By ALEX VIGDERMAN
At least through the first third of the year, 2018 is shaping up to be the Year of Philadelphia. The Eagles finally won the Super Bowl, the Villanova Wildcats (admittedly merely a Philly suburb) won their second National Championship in three years, and the 76ers seem to finally be rewarding their fans’ Trust in the Process. The Flyers don’t fit with this narrative so we will not mention them.
The Phillies made a few moves in the offseason and made an exciting managerial hire that signaled they were ready to take a leap after winning between 63 and 73 games each of the previous five seasons. And they proceeded to fall right on their spreadsheet-loving faces the first week of the year, starting 1-4 and making numerous pitcher-management and defensive-positioning blunders along the way.
Well, since then the team has gone 13-3 and now sits just a half game out of the division lead. In fact, since April 5 they’ve scored the most runs in the National League and allowed the fewest.
So they must be mashing, right? Well, sort of. They’re middle of the pack in both batting average and slugging percentage, but where the team is really making its bones is with plate discipline.
They are walking an MLB-high 12 percent of the time so far this year, a four percentage-point jump from 2017 (when they ranked 22nd).
You can thank a full complement of Rhys Hoskins and the addition of Carlos Santana for that. Phillies first basemen walked 56 times last season. Santana has topped that by at least 30 in each of the last seven seasons. The Phillies totaled 160 walks from their outfielders last season. They’re already at 40.
If they were to maintain their walk percentage pace, it would be the largest year-to-year jump in walk rate since the 1940’s by nearly a full percentage point.
Of course, the pitching is where the team has really performed excellently, even with much of the same cast of characters. Their starter ERA of 3.01 ranks fourth in the majors and tops in the NL, and after the whole kerfuffle about pulling Aaron Nola too early in the season opener, they rank in the top ten so far in the percentage of innings coming from starters.
It seems possible they’ll be able to keep up this performance, as well, as the pitching staff as a whole has the lowest Hard Hit Rate in the major leagues at 17 percent.
MLB Hard Hit Rate Allowed Leaders, 2018
|Rank||Team||Hard Hit %|
That pitching success is coming in spite of a lackluster defensive showing, both from the fielders themselves and from the more aggressive defensive positioning adjustments the new coaching staff has implemented.
The Phillies are last in the majors with -14 Defensive Runs Saved, including -4 Shift Runs Saved, which also ranks last in MLB. The team as a whole is new to shifting, of course, as they are projected to more than double their shift usage from any previous season.
Some improvement is likely to come in that department as the fielders get more comfortable with the new approach to positioning, but this was a team whose defense cost itself 50 runs last season, so let’s not get carried away with those expectations.
Heading into the last week of April this is one of the more surprisingly good starts of any team in baseball, and a vastly-improved approach at the plate and underperforming defense thus far suggest that they might be able to keep this up a bit longer.
Follow us on Twitter at @Sportsinfo_SIS