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The Struggling Phils Offense: Been There, Bettered That

Everyone's wringing their hands over the Phillies' offensive troubles these days.  The story goes something like this.  Yes, the team is without Chase Utley, Domonic Brown, and, until recently, Carlos Ruiz.  And Raul Ibanez has struggled while Shane Victorino has newly been injured.  But, despite the pitching this team has, its offense is showing signs of aging and clearly misses Jayson Werth.  Maybe four aces aren't enough?  Whatever the problem, the 2011 offense is in trouble.  After all, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee can't pitch shutouts every game!

The underlying theme of the hand-wringing is that the Phils' offensive struggles are something new, that the 2011 Phillies are struggling in ways the previous Phillies teams have not.  Of course, as is often the case with conventional wisdom, it's just not true.

In fact, the 2011 Phillies' offensive struggles are nothing new for this team over the past couple of years.  And, more importantly, the 2011 Phillies are doing offensive struggle better than in the past.

What do I mean by this?  Two things:  first, over the past three years, the Phillies' offense has had at least seven stretches where it has struggled just like the current Phillies' offense is struggling; and second, the current Phillies team has won more games during these periods of offensive ineptitude than past teams have.

Here's a quick and easy study to capture what I'm saying.  To find periods of similar offensive ineptitude, I looked at the team's running 10-, 15-, and 20-game scoring averages over the past three years.  I found 7 periods during this time and two this year in which all three of those averages were at their lowest.

Here's a chart showing those stretches.  The first two columns are self-explanatory.  The third column shows the average number of runs the team scored over the 10-/15-/20-game stretches immediately preceding the last game in the span.  The fourth column shows the team wins over those three stretches.

Year Games 10/15/20 Average 10/15/20 Wins
2008 61-80 2.9/4.0/4.1 2/4/8
2008 108-127 3.4/3.3/3.5 4/7/10
2009 89-108 2.9/4.2/4.8 3/7/11
2009 117-136 2.2/2.8/3.9 4/7/11
2010 33-52 1.4/1.7/3.2 2/4/8
2010 76-95 2.9/3.5/3.8 4/7/8
2010 110-129 2.3/3.1/3.7 4/8/11
2011 4-23 2.7/2.9/4.0 6/9/12
2011 21-40 2.8/3.3/3.8 4/8/11


As this chart clearly shows, from 2008 on, the Phillies' offense has suffered slumps as bad, if not worse, than the slumps it has gone through this year. The worst was the slump the team went through last year from games 33 through 52 (which included the back-to-back-to-back shutouts at Shea Stadium). This year's offensive struggles look like an explosion compared to what the team did at the end of May/beginning of June last year.

Even more encouraging than knowing that this team has struggled offensively like this before is that this year the team is getting better results when its offense struggles. As the last column shows, the period of offensive struggling from games 4 through 23 corresponded with the team's best record for an offensive downturn. The period from the most recent 20 games corresponds to the team's second-best record (tied with last year's last slump).

What this tells us is that this team is better equipped to deal with offensive struggles than teams in the past. And that makes sense -- after all, with four aces, the team doesn't need to score that many runs to win games. It has to score some, of course, but it can survive without blowing teams out every night.

And that's the solace fans should take from this chart. The 2011 Phillies, like the teams before it, are going to struggle offensively. But, with the pitching this team has, they are going to succeed in ways the past teams haven't.

After all, despite all the whining and moaning about the team's offense, you are aware the Phillies have the best record in the NL . . . aren't you?