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December 29 2006

Last season the Phillies employed some of the most prolific pitch-takers in baseball.  Burrell led the National League, seeing 4.32 pitches per plate appearance and Bobby Abreu blew him away in his time with the Phillies, seeing 4.47 pitches per plate appearance.  Including his time with the Yankees, Abreu ended the season seeing more pitches per plate appearance than anyone in baseball, 4.45.  Among the players that qualified for the batting title, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were also in the top 20 in the category in the NL.

For a while now it's been true that the Phillies' leadoff man doesn't see a lot pitches.  With the addition of Victorino to the top of the order, however, it looks certain that the Phils will now have a tandem at the top of the order not letting many go by.  Last year Victorino saw fewer pitches per plate appearance than Rollins did.

Here's a look at some of the key Phillies who got at least 300 plate appearances with the team last season, and how many pitches they saw:

 

Player PA NP NP/PA
Utley 739 2930 3.96
Howard 704 2863 4.07
Rollins 758 2806 3.70
Burrell 567 2452 4.32
Abreu 438 1959 4.47
Victorino 462 1583 3.43
Rowand 445 1511 3.40
Nunez 369 1361 3.69
Dellucci 301 1203 4.00

The argument about whether Jimmy Rollins is a good leadoff hitter or not could go on forever.  Bill James is apparently a fan, and he points out that while if you were making Rollins in a lab you would give him a .400 on-base percentage, in the real world you don't get that chance.  You have to take the player's strengths with his weaknesses and all of them have both.

Rollins isn't so much the problem -- he's a very solid all-around player and a big boost for the Phillies' offense in seasons when he slugs .478 and hits 25 home runs.  One thing that's surely not lost on Phillies fans is that Rollins doesn't take a lot of pitches.  That probably just is what it is -- Rollins seems likely to stay at the top of the Philllies' lineup and continue to take fewer pitches than many of his teammates and draw walks at a lower rate.  But Rollins, last year especially, has been a solid hitter at a fielder's position.

The problem for the Phillies may be in the two hole, where Shane Victorino is likely to be a fixture in 2007.  If you have to take a player's strengths with his weakness, the problem for Victorino may simply be that virtually all of his strengths are defensive.  If the season started tomorrow, he would likely be manning right field, a hitter's position, for the Phillies.

You can certainly be a good hitter without seeing a lot of pitches.  Among the players that qualified for the batting title in the NL last season, for example, Nomar Garciaparra was dead last in pitches seen per plate appearance.  He saw 3.20 pitches per plate appearance and hit 303/367/505 playing half his games in Dodger Stadium.  The problem for Victorino is that he isn't a good hitter.  Not yet, at least.  He hit 287/346/414 last season and he won't be a corner outfielder for long unless he fixes it.

It may look odd that the Phillies would put two of their hitters who take the fewest pitches at the top of the order.  But I'm not sure how much it matters.  What matters much more is that the Phillies put two good hitters at the top of their lineup.  Right now they're only halfway there.  And while Victorino doesn't necessarily have to improve himself as an offensive player by seeing more pitches, he's going to have to do it somehow.

The Giants appear to be the winners of the Barry Zito sweepstakes and will give the lefty $126 million over seven years.  Seven?  Ew.  It's good news for the Phillies for several reasons, the biggest of which may be that it means Zito won't be going to the Mets or the Rangers.  The Mets would have been tougher still if they had added Zito.  The Rangers are left short in their rotation and may be more inclined to consider dealing relievers for Jon Lieber.  As this article explains, the Rangers rotation includes Brandon McCarthy and three former Phillies, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla and Robinson Tejeda.  They're going to need another starter.

And speaking of Robinson Tejeda, have you seen his numbers from last season?  He finished 5-5 with a 4.28 ERA in 14 starts for Texas.  He allowed a ton of base runners, but he won't turn 25 till March and now for his career he's 9-8 with a 3.90 ERA in 40 games, 27 of which were starts.  I thought the Phillies made a tremendous deal when they got Dellucci.  It looks like I might have been wrong given that the Phillies got just one year and 264 at-bats from Dellucci in a season where they didn't make the playoffs.

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