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Phillies Stat Notes: the NL’s two best pitching staffs face off

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Which obviously means we’re in for three slugfests

After sweeping the Pirates, the Phils have the 3rd best record in the National League. They are near the top in both run prevention (2nd) and run scoring (3rd), although with respect to the latter they’re scoring more runs than their hitting stats would suggest.

Standings

The Arizona Diamondbacks come to CBP for their lone visit of the year (damn unbalanced schedules). After reaching the NLDS as a wildcard team last year, the D-backs are off to a very good start, and own the best record in the NL.

They’ve managed that despite a lowly .225 batting average and a middle-of-the-pack offense overall. Their strength has been their pitching, and especially their bulllpen, which leads the NL with a 1.88 ERA, and 2.73 FIP. That bullpen ERA is far lower than the #2 in the league (Milwaukee’s 2.64).

As for the Phillies, despite most of their hitting stats hanging around the middle of the pack, including most importantly the comprehensive wRC+, they have managed to score the 3rd most runs in the NL, at 5.05 per game.

One key to that has been a .278 average with runners in scoring position. That doesn’t sound like much (it’s 5th in the NL), until you consider that they have hit .213 in all other situations.

Over this past weekend’s series the NL West nearly caught up to the East in average win pace (82 wins per 162 games, vs. 83 for the East).

Batting

While the Phillies are among the leaders in scoring runs (5.05 per game, 3rd in the NL), while the D-backs are average-ish (4.52, 8th), they have actually been pretty similar offensively overall.

By both the comprehensive wOBA (Phils 8th, D-backs 7th) and its park-adjusted version, wRC+ (Phils 9th, D-backs 8th), they are bunched together in the middle of the NL’s rankings.

They’ve gotten to that middlin’ place overall with different strengths though:

Getting on base

The Phillies’ OBP is 5th in the NL (.325), as they’ve supplemented a somewhat below batting average (.230, 9th in the NL), with the league-leading walk rate in the league (12.0%).

Arizona ranks 10th in OBP, with an even lower batting average (.225, 12th), and a solid but lower walk rate (10.2%, 5th).

Power

The Diamondbacks though lead the NL in Isolated Power* (.174), primarily through doubles and triples. They are only 8th in HRs per game (1.00), but lead the league the percent of their hits that go for extra bases.

The Phils on the other hand are near the bottom in both HRs per game (0.90, 13th), and overall ISO (.142, 12th).

*ISO, short for Isolated power, is the difference between batting average and slugging percentage, and essentially measures the average extra bases per at bat (1 for a double, 2 for a triple, 3 for a HR).

Plate Discipline

The Phillies continue leading the NL in taking the first pitch, and total pitches seen per PA. And as mentioned above they have the highest walk rate in the NL (and MLB). As typically happens with high pitch counts, they are also striking out a lot, with the 3rd highest rate in the NL (25.8%). Their BB/K ratio is still pretty good, 5th in the NL at 0.46.

The D-backs have been striking out about the same (25.9%, 2nd highest).

Small Ball

The Phils haven’t been particularly good at making productive outs* or advancing runners from 2nd with none out (15th and 14th, respectively), but they have been 2nd best in the NL at getting runners home from 3rd with less than 2 out.

Arizona has been the opposite, near the top in productive outs and advancing runners from 2nd, but 13th in getting runners home from 3rd.

*Productive outs are defined as a) successful sacrifice by a pitcher with one out, b) advancing a runner with none out, or c) driving in a baserunner with the second out of the inning.

Base Running

Both teams are average to very good in these base running metrics. The Phils haven’t been as effective in the past few games but are still 2nd in the NL in both stolen base attempts and successful steals.

Batting — Individual

It’s not surprising that the Phils’ overall stats aren’t better than middle of the pack when they’ve only had three above-average hitters so far.

This is wOBA by player, in roughly the same order as they’ve been batting:

The sections show how much of each player’s wOBA is explained by three major components:

  1. what their batting average says (i.e. treating all hits as singles)
  2. getting on base by walk (or HBP)
  3. their extra base power (i.e. counting 1 for a double, 2 for a triple, 3 for HR)

A couple of observations:

  • Rhys Hoskins has been head and shoulders better than any hitter in the lineup, and in fact has been the 4th best hitter in MLB overall so far.
  • Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera have also been very good to date, both continuing their hot hitting from June-July of last year.
  • Maikel Franco is doing better than last year so far, but he’ll need to do much better to make anyone stop thinking about free agents. Scott Kingery has cooled off and has been about as good as Franco overall.
  • Then there is the gang of five in Santana, Williams, Altherr, Knapp, and Crawford, all well below average, although Altherr and Santana have been hotter lately.
  • Finally Jorge Alfaro is bringing up the rear. Note that (unlike in OPS) wOBA doesn’t give him credit for his two intentional walks.

Pitching

Facing off in these series are the two pitching staffs with the NL’s:

  • fewest runs allowed (ARI 1st, PHI 2nd)
  • lowest ERAs (ARI 1st, PHI 2nd)
  • lowest FIPs (PHI 1st, ARI 2nd)
  • highest fWAR (PHI 1st, ARI 2nd)

The Phillies come in with what has been one of the strongest starting rotations (1st in ERA and fWAR, 2nd in FIP), and a pretty good bullpen (5th in ERA, 4th in FIP).

The D-backs have had a pretty good rotation (6th in ERA and FIP, ), and a dominant bullpen (1st in ERA and FIP).

The keys to the Phils’ success so far have been 1) the 2nd lowest walk rate in the league, and 2) by far the lowest HR rate, at only 1.5% of batters faced. They may be able to keep walks down, but the HR rate is almost certain to regress, especially in a relatively homerun-friendly park like CBP. Only 6.9% of opponents’ fly balls have wound up over the fence so far. In 240 full team seasons since 2010, only two (!) staffs have managed to keep that rate under 8.0%.

*FIP (Fielding-independing pitching) is based only on the stats that are considered to be most controllable by pitchers: strikeouts, walks, and home runs.

xFIP takes that one step further by also assuming that home runs are only controllable by a pitcher to the extent to which they allow fly balls to be hit, and adjusts their HRs to the league-average rate of HRs per Fly Balls.

Miscellaneous items:

  • Odubel Herrera is the 3rd slowest qualified hitter (out of 177), in terms of seconds per pitch (29.5), trailing only #1 A.J. Pollock and #2 Victor Martinez.
  • Cesar Hernandez is 14th fastest (21.5). Billy Hamilton is also fastest in MLB in this category (19.4).
  • Vince Velasquez is the slowest qualified pitcher (out of 99), at 28.9 seconds. Aaron Nola is 14th slowest.