Saturday, February 13, 2016

Five observations: A tale of two leadoff hitters, and one Cliff Lee

We take a look at how Ben Revere compares with Shin-Soo Choo, and how Cliff Lee 2k13 compares with Cliff Lee 2k12.

Five observations: A tale of two leadoff hitters, and one Cliff Lee

Phillies centerfielder Ben Revere ranks near the bottom of the league when it comes to on-base percentage. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Phillies centerfielder Ben Revere ranks near the bottom of the league when it comes to on-base percentage. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Five facts and/or observations from the Phillies' 4-2 loss to the Reds on Monday night:

1) Last night, it took the Washington Nationals three innings to equal the number of runs that the Phillies scored in their series against the Marlins over the weekend. That's worth mentioning, because by the end of last season the Phillies' early-season offensive struggles seemed to have been forgotten by much of the local punditry, overshadowed by a pair of dueling narratives: one, that the struggles of the pitching staff were the reason the Phillies were not a playoff team; two, that the offensive production returned to an acceptable level once Ryan Howard and Chase Utley rejoined the lineup. As is usually the case with mass-produced narratives, both are too simplistic. Take, for example, last night's 4-2 loss to the Reds. While it would be easy to blame the bullpen for allowing a tie game to become a loss, a competent offensive performance against Bronson Arroyo would have prevented Cliff Lee from having to leave the game for a pinch hitter in the eighth inning at 96 pitches. It would have kept Jeremy Horst on the sidelines and Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon primed to deliver on any set-up/close situation that followed Lee's exit. Point is, you can stock a roster with 12 Justin Verlanders, but if you can't score a run off of Bronson Arroyo until your starting pitcher is out of the game, you are going to be a .500 team at best.

2) Last night's game reminded me a lot of last year's 1-0 loss to the Giants when Lee pitched 10 scoreless innings. That game also happened to be Lee's third start of the season. That's another thing that was lost in a lot of subjective breakdowns of "what went wrong" in 2012. Lee was pretty damn good for most of the season. He hit a bit of a rough patch in June, when he allowed 20 runs over four starts. But he had a 2.92 ERA leading up to that stretch and a 2.44 ERA after it.

Lee through three starts in 2012: 23 IP, 5 runs allowed, 18 strikeouts, 2 walks, 2 home runs, 1.61 GB/FB

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Lee through three starts in 2013: 23 2/3 IP, 5 runs allowed, 18 strikeouts, 1 walk, 1 home run, 0.68 GB/FB

Lee is the same pitcher now as he was last year at this time, and like most pitchers, there are nights when he is going to need his offense to give him some breathing room. As efficient as Lee was through six innings last night, he wasn't as sharp as you might think. He was up in the zone for most of the night and wasn't having a ton of success utilizing his off-speed pitches. By the end of the night, 15 of his 21 outs in play had come on fly balls, and his stuff was not generating the type of swings and misses that it does when he is at his most dominant. The Phillies let a winnable game get away.

3) Of the 10 major league hitters who have at least 50 plate appearances in the leadoff spot, the two with the lowest on base percentages are Ben Revere (.276) and Juan Pierre (.226). The guy with the highest OBP is the Reds' Shin-Soo Choo, who also has three home runs and a .353/.476/.588 batting line. That's interesting to note because Revere and Choo are the products of two divergent personnel strategies implemented by Ruben Amaro Jr. and Walt Jocketty this offseason. Both general managers had voids to fill in center field. Both swung trades to fill them. Amaro prioritized defense, shipping Vance Worley and prospect Trevor May to the Twins for a plus fielder whose offensive tools consisted of speed, contact and energy. Jocketty parted with outfielder Drew Stubbs and short stop prospect Didi Gregorius and received infielder Jason Donald and $3.5 million along with Choo in a three-team deal. The Reds then announced that they planned on using Choo in center field despite the fact that he had played just 23 games at the position and profiled more as a right fielder.

Anybody who watched Choo and Revere play center field last night saw the value in having a defender like Revere. Off the top of my head, I cannot tell you a more difficult catch I have seen than the one he made to rob Todd Frazier in the second inning. The play saved at least one run and potentially more. The question that defensive metrics have yet to reliably answer: how do the runs that Revere saves the Phillies on defense compare to the runs that Choo generates for the Reds on offense? Choo has been on base 30 times this season. Revere has been on base 16 times times. Choo has three home runs and three doubles. Revere has yet to record his first extra-base hit.

4) Through 13 games, Phillies outfielders have combined to post a .228/.296/.317 line. The only team with a lower OPS in its outfield is the Marlins. None of that should be read as an indictment of Revere. What the Phillies have seen thus far is the same player that they traded for. That would be fine if he was surrounded by a couple of proven corner outfielders who were providing the lineup with corner outfield production. But the Phillies decided against signing a proven power-hitting free agent for the third straight offseason, and they once again are feeling the effects. In 2011, when they looked to Ben Francisco and John Mayberry Jr. to fill the void left by Jayson Werth, the Phillies' pitching staff gave them enough time to trade for Hunter Pence. In 2012, when they looked to Mayberry, Juan Pierre and Laynce Nix to replace Raul Ibanez, things worked out differently. This year, they have unproven players at both corner outfield spots. Right now, the solution is for Domonic Brown to get hot. 

5) The Reds have been using Brandon Phillips as their cleanup hitter this year in order to separate lefties Joey Votto (batting third) and Jay Bruce (batting fifth).  Utley and Howard, who have batted No. 3 and No. 4, are a combined 2-for-27 with two walks and 12 strikeouts against lefties. Votto and Bruce are a combined 12-for-38 with eight strikeouts and seven walks against lefties.

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