When you have an offense that has scored at least eight runs in four of their first five games (and scored five in the other) and has helped the team jump out to a 4-1 record to start the season, it’s easy not to notice everything else.
The first four games of the Phillies season have been, for the most part, a party. And during a raucous party, few notice some of the other things going on around them. No one notices that someone banged up against a chair and put a gash in the wall. No one sees the red wine that got spilled on the rug.
However, by the end of Game No. 5, a disheartening 9-8 loss to the Nationals, the loud music stopped and people started looking around at some of the not-so-great stuff that had been going on while everyone was dancing.
Make no mistake, the Phillies are off to a tremendous start, and there is far, far, far more to feel good than bad about. This has the makings of a special season, with a team full of assassins leading an offense that will never be out of a game this year, and five games is far too small a sample size to make any declarations.
Let me state that again — We are living in the land of small sample sizes!!!
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things to keep an eye on, and most of them involve the pitching staff.
Aaron Nola’s first two starts haven’t been great, with a 7.00 ERA in 9 innings thus far. Nick Pivetta’s first start was a bust, going just 4.2 innings and giving up four earned runs on eight hits. David Robertson’s first three outings have obviously been a disaster, with an 18.00 ERA, although that’s nothing compared to Jose Alvarez’ 27.00 ERA in two games (0.2 innings).
What just about every Phillies pitcher is having an issue with right now is walks. As a team, they have walked 12.8% of hitters this season, tied for 5th-most in the league, and they have allowed 4.91 walks per nine (BB/9), 7th-highest in baseball.
Nola’s walk issues are the most surprising. He walked a career-high five batters in his Opening Day victory, and has walked seven in nine innings of work. Jake Arrieta walked six batters in his first start of the season over six innings. Robertson has been abysmal with free passes, issuing five in two official innings of work over three appearances, and Juan Nicasio has issued two walks in three innings.
Obviously, much of the problem is relegated to those four pitchers. The rest of the staff has issued either one or no walks, which is why we talk about small sample sizes. The only starter to pitch more than once so far is Nola, and relievers have had either two or three appearances, so this is nothing to get worked up about yet.
But Phils pitchers have also given up some longballs this year, 1.43 HR/9, 8th-most in the league. Nola has uncharacteristically given up three, all of them in Tuesday’s loss to Washington. Hector Neris, Nick Pivetta, Robertson and Alvarez have also been touched for dingers.
On the good side, Phils pitchers have struck out 25.5% of hitters so far this year, 11th-best in the Majors, and their 9.82 K/9 is 10th-best. Phillies hitters have walked in 15.4% of plate appearances this season, 3rd-highest in MLB, and their 10 home runs in five games are tied for 6th-most in the league, just a couple of the reasons why they’ve scored 29 runs in five games!
Is all of this small sample size noise? Most of it probably is. After all, Nola finished third in the Cy Young voting by having one of the lowest walks and homers allowed totals in baseball, and from 2010-18, Robertson pitched 583 innings in 584 games and compiled an ERA of 2.72 with a FIP of 2.75. Both have long track records that should be relied upon more than numbers taken after one week of play.
That being said, the team’s walk totals are a thing to keep an eye on.