Results tagged ‘ Ryne Sandberg ’
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 watched those efforts fail repeatedly last night in a 3-2 victory over the Nationals in 10 innings, but he remains as determined as ever to make it part of his team’s game.
The Phillies had runners on first and second with no outs in the third and fifth innings and twice tried to sacrifice bunt to advance their base runners. But Freddy Galvis bunted the ball back to the pitcher in the third and Ben Revere bunted the ball back to the pitcher in the fifth with the lead runner thrown out both times. (A batter earlier in the fifth, Cole Hamels reached base when he attempted to sacrifice a runner to second. He bunted the ball in front of the plate, but an errant throw to second allowed both runners to be safe.)
That’s 3-for-3 on bad bunts on a team that vowed bunting would be a big part of its game this season.
The Phillies also had a runner on second and no outs in the ninth, but Revere missed the sign to sacrifice bunt. He struck out swinging.
“We have to get the bunts down,” Sandberg said. “It’s a priority. We need to improve on that. We could have made it much easier on the offensive side of things with Cole out there on the mound and with the pitching we had.”
But the Phillies would have been better served swinging away in those situations … yes, even knowing the end result of Revere’s at-bat in the ninth. Baseball Prospectus’ Runs Expectations data from 2014 showed a team’s chances to score decreased when a team gave up an out to advance a runner.
Teams averaged 1.4023 runs with runners on first and second and no outs last season.
They averaged 1.2714 runs with runners on second and third and one out.
In other words, the Phillies had a 9.3 percent better chance to score with Galvis and Revere swinging away in the third and fifth innings. That might not seem like a lot, but every percentage point counts for a team that acknowledges it will struggle to score runs this season.
Why? Because Ryne Sandberg actually had him in the lineup against the Red Sox.
Ruf has hit .251 with 21 doubles, one triple, 20 home runs, 48 RBIs and an .805 OPS in 447 career plate appearances with the Phillies. He is the only Phillies player with 400 or more plate appearances from 2012-15 with a .787 OPS or higher.
Ruf also has an .839 OPS against left-handed pitchers, which might help a power-starved team of mostly left-handed hitters.
But Ruf has had a difficult time finding an opportunity to play. The Phillies front office and coaching has often cite his defense in the outfield, although the organization just a couple years ago gave Delmon Young an opportunity to play every day in right field. They said then Young’s offense would outweigh his defensive shortcomings. In fact, they almost completely downplayed Young’s defensive issues.
They do not say the same about Ruf, but if he hits, who knows?
“If there’s a hot bat, I’ll have trouble taking a hot bat out of the lineup,” Sandberg insisted.
Baseball Prospectus’ 2015 player projections actually have Ruf as the fourth-most productive player on the Phillies roster with a 1.4 WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player), despite only 334 projected plate appearances. Only Chase Utley (3.9), Carlos Ruiz (2.9) and Ben Revere (2.5) are projected to be better.
But Ruf has been relegated to backing up Revere in left field and Ryan Howard at first base. For whatever reason, the Phillies prefer Grady Sizemore (0.1 WARP projection) and Jeff Francoeur (-0.1 WARP projection) in right field over Ruf, who has played there in the past.
Sandberg said that could change.
“That’s an option,” he said. “I think there’s versatility and some spots wide open as far as that goes if a hitter wants to get hot. (Ruf) has a little bit of history in right field. Not a lot, but he actually didn’t have a lot of history in left field and I thought that he’s taken to that pretty well. I would say that remains an option for him.”
It should be noted that teams are not beating down the Phillies’ door to acquire Ruf. Scouts generally view him as a part-time player with some power. And I’m not saying Ruf is an All-Star in the making, a guy that would hit 35 home runs if only afforded the opportunity. But on a team begging for offense and talking about small ball like it it something that could actually work, semi-regular at-bats for a right-handeded power bat makes some sense.
If this was 2009 and the Phillies’ outfield included Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth there is no question Ruf should be on the bench. But Revere, Odubel Herrera and Sizemore might not combine for 10 home runs this season. Ruf can’t get some semi-regular at-bats knowing that?
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.
The Phillies bunted twice with runners in scoring position and no outs in today’s 3-2 victory over the Pirates at Bright House Field. It resulted in one run.
The Phillies have six sacrifice bunts this spring, which are four more than any other team.
“That’s something that I’m stressing this spring,” Sandberg said. “We’re working on it. We’re practicing it. If it’s not a bunt it could be a hit and run. Get a base runner, make something happen. Really to set the tone for the season.”
Sandberg explained that Cesar Hernandez’s sacrifice bunt in the first inning with Ben Revere on second and no outs, and Revere’s sacrifice bunt in the third with Tommy Joseph on second and Chase d’Arnaud on first with no outs were not sacrifice attempts.
“Early in the game sometimes that’s a bunt for a base hit,” Sandberg said. “If you’re out you’ve done a job advancing the runner. Early in the game that’s usually the case.”
Of course, analytics and critics argue that bunting makes less sense because outs are precious and the chances to score decrease dramatically with every out. But Sandberg cannot like what he has seen through nine Grapefruit League games. The Phillies finished the afternoon averaging 2.56 runs per game, which ranked 28th in baseball. Their .532 OPS ranked last.
“I look at our bats and our type of team and I think we’re going to have to be good at that game,” Sandberg said.
But then Cole Hamels told USA Today he wants to win and “I know it’s not going to happen here.”
It sounds like manager and pitcher are not on the same page. But Ruben Amaro Jr. and Sandberg said today they had no problem with Hamels’ comments. How could they? The Phillies front office has said the organization is rebuilding for the future and the process could take at least a couple seasons before the team can be a postseason contender.
“Maybe I would have liked for him to have chosen his words a little differently, but it’s totally understandable,” Amaro said Thursday. “Cole wants to win. I think everyone is on the same page. We all want to win.”
Sandberg said he spoke with Hamels about those words. He said Hamels told him that he made those comments “a while ago and it didn’t reflect on his feelings coming into camp. I think it was unfortunate timing and it wasn’t a reflection on how he feels coming into camp.”
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote Wednesday’s story. He said he interviewed Hamels for the story Tuesday.
Perhaps Hamels completely changed his feelings from Tuesday to Thursday, when Phillies pitchers and catchers held their first workout at Carpenter Complex.
Perhaps Hamels simply does not want to ruffle any feathers.
But Hamels has said numerous times he does not want to spend his prime years on a losing team. He told USA Today his limited no-trade clause would not scuttle a trade to a contender.
“He’s one of those guys that sits in the sweet spot for us,” Amaro said about Hamels. “He’s going to be a tremendous asset if he stays with us, and if we get to the point where we move him, it’s going to be because we get assets back that are going to move us forward. He’s in our camp. I fully expect him to pitch on Opening Day for us. I’m glad to have him. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game and I’m happy to move forward with him and get us going back on track.”
Amaro said he has talked to veterans like Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee since they have arrived in camp. Each player has indicated in the past they would like to play for a winning team.
“There’s a lot of talk about us rebuilding and these (veterans) being disgruntled and all of that stuff,” Amaro said. “(But) these guys are all professionals, and they’re going to play and pitch and they’re going to do their best to win baseball games for the Phillies, I’m sure of that.”
Cliff Lee will speak to reporters tomorrow. Jonathan Papelbon follows him Friday with Cole Hamels on Saturday and Chase Utley on Monday. Phillies fans are curious to hear what they have to say about returning to a team headed in a different direction.
Ryan Howard is not scheduled to speak to reporters, but perhaps that announcement will come. He might be the most interesting Phillies player to hear from, considering his offseason. He finalized a legal battle with his family. His general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said publicly and privately the organization would be better without him.
“Right now, unless he gets unseated, he’s the first baseman,” Ryne Sandberg said today. “He needs to prepare himself to be the best first baseman he can be.”
But certainly it is not a stretch to think Howard feels a little unwanted or unappreciated. That could create tension in camp.
Sandberg said he spoke with Howard about a month ago.
“I know he’s got a lot of things off his mind, coming from him,” Sandberg said. “Ryan was very positive with the conversation. He wanted to be part of the process here with the younger players that we might have in camp. Be that type of a guy. He’s been a Philadelphia Phillie. He considers himself a Phillie right now so for him to take pride in that and going forward help out with the process, that’s something he can also help out with.
“We can get younger around Ryan Howard and have some youth and some hop around him. Like I said, if he gets to where he can really contribute, I’m anxious to see him and see where he’s at and to see if he can be a guy who can raise his game and help us win. I’m confident in Ryan in bouncing back and having that type of year.”
He uttered the word “anxious” a few times this afternoon at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, where Major League Baseball is holding its Winter Meetings. He is entering his second full season as Phillies manager and the team is in the beginning stages of a massive rebuild.
He is waiting like everybody else to see who exactly will be in the Phillies’ clubhouse in Spring Training.
“The goal of the organization is to get younger,” Sandberg said. “That is what this winter is all about.”
But there is another reason to be anxious. Managers are frequent casualties in rebuilds. Sandberg is signed through 2016 with a club option for 2017, but Phillies interim president Pat Gillick said the Phillies are unlikely to contend until 2017 at the earliest.
“Well, you know, he said probably might not contend,” Sandberg said.
But is he concerned he will be allowed to see the rebuild to completion?
“Well, I’d say after last year that this is the necessary thing to do is to get young and get more athletic,” he said, evading the question. “I think that helps in defense. That helps in scoring runs. It also starts to form a new core group. So with that being necessary and being a part of that, I’m excited about that possibility of seeing that started.”