Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Bad

I promised a post about Shane Victorino concerning the rate at which the ball is flyin' out for the Hawaiin this season. This is a lesson to me to never again preview a post based on an assumption.

I figured there had to be some explanation as to why with 45 percent of the season left to play Victorino had already exceeded his season high in home runs. I was planning on making the grand claim that he was drawing from the bad example of Jimmy Rollins, whose power numbers had increased in recent years without regard to his on-base percentage. Referring to the theme of yesterday's posting, I reasoned that Victorino was trying to hit more home runs.

I deferred to Victorino's 2010 stats, expecting to find a significant difference in certain areas from past seasons. Specifically, a player trying to hit more home runs would have a lower ground-ball/fly-ball ratio and would tend to be less selective at the plate, resulting less pitches per plate appearance, more strikeouts and less walks.

Unfortunately, the verdict was not in my favor. Victorino's numbers in all the areas I just mentioned don't differ significantly from past years, and neither do J-Roll's for that matter (comparing his 20-plus home run seasons to the rest). In fact, I didn't even take into account that Rollins began hitting more home runs after the Phillies moved from the Vet to Citizens Bank and he cut down on his strikeouts, which contradicts the assumptions I made about Victorino.

The only significant difference in both their cases is in the years with more homers, their home run percentage on fly balls was much higher. Basically, Victorino is hitting the same amount of fly balls as he always did, it's just more of them are leaving the yard. That could be chalked up to a quicker bat speed, and not to mention that most of Victorino's blasts barely make it over the fence anyway. He's always been a fly-ball hitter and it's paying off for him more than ever.

Victorino has suffered from a lower batting average this season, but that has nothing to do with his increased power. Bad luck is a big factor there as his average on balls in play this season is just .258. He's simply hitting balls right at people more often than before.

If there's one thing I have learned from this rather humbling discovery is Charlie Manuel has the wrong guys in the leadoff spot. He's being blinded by Rollins' and Victorino's size and speed. It's true that the two of them will steal a healthy amount of bags and have a good chance of scoring when they reach base. The trouble is their collective OBP (.333) is far too low, and even though they're both switch hitters, they don't hit to all fields consistently enough. Placido Polanco, on the other hand, sprays the ball all over the place and is one of the best two-strike hitters in baseball. As for reaching base, no one is better at that on the Phillies than Chase Utley. I wonder what would happen if Manuel stuck Utley in the leadoff spot for a few weeks after he returned from the DL. Given the chance, he could definitely swipe more bags and is a smart base runner. The modified lineup would look something like this:

1. Chase Utley (L)
2. Placido Polanco (R)
3. Jimmy Rollins (S)
4. Ryan Howard (L)
5. Jayson Werth (R) (assuming he's still with the team in August)
6. Shane Victorino (S)
7. Raul Ibanez (L)
8. Carlos Ruiz (R)

The two-hole has always belonged to Polanco, obviously, but with Utley in front of him, there's more of a chance he would come to plate with a man on, and the distribution of righties and lefties in the order wouldn't be compromised. After dealing with a patient Utley and a pesky Polanco, a starting pitcher won't enjoy the first inning as much.

I guess this is how you learn and grow from making mistakes. I realized some errors in my logic and the journey to correct them led to a new batting order for the Phillies. At this point, it would behoove them to try anything new.

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