Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Mystery That Only Charlie Can Be Responsible For

The Phillies continued their season of one step forward, one step back, with a pretty feel good win over the Mets here in New York last night. How they can be 4-0 versus the Mets and Braves on the road, and 2-5 versus the Giants & Diamondbacks at home, in their last eleven is a mystery of the sort that only Charlie Manuel can be responsible for.

Today, Jay Greenberg is pretty cocky. He got my hackles up about the Phillies vis-à-vis the Mets- particularly considering Philadelphia has won more games in the National League than anyone the last month or so. The Phillies were left for dead- and have crawled back to some sort of relevance. Far from “being alive for one more day”- they are alive period. So lay off.

Watching the game, I found it confirmed one old and one fairly new truism of baseball. The first is that pitching ultimately wins out. The Phillies ran the bases like Little Leaguers (before they start keeping score even), got picked off, dropped routine pop-ups- and still won the game because they out-pitched the Mets. Moyer got a hard earned draw with Glavine- and the bullpen probably pitched its best game in a big spot all year.

Second, or the new truism: the Mets announcers were marveling over the fact the Phillies lead the National League in runs scored- despite having an indifferent team batting average and a ton of strikeouts (the biggest run killing stat going).

The Phillies sort of survive and better, score a goodly number of runs, by being a sort of inadvertent testament to the Moneyball approach to offense: conserve your outs, get on base. This is not by any design mind you; the Phillies are not a smart team. And the other parts- team speed and situational hitting are certainly not strengths.

But the team OBP is top third, and they walk a lot. Utley gets on, Rowand gets on, Victorino gets on. Burrell doesn’t hit- but he walks an absolute ton and is on base every game. The seventh and eight spots provide zero “pop”- but they also aren’t .230 hitting black holes like they are on a lot of clubs. I think you can successfully argue that at five or six of the eight position player line-up spots the Phillies generate baserunners at a rate above normal- and a rate higher than their hitting would indicate. Mix that with a healthy dose of home run power, a three hole hitting machine, and it is a recipe for run production. (ed. Or at least overcoming the cancer that playing Jimmy Rollins at lead-off creates.)

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