Royals winning the AL Central.

But, alas, lady luck visited the Phils, and the team is flying high now. (The Royals are still mired in last place though.)

How's it happened? Well, it's quite simple. Every facet of the team's game has improved over their play in the first 23 games. The details are here, after the fold. (Thanks to Baseball Musings' amazing day-by-day database which has team stats for any period of time you want as well as individual ones.)

First, the hitting. It's easy to see that the team has improved across-the-board, including scoring 2+ runs per game more than early in the season. Of note, the team is not only walking more, but it's also striking out more, a lot more. (Who said strikeouts mattered?) Also, the team is having a lot more success when putting the ball in play, increasing their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) by almost 35 points. Here's the chart for comparison:

Hitting AVG OBP SLG OPS R/G HR/G BB/G K/G BABIP
First 23 0.261 0.329 0.425 0.754 4.48 1.17 3.35 5.83 0.285
Last 8 0.288 0.375 0.523 0.898 6.50 1.88 4.13 7.25 0.319

With runners in scoring position, the team hasn't been that much better. The team has hit for a higher average, but has much poorer slugging. What accounts for the higher overall scoring though is that the team has had more runners on and is getting more singles with those runners on, so even without great slugging, the team is scoring lots of runs. It can score even more though if the team's slugging with runners on increases.

Scoring Position AVG OBP SLG OPS
First 23 0.222 0.303 0.403 0.706
Last 8 0.280 0.376 0.347 0.723

The final piece of hitting to look at is how the different spots in the batting order have fared. During the first 23 games, the team's 3-4-5 hitters were hitting well, but they had very little support from the rest of the order. In the last 8 games, the 3-4 hitters have dipped, although are still doing ok. What's really been important though is that the hitters around them have improved, and improved in very key ways. The 1-2 hitters have greatly increased their on-base percentage, putting runners on base for the rest of the lineup. And, the 5-6 hitters have had their slugging percentage skyrocket, meaning they're knocking in the runners who are on base. This is how a great lineup functions. Now, if only the bottom of the lineup would do something....

First 23 Last 8
AVG OBP SLG OPS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Batting #1 0.276 0.311 0.367 0.678 0.281 0.395 0.688 1.083
Batting #2 0.305 0.353 0.442 0.795 0.500 0.541 0.824 1.365
Batting #3 0.308 0.437 0.590 1.027 0.214 0.405 0.393 0.798
Batting #4 0.273 0.350 0.477 0.827 0.207 0.378 0.414 0.792
Batting #5 0.262 0.364 0.583 0.947 0.333 0.353 0.833 1.186
Batting #6 0.267 0.344 0.372 0.716 0.367 0.394 0.600 0.994
Batting #7 0.259 0.308 0.424 0.732 0.267 0.312 0.400 0.712
Batting #8 0.291 0.322 0.442 0.764 0.148 0.233 0.148 0.381
Batting #9 0.090 0.134 0.128 0.262 0.208 0.310 0.250 0.560

Turning to the team's pitching, everything has improved . . . except the team is striking out fewer batters and walking more, albeit just a slight change in both departments. How is the overall pitching doing so much better then? There are two very important changes reflected in this first chart: the pitchers are giving up fewer home runs per game and have a significantly lower batting average for balls put in play (BABIP).

Pitching ERA RA AVG OBP SLG OPS R/G HR/G BB/G K/G BABIP
First 23 5.21 5.74 0.302 0.363 0.484 0.847 5.65 1.09 3.17 6.83 0.350
Last 8 3.00 3.38 0.260 0.337 0.400 0.737 3.38 0.88 3.25 6.75 0.304

There's another huge change that accounts for the greater success that is shown in this next chart: the pitchers have been phenomenal when the other team has runners in scoring position.

Scoring Position AVG OBP SLG OPS
First 23 0.293 0.368 0.434 0.802
Last 8 0.182 0.333 0.236 0.569

Finally on the pitching side, here's the breakdown of opposing teams' hitters faced by lineup position. Much was made of the early success of the Phils' opponents' 9-hole hitters, but that has been erased during the win streak. Also, the pitchers have completely shut down the opponents' leadoff hitters and number 5 hitters, meaning fewer men on base for the guys in the middle of the lineup (who are continuing their successes) and that the number 5 guy is failing to score the middle guys who do get on base. This is another recipe for success.

First 23 Last 8
AVG OBP SLG OPS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Batting #1 0.269 0.306 0.375 0.681 0.062 0.211 0.156 0.367
Batting #2 0.283 0.324 0.364 0.688 0.382 0.417 0.676 1.093
Batting #3 0.348 0.449 0.674 1.123 0.370 0.485 0.444 0.929
Batting #4 0.337 0.427 0.547 0.974 0.357 0.424 0.571 0.995
Batting #5 0.344 0.388 0.583 0.971 0.179 0.303 0.214 0.517
Batting #6 0.275 0.347 0.527 0.874 0.276 0.312 0.448 0.760
Batting #7 0.253 0.278 0.352 0.630 0.250 0.344 0.357 0.701
Batting #8 0.333 0.411 0.536 0.947 0.276 0.312 0.414 0.726
Batting #9 0.287 0.337 0.425 0.762 0.200 0.226 0.300 0.526

One final note about defense. Through the first 23 games, the team had a .650 defensive efficiency ratio, putting it at the bottom of the majors. In the 8 games of its streak, the team has a .696 defensive efficiency ratio, meaning it's turning almost 5% more balls in play into outs. That's a very significant improvement, albeit still a far cry from the team's past successes in this measure.