Note: This compares the 2011 season of 162 games with the 2012 and 2013 season, which total a combined 222 games. When comparing counting statistics, the 2012 and 2013 totals are combined, so they will be greater than the 2011 totals.
How have the Phillies gone from a 102-60 team in 2011 to a team with a 111-111 record since the beginning of the 2012 season? One of the greatest reasons is that the Phillies’ lineup has drawn fewer walks since the beginning of the 2012 season and is in the bottom third of the MLB in many walk related categories. In 2011, the Phillies finished with the best record in baseball in large part due to the best rotation in the Majors, but also because of an offense with an on-base percentage (OBP) ranked 11th in all of baseball. By contrast, the 2012-2013 Phillies have played just .500 ball and have seen their OBP fall to 21st in all of baseball.
The Phillies’ General Manager, Ruben Amaro Jr., has been outspoken about how he feels about walks. In March of this season, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Amaro Jr. as having said, “I don’t care about walks. I care about production. To be frank with you, I’ve said this all along. All of the sabermetricians and all of the people who think they know exactly what makes a good club… to me, it’s more about run production and being able to score runs and drive in runs.” However, the Phillies’ run scoring has fallen off since their dip in walks. In 2011, the Phillies ranked 13th in runs scored with 713, but since 2012, they have ranked just 21st with 900 runs. That drop in run production coincides with the Phillies’ decline in walks. The Phillies have gone from 8th in walks in 2011 to 25th between 2012-2013. The Phillies’ lineup has also seen its discipline drop dramatically, as they have gone from 3rd in BB/K in 2011 to 16th since the beginning of 2012. Their BB% has also fallen from 8.6% to 7.3%, which ranks just 25th in all of baseball.
While there is clearly more that goes into run production than just walks, many other statistics have remained nearly identical among the three seasons. The most direct way to drive in a run is by hitting a home run, so it is a good statistic to examine when looking at a team’s run scoring. The 2011 Phillies hit 153 HRs, which ranked 18th. Since 2012, the Phillies have slightly improved to 17th in the Majors with 219 HRs. Their batting average has been identical between 2011 and 2012-2013, as it has ranked 16th each of the last three seasons with a .253 average each year. The Phillies have even improved defensively. Based on UZR, the Phillies ranked 16th in all of baseball in 2011 and 12th from 2012-2013. The greatest difference between the 102 win Phillies of 2011 and the .500 Phillies of 2012-2013 is that they are getting on base at a much lower rate. While their offense has improved or stayed constant in other areas, the lack of walks has adversely affected the team’s run production, which has fallen to 21st in the MLB.
After the Phillies saw their walk rate slide from 8.6% in 2011 to 7.4% in 2012, Amaro Jr. chose to add two players that have lower than a .320 career OBP. Both acquisitions were among the most significant moves of the offseason for the Phillies. Amaro Jr. traded Vance Worley and top pitching prospect Trevor May for Ben Revere. Revere profiles as a top of the order hitter because of his speed and lack of power as he has yet to hit his first Major League home run, despite nearly two full seasons in the Majors. On top of his lack of power, Revere gets on-base at just a .315 clip for his career and an even worse .290 OBP this season. The other addition the Phillies made was signing free agent Delmon Young. Young is a former top prospect, who has failed to develop the plate discipline to fulfill his immense potential. Young carries a .316 OBP for his career and this season it stands at just .286.
Even in 2011, the Phillies were not in the top 5 in most walk related categories, but they cannot afford to remain in the bottom third of the league. While scoring runs must be the goal for every offense, walks are an important part of that process. The Phillies need to return to the top third of the league in walks before they can expect any improvements from their offense.