The Phillies lost yesterday; an outcome to which we became quite accustomed last season. This year, there have been two major differences from the 2018 offense:
- The Philies had yet to lose entering yesterday’s game
- The Phillies didn’t deserve to lose
I don’t have to describe for you the feeling of knowing a one-run deficit is an insurmountable challenge. We’ve had that feeling many times for most of a decade, watching 0-0 contests teeter on the verge of a loss with opposing runners simply in scoring position.
The reason the Phillies lost yesterday was that—and this is, like most losses, several reasons mashed into one—their first three errors of the season all happened in one game, Aaron Nola had a rough start riddled with command issues, and David Robertson walked in the winning run, during which a Nationals player scored before being immediately sent back to AAA.
But the reason they didn’t deserve to lose was that they had faced a 6-2 deficit and wound up with an 8-6 lead. As we have become used to seeing, the entire Phillies lineup jumped on the terrible Nationals bullpen: Cesar Hernandez (RBI double), Nick Williams (RBI single), Andrew McCutchen (bases-clearing double), Jean Segura (RBI single).
Meanwhile, Bryce Harper and Maikel Franco just kept being dinger threats who were happy to accept free passes. Harper getting walked leads to Rhys Hoskins at-bats, and while Hoskins’ numbers haven’t been as monstrous as Harper’s so far through five games—seems like he’s swinging early and popping out more—he’s going to be a power threat for most of the season, and not somebody anyone should be trying to get to just because Harper is hitting in front of him.
Franco getting walked is a gift he has been receiving in his new role as an eight-hole hitter, as the pitcher’s spot is probably an opposing pitcher’s favorite part of the Phillies’ lineup, because it’s the only one that hasn’t hurt anybody this year: Phillies pitchers are 0-for-9. Their pinch hitters are 1-for-12. In the ninth spot in their lineup, the Phillies are hitting .050—one hit in 20 AB.
So imagine if they could eliminate it.
People have been trying to use the DH to their advantage since the position first dawned. We all know the DH’s long history as a baseball talking point, and really one of the few lasting differentiations between baseball’s circuits. It should come as no surprise, as Emma Baccellieri reported for Sports Illustrated this spring, that the first guy to fiddle with the new DH (or DPH for “Designated Pinch Hitter” as it was known at the time) rule in spring training 1969 was...
Montreal Expos manager Gene Mauch, ever the creative strategist, decided to test the limits of the rule: “Mauch discovered that by changing pitchers frequently and moving the replacements up in the batting order he could bring a pinch hitter to the plate eight times. He did, and the Expos clobbered Kansas City Royals in their Grapefruit League opener,” reported the Montreal Gazette. The very next day, the league issued a directive. The DH would only be allowed to replace the pitcher, and his name could not move around in the batting order.
So sure, Gabe Kapler could get feisty and do something like assume he wouldn’t need bench players for any other reason and just use a pinch hitter every time the pitcher’s spot comes up. But something tells me the Phillies’ rotation wouldn’t take kindly to their 2-3 innings limit and the bullpen would be scorched earth after a week. And, all of the other reasons.
The designated hitter will come to the National League. That is going to happen. But what if the barking dog that determines MLB’s new rules had yipped that 2019 would be the year it was going to happen. This lineup, as formidable as it is right now, would lose its biggest weak spot and become even more powerful. If the pitching is going to be this shaky, the offense needs to be operating at full capacity.
Imagine this team had had the lineup bandwith to have acquired an Adam Jones or an A.J. Pollock before the season and just slotted ‘um in there when they felt like it. It would scratch a lingering itch of Kapler’s to mess with things, as either of those guys could take on an outfield spot without too much of an uproar, bumping someone with less appealing numbers into an exclusively offensive role for the day. Alternatively, we could be looking at an everyday role for someone like Nick Williams, if you were encouraged enough by his pinch hitting appearances last season to see him get a more full-time job. Being the DH would save us from having to watch him chase fly balls, as well.
So, perhaps you’re like me, and you’ve been against the DH from the beginning. Maybe you’ve viewed American League pitchers as cowards, playing the game half-asleep, solidifying their place in the truly “Junior” Circuit. Maybe you’ve watched Zack Greinke or Jacob deGrom this year and realized what an exclamation point (or two) it is for a great pitcher to throw a great game and also smash the ball over the fence. But watching this Phillies team hit has become an increasingly pleasurable experience in 2019, as opposed to 2012-18, and if the game has changed that much already, then what’s the harm in changing it a little more?
On Episode 274, host John Stolnis spoke with Jay Jaffe, head writer at Fangraphs.com about the incredible showing of the offense and Bryce Harper thus far, and broke down the tense two-game series in Washington, DC.