There have been more than a few areas in which the Phillies have not excelled this year.
For the first two months of the season, the corner outfield was a disaster. The middle infield has been up-and-down all year, and Maikel Franco at third base has been a walking roller coaster this season.
But there is perhaps no position on the field that has been weirder for the Phils than first base. The trio of Ryan Howard, Darin Ruf and Tommy Joseph have had a bewildering season that has basically resulted in just two outcomes for all three players.
Home run or strikeout. They’ve essentially become one great, big, giant, Dave Kingman.
Coming into Wednesday night’s game against the Marlins, the Phillies ranked dead last in fWAR by their first basemen, at -2.6. The next closest are the Oakland Athletics, with a team fWAR of -1.6 at first, a full win above replacement better.
Phils first basemen have hit .208, with an on-base percentage of .256. That batting average is second-to-last (only the Yankees are worse), and the on-base percentage is far and away the worst in baseball.
Phillies first basemen have walked in just 5.5% of their plate appearances this season, second-lowest in MLB (the Mariners are at 4.7%), and their K-rate of 25.6% is fifth-worst.
But there is one area in which at least Howard and Joseph have done well this season.
Howard and Joseph have 26 homers overall for #Phillies. Howard has 2 as a DH and Joseph has one as a pinch-hitter.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 20, 2016
Hard to believe only one team in baseball has more dingers from first base, given how dreadful the position has been this year.
In Tuesday’s 2-1 10-inning loss to the Fish, Tommy did this to a Jose Fernandez pitch.
TOMMY THO pic.twitter.com/d8cXOMOAZS— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) July 20, 2016
That was Joseph’s 13th homer of the season, and it went 422 feet with an exit velocity of 108 mph. He is hitting a home run every 12.5 at bats this season, tying him with Todd Frazier for the best rate in baseball (minimum 150 plate appearances).
He’s homered 13 times in his first 49 games, and is 14-for-28 with two doubles, five dingers and eight RBIs in his last nine games.
Howard has been dismal this season, save for the occasional bomb. He’s hitting just .153/.218/.364 this season, with a wRC+ of 48 and an fWAR of -1.5. But he has hit 13 home runs in 229 PAs.
While the 23 combined home runs for Howard and Joseph don’t quite put them on pace for a combined 40 home runs from the position, it does get them darn close. That’s something I thought the duo of Howard and Ruf might be able to accomplish when I wrote about them in spring training.
It's entirely possible the first base platoon of Ruf and Howard produces 40 homers. Last year, Howard hit 23 long balls in 503 plate appearances, and Ruf added another 12 in 297 PAs (some of those were in the outfield, though). That's 35 home runs, and it's reasonable to think that Ruf, given enough PAs against lefties, could hit 15-17 homers. If Howard can stay in the 23-25 homer range, you're looking at a powerful platoon at first.
If we substitute Joseph for Ruf, it’s clear he and Howard have at least provided a little power, but they haven’t gotten on base very much. Howard never walks and, it appears, Joseph has no interest in doing so (quotes per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki).
"I don't ever try to walk," Joseph said. "I'm up there to hit every pitch of every at-bat. If you're up there to take and work a walk, then I don't really know why you would hit. It doesn't make any sense to me. Every time I step in the box, I want to hit. Every pitch that's thrown, I'm trying to hit it. I think I've just been better at taking those pitches that are just off the plate, those borderline pitches I haven't swung at."
While it’s not great Joseph is actively dismissing walks, the effect will be lessened as long as he continues to hit the ball hard, and hit for power. Right now, his .546 slugging percentage is ranked 11th in the NL (among players with at least 150 PAs).
So first base for the Phillies this year has been largely bad. Very bad. The numbers don’t lie.
But there is a little bit of hope in Tommy Joseph.