There is something to be said about the fastball. We all love to let our eyes wander to radar gun reading whenever a pitcher like Jordan Hicks toes the rubber, trying to comprehend what 100+ looks like coming from sixty feet, six inches away. Yet when it is our team that is facing that much heat, it can get frustrating when they seemingly can’t do anything with it. That is what it looks like so far this season as the Phillies face pitching that has been dialing it up against them.
If it feels like the Phillies have seen a lot of extra mustard this year, it’s because they have. Through Thursday’s game, the Phillies have seen the second most pitches of 95+ in the National League this season. From the naked eye, it looks like they can’t do anything with these pitches either, that the opposition has just decided to let it go whenever they face the Phillies. You can definitely see it in the approach that Steven Matz took with the Phillies the second time he faced them. In fact, every pitcher who has seen the Phillies lately is taking a different approach to them. I went back and looked at the last nine pitchers, in order, that have started against the Phillies and looked at the percentage of four-seam fastballs they used in the starts prior to facing the Phillies and in the starts they had against them.
Fastball usage before and against PHI
|Pitcher||FB% start prior||FB% v. Phillies||(+/-)|
|Pitcher||FB% start prior||FB% v. Phillies||(+/-)|
Now, some of these pitchers are rely on the fastball since it is their best pitch (Wheeler, Gray). Other use the fastball in conjunction with their slider most often (Gray, Wheeler, Marquez). But it is quite apparent that the book is out on the Phillies and how a team should approach the lineup. This may have something to do with the fact that the current lineup construction was different thanks to the injuries suffered by the Phillies, but nonetheless, players like Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto were still in the lineup from game to game. This is still a lineup with some dangerous components and opposing pitchers’ approach still was markedly different.
Of course, the next line of thinking is that the Phillies must not be doing anything with the fastball since that is how the teams have decided to approach them. There is some merit to that. Using Baseball Savant, we can determine how well the Phillies are performing against this velocity. Here, we can see that against fastballs 95 miles per hour or more, we see that they are actually middle of the road in batting average.
It doesn’t look too bad until you remember what batting average is. It treats all hits the same, regardless of whether it’s a single or a home run. That is why for something like this, we’d like to see if the team is doing any damage against the fastball. Using a statistic like slugging percentage or isolated power so that we can see if the Phillies are muscling up on that batting average or pounding out singles. Well folks, the news ain’t good. This is their slugging percentage,
and here is their isolated power.
It’s not good. The team is ranking near the bottom of the National League in both categories. And it’s not like these pitches are in unhittable spots either!
(of course, I’d argue that 95 on the outer black to a right handed batter is pretty tough to catch up to and do damage with.)
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that teams are beginning to attack them with the heat more and more often. Until they start doing something more than lashing singles with the pitch, they are going to keep seeing them. A pitcher would much rather someone like Harper hit a single than a home run during a plate appearance. It is up to the Phillies to make the change.
Now, how do we balance out the bad with the good? Well, again, as I’ve mentioned previously, it’s all in how you view the Statcast numbers. Baseball Savant obviously derives much, if not all, of its material from Statcast, so they also provide you with some “expected” numbers - xSLG, xBA, etc. This is where they use the information about exit velocity and launch angle to come up with numbers that the teams should be expected they are putting up as opposed to what they are actually doing. It gives a sliver of hope to those who see their numbers down at the bottom and the Phillies are no different.
When it comes to what the team should be doing against fastballs of 95 miles per hour or more, they look a lot better.
They should be doing more damage, which might serve as a beacon of hope that they actually will start to do better in the near future. I’m not saying I exactly buy that thought process, but the numbers are there for you to peruse.
It’s apparent that the approach to the Phillies’ lineup right now is to throw hard. They might be getting hits, but it’s the kind of hits that teams don’t mind seeing. Until the team starts to do some real damage consistently with fastballs, I’d be willing to bet that is how teams will pitch to them.
Of course, getting the entire lineup back together will help.
*In case you were wondering, I’m including some links to team specific information you might find interesting.
Here is how each player is doing against 95+ by percentage of the pitches they’ve seen as a batter, their batting average, slugging percentage and isolated power.