There’s a very clear difference in the way the first 17 games went for the Phillies and how the last six have gone. Early in the Phils were working counts and earning walks and then bringing those free passes around to score. Now, not so much. Pitchers have adjusted and they’re going right after Phillie batters, throwing strikes and making them hit their way on. For their part the Phillies haven’t adjusted – they’re giving pitchers two strikes and then striking out.
Through the first 17 games the Phillies as a team walked 12.6% of the time but over the last six that number is down to 8.1%. To really illustrate the issue all you need to do is look at strikeouts. The team’s K% is up over three percentage points; they were only striking out 21.8% of the time through those first 17 games but again, over the last six that’s gone up dramatically to 25%. Their on-base percentage is down from .354 to a lowly .300.
The Phillies batters are seemingly frequently behind in the count. They’ve been in 519 two-strike counts this season, third most in the National League.
Last night against Zach Wheeler and the Mets the Phillies batters were in two strike counts for 23 of their 32 plate appearances. They only managed to get into a three ball count three times through the first eight innings. They struck out 13 times.
While this appears to be a team-wide problem, no one probably illustrates the point more than Rhys Hoskins. Partly because he’s one of the team’s most patient hitters and partly because he has such a huge role in the offense.
Rhys Hoskins has always been a passive hitter but at some point he has to adjust. He has to show pitchers that if they groove the first pitch, as they frequently seem to do, he’s going to make them pay. He hasn’t and the opposition is taking advantage. Rhys leads the majors in pitches per plate appearance but he’s also 7thin strikes seen, 12thin looking strike percentage, and he swings at the first pitch 8thleast in baseball. He is entirely too passive and he really needs to change his scouting report to say “be wary of a first pitch strike” as opposed to the “there’s no way he’ll swing at the first pitch so groove it” that it says now. If he can manage to change the way pitcher’s think of him he can re-adjust back to his normal, ridiculously-patient self.
According to BrooksBaseball.net Rhys has seen 186 pitches in the strike zone in all counts and he’s only swung at 103, slightly over half at 55.4%. However when he has two strikes he’s seen 47 pitches in the zone and swung at all but eight of them for a swing rate of 82.9%. Clearly he understands the zone, he gets what is a strike and what isn’t, but he only feels compelled to swing when he absolutely has to.
In total, Hoskins has 27 strike outs this year and 19 were swinging strike three’s. When you look at his zone profile for two strikes you can see that he has gone out of the strike zone 12 times on those 19 swinging strike three’s. So his patience seems to only extend to strike two and once that mark is reached he becomes a bit more of a free swinger – probably the exact opposite of how you want pitcher’s to see you.
Rhys hits clean-up most nights, a spot in the order that is expected to drive in runs. Historically great hitters are somewhat situationally aware and when they’re in a postion to drive in runs they become a bit more aggressive in the zone. He’s been in 30 situations where he’s batted with at least one runner in scoring position and of those 30 he’s ran the count to two strikes 20 times. He has three hits in those 20 at-bats and has struck out nine times. Of the remaining at-bats where the count never reached two strikes he is a whopping 5 for 9 with 6 RBI’s (Harper was thrown out at the plate once). In two other instances he moved a runner from first to third in addition to collecting an RBI. He’s walked three times and has zero sacrifice’s.
It’s great to see a lot of pitches and to really make the pitcher work but it is infinitely better to score runs. If you see a pitch you can handle, something you can drive, it should not be taken simply because it’s the first or second pitch of the at-bat and this seems to be precisely what Rhys does.
Rhys isn’t alone in this Phillies line up in being extremely passive. Andrew McCutchen is heading down a similar path. As a lead-off hitter you want to see a lot of pitches but more important is the result of your at-bat. Cutch is third in all of baseball in watching a strike go by at 41.2%. Nearly half of the strikes he sees he simply let’s go by. He swing’s at the second fewest pitches by percentage in baseball at 34.6% (Hoskins is 12that 36.8%). When he does actually swing at the ball in put it in play he has an average of .321 so it’s not like he can’t hit.
Both Hoskins and McCutchen have been in 64 two-strike counts. Hoskins has 84 at-bats and Cutch has 87 so it’s easy to see how often these guys are hitting at a disadvantage. This is especially troublesome when you consider the above numbers pertaining to how many actual strikes these guys are taking.
These issues are most likely exasperated a bit by the losses of Jean Segura and Odubel Herrera as both are not only excellent hitters but are also very balanced in their approach. It really doesn’t help that their replacements haven’t been anywhere near as productive as these guys were.
There’s a time to be passive and there’s a time to be aggressive and for this Phillies team they have to start to recognize that a bit better. Opposing pitchers have adjusted and they’re using the Phillies offensive approach against them by forcing the issue with strikes. They’re not walking them and as a result it’s been tough to score.