Without a doubt, the biggest question mark the Phillies had coming into this season was their offense -- or lack thereof -- and how they would fare without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for an extended amount of time. And for good reason, too. Without two of their most important hitters, the team is without much power, and as a result, they are struggling to score runs on a consistent basis.
While they have been coming on a bit as of late (13 runs Wednesday night in a loss), they still don't have the explosiveness that a dynamic offense needs to have in order to be consistently successful. Of course, that wouldn't be such a huge deal if they had some hitters on the team that could actually get on base at a decent clip, which would lessen the impact of losing two big bats, like they have.
Aside from one or two guys, the Phillies seem to be in grip-it-rip-it mode this season, where they seem hell-bent on swinging early, and often. And, if you ask me, that's a recipe for disaster.
Bill Baer, author of 100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, and blogger over at Crashburn Alley (if you don't read that blog on a semi-frequent basis, you're doing it wrong), wrote a very informative piece on the Phillies, and their lack of any real plate discipline so far in the young season. It's a great read, so if you have a few minutes, be sure to stop on over there and give it a look. It really highlights one of the biggest problems with the Phillies.
Here is a quick hit:
The downside to small ball is that you don’t work counts. The Phillies have seen the fewest three-ball counts in the league. The average batter reaches base 56 percent of the time he reaches a three-ball count. Conversely, they have seen the most counts in which the pitcher was ahead (0-1, 0-2, 1-2), when the average batter reaches base less than 20 percent of the time. The Phillies have also seen the second-fewest even counts (1-1, 2-2) in which the average batter reaches base at a meager 27 percent clip. What’s interesting is that the Phillies rank 12th in two-strike counts, which means the Phillies are ending their at-bats early.
Yuck. It's no wonder they are struggling with the bat. Every bloody hitter wants to be done with the at-bat as quick as possible.
Years ago, when I played Little League, the coach would always tell us to take a pitch until we got a strike. The reason being is that 9-year-olds are prone to poor control and easily rattled, so go ahead and take a walk if they are willing to give it to you. Obviously, big league pitchers are much different than the nose-pickers that you play against in elementary school, but the concept is the same: Make the pitcher throw you your pitch, and not the other way around.
If you want a practical example of why having good plate discipline is a great idea, look at the 2012 NLDS between the Phillies and Cardinals. No matter who was pitching for the Phillies, the Cardinals still took the same approach. They worked the count, they fouled off pitches, until they got to see their pitch. They did that throughout the entire postseason, and it ended with them celebrating as World Series Champions.
When you walk, you take the defense out of it. You work the pitcher. You let the next guy hit. It's not a glamorous lifestyle, that of the man who walks, but it's effective. And that is what the Phillies need to do, they need to be effective. Until they get Utley and Howard back in the lineup, they will need to find other ways to score runs and manufacture some offense, and that is only going to happen if they can manage to have some decent at-bats on a consistent basis. And it's not like every AB has to end with a base-on-balls, they just need to not walk up there looking to hack at the first pitch that comes their way.
Even though the Phillies do not have a great hitting pedigree, you don't necessarily need to have one in order to take a pitch or two in order to put yourself in a better position to hit. It seems obvious, and maybe it is, but by not swinging right away, you give yourself more chances at the dish. And until the Phillies get some reinforcements, they need to get runs any way they can.