Here’s a little Phillies related rant for everyone. Can we stop it with the small ball talk? It’s ridiculous. I know the Phillies didn’t hit in the post-season last year and most of their regulars are creeping into their thirties, but to think they’ve suddenly become so hapless on offense that they will have to rely on “small ball,” is ridiculous. The Phillies in a down offensive year in 2010, one that was riddled with injuries still scored the 2nd most runs in the National League. And, yes, their home run numbers were down, but the Phillies don’t need a change in offensive philosophy just because Jayson Werth and his monumental 27 bombs ended up in Washington.
People love to throw around the term “small ball.” I think they think it makes them sound like they know something special. Oooh…small ball. Then they’ll say something like, American League style offense. Well, the point of all offense, National or American League, is to score runs, and the truth is there aren’t really any teams in either league that truly play small ball. No one is out there stealing 100 bases. No one is bunting anyone over. In the early 90s, when Pittsburgh was rolling up NL East crowns they would actually play small ball. Someone would get on, Jay Bell would actually bunt them over, and then they’d try to get them in. Bell had 39 sacrifice bunts one year. You know how many Polly had last year? The Phillies wizard of small ball? He had one. One sacrifice bunt. The Phillies didn’t wake up with Mark Grace at 1st and Chico Lind at 2nd base. This team still has plenty of power.
There is a difference between situational hitting and playing small ball. The Phillies need to hit better in certain situations, but it doesn’t have much to do with playing small ball. They aren’t going to be trying to pull off many hit-and-runs with Chase Utley up there, or anything like that. The Phillies have to hit better with runners in scoring position, they have to do a better job getting the guy in from 3rd base, but that isn’t small ball. That’s called getting any kind of base-hit with a guy on 2nd or 3rd–something the departed Jayson Werth couldn’t do to save his life last season.
Certainly there are guys that need a better approach to hitting and would benefit from putting a little more line drive in their swing, but again that doesn’t really have a lot to do with small ball. Shane Victorino hit 18 homers last year and everyone thinks it is because he went brain-dead and tried to hit a home run every at-bat, turning his back on our beloved small ball. The real problem was he couldn’t hit right-handed pitching. Not a lick. It killed his numbers, because that is 2/3 of his plate appearances where he has a .700 OPS instead of .875 right-handed. So, Victorino needs a better approach…to hitting right-handers, but he doesn’t necessarily need to start drag bunting 10 times a month.
I guess I just want to be clear that the Phillies should have more than enough power to get by in 2011, and they’ll need to hit some home runs to have a successful season, because in some ways that is still what this team is…a lineup full of guys who strike out and hit home runs. Just because you have an off power season doesn’t mean you show up in camp the next year and turn into Rod Carew. And, that’s part of the problem with what Mike Schmidt was talking about. It would be great if Rollins or Victorino had an approach like Pete Rose, but they don’t. They have different sets of skills, and you can’t just decide to adopt Rose’s talents one spring. These guys have decades of baseball behind them, for the most part, they are who they are as hitters.
Talking about small ball doesn’t make any sense, because the Phillies aren’t going to be playing it, and the fans don’t want to see it anyway. Sure, now it’s fun to talk about sac-bunts and hitting it to the right side and sacrifice flies as far as the eye can see, but people are trying to talk themselves into it. They know the pitching is good, so they think if they start winning games 3-2 and 4-3 and 2-1 that will be enough, but no one is going to settle for that. They’ll want to do their share of banging, and believe me, the Phillies do too. The Giants series was 6 games against one the best staffs in the league. It wasn’t a death sentence, or a mandate to play small ball.