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Speed Thrills: The Phillies are Capitalizing on their Roster’s Quickness

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The most agile Phillies team in years is making good use of their wheels by being hyper-aggressive on the bases

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Back in December, I was on a bit of a Statcast bent. With caveats and understandings of its flaws and error bars in the back of my mind, I was on the hunt for potential edges this Phillies team might have, something that stood out relative to other teams’ players. I figured, even if the raw totals had some flux baked in, being a decent bit above average in some category might yet point to some sort of advantage. It was a scattershot approach that I wasn’t expecting to yield anything mind-blowing, as the second half Phillies in 2017 passed the eye test of being a better team, but probably didn’t put much together in the way of sample sizes for this system.

Well, afforded all those asterisks, I still found my curiosity piqued by the Phils’ apparent speed. That felt funny, because no one on the team stole even 20 bases last year - Cesar Hernandez went 15-for-20 and Freddy Galvis went 14-for-19 to pace the club - but the Statcast measurement of sprint speed on baserunning plays had some encouraging numbers to display.

“Hm!” I thought. “Does this mean we might see a return to some more aggressive baseball on the paths?” Early on, I think the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Only the Nationals and Indians have as many (or more) successful stolen bases through April 9. Now, of course, we have to mention that the Phils have also been caught stealing four times, including one ridiculous attempt at third by Rhys Hoskins, but turning the gain up across the board is gonna yield some more pops and clips on the sound levels, just as a rule of this not-at-all-tortured metaphor.

But it’s more than just steals. The Phillies have already had 18 advances on things like wild pitches, passed balls, and fly ball tag-ups, pacing all of MLB and leading the next-highest NL team by five. They’ve also gone second-to-home on a single six times in nine chances, and made exactly zero outs running the bases on balls in play.

That last part is fantastic. Even though the uptick in aggressiveness has resulted in four outs during the commission of a theft (or during a steal attempt, for those of you who prefer normal human language), the Phillies have been picking their spots perfectly and executing their sends and first-to-thirds flawlessly to this point.

The Twins, Dodgers, and Indians are the only other teams to not have a non-steal baserunning out to this point. Among those, the Phillies are consistently the highest in what we could call “quality” advances.

Baserunning

Team On 1st, 1B Adv to 2B Adv to 3B On 1st, 2B Adv to 3B Runner Scores On 2nd, 1B Adv to 3B Runner Scores
Team On 1st, 1B Adv to 2B Adv to 3B On 1st, 2B Adv to 3B Runner Scores On 2nd, 1B Adv to 3B Runner Scores
Phillies 15 11 4 8 5 3 9 3 6
Twins 7 5 2 5 4 1 5 1 4
Dodgers 17 13 4 3 3 0 9 1 8
Indians 8 7 1 1 1 0 6 1 5

So there’s volume and efficiency working hand-in-hand: The Phillies and Nationals are the only teams to have at least seven different players steal a base this season (no other team has more than five!). That includes what counts as a steal of home by Carlos Santana in that probably-designed rundown play against the Mets, as well as two steals by Hoskins and another by Andrew Knapp, three unlikely contributors on top of known speedier guys like Hernandez and Scott Kingery.

The latter of those two was someone who wasn’t even in consideration back in December, but he’s 70-for-83 (84.3%) stealing bases in his professional career if you lump his MiLB totals and current 2-for-2 MLB status. His speed has consistently graded out as abover-average to plus, so don’t expect him to become a hindrance in this department anytime soon.

The beginning of any season is fun for identifying ridiculous trends and on-pace-for factoids, and anything short of multiple weeks’ worth of numbers is always prone to fluctuation, but given the Phils’ current roster construction and early tendencies, do not at all be surprised if they continue to exploit their advantage on the bases and create more and more scoring opportunities as the year progresses.