I’m not sure what the Phillies need to do to fix their offense. What I do know is that the first step towards fixing it needs to be to understand what went wrong in 2010.
I don’t think the problem is that the lineup is so heavily left-handed it can be shut down by left-handed pitchers. I actually think the opposite is true — the Phils are fine against left-handed pitchers but aren’t good enough against righties anymore.
What a team does offensively against right-handed pitching is much more important than what it does against left-handed pitching, just because they get so many more chances against righties. In 2010, for example, the Phillies got 6,291 plate appearances for the year and 4,415 of them, 70.2%, came against right-handed pitchers.
The Phillies are good against left-handed pitching. They have been for a while. But what they do against right-handed pitching is a lot more important. They took a nose dive against righties in 2010.
The table below shows, by OPS, what the Phillies hit against lefties in each of the past four years and how that compares to the other teams in the league:
|Year||OPS vs Left||NL Rank|
The OPS overall against lefties has gone down each of the three years. Most importantly, though, despite being so left-handed, the Phils are still among the best-hitting teams in the league against lefties. Their rank of fourth-best in the league is the same as it was in 2008 when they won the World Series.
Sadly, though, against right-handed pitchers they have dropped to the middle of the pack:
|Year||OPS vs Right||NL Rank|
Again, what the Phillies do against righties is a whole lot more important that what they do against lefties. What they did against righties in 2010 wasn’t good. After being the best offensive team in the NL against right-handed pitching in 2007, the Phils dropped to seventh in 2010. By OPS, the Arizona Diamondbacks were better against righties this year and they went 65-97.
If myth #1 is that the Phillies can’t produce against left-handed pitching, myth #2 is that Utley and Howard can’t hit lefties. Utley especially. In 2010, Utley hit 294/422/581 against lefties for a 1.003 OPS. The Phils had three players who hit really well against lefties batting from the right side — Werth, Victorino and Ruiz. Utley was better than all three of them.
Howard didn’t have massive numbers against lefties, but he got better against them in 2010. In 2008 he hit 224/294/451 (.746 OPS) against left-handed pitching. In 2009 it was a meager 207/298/356 (.653). That got better this year, as he put up a 264/333/492 (.826) line against southpaws.
What is true is that key Phillies were much less effective against right-handed pitching in 2010 then they have been in recent years.
Especially Chase Utley. Here are his numbers against right-handed pitchers over the past three seasons and his rank among NL players with at least 300 plate appearances for that season against righties:
So, by OPS, among the 300 or more plate appearances group in the NL, Utley was the 16th-best hitter against righties in the league in 2008 and the 76th-best hitter against righties in 2010. In 2008 he slugged .545 against righties. In 2010 he slugged .381 against them.
Again, the problem isn’t that Utley can’t hit lefties. In fact, in 2010 there were only two players in the NL with more than 150 plate appearances against lefties that were better than him. The problem is his numbers against righties are dropping fast and his numbers against righties are a whole lot more important.
It’s bad for Howard as well, if not quite as dramatic:
Again, using OPS as the measure, Howard was the best hitter in the league against righties in 2009. In 2010 he was the seventeenth best.
Rollins has taken the plunge as well:
Rollins was never the offensive force against righties that Utley or Howard was, but he is down in each of the three slash categories in each of last two seasons. One way you can tell he wasn’t good against righties was that he hit 218/297/360 against them for the year.
The next question has to be why those guys, Utley and Howard, especially, can’t hit righties anymore. I don’t know the answer to that one, but whatever it is should have a big impact on what the Phillies do for 2011. Because Utley and Howard are going to be around for sure, whether their issues against righties are or not.