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The Phillies can’t hit a fastball

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Like most bad offenses, the Phils have struggled hitting the straight pitch that often times goes fast.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Manager Pete Mackanin is frustrated.

Most nights he watches hitters go up to the plate and give at bats away. He watches a ton of low on-base, low batting average guys go up to the plate and forget about everything they’ve worked on in the film room, everything they’ve worked on in batting practice, and everything they’ve worked on in team meetings.

They go up there and get themselves out. It happens a lot.

But there is one issue the Phils offense struggles with that may not be fixable - their inability to hit fastballs.

In the Majors, you’re supposed to hit fastballs. You’re supposed to be patient and wait for the pitcher to fall behind in the count so that you can get hard straight-ball. Major League hitters are at an advantage when they can reasonably assume they’re going to get one of those fastballs and are ready for it.

But not the Phillies. Not this year.

This season, only two teams have seen more fastballs as a percentage of their plate appearances than the Phils.

MLB ranking fastball percentage seen.

The Phillies are seeing a ton of fastballs, which should make them a fairly dangerous offensive team. And yet, according to Fangraphs, they aren’t doing much with them.

MLB ranking total runs by fastball (wFB)

The numbers you see there are the total runs above average a hitter (or team of hitters) has contributed against that pitch (a fastball in this case) this season. The Phils have been 32.5 runs below average against the fastball this year, third-worst in baseball (only four-seam fastballs were factored in those two previous tables).

But if a more standard statistic is more your cup of tea, here is where the Phils’ batting average as a team ranks against fastballs, both two-seamers and four-seamers (courtesy of Baseball Savant).

Team batting average vs. fastballs

The Phillies have the second-worst batting average in baseball against fastballs, with only the Padres worse. Their isolated power against this pitch is 23rd (.166).

That’s bad.

Individually, Odubel Herrera has the best batting average against fastballs, hitting .290, with Maikel Franco second at .276. Everyone else was at .265 or lower. Aaron Altherr (.265), Cesar Hernandez (.264), Tommy Joseph (.261), Cameron Rupp (.259), Ryan Howard (.246) and Freddy Galvis (.245), are all hitting below the league average (.278) against fastballs this season.

As I addressed last week, the Phillies are one of the most aggressive teams in baseball early in the count, and Phils coaches have bemoaned their unwillingness to "hunt" for fastballs by working the count.

However, in Monday’s win over the Marlins, a plate appearance occurred that perfectly encapsulates the team’s issues with fastballs this season.

In the top of the 6th inning, Maikel Franco worked a 2-0 count against Marlins right-hander Austin Brice. Brice was behind and certainly didn’t want to issue a lead-off walk to Franco.

Franco had to assume he was going to get a fastball. This is what Phils coaches had been talking about. And, Franco was correct, he did get his fastball. But look what happened when he got it.

The catcher set up on the outside corner of the plate, and it appears Brice missed his spot a little. This was a hittable pitch, in a location a hitter might want in that situation.

But look at Franco’s front foot and shoulder. It’s flying open way before the pitch gets there. As a result, Franco lofted a lazy pop fly to right field for the first out of the inning.

This is not to slam Franco. Brice has a delivery that comes at a hitter from the third-base bag, and Franco is not the only Phils hitter to consistently miss making solid contact against fastballs.

And the Phillies are a bad hitting team in general and struggle against all types of pitches. They are near the bottom of the league in virtually every offensive category, so it’s not surprising to see that the same exists against the pitch that is supposed to be the easiest to hit.

The big takeaway here is that there isn’t much that can be done to help. The Phillies have the second-fewest 3-0 counts in baseball this year, meaning they don’t see enough fastballs in true hitters’ counts. Better plate discipline would presumably do some good. But if pitchers aren’t afraid to throw a fastball in the strike zone behind in the count, it’s awfully hard for a hitter to draw walks.

In order for the Phillies to see more balls, they have to make pitchers pay when they do challenge them with a fastball. They have failed to do that this year.

Is it a matter of the talent? Are Phils hitters simply always going to be below average when it comes to hitting the fastball consistently? If so, these players are not going to be regulars on a future Phils playoff team.

Or is it a lack of experience? Have Franco, Herrera, Rupp, Altherr and Joseph simply not seen enough Major League fastballs to make a firm judgment on their future ability to hit them?

Presumably, Phils coaches and management have a better idea about that than we do. But one thing is for sure. The Phillies aren’t doing well at the thing most Major League hitters are supposed to do well.

They can’t hit a fastball.

That ain’t good.