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Phillies pitching can’t finish guys off

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Two strike counts are not being capitalized on

Aaron Nola at CBP on June 9th vs the Reds
Heather Barry

If you watch a lot of Phillies games and you take the slightest bit of notice you’ll see some fairly frustrating things happen way too often. Things like walking a struggling hitter or a player with a poor average, mental mistakes or just general non-error misplays in the field. Or perhaps you’ve noticed this one: not putting away a batter with two strikes on him. Or even worse, going up 0-2 and watching the pitcher throw three consecutive “non-competitive” pitches before allowing the runner to reach base.

Getting the batter to 0-2 is supposed to put him in a position of disadvantage. It’s meant to put him on the defensive and leaves the pitcher several different options with which to retire that hitter. But, it hasn’t been the advantage it’s supposed to be for Phillies pitching. They’ve been victimized, to an extent, by their own success.

As it is, when Phillies pitching has two strikes on a batter (in any ball count) the opponent has managed a .184 batting average and while that may not seem that bad it’s actually the worst in the National League, tied with the Milwaukee Brewers. Phils pitching has given up the fourth most hits in the NL with two strikes and it’s not just singles they’re hitting either. The Phillies pitching staff has allowed a .304 slugging percentage with two strikes, second highest in the NL behind only the San Diego Padres. The slugging percentage is mainly - but not solely - due to the number of home runs they give up when they’re one pitch away from a K: 36, the second most in baseball and the most in the NL. For their part the staff has been good at getting to two strikes, ranking sixth in the NL in batters faced, but they aren’t converting them enough as evidenced by their fifth fewest strike out total.

While having two stirkes is a disadvantage to the hitter it’s nowhere near the disadvantage of being down 0-2 in the count and unfortunately for Phils pitching they’re not much better than they are in any count with two strikes. Many of the stats are about the same: they are third worst in the NL in batting average at .185, worst in slugging at .324, and have given up the most home runs in baseball at 19. But what’s really disconcerting is that they’ve walked the most batters in the NL and the fourth most in baseball after getting the hitter in as bad a count as they can possibly be. There’s no excuse for it; you’ve gotten two strikes on two pitches and you’re unable to get another before throwing four balls? And again, Phillies pitchers have given up the most home runs in baseball after getting the count to 0-2.

Before you get to “after 0-2” you have to be at 0-2 and, logically based on the above information, the Phillies aren’t very good here either. 0-2 is the epitome of being in the hole for a batter. There’s no reason anything positive should happen for a batter on the pitch thrown at 0-2 and yet the Phillies pitchers have given up the third most home runs and the eighth most hits in baseball after having batters in this position. All told they have allowed the fourth worst slugging percentage at 0-2 in the NL.

The Phillies have allowed 566 hits total so far in 2019 (ninth most in baseball) and of those hits 34 happened in an 0-2 count. That 6.01% is not bad at 19th highest percentage in baseball but the 16.25% of their hits that they allow after 0-2 is the sixth worst in baseball and the 38.87% of the total hits they allow in two strike counts altogether is the eighth worst in baseball so they’re going to need to improve in the very least in those two situations.

None of this though is very good. A massive part of being an effective pitcher is putting a batter in a defensive position and then using that leverage against them to get an out and the Phillies haven’t been doing that nearly enough. They’re able to get close to where they want to be but they can’t shut the door. There’s no official “non-competitve pitch” statistic but you can tell by just watching the games what type of poor pitches are being thrown with two strikes and especially in 0-2 counts. If you can’t tempt a guy at 0-2 when he’s most defensive it just makes it harder to get him to go at all.