Philly Front Office - Phillies

Surviving Bad Defense

At the risk of stating the obvious, the Phillies are very bad at defense. For those who like the eye test, all you need to do is watch them – if your father is anything like mine, you can hear him from the other side of the house yelling at the TV. For those who prefer basic statistics, they’re 27th in fielding percentage. For those who prefer advanced metrics, they are 27th in the league in defensive WAR at worse than -25, or roughly 2.5 wins lost due to defense. Digging into the numbers, they grade out as having poor range and arms and making too many errors. This is based on a system that analyzes all batted ball and fielding data to determine how easy a play was and how many fielders have made similar plays in the past successfully. Digging a little deeper, it appears that the Phillies simply struggle to make routine plays. It may only be 1% of plays, but every out counts, and failing to make outs hurts the team.

The reason the Phillies are bad on defense is simple: they don’t have good defensive players!

Positional Rank (min 250 AB) Defensive WAR (position avg)
Jorge Alfaro C 1/23 (min 200 AB) 7.8 (4.5)
Carlos Santana 1B 15/25 -7.2 (-6.8)
Cesar Hernandez 2B 10/21 1.4 (1.1)
Scott Kingery SS 18/26 2 (4.5)
Maikel Franco 3B 17/30 -0.4 (1.0)
Rhys Hoskins LF 37/38 -12.1 (-3.0)
Odubel Herrera CF 33/35 -5.6 (0.7)
Nick Williams RF 23/30 -6.3 (-2.4)

As you can see, while Jorge Alfaro grades out as the best defensive catcher in the league on the strength of his right cannon, only one of the other seven field players grades out above average, and only slightly so. That would be Cesar Hernandez, who is currently 10th of 21. The outfield is terrible across the board, with only Herrera providing even a glimmer of hope as his numbers are currently far below his career numbers. The rest is to be expected – Santana is playing right to his career number, Hernandez has seen his numbers decline to pre-2016 levels but has been in this range before, Kingery is playing out of position, and Franco, Hoskins, and Williams all projected as mediocre or worse defenders.

Yet, despite this terrible defense, the Phillies have been decent at actually preventing runs, comfortably in the top half of the league in runs allowed. Part of this is the Phillies’ ability to get outs without the help of their fielders, striking out more than a batter per inning. They don’t walk a lot of opposing batters, sitting in the top 10 in walk rate. But what stands out was that their opposing batting average on balls in play is a passable .296, just slightly off the expected average of .292-.294. But how?

This is the true skill of the Phils’ pitching staff. There are more hits on hard hit balls than soft hit balls. The Phillies are 3rd in the league in generating soft contact and 1st in the league in limiting hard contact. They generate infield flies, which are automatic outs, and limit line drives, which are usually hits. With a better defense, this pitching staff would probably look like a top 5 pitching staff. As is, they are still performing at that level and keeping the D afloat.

As the Phils come to the deadline, the chat will be about whether the Phillies should be adding hitting or pitching. But finding a glove or two could be what really puts them over the top down the stretch.


Adam Schorr

Adam Schorr (@BusterDucks) likes advanced stats, perhaps too much. We must go deeper!

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