July 02, 2019
There are, really, two ways to win baseball games. To have good pitching, or good hitting.
The Phillies have been unable to consistently do either this season, which is why they are hanging on by a thread in the race for the NL East in early July. Trailing the Braves by 5.5 games entering play on Tuesday, the Phillies have not had a more important series of games this season as they face them in Atlanta this week.
The Braves have hit the eighth most homers in baseball this season with 132. The Phillies pitching staff has allowed the third most in all of baseball with 142.
The longball was supposed to be a strength for the Phillies, as they collectively added 51 homers (in theory) by bringing in Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen. We hypothesized about this before the season, projecting the team had the potential to hit 237 dingers — which would be their most ever as a team.
Instead, the team is on pace to hit 206, which in this home run-or-bust era of baseball would place them likely around 20th of all MLB teams.
Their lack of power is troubling, but not as troubling as the way power bats have absolutely decimated the team's pitching.
According to Baseball Reference, 688 pitchers have played in a game this season. Of those, five of the top 47 in home runs allowed are Phillies starters (keep in mind that, between 30 teams, there are 150 starting pitching spots).
Last season, the Phillies pitching staff — which is basically exactly the same save for some different relievers and spot starters — allowed 171 home runs, the seventh fewest in baseball. This season, if the staff can't stop making so many mistakes, they'll allow 278 homers. The current record is held by the 2016 Reds, who allowed 258.
The Phillies are allowing 1.7 homers per game, or one homer in 4.4 percent of at bats. They are seeing 12.8 percent of fly balls they surrender go over the wall behind them.
Pitching in a hitter-friendly ballpark seems like a likely explanation for some of the woes, but incredibly, exactly 71 homers have been allowed in Citizens Bank Park, and 71 have been allowed away from home.
Another possible explanation one might suggest is the pitchers are getting tired and making mistakes late in games, or that opposing offenses are figuring things out in their second or third times through the line up. That isn't the case either. A remarkable 72 of their 142 homers allowed have come in the first 25 pitches of a game, with the other 70 coming on pitches No. 26-through the end of the game.
In all, the Phillies have allowed 223 runs on homers, of 408 runs allowed through 84 games this season. That breaks down to around 55 percent of their opponent's runs coming off of home runs. The entire league has a rate of 48 percent using the same metric.
You'll probably remember the Phillies losing to the Diamondbacks a few weeks ago in a game that saw 13 homers hit, the most of any game in baseball history. That could wind up being the Phillies' regular season in a nutshell.
We have a large sample size already from which to project that the Phillies will have an uphill climb to figure it out and make the playoffs. A ton of players returning from injury and a possible deadline trade could help the pitching staff improve. But if they can't keep the ball inside the fences, it'll be hard to succeed as the ball will continue to fly as the weather gets hot and humid this summer.
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