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News » Inside the Phillies: Stats say bats OK with runners on

Inside the Phillies: Stats say bats OK with runners on

Inside the Phillies: Stats say bats OK with runners on HOUSTON - Your frustration is understandable. The team that you ROOT for has runners in scoring position with fewer than two outs. You crave runs, but pop-ups, fly-outs, groundouts and strikeouts spoil the inning. You want to shout, throw beer at the television, go one step further than Job and just curse God and die.

But what if the universe were not as cruel as it seemed? That is the reality of the Phillies' much-publicized, much worried-about struggles with runners in scoring position. Yes, the Phillies would like to be a more consistent offensive team. But a look at the relevant statistics shows that their funk is not as troublesome as it appears.

Through the first five months of this season (all statistics in this column cover that period), the team batted .256 with RISP, 11th in the National League and 23d in the majors. (Last year, when it won the World Series, it was an almost identical .265.)

Though that is frustrating for people watching the games hungry to see more phight from the Phightins, batting average with RISP is a misleading stat for many reasons. First, there is the obvious: Teams skilled at reaching base will naturally strand runners. Though an inning that begins with opportunity and ends in failure can be maddening, it is ultimately preferable to a quiet 1-2-3 frame. Chase Utley was exactly right last month when he said, "It is better to have runners in scoring position and not score than to not have runners in scoring position at all. The hits will come."

In any case, batting average is a poor stat to measure success with runners on, because there are so many productive outcomes for a player other than a base hit. And when you look at those outcomes, the Phillies suddenly seem like a more balanced offense.

First, there is a common-sense stat called productive outs. The Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN invented it several years ago and define it as "when a fly ball, grounder or bunt advances a runner with nobody out; when a pitcher bunts to advance a runner with one out (maximizing the effectiveness of the pitcher's plate appearance), or when a grounder or fly ball scores a run with one out."

If a player makes a productive out, his batting average with RISP suffers but his team does not. The average major-leaguer makes a productive out in 32 percent of his chances; the Phillies have six players overperforming that number: Jimmy Rollins (50 percent); Eric Bruntlett (50); Pedro Feliz (38); Ryan Howard (34); Shane Victorino (34); and Matt Stairs (33). Utley falls just short at 31 percent.

Here's another situation to put you at ease: runner on third base, fewer than two outs. Got to get that guy in, right? Well, it appears that the Phillies generally do. They have seven players above the league average of 50 percent: Victorino (67), Rollins (63), Bruntlett (63), Raul Ibanez (54), Howard (53), Utley (54), and Paul Bako (50).

Most of those performances are in line with last season's numbers, with one notable exception - Victorino, who has posted a marked improvement. In 2008, the Flyin' Hawaiian scored the runner from third just 39 percent of the time. Despite his recent election to the all-star team and the attention he earned for quality beer-soaked defense, Victorino has not received credit for maturing into a smarter situational hitter this year.

Early in spring training, manager Charlie Manuel pulled Victorino aside and said, "You've got to learn how to control the bat better."

Victorino, previously known for a high-energy style but not always for mastery of the finer points, agreed. He has since paid special attention to ensuring that his outs are productive, resulting in a statistical leap. Feliz is another unsung productive outmaker. The third baseman resides quietly at the bottom of the Phils' order, but numbers show that his contributions are important.

Another surprising number: While the Phils' .256 batting average with RISP is 11th in the National League, their OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) with RISP of .811 is first. What would you rather be good at, hitting singles with runners on second and third or hitting singles, walking, and knocking doubles, triples and home runs more than anyone else? Any educated Baseball thinker knows that OPS, while itself flawed, is a better stat than batting average.

Now, we're not trying to argue that the Phils' offense is perfect. It goes from hot to cold faster than the shower when someone flushes downstairs (you know who you are), and relies too heavily on home runs. The Phils have wasted many scoring opportunities lately and lost games because of it. In the playoffs, stellar pitching is likely to limit chances, and the Phillies will need to do a better job driving in the few runners who reach base.

But the facts clearly show that reports of the Phils' offensive demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Inside the Phillies :

Read Andy Martino's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, at

Blog post of the week RE: Phils add catcher Paul Hoover

Posted by scootch 11:22 p.m., 09/02/2009

.253 with 1 home run in 73 games this season He should fit right in with the rest of 'em the past 6 weeks.Contact staff writer Andy Martino at 215-854-4874 or

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Added: September 6, 2009

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