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The Phillies bench really can’t hit lefties

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It’s not the most pressing concern, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies

In last Saturday night’s 5-4 loss against the Braves, Joe Girardi made a slightly unusual decision: he took Rhys Hoskins out of the game in the seventh inning and replaced him at first base with Andrew Knapp. He did so because he had used J.T. Realmuto as a pinch-hitter in the top half of the inning, and Girardi didn’t want to lose access to either of his catchers in case the game went to extras. (Joe Girardi didn’t say this himself, but it seems like the clear explanation, and it’s what T-Mac and Ruben Amaro said on the broadcast.)

I would argue that it makes more sense to keep Hoskins in the game and run the small risk of needing to use your emergency catcher, but ultimately, it didn’t end up mattering. Archie Bradley gave up the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning, and Hoskins’ spot in the order never came up again.

But anyway, you’re probably wondering why I’m so fixated on an inconsequential pinch-hitting decision in a game from almost a week ago. Fair enough. The reason I’m so interested is because Joe Girardi’s decision in that moment says a lot about how much faith he has in his pinch-hitters.

Why did Girardi feel the need to use J.T. Realmuto as a pinch-hitter in that spot if he was reluctant to take either of his catchers out of the game? It wasn’t a particularly high-leverage moment. It was only the seventh inning, there were zero outs, and the game was tied up. The pitcher on the mound was the unspectacular Sean Newcomb, who has a career 4.14 ERA and is probably only the fifth or sixth best reliever in the Braves bullpen. Joe Girardi still had Brad Miller and Matt Joyce available, meaning that the two guys who were specifically signed to be pinch-hitters were ready to pinch-hit.

So why wouldn’t Girardi just use one of them so that he could keep Rhys Hoskins, the hottest hitter on the team at that point, in the game?

Because the opposing pitcher was left-handed. That’s why.

To put it bluntly, the Phillies bench is utterly useless against left-handed pitching. It’s at a point where Joe Girardi would rather take Rhys Hoskins out of the game than let anyone on his bench hit against a left-hander. Here are the numbers.

Left for dead

  • Roman Quinn: 89 wRC+
  • Andrew Knapp: 81 wRC+
  • Brad Miller: 71 wRC+
  • Ronald Torreyes: 66 wRC+
  • Matt Joyce: 62 wRC+

Roman Quinn has been serviceable against lefties in his career (career 89 wRC+ vs LHP), but he’s looked terrible this season against just about everyone (.050 BA in 20 AB). He’s also often in the starting lineup, so it’s hard to consider him a true bench bat right now.

After Roman Quinn, the best option is Andrew Knapp, and even he has been 19% worse than league-average against LHP in his career. And as with Quinn, he also isn’t a true pinch-hitting option. Joe Girardi has only used him as a pinch-hitter once this season, because Girardi likes to keep his backup catcher available in case of emergency.

Then, we have Brad Miller, Matt Joyce, and Ronald Torreyes. These three are practically unusable against left-handers. In fact, they’re so bad that I’d almost rather Joe Girardi just started using Vince Velasquez (career 88 wRC+ against LHP) as a pinch-hitter.

Is there a solution?

Well, there certainly isn’t an easy solution. The most obvious answer is to replace Ronald Torreyes, but that’s much easier said than done. Competent shortstops are already few and far between, and finding one who is available and who can hit LHP is going to be tough (that is, unless Scott Kingery starts to figure things out).

Another option is to find a new centerfielder (perhaps Mickey Moniak steps up?) and relegate Roman Quinn to a full-time bench role. Quinn can’t possible stay this bad for the rest of the season, and in the past he’s been competent against left-handed pitching.

Brad Miller and Matt Joyce are both good enough hitters against RHP that they’re still valuable to the team, so it’s hard to imagine the Phillies trying to replace either of them.

Miller and Joyce vs. RHP

Player Career vs. RHP 2020 vs. RHP
Player Career vs. RHP 2020 vs. RHP
Brad Miller 111 wRC+ 126 wRC+
Matt Joyce 122 wRC+ 108 wRC+

The only other player on the bench is Andrew Knapp, and his role as the backup catcher looks quite safe for now.

Thus, for the time being, the Phillies will probably just have to just grin and bear it. Improving the bench definitely isn’t Dave Dombrowski’s top priority given the current messes that are center field and the back of the rotation. Luckily, the majority of the lineup has no problem hitting left-handed pitching, so it’s not the end of the world if the bench bats struggle. Plus, the pitcher’s spot in the lineup is protected by Cutch, Rhys, and Bryce, who combined for a 1.029 OPS against LHP in 2020. If an opposing team brings in a lefty to face a pinch-hitter, that lefty is in for a world of pain from the next three guys in the order.

It’s not ideal, but, hey, at least there are are worse problems to have.