STRIKE ONE -- WHERE'D THOSE FASTBALLS GO?
Elsewhere on this site, you'll find a column I wrote about how other teams have figured out, and adjusted to, the Phillies' lineup. I'm not sure how many fans have noticed that. But scouts are all over it. (More on that in a moment.)
And they're not alone. It's a development Charlie Manuel has been onto for a long time now.
In fact, I asked the Phillies' manager about it in October during the NLCS, and here's part of the long response he gave:
"When we're ahead in the count, they don't give us fastballs. They give us breaking balls and changeups, and they pitch to us more. Especially our little guys. They don't throw those guys the fastballs they used to.
"We're basically a fastball-hitting team. And a lot of times you see them, a count will go 3 and 1, or 2 and 1, or 2 and 0, or something like that. They'll throw us a breaking ball or something like that. We swing at it and we put it in play and dribble it.
"Those counts two or three years ago, those were fastballs, because they would look and see the middle of our lineup, and they didn't want to get down to our third and fourth hitter or even fifth hitter in some ways. But at the same time, those other guys got more fastballs. They've gone to school on us.
"We talk about that a lot. Our guys like to swing. And the whole thing about it is when you get up in the count, you're supposed to get a good ball to hit. Sometimes we do not get a good ball we can hit or handle. We don't make some of the adjustments.
"And you can talk about these things. But they've got to hit home, and you've got to work on improving on those things. It definitely might take a while. But the league kind of has adjusted to some of our hitters."
As the column accompanying this blog makes clear, it's mostly Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino that Manuel is talking about. But this trend applies to more than merely those two. Just ask any scout. In fact, I did.
STRIKE TWO -- SCOUTING REPORT DEPT.
In the process of researching that column, I talked to several scouts. And here's one National League scout's look at the way Rollins, Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are now being pitched. Very revealing.
Rollins: "They're starting to junk him to death, and he swings at them all. He's not the classic leadoff guy anyway. He's not a guy who sees a lot of pitches. But now he gets himself out a lot. He just expands the zone. He swings at the 0-0 pitch. And if he sees those back-door breaking balls and he keeps hacking at them and rolling them over, he's going to keep getting himself out. It's what he did last year and part of the year before."
Victorino: "He's another one. You know he's hacking. He really expands the zone. He's another guy who got himself out a lot last year."
Utley: "He's had physical problems the last two years he hasn't admitted to. There was a time in '09, because of the hip [surgery], he wasn't catching up to the fastball. That's why his fastball percentage went up. He wasn't catching up to that pitch the second half of that year. But he's one of those guys who forces you to pitch him different at different times in the year. That's the great thing with Utley. He makes adjustments."
Howard: "When he first came up, you had to crowd him with a lot of fastballs in, but he made that adjustment. So now he's seeing a lot more breaking balls. And where he gets in trouble is when he tries to pull those balls. He's also walking a lot less. And that tells me he wants to justify his contract. He wants to put up big stats. He's not looking to walk. I think he's got a lot of personal pride, so he wants to put up big numbers. He's too good a guy to just sit back, rest on his laurels and collect his money. But there are times he probably needs to walk more."
On how much this lineup will miss Jayson Werth: "It's huge. He'd become such a big part of their offense. He sat right in the middle of that lineup. He was a right-handed bat. He had power. He was a pretty key figure. Now they're trying to replace his offense with Domonic Brown's offense, and he's not ready. And they're trying to replace him with Ben Francisco, who I look at as a mistake hitter. If you make good pitches on him, he's out.
"So I don't see how they can be the same lineup without Werth -- unless Rollins replaces that offense. People forget that as Rollins started to slide and then Utley started to slide, Jayson Werth stepped forward to replace that offense. And it gave them a murderous middle of the order, with Howard, Werth and [Raul] Ibanez behind those table-setters.
"With what they have now, I don't think they can replace Werth's offense. And that's why I think the Braves have a good chance in that division. If [the Phillies'] offense drops off and their starting rotation stays healthy, they'll be OK. But if any one of their starters goes down, it's a different situation. Now it's not four aces anymore. It's three. And a lot of teams have three."
STRIKE THREE -- NUMBER-CRUNCHING DEPT.
The Phillies keep pointing out they finished second in the league in runs scored last year, and that's true. But that total doesn't tell the whole story of their year.
Through the magic of baseball-reference.com, we were able to break down the number of times they scored three, two, one or zero runs last year. And it's very revealing:
Three runs or fewer: 75 times, most since 1997
Two runs or fewer: 51 times, most since 1998
One run or none: 34 times, most since 1991
Zero runs: 11 times, most since 1998
So sometimes, it's not how many you score. It's when you score them. Or, in the case of the 2010 Phillies, it was often when they DIDN'T score them.