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May 18, 2023

The Phillies' bats are struggling, even by the advanced stats

The Phillies aren't just struggling to drive runs in, their quality of contact is down too.

In a series where next to nothing was going right, Trea Turner stepped into the box Wednesday with the bases loaded and one last gasp to do some serious damage. 

Instead, he went down swinging on four pitches, the Phillies lost to the Giants 7-4, and with that, were swept right out of San Francisco

At 20-23 just over a quarter of the way through the season, the Phillies continue to hover around the .500 mark and in the middle of the NL East standings, but they have now lost four straight coming back to South Philadelphia, doing so in a stretch where they've gone an abysmal 2-for-39 with runners in scoring position. 

The bats have had tons of opportunity, but they're not taking advantage, and frustration is setting in. 

“It’s a million things,” Turner said postgame on Wednesday (via “You can point at individual play or offense or defense or whatever it is. But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to find ways to win games and be more consistent. We have the talent. We have the mentality. It’s just a matter of actually doing it. Stop talking about it and start doing it. I feel like we’ve been talking, talking, talking, the first 40 games. It’s time to play better.”

And granted, knocking in runs isn't the Phillies' only problem right now – the strength of their starting pitching is a lingering and increasing concern too – but it is one that manager Rob Thomson is steadfast in believing will turn around. The lineup is too strong for it not to. 

That, however, got me thinking back to last April when the Phillies were in a somewhat similar situation. 

At the time, a season with playoff aspirations was off to a floundering 7-10 start under former manager Joe Girardi, and a batting order – that was fierce on paper – was starved for offense.

Team president Dave Dombrowski wasn't discouraged though. Appearing on The Athletic Baseball Show in the midst of that rough start and citing underlying metrics, he recognized that, while his club was inconsistent, they were certainly capable of way more. 

"We really just haven't produced on a regular basis," Dombrowski said back then. "Part of it, I'm not sure if they're trying to do too much because of who they are, we've had a hard time driving in runs when we get on base. So really we just need to snap out of this because we're a better hitting club than this, and if not, shame on me for thinking we are. But it's a situation where I think we have too many good hitters."

And he was right. 

It took time – a sometimes frustrating amount of it for sure – but the 2022 Phillies' offense did eventually click and slash themselves all the way to October and then the NL pennant, with the evidence that they always would lying within the advanced stats. 

So can the same point be made about the 2023 Phillies right now? Well, there might be some cause for concern there. 

Let's dive into the numbers (via Baseball Savant), first with a look at last season's:

 April 26, 2022Percentage (Rank) End of 2022 Percentage (Rank) 
Hard-Hit Percentage 44.1% (5th) Hard-Hit Percentage 41.1% (6th) 
Barrel Percentage 8.5% (8th) Barrel Percentage 8.5% (7th) 
.272 (3rd) Expected
.252 (3rd) 
Expected Slugging .458 (8th) Expected Slugging .417 (6th) 
– Standard Batting .253 (9th) 
– – Standard Slugging .422 (6th) 

As you can see – and what Dombrowski saw last April – the 2022 Phillies were generally making good contact with the ball and were a top-10 team in several advanced hitting categories, even though that wasn't necessarily translating into runs or wins just yet. 

But they kept that level of contact up, and after installing Thomson as the interim manager (among a few other pivotal moves), the Phillies went on a tear throughout the summer, which ultimately helped push them to the NL's final Wild Card spot. 

All bets were off from there

Now the present day:

May 18, 2023 Percentage (Rank) 
Hard-Hit Percentage 38.3% (20th) 
Barrel Percentage 7.5% (20th) 
Expected Batting .243 (23rd) 
Expected Slugging .394 (23rd) 
Standard Batting .261 (7th) 
Standard Slugging .421 (10th) 

Simply put, the Phillies' bats on the whole just aren't where they need to be. 

The quality of overall contact has dropped down to the bottom third of the majors and so has the Phils' expected batting average and slugging percentage along with it. 

Their standard batting and slugging are still within the top 10 at the moment, but you can tell through recent results and just by watching where the discrepancies are. 

They're not all that patient at the plate right now, the pitch selection isn't as disciplined, and as the rut grew deeper this week, the bats started getting gripped tighter and the swings made way harder. 

Obviously, Rhys Hoskins is out for the season, which was definitely a huge hit, Turner is struggling to get settled in with his new team, Bryce Harper only just made it back from Tommy John surgery, and Kyle Schwarber is off to another slow start – but with the hope that he has another rampage through June in him.

Plus, the ebbs and flow of a 162-game schedule are always going to come with their fair share of highs, lows, slumps, and hot streaks. 

The Phillies' offense can easily turn things around, and have plenty of time and a strong enough lineup to do so. It's just that this time, the hole they have to dig themselves out of might actually be a little bit deeper than initially thought. 

Still, there's steadfast belief that this will sort itself out. 

"We're just going through one of those times right now," Thomson said after the 4-3 loss Tuesday night. "But as long you're getting runners on base...just gotta keep grinding.

"The tide will turn. It will. It always does."

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