Small Ball, No Runs

So be honest, how nervous are you right now?

I’ve seen some truly awful Phillies starts over the past 10 years. The Phillies are 1-2. Yes, the offense has been dreadful. Yes, the bullpen has been more than suspect. But it’s just one series.

Relax … for now.

“It’s three games into the season,” Shane Victorino said. “There is no reason to sit here and … panic. Do we want to be 3-0? Absolutely. I don’t want to be 1-2, but we sit at 1-2 and that’s what it is.”

“Anytime you open the season, you always want to win the first series, you want to win the first game, you want to get hits, you want to make big pitches,” Jim Thome said. “I think the one things I’ve learned over the years is that it’s a long haul. And we have a very talented club, we have a very, very good club. … Any time you play the first series, everything is always magnified. That’s part of the game.”

That said, the offense certainly hasn’t looked capable of hitting anybody, which makes you wonder how they’re going to handle the Marlins (Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle) this week at Citizens Bank Park. But I thought Charlie Manuel made a very interesting comment following today’s 5-4 loss to the Pirates.

“I don’t want our guys to think we can’t score,” he said. “I think that sometimes when we bunt in situations, we send a message. I’m an offensive guy. I’m here because I’m an offensive guy. I’m a true believer that you get better because of confidence and the manager has to show that. We’ve got guys who have been good hitters in the past. We have to get where we want to be. I believe we’re going to score runs. It’s a matter of getting guys hot.”

There has been a lot of talk about small ball over the last few months, so much talk I’ve come to detest the phrase. People use those two words like they’re a magic bullet. The Phillies are in a slump? Well, they just need to play more small ball. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley might miss a few months? Well, they can get through that if they just play more small ball.

Small ball.

It’s like people think a team can just sacrifice bunt its way to victory. It can’t. Now, I had absolutely no problem with Freddy Galvis bunting in the seventh inning today. He has struggled at the plate, and it made sense to try to advance the runner there. But I did not like Victorino’s sacrifice bunt in the sixth inning today, Laynce Nix‘s failed sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning Saturday or Jimmy Rollins‘ sacrifice bunt in the first inning Saturday.

Victorino and Rollins are two of the team’s best hitters. Juan Pierre already stood on second base with no outs when Victorino bunted today. Pierre can score on a single, so I’d much rather have Victorino taking an honest hack there. The Phillies had runners on first and second with no outs in the first inning when Rollins bunted Saturday. Again, I’d much rather have my No. 3 hitter take a hack, especially that early in the game.

According to this chart, a National League team can expect to score 1.054 runs when it has a runner on second with no outs, like the Phillies had in the sixth inning today. It drops to .907 runs with a runner on third and one out. A team can expect to score 1.402 runs with a runner on first and second and no outs, like the Phillies had in the first inning Saturday. It drops to 1.320 with runners on second and third and one out.

So how much did the Phillies really help themselves in those situations? Not much. In fact, the expected scoring averages dropped in both situations. Now what happens if Victorino swings away, makes an out and doesn’t advance Pierre? The number drops to .650. And what happens if Rollins swings away, makes an out and doesn’t advance both runners? The number drops to .863. So you can say sacrificing gives a team a better chance to score than having hitters make an out without advancing the runner, but what kind of thinking is that? You’re basically saying you’re expecting to make an out, so I’m just going to sacrifice and give an out away. I think that’s what Manuel was trying to say today. You watched the Phillies bunt throughout the weekend in Pittsburgh and it’s like they were saying, “We don’t think we can hit, so let’s just fight for one run right here and hope it’s enough.”

To be clear: I don’t have a problem with Rollins, Victorino, Pierre, Galvis, etc., trying to bunt for a base hit. There is value in that. But I don’t want somebody like Nix, who had attempted just two sacrifice bunts since 2004, trying to bunt in a key situation. I also don’t want the best hitters in my lineup sacrificing instead of maybe putting a ball in the gap.

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13 Comments

Todd,

Please press Manuel after his horrid bullpen management on why he refuses to use the best relief pitcher in the game during the absolutely highest of high leverage situations: bottom of the 9th, tie game on the road, where the road team has zero margin for error and can’t give up even one single run. In stead he saves him for a situation where the Phillies have the lead, and have, by definition, a greater margin for error. For some reason, he trusts Herndon, Blanton, and every other clown in the bullpen in that situation more than he does Papelbon. Or he’s following rote baseball orthodoxy that says you don’t use your closer in the 9th inning of a tie game on the road, which is just terrible managing, either way.

Totally agree with you Fatalotti!

For 50 million, he better be able to do a 4 out save

Todd – I agree with your assessment of the hitting. Shane and Jimmy need to be hitting, not bunting. And Nix should never be allowed to attempt to bunt again! I’m starting to worry about the Thome acquisition, too. Like everyone I just love the guy, but he is he going to actually get us some of the clutch hit we need? Not looking very good so far. Hopefully it is just whatever jinx PNC Park holds for our team. Glad to be out of that place until 2013!

What an ugly series. I’m already tired of Wigginton and Nix, and Galvis makes Abraham Nunez look like Barry Bonds.

thank you for mentioning Victorino’s bunt in the 6th inning! why is the phillies best hitter giving up an out for a base at that point? it makes no sense. in terms of statistics, sac bunting is almost always a bad idea!

Exactly. If you want to bunt, bunt for hits or to squeeze in a run. Nobody should give up an out other than the pitcher.

small ball includes far more than just bunting… just saying.

Charlie continually fails to do anything to help this team “manufacture” runs. I think that is what people are referring to when they say small ball….. because well most people haven’t really watched baseball most of their lives.

They need to learn how to manufacture runs, when the time is right, not just when they feel like it (as Todd pointed out in the article)…. They rarely hit and run, they often don’t steal bases. They rarely intentionally hit to the right side of the field when its called for. etc etc etc

The real problem is that Charlie is not strategic enough to win with the team as it is built now. Also, the hitters they have are not really built to play strategic baseball (their approach at the plate has been covered greatly).

Todd, I was thoroughly disgusted yesterday and wrote this:

http://wp.me/p2jTag-2m

What I saw yesterday was atrocious.

Great. Now Manuel has turned this blog into the Go-Go Zo Zone.

Honestly, after the last 2 seasons, my approach is, I will believe they can get clutch hits and win close games in late innings when I see them do it. Until then, I have no confidence in this team as currently constituted to make a deep playoff run. In fact, I would not surprise me if they don’t make the playoffs at all this year.

In 2008 and 2009, you expected this team to win games like the last 2. Now I have no confidence. I do not believe there is an easy fix either. You basically have 4 guys to watch out for in that entire lineup: Rollins, Vic, Pence, and Chooch. And only Chooch has shown to be a consistent clutch hitter over the last 2 years. The other 3 CAN, but often don’t, especially if they are not “hot”. Even with Utley and Howard back, this is not a lineup that scares quality pitchers. I don’t think you can teach or learn “clutch hitting”. If it was that easy, every team would be doing it. These are all professionals – if there was an easy way to become clutch, they would all will themselves to do it.

This is still way better than the team was in the horrible 10 years between 1993 and 2003, but I will no longer get my hopes up for a WS or even NL Pennant. This team has lost its mojo and that is really hard to get back once it is gone. Just ask the Braves of the 1990s….

What kind of message does Charlie send to the rest of the lineup when he’s calling for sac bunts from the 3-hole hitter in the first inning? Mike Fontenot would actually upgrade this team, which is scary.

Rollins was not sac bunting, he was trying to bunt for a hit….but yes, they are trying to play for one run and usually not getting as much as that

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