Offensive production front and center for Phils

Revere
Revere
Posted: February 25, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - If you want to drive the mathematically inclined crowd batty, tell them that the Phillies went 30-27 in the 57 games leading up to Ben Revere's season-ending foot injury, and then argue that Revere possesses some sort of winner's mojo that, once restored, will turn his team into a .526 ballclub.

This will drive them batty because your argument is a poor one, for a variety of reasons, starting with the fact that it implies that correlation equals causation. Nevertheless, Revere's performance does have plenty of relevance to the arc of the Phillies season, because it is the only 57-game stretch where they mustered any sort of offensive production out of the centerfield position. Which brings us to one of the real causes of their woes in 2013 and what will be one of the real determinants of their fate in 2014.

Simply put, the Phillies staffed too many positions with players who did not produce at the plate, leaving them with way too many holes in their lineup. Using OPS as our measure, they finished the year with three positions ranked in the bottom four of the National League in offensive production. That means, on any given day, they fielded a lineup where three out of eight hitters were among the worst in the league at reaching base and hitting for power. In the NL, a team can get away with one such position. Not three.

Centerfield was the biggest hole. The Phillies produced an OPS of just .663 from the position, fourth-worst in the National League. Their power was abysmal (a .353 slugging percentage, also fourth-worst, and exactly six home runs, fewer than any team except Washington), their base-reaching pedestrian (a .310 on base percentage, which ranked 11th in the NL). Of the five NL playoff teams, only Atlanta was worse-than-league-average in centerfield. The rest: Pittsburgh (.893 OPS, 21 home runs), Cincinnati (.862 OPS, 21 home runs), Los Angeles (.779 OPS, 14 home runs), St. Louis (.716 OPS, eight home runs).

The Phillies' antidotes for their other two voids both carry considerable risk. At first base, where they finished 13th in OPS, they are counting on Ryan Howard to put 2 years of leg injuries behind him while also avoiding the early-season slumps that have plagued him throughout his career (an OPS under .780 in May of 2010 and 2011, for example). In rightfield, where they also finished 13th in OPS, they are counting on 36-year-old Marlon Byrd to be the player he was last season (.847 OPS, 24 home runs) instead of the player he was the previous two seasons (.663 OPS, 10 home runs), a stretch that included a 50-game suspension for PEDs.

Revere will remove some pressure from Byrd and Howard if he can produce like he did last May, June and July instead of April, when he hit just .200 with a .234 OBP and .456 OPS. In the aforementioned 57-game stretch, Revere hit .345/.373/.404, stealing 16 bases while scoring 26 runs. By the time he hit the disabled list with the broken foot that ended his season, Revere's overall numbers ranked in the middle of the pack for NL centerfielders: a .305 average, .338 OBP and .352 slugging percentage, with 22 steals in 30 attempts. While it is unreasonable to expect a .345 batting average or .373 on base percentage - both of those numbers were inflated by a batting average on balls in play of .383, which is a pretty good indication that a lot of singles were sneaking through, a result that tends to normalize around the .300 mark over time - Revere was a measurably different hitter during the final two-thirds of his season. He cut his strikeout rate from 13.1 percent of plate appearances to 9.3 percent of plate appearances while tripling his rate of extra-base hits from 1.6 percent of plate appearances to 4.7 percent.

There is plenty of reason to think that the soon-to-be 26-year-old Revere made some natural progressions in those categories. If they are present for an entire season, a .295/.338/.371 line is reasonable, which would give him a .709 OPS that would put him in the top half of National League centerfielders. That's in line with the .261/.324/.401 line that Shane Victorino posted in his final season in Philadelphia but well shy of the .279/.345/.439 line that Victorino posted in his 8-year career with the Phillies.

While the Phillies have some question marks behind Revere - Domonic Brown has been taking some fly balls in centerfield, while Byrd is another possibility to see some time there if Revere gets banged up - the diminutive speedster is in his physical prime and should be counted on for 600+ plate appearances. If he reaches that threshold, the Phillies will, at the very least, be rid of the void that existed at the position of much of last year.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

Email: dmurphy@phillynews.com

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