Small Ball, No Runs
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.
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.
Jim Salisbury and I co-authored the book The Rotation, which is now available. Check it out here!
Here are our upcoming book signings:
- April 26: Barnes & Noble in Marlton, NJ, 7 p.m.
- May 10: Tredyfrrin Public Library in Stafford, PA, 7:30 p.m.