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Phillies must be better when ahead in the count

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Many of the Phillies' offensive woes in 2014 can be pinned on one big issue. Hitting well when ahead in the count.

Chase and Ryan were not so good in ideal hitting situations last year.
Chase and Ryan were not so good in ideal hitting situations last year.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The idea of hitting is to get pitchers into situations where the batter knows that, more likely than not, he is going to get a fastball.

How does this situation usually arise? When a pitcher falls behind in the count, they normally have to challenge hitters with a fastball in order to avoid a walk. That's why it's always advantageous for hitters to get ahead in the count 2-0 or 3-1, it increases the odds the pitcher is going to have to throw a straight ball of some kind at the hitter.

In parsing through some of these numbers, I discovered something about your Philadelphia Phillies last season.

They were awful when ahead in the count.

Countless times last year Phils hitters let pitchers off the hook in fastball situations. Take a look at some of these numbers (courtesy of Baseball Reference).

Count OPS BA OBP SLG HR
On a 2-0 Pitch .805 (28) .306 (27) .309 (26) .497 (28) 6 (T-21)
On a 3-1 Pitch 1.064 (30) .280 (28) .631 (30) .432 (29) 3 (T-28)
After a 2-0 Pitch .885 (29) .260 (23) .465 (29) .420 (28) 19 (T-15)
After a 3-1 Pitch .874 (30) .231 (29) .517 (30) .356 (30) 7 (T-25)

The first two lines show how Phils' hitters did on the pitch after the specific count mentioned. So, the first line shows what Phillies hitters did on the third pitch of a plate appearance in which they were ahead 2-0, and the fifth pitch of a PA when ahead in the count 3-1.

The last two lines show how Phils' hitters did in any plate appearance in which a hitter got ahead in the count 2-0 or 3-1.

You'll notice Phillies hitters struggled in particular when ahead in the count 3-1, ranking near the bottom of the league in all the categories listed above. And some of the individual names at the top of the list may surprise you. Below are the numbers for individual hitters for any plate appearances in which they got ahead of a pitcher 3-1.

Rk Player OPS 3-1 OPStot PA PAtot BA OBP SLG
1 Ian Desmond 0.580 0.743 47 648 0.133 0.447 0.133
2 Adeiny Hechavarria 0.591 0.664 23 574 0.133 0.391 0.200
3 Chase Utley 0.593 0.746 45 664 0.111 0.444 0.148
4 Nelson Cruz 0.613 0.859 51 678 0.121 0.431 0.182
5 Dayan Viciedo 0.614 0.686 37 563 0.100 0.514 0.100
6 Kolten Wong 0.616 0.680 25 433 0.176 0.440 0.176
7 Aramis Ramirez 0.652 0.757 30 531 0.143 0.367 0.286
8 Matt Dominguez 0.662 0.586 34 607 0.208 0.412 0.250
9 Domonic Brown 0.669 0.634 35 512 0.200 0.429 0.240
10 Brian McCann 0.673 0.692 64 538 0.152 0.391 0.283
11 Chris Johnson 0.690 0.653 21 611 0.214 0.476 0.214
12 Yadier Molina 0.709 0.719 35 445 0.200 0.429 0.280
13 B.J. Upton 0.711 0.620 58 582 0.097 0.517 0.194
14 Ruben Tejada 0.713 0.652 33 419 0.077 0.636 0.077
15 Jon Jay 0.714 0.750 25 468 0.154 0.560 0.154
16 Juan Lagares 0.721 0.703 22 452 0.200 0.455 0.267
17 Jason Heyward 0.726 0.735 60 649 0.107 0.583 0.143
18 Omar Infante 0.726 0.632 52 575 0.194 0.500 0.226
19 Ryan Howard 0.732 0.690 66 648 0.167 0.470 0.262
20 Zack Cozart 0.733 0.568 36 543 0.174 0.472 0.261

It's kind of interesting to see Chase Utley at the top of this list, the third-worst hitter in baseball last season when ahead in the count 3-1, hitting just .111/.444/.148 in situations in which he's almost guaranteed to get a fastball. Less surprisingly, Domonic Brown was 9th-worst and Ryan Howard was 19th-worst.

Apparently, teams got the message last year that the Phils weren't so good in fastball counts, as they saw a fastball 59.5% of the time, the 5th-highest total in the league. And yet their wOBA as a team (.295) was third-worst.

In short, Phils hitters were not producing well enough, even when they were in ideal situations. When they had everything going for them, when they had the pitcher seemingly on the ropes, too much of the time they let him off.

Perhaps this is one of the things Mike Schmidt and Charlie Manuel should be talking to guys about this spring down in Clearwater.