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The Incredible Disappearing Phillies Offense

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During last night's game, as Pedro Martinez improbably made a 1-0 lead hold up against his former Mets teammates, ESPN ran a series of numbers comparing the Phillies' offense through late July to its performance since then. The numbers, now updated through last night's game, are fairly stunning: the club averaged 5.5 runs per game through July 28, a span of 98 games, and just 4.0 since then. As a team, the Phils hit .262/.343/.451 through 98 games, but just .248/.313/.451 since. The dropoff largely explains why the Phillies are 24-20 since then--and that owing largely to mostly stellar work from Martinez and Cliff Lee--compared to 58-40 beforehand. 

What's the culprit? Atrocious situational hitting--the team is dead last in batting average with runners in scoring position, and continued its RISP woes with a combined 2-for-15 performance in yesterday's doubleheader--is the most obvious answer. But like the overall bad numbers, the Phillies' RISP struggles are effect, not cause. I'd put it on a walk rate that's fallen by nearly a quarter: the club averaged 3.9 bases on balls per game through July 28, just 3.0 since. Home runs per game are actually slightly up, from 1.4 to 1.5, and men left on base are actually down (7.5 before, 7.2 since). But the hitters have been pressing, trying to make things happen rather than easing pitchers into ever-tighter spots: witness Jayson Werth's 3-0 groundout on Saturday afternoon, immediately ahead of hits by Raul Ibanez and Pedro Feliz, or Ibanez reaching out on a full-count pitch in the first game Sunday to ground out with the bases loaded. In five games against the Giants and Astros from September 2 through 6, the Phils drew five walks combined--an unthinkably low total for a team built almost as much on patience as on power.

To be fair, not every Phillie has scuffled over the last month and a half--in fact, four of the eight lineup regulars have an OPS over .900 in that stretch. But sharp dropoffs from Feliz, Ibanez, and Shane Victorino, and the continuing on-base struggles of Jimmy Rollins, have pushed the team into the once-unimaginable role of having to win games with pitching. Given both the low scoring and the ongoing miseries of the bullpen, that 24-20 record since the end of July actually looks as much like good fortune as anything.

Individual splits after the jump. 

Name PA, 7/29-9/13 Avg/OBP/SLG thru 7/28 Avg/OBP/SLG, 7/29-9/13
Carlos Ruiz 120 .230/.328/.380 .306/.407/.520
Ryan Howard 189 .265/.350/.541 .284/.349/.586
Chase Utley 180 .305/.425/.554 .273/.389/.586
Jimmy Rollins 197 .236/.288/.383 .262/.291/.465
Pedro Feliz 169 .294/.342/.404 .214/.250/.365
Raul Ibanez 162 .305/.367/.642 .224/.296/.408
Shane Victorino 171 .317./383/.473 .250/.316/.417
Jayson Werth 170 .266/.381/.500 .268/.341/.562

The drop-off of nearly a full walk per game makes sense when one observes that Howard, Rollins (!), Feliz and Werth all have seen the daylight between their batting average and on base percentage--essentially, their walk rate--shrink dramatically since July 29. Ruiz, Utley and Victorino are all about the same, with Utley's rate burnished by six hit-by-pitches; only Ibanez, in the midst of his offensive collapse, has increased the gap between his batting average and on-base percentage. 

What's the answer? Maybe the hitters will stop squeezing the bats into sawdust if and when the Phils finally secure a playoff berth--and some rest might do for the likes of Victorino and Feliz. (I think the absence of Greg Dobbs these last few weeks has been an underrated factor in the Phils' offensive struggles; Dobbs at third against some tough righties could have made the difference in a game or two at least.) I'd still take Jimmy Rollins out of the leadoff spot: whatever he seems to think, his numbers increasingly show the profile of a down-in-the-order power hitter. The power surges of Howard and Werth somewhat justify that they're walking less; you'd always rather them jog around all the bases than just to first. 

In any case, the team can take some comfort from having been here before: last year's offense too was oddly feeble from July on, and that turned out okay. But they had a bulletproof bullpen then; now, not so much. It's likely that unless the offense rediscovers something like its April-July form, the 2009 season will end less happily than did 2008.