Victorino's 2010 has led to rebound season for Phillies

Posted: August 11, 2011

LOS ANGELES - The number bothered Shane Victorino the moment he returned home last winter to Las Vegas.

Then he thought about what his older brother, Michael, once told him. He remembered the advice of minor-league hitting coach Sal Rende. And he cringed at the label of "comfortable" bestowed upon him by Charlie Manuel last season; it was just a softer way to say "complacent."

Shane Victorino was a .259 hitter in 2010, and that defied every fiber of his baseball existence. That number - not the career-high 18 home runs or 69 RBIs - was the epitaph on a disappointing season.

"That's not me," Victorino said. "I'm not a .259 hitter."

He has supported that claim this season with 90 games of his best baseball. Victorino leads the Phillies in batting average (.312), on-base percentage (.391), and slugging percentage (.542). (Hunter Pence is a point higher in average at .313, but has only been with the Phillies for 12 games.)

All three figures would represent career highs for the 30-year-old Victorino, having his best season while in his prime. He ranks in the National League's top 10 in all three categories.

Despite missing 27 games with a strained calf and sprained thumb, Victorino has arguably been the team's most valuable position player in 2011. One advanced metric, wins above replacement (WAR), rates Victorino as one of the National League's top players. According to baseball-reference.com, he is tied for fifth in the league in WAR, which combines a player's value offensively and defensively to calculate a total contribution to the team.

"He's swinging a good bat," Manuel said Wednesday. "Real good."

Whatever measurement used, Victorino is having a special season. He attributes it to that solitary number, .259. "That made me wake up," Victorino said.

His brother would always say, "Go the other way." And Rende, the former hitting coach whom Victorino called the biggest influence in his ability to master switch-hitting, constantly chirped: "Use the field."

Victorino did not begin switch-hitting until he was 22. His natural side is righthanded, and that has always been where the success comes from. But in 2010, the discrepancy between his platoon splits was greater than ever. Batting lefty against righthanded pitching, Victorino hit just .233 with a .681 OPS.

Those numbers against righties have jumped to .294 and .847 in 2011. And there have been few hitters better against lefthanded pitching than Victorino this season. He is hitting .375 with a .725 slugging percentage in 80 at-bats vs. lefties. Only Texas' Nelson Cruz has a better slugging percentage against lefthanded pitching.

The maturation of Victorino at the plate from a singles hitter who used his speed to the power-packed swing he rides now is somewhat stunning. When Victorino hit .293 in 2008 and .292 in 2009, it was fueled largely by infield hits. In 2008, he had 36 such hits, and in 2009, it was 29. This season he has just six infield hits.

His game has evolved.

"I think this year I understand my swing a little more," Victorino said. "I'm going out there and working on it every day. Using the whole field, that's the part I've started to understand. I'm naturally a pull hitter. There is another part of the field you can use."

Yet Victorino said he laments his lack of bunting, which was a crucial part of his game before. In 2008, he had nine bunt singles. Since then, he has two in three seasons. Then again, why not swing away?

"Right now I'm not trying to change anything I'm doing," Victorino said.

Victorino heard the criticism during the 2010 season - he had just signed a three-year extension, he was trying to hit too many home runs, he was lazy. Whatever, Victorino said.

"I wasn't complacent," Victorino said. "It was one of those years. It was a bad year. I'm never complacent. That was one thing that frustrated me."

So did .259, a number Victorino has conquered.


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com

or @magelb on Twitter.

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