Results tagged ‘ lineup ’
First, Chase Utley is on the bench. He is hitting .103 this season and .215 with a .610 OPS in 555 plate appearances since May 29, 2014. Let’s see what Sandberg says in the dugout, but if I’m the manager I tell Utley to take a seat tonight and tomorrow night. There is an off day Thursday, so Utley could have three consecutive days to relax and clear his head. Jeff Francoeur said a weekend off benefited him Monday, when he went 4-for-5.
An extended rest has benefited other struggling hitters in the past. It might help. It might not. But it’s something to at least try.
Second, Ben Revere is playing right field for the first time since 2012, when he played 84 games there with the Twins. I think this is a precursor to Maikel Franco‘s promotion from Triple-A, which could happen as early as May 15. Whenever Franco is promoted the Phillies will want him to play regularly. That means plenty of time at third base, which means Cody Asche moving to left field.
So far they have not.
Sandberg has tried 12 different lineups in 16 games, but the Phillies enter tonight’s series opener against the Braves averaging just 2.56 runs per game, which are the fewest in baseball. They are 30th in batting average with runners in scoring position (.176), 29th in on-base percentage (.270) and 28th in slugging percentage (.323). Sandberg has dropped Ryan Howard from fourth to seventh before moving him to fifth and sixth. Carlos Ruiz (zero home runs, one RBI this season) and Jeff Francoeur have hit cleanup since Howard’s demotion. In fact, if Francoeur hits cleanup tonight he will match Howard for the most appearances in the cleanup spot this season. (Raise your hand if you predicted that one.) Ben Revere has moved from first to eighth to second. Grady Sizemore continues to start about half the team’s games, despite posting a .159 (17-for-107) batting average and .511 OPS since Aug. 8.
Domonic Brown is expected to return from the DL next week. Can the Phillies really keep both left-handed hitting outfielders?
Meanwhile, Chase Utley continues to hit third, despite having the third-lowest batting average (.120) in baseball.
In the end, it probably does not matter what the lineup is. But so far Sandberg has found none of his combinations working.
Sandberg has made some curious moves in the bullpen in recent weeks. He employed Jake Diekman in a double-switch in the sixth inning April 15 in New York, but chose to have Diekman only pitch the sixth. Sandberg said he did not have Diekman start the seventh because he is the only left-hander in the bullpen and he had been pitching a lot lately. He said he wanted to save Diekman in case he needed him the following night. The problem is that he could have used him that night. Dustin McGowan replaced Diekman in the seventh and he allowed a solo homer to left-handed hitter Daniel Murphy, who was the first batter to hit in the inning. The Phillies lost, 6-5.
The Phillies lost the next night, 6-1, and Diekman was never needed.
That move is mentioned because of what happened in yesterday’s 9-1 loss. McGowan made a spot start, knowing he could pitch only three to four innings. He ran into trouble in the third, but the Phillies got nobody up in the bullpen. He then ran out of gas in the fourth, walking the bases loaded with one out. But the Phillies kept him in the game and he served up a two-run single to give the Marlins a 2-0 lead.
At that point the Phillies called in rookie Hector Neris to pitch in that high-leverage situation. Neris pitched one inning for the Phillies last season and just joined the Phillies this week. He promptly hit Marlins pitcher David Phelps with a pitch to reload the bases. Neris then allowed another single to allow two more runs to score to make it 4-0.
The game snowballed from there.
Then, interestingly, Diekman pitched the eighth inning despite having pitched Wednesday and the team trailing 8-0. His appearance stood out because of what Sandberg said last week: it’s important to conserve Diekman because he is the only left-hander in the bullpen. Meanwhile, Jeanmar Gomez, who the team touted as its long man, did not pitch until the ninth.
Gomez could have pitched the final two innings. He also could have tried to clean up McGowan’s mess in the fourth and give the Phillies a couple more innings from there. But Sandberg said he wanted to save his long man for Friday, in case he is needed. Of course, Aaron Harang pitches tonight and he has been the team’s most effective starter through three weeks.
That is twice Sandberg has said he did not use a reliever because he wanted him available for a potential scenario the next day.
“He still remains a length guy for tomorrow,” Sandberg said about Gomez. “To preserve that and have him be our length guy, that’s where he really comes into play for us.”
Perhaps Sandberg has such little faith in the offense’s ability to score that once the Phillies are down a couple runs he figures he might as well prepare for the next day’s game. But managing for the next day and not the game at hand certainly is different. It might not make a difference with this team, but it is worth noting.
He had struggled through the season’s first eight games — not as much as Chase Utley, although he heard more about it — when Ryne Sandberg sat him Wednesday against Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese. It was the second time in nine games the Phillies had faced a left-hander and the second time Sandberg had sat Howard against a lefty. Howard said Wednesday he had talked to Sandberg and had received no indication he might be platooned at first base, although Sandberg left the door open.
“Kind of take that a series at a time,” Sandberg said.
Then last night Sandberg dropped Howard all the way to seventh in the Phillies’ lineup.
From possibly platooned on April 15 to hitting seventh against a right-handed pitcher whose fastball tops out at 88 mph on April 16.
“I’ve been in situations like this before,” said Howard, who had not his seventh since 2006. “This isn’t the first time that I’ve gotten moved down in the lineup or anything like that. For me, you just try to look at it as an internal challenge. Do I feel l can hit fourth? Yeah, I know I can. I’m not worried about it. I’m not trying to look too far into it or anything like that. If I’m hitting in the seven-hole, do the best I can that day.”
I must say I’m a little surprised Sandberg made these moves only 10 games into the season. I’m not saying Darin Ruf should not see more time at first base against left-handers (Ruf deserves more playing time, period). I’m not saying Howard should not have been moved from the cleanup spot. I’m also not saying these moves weren’t coming. Howard has struggled against lefties for some time and he struggled hitting fourth last season. I’m saying I thought Sandberg might wait a little longer, unless he told Howard before the season he would have an incredibly short leash. I’m also a bit surprised he dropped him all the way to seventh.
After all, if there was such little faith in Howard’s ability to produce why start the season with him in the cleanup spot in the first place? It is kind of the same thing with Ben Revere. He dropped from first to eighth after just seven games. Cody Asche also was benched a couple games last week after a slow start.
Clearly Sandberg is trying to find a lineup combination that works, but hitting also involves confidence and right now hitters might be thinking, “Boy, if I go 0-for tonight I might be dropped in the lineup or benched.”
That is not why they Phillies aren’t hitting, but I also think it comes into play if players never know where they stand.
Ryan Howard takes the heat, but Chase Utley is struggling worse than Howard through the Phillies’ first seven games. In fact, this is the worst start of Utley’s career through the team’s first seven games.
“It’s just a matter of time with Chase,” Ryne Sandberg said after yesterday’s 2-0 loss to the Mets. “I have no worries there. He gets quality at-bats. Chase will be fine. We just need to create some opportunities with men on base for those guys in the middle of the lineup.”
I’m not sure if Sandberg is saying Utley and Howard are struggling because the No. 1 and 2 hitters aren’t getting on base enough, but that should not affect Utley or Howard at the plate that much. Will Utley be better than he has been? Yes, although he has not homered since Aug. 10. It is the longest homerless drought of his career, stretching to 175 at-bats. But he posted a 1.297 OPS in Spring Training, so he was swinging the bat well recently.
Is he the only reason the Phillies are struggling offensively? Absolutely not. But he is a big reason why the team has scored just 16 runs in seven games.
Sandberg said he is not considering any significant changes to the lineup. I think that could come in time, but seven games into the season is not the time to bump Utley and Howard. I know nobody likes to hear this, but a big part of managing is managing people. You don’t take two long-time Phillies and in one day move them out of the spots they have been hitting their entire careers. They deserve a little more time. How much time? I’m not sure, but certainly more than seven games.
He said Monday following an 18-4 loss to the Pirates that he hoped to play his Opening Day lineup at least once before next Monday’s season opener against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. So today’s lineup appeared to offer some clues with the exception of backup catcher Cameron Rupp playing over Carlos Ruiz.
Left fielder Ben Revere and center fielder Odubel Herrera hit first and second, respectively, which made sense.
“It’s a possible combination,” Sandberg said.
Revere and Herrera both offer speed and the possibility of respectable on-base percentages atop the lineup. Revere hit .306 with a .325 on-base percentage and 49 stolen bases last season. Herrera, who is a Rule 5 Draft pick, won batting titles in the Double-A Texas League and Venezuelan Winter Ball. He entered Thursday hitting .328 with a .355 on-base percentage in the Grapefruit League.
“(Freddy) Galvis is another guy in the No. 2 spot,” Sandberg said. “He’s another option depending on that day’s lineup.”
Galvis has hit .218 with a .259 on-base percentage in 550 career plate appearances with the Phillies. He has hit .246 with a .291 on-base percentage in 2,631 plate appearances in the Minor Leagues.
Asked if Galvis has enough hitting ability to warrant the No. 2 spot, Sandberg said, “Playing the game the right way. Setting up base runners, moving the runners and doing some things for the three, four, five hitters. That’s what Freddy has done so well this spring. He fits that mold very well, too.”
But the occasional opportunity to potentially advance a base runner might not benefit the lineup as a whole. The No. 2 hitter in baseball last season averaged 731.8 plate appearances per team. The No. 8 hitter averaged 628 plate appearances.
That is a difference of 103.8 plate appearances in a season.
It is going to be very difficult for the Phillies to score runs this season. Every out counts. So it goes without saying they should have their best hitters at the top, whether or not they play small ball as effectively as Galvis.
Here is a look at the average plate appearances per spot in the lineup in MLB last season:
- 750.4 plate appearances
- 731.8 (-18.6 fewer plate appearances than spot above)
- 716.3 (-15.5)
- 700 (-16.3)
- 684.3 (-15.7)
- 665.1 (-19.2)
- 647.1 (-18)
- 628 (-19.1)
- 608 (-20)
Galvis has hit a bit better this spring. He entered today hitting .288 with a .309 on-base percentage. If he can keep up that pace perhaps some time hitting second works. But if he hits like he has in the past that spot is better reserved for Revere, Herrera or somebody else.
So it seemed like a no-brainer today when Ryne Sandberg started John Mayberry Jr. at first base against Padres left-hander Eric Stults. Howard entered the afternoon with a .209/.268/.413 line against left-handed pitchers, compared to a .198/.254/.350 line the previous three seasons.
But then a quick look at the matchups showed Howard is 2-for-2 with two home runs and four RBIs in his career against Stults.
Despite his struggles against left-handed pitchers, Howard has started 12 of 16 games against lefties this season. He also has hit fifth eight times after hitting there twice in the season’s first four games. Meanwhile, Mayberry has a .273/.385/.545 line against left-handed pitching this season and a .274/.326/.528 line against them in his career.
He made considerable changes to his lineup following Monday’s 14-10 victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Stadium.
He has Marlon Byrd hitting fourth between Chase Utley and Ryan Howard tonight against Rangers left-hander Martin Perez. That itself should not surprise people. Sandberg hit Byrd fourth several times in Spring Training. Byrd also had a .959 OPS against lefties last season, which ranked 13th out of 173 qualifying players in baseball. Meanwhile, Howard has a .602 OPS against lefties from 2011-14, which ranks 203 out of 213 qualifying players.
But the move is noteworthy because Howard had started 665 consecutive regular-season games in the cleanup spot. The last time he started a game and did not hit fourth? June 29, 2008, in Texas.
Pat Burrell hit fourth that afternoon.
Sandberg also has Cesar Hernandez playing second base with Utley the DH. John Mayberry Jr. is starting in left field, giving Domonic Brown a day off. That’s a platoon move. Brown’s career splits: .794 OPS vs. righties to .672 OPS vs. lefties. Mayberry’s career splits: .852 OPS vs. lefties to .668 OPS vs. righties.
Cody Asche, who had a big game yesterday, also takes a seat to Jayson Nix at third base. Nix has a career .727 OPS against lefties, compared to a .602 OPS against righties. Asche has a .629 OPS against lefties in his brief big-league career, compared to a .762 OPS agianst righties.
Interesting stuff …
The Phillies recently spent $42 million on Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd, and barring a big move from Ruben Amaro Jr. those signings could be the end of their offensive upgrades for 2014. Every position is set, unless Amaro trades somebody like Domonic Brown or Ben Revere or some starting pitching to add a bat. It seems clear the front office is entering next season the same way it entered this past season: hoping a healthier roster is enough to return them to the postseason. The Phillies thought a healthier Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in 2013 would provide a big boost. The theory had some merit. The Phillies were 45-57 on July 29, 2012, before they traded Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. They finished 36-24 for the fifth-best record in the National League. They thought they had momentum. They thought they saw signs of the former five-time NL East champions.
But that hope is a harder sell following a 73-89 finish in 2013, the organization’s worst since they lost 97 games in 2000. The Phillies scored the fourth-fewest runs in baseball lats season.
Not only do the Phillies need Howard and Ben Revere healthy and productive, they need bounce back seasons from Ruiz (he had his worst season since 2008) and Jimmy Rollins (he had the worst season of his career), Byrd to prove a career-year at 35 wasn’t a fluke, Brown to prove he can replicate his breakout season and Utley to prove he can stay healthy two years in a row.
It seems like a lot of things need to break perfectly for the Phillies to score more runs next year.
Thoughts on this potential lineup for 2014?
- Revere, CF
- Rollins, SS
- Utley, 2B
- Howard, 1B
- Byrd, RF
- Brown, LF
- Ruiz, C
- Cody Asche, 3B
He has hit .284 with six doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 23 RBIs and a .848 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 30 games from April 24 through Monday’s 8-3 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. He earned National League Player of the Week honors after hitting .348 (8-for-23) with two doubles, one triple, two home runs and seven RBIs in six games in the past week.
Interestingly, he has not hit higher than fifth this season, hitting sixth 42 times.
Could that be changing?
“He’ll let me know when it’s time for him to move,” Charlie Manuel said before tonight’s game. “He’s headed that way. Really, I mean that. I’ve developed a lot of players through the Minor Leagues and big leagues. I’ve had some of the best players who have ever been in baseball. They’ll usually let you know where they’re going to hit. (Chase) Utley and (Ryan) Howard did that. When people talk, ‘Why is he hitting down there?’ He’ll hit his way there eventually.”
Howard won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2005. He hit sixth almost the entire season behind Jimmy Rollins, Kenny Lofton, Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell. He hit mostly fifth the first few months in 2006, permanently moving to fourth only when the Phillies traded Abreu on July 30. Howard won NL MVP honors that season.
Utley hit mostly fifth and sixth the first few months of 2005 before Manuel put him into the third spot for the first time July 14. He remained there almost exclusively the rest of the season.
Brown might not move up in the lineup this week, but if he keeps hitting like this it is an eventuality.
“In my head, I always feel like I’m up to the task of being in the top of the order,” Brown said. “That’s Charlie’s decision and whenever he thinks I’m ready for it, I’ll move up. Right now I’m fine where I’m at. As long as guys are getting in scoring position and I’m doing my little part on the team, we got Howard, Utley and those guys to drive in runs, so once I get a little time then I just try to do the same.
“You’ve got to earn it with Charlie. I grew up the same way. I totally understand where he’s coming from whereas a lot of guys might not. Nothing’s going to be handed to you. You’ve got go out and work hard. If you’re putting up the numbers, then you’re going to hit in the top of the lineup. If you don’t, then he’s going to put you down there in the seventh and eighth hole. Charlie’s one of those managers that’s going to let you know exactly what’s going on. It’s no surprises.”
But Brown is encouraged with his progress. He credits a shorter, quicker swing for much of his success.
“Being around guys with short swings,” he said. “You can definitely see the difference with guys like Jimmy, Utley, those guys. With that being said, I can get on the plate like those guys. Me being 6-5, longer arms, I’ve got to be short to the baseball. Just going out, watching a lot of film and being around coaches, it’s a little bit of everything.”
There is good reason for that. Phillies leadoff hitters entered tonight’s series opener against the Indians with a .273 on-base percentage, which ranked 27th in baseball. But when I asked Manuel if he imagined anybody else hitting leadoff other than Rollins or Revere he said he didn’t based on personnel. That had me thinking about Michael Bourn in the Indians clubhouse. He signed a four-year, $48 million deal with Cleveland in January. He also has a .348 on-base percentage from 2009 through this season. (He is hitting .293 with a .350 on-base percentage in 64 plate appearances this year.)
The Phillies could use some production like that right about now.
“I think I might have been on their hit list,” Bourn said about the Phillies’ offseason interest. “I don’t know how high or what their target was or if they were worried about what Scott (Boras) was going to do. There are a lot of teams that say they want you to be part of their organization, but you don’t know if they really do. You have a whole bunch of teams that say they’re interested. But when it comes down to it there’s about three or four of them. Really, two.”
The Phillies had some interest in Bourn, but not as his original asking price, believed to be considerably higher than the deal he eventually struck with Cleveland. Had the Phillies not acquired Ben Revere from the Twins in December, the Phillies might have made a late run at Bourn in January, but that never happened.
“Getting adjusted to play in Philly is different,” Bourn said about Revere’s early struggles. “When you come here it’s different. They want you to do everything right now. That’s the only advantage I would have had because I’ve played here before. But I’m really happy here. Yeah, I guess the Phillies were interested a little bit. But that’s not how it went down.”
Revere, who started tonight on the bench, is hitting .400 (8-for-20) in his last eight games.