The Law of Averages
During those seasons when the Phillies had the best offense in the National League, they had slumps like every team. And during those slumps reporters would ask Utley about all the runners they left on base. He normally would say something like, “Yeah, we’d love to score every runner we put on base, but the important thing is we’re getting runners on. If we keep doing that eventually we’re going to score.”
Like, Guys, it’s the law of averages. Relax. Seriously.
(I remember people wanted the Phillies to play small ball during those seasons because they relied too much on the home run. That sounds so ridiculous right now, doesn’t it?)
The Phillies left lots of runners on base during those seasons because they put lots of runners on base.
That’s not happening early this season.
The Phillies are seventh in the league in hitting at .243, but are 13th in on-base percentage at .278. The Phillies have walked just four times in their past five games.
In addition, the Phillies have walked one or fewer times five times in eight games. It obviously is a very small sample size, but that puts them on pace for 101 games with one or fewer walks. To put that in perspective, during the Phillies’ run of five consecutive National League East championships they had one or fewer walks 20 times in 2007, 24 times in ’08, 28 times in ’09, 26 times in ’10 and 27 times in ’11.
The Phillies also never finished a season ranked lower in the league in on-base percentage than batting average, meaning they were always finding ways to get runners on base. And that meant they always had a chance to score, no matter how poorly they were hitting at the time.
“We’ve got guys that have played for a long time,” Charlie Manuel said. “You can look at how much they have walked in the past. We definitely don’t teach walking, but we teach getting good balls to hit and working the count. If it’s a 3-2 pitch, be patient enough and know the strike zone enough. Don’t chase balls over your head or in the dirt. That’s basically what hitting is. There’s no way that we ever teach walking. By knowing the game, you’re going to walk, swing at good pitches and get strikes and balls to hit. If you haven’t done that in the past, it’s pretty hard.”
The early-season struggles come down to this: The Phillies are putting nobody on base, and they are hitting for no power. Their 13 extra-base hits are 15th in the league, while their 52 singles are third. It’s nearly impossible to score when a team is scattering singles. Mix in a few more base runners with those singles and maybe the Phillies can play small ball to scratch across a couple runs. But with nobody on base even small ball becomes irrelevant. And without any power there’s no chance for those solo or two-run homers, either.
Now, it is early. It is just eight games. Ryan Howard reminded reporters of that before leaving the ballpark yesterday. But this is a trend we haven’t seen from the Phillies before. They don’t have the law of averages working in their favor.
“It takes a while sometimes,” Manuel said. “I still think we can score some runs. I think we’ll definitely have a better offense than you’ve seen. I know we’ve got better than that.”
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.
- April 29: Citizens Bank Park, 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.
- May 10: Tredyfrrin Public Library in Stafford, PA, 7:30 p.m.
- June 2: Citizens Bank Park, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.