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The Phillies are a bunch of hackers

Plate discipline? We don’t need no stinking plate discipline!

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

You may have noticed that, for most of the 2016 season, the Phillies offense has been pretty bad.

Sure, they’ve had a couple good spurts here and there, some two or three-week stretches where the lineup piles up the hits and their balls find some holes. But most of the time, it’s a real struggle.

After last night’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals, the Phillies are officially last in the Majors in runs scored this season, with 491, falling just below the Atlanta Braves, who are at 492. The Phillies are also last in runs per game (3.72), just behind the Braves (3.73).

The problem revolves around two major problems:

  1. They don’t walk
  2. They don’t get themselves into favorable counts to allow themselves to hit for a high average.

The Phillies are second-to-last in MLB in batting average (.239) and are dead last in on-base percentage (.297). They are the only team in baseball getting on base less than 30% of the time. The way around all that is to hit a ton of home runs, something the Phillies do not do (23rd in MLB with 133).

At the end of the day, the Phillies simply aren’t working counts well enough to draw walks and put themselves in hitter’s counts where they are more likely to see good pitches to hit.

The Phillies are second-to-last in the National League in pitches seen per plate appearance (3.78). They have swung and missed at a greater percentage of pitches than any other team in the NL (65.1%). The Phils have swung at nearly half of all the pitches thrown their way this season (49.7%), the highest in the league, and yet they only make contact 75.3% of the time, fourth-worst.

Only one team, the Cardinals, swing at more first pitches than the Phillies (32.4%). Nearly a third of the time, the Phils are hacking at the first pitch. And while they typically do OK when they put the ball in play on that first pitch (.849 OPS), their numbers after that first pitch are quite telling.

When they fall behind 0-1, which has happened 2380 times this year, their OPS is .320. After taking the first pitch and jumping ahead 1-0, which has occurred 1883 times, their OPS is .791.

The Phillies’ results after jumping ahead in the count and falling behind in the count aren’t all that different from anyone else. However, the frequency with which they find themselves down 0-1 in the count vs. ahead 1-0 is drastically different from the team with the highest on-base percentage in the NL, the Cubs.

The Phillies have 132 more PAs than the Cubs behind in the count 0-1, while the Cubs have 209 PAs more than the Phils with the count 1-0. Given how drastic the results are when a team is ahead in the count versus behind in the count, that’s a lot of plate appearances behind the eight-ball for the Phillies.

And only one team has seen a fewer percentage of 3-0 counts than the Phils, just 4.0%. The Cubs are tops at 5.5%. After getting ahead in the count 3-0 this year, the Phils have an OPS of 1.237, but that has only happened 194 times this year. The Cubs, by contrast, have had 282 PAs ahead in the count 3-0. Their OPS in those at bats is similar, 1.242.

The Phillies and Cubs do just as well as each other after the count reaches 3-0. The Cubs just get there more often than the Phils do.

The problem was on full display against Max Scherzer and the Nationals on Tuesday night, when the Phils put the first pitch in play six times. Maikel Franco, who’s plate discipline has not improved in this, his second season, swung at the first pitch in all four plate appearances.

He made an out in all four trips to the plate, with his final at bat resulting in a double play.

Another four times, Phils players only saw one pitch before putting the ball in play.

Certainly, there’s no shame in getting mowed down by a great pitcher like Scherzer, but this isn’t a Scherzer-only issue. As the numbers above show, this is who they are.

By swinging at the first pitch so frequently and failing to work counts, they are preventing themselves from earning free passes and working themselves into hitter’s counts. They swing the bats too much and miss too often.

Most of this lineup will be back in 2017. Hopefully, their experience this year, and some astute coaching, can help fix what is an unsustainable approach at the plate.