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The Phillies’ 6-3 start to the season is encouraging, especially since they’ve done so against two division rivals who are expected to compete for the NL East in the Braves and Mets.
But while the pitching staff has been strong to begin the 2021 campaign, a closer look at the numbers could lead to some trouble this season if the trends go unchecked.
Phillies pitchers are getting nicked up when they go to their off-speed pitches. They rank next-to-last in baseball in opponents’ batting average off non-fastballs (.254). They’re also dead-last in opponents’ SLG% vs non-fastballs (.525), nearly 14% worse than the Royals, the team ranked 29th.
Conversely, opponents are hitting just .207 and slugging .315 on fastballs thrown by Phillies pitching, both third in MLB. While it may not be as simple as “just throw more fastballs,” the team could do a better job of mixing pitches or improve the location of secondary pitches when they use them.
The staff also ranks last in baseball to this point in hard-hit rate against. A hard-hit ball is any batted ball with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher. 45.8% of balls hit by Phillies opponents qualified as hard-hit balls. For comparison, the Tigers had the worst rate last season, at 40.9%.
Of the teams ranked in the bottom 12 of this list in 2020 (the Phillies ranked 22nd), only one had a winning record – the Marlins, at 31-29.
So how are the Phillies able to keep a respectable 3.71 team ERA through nine games? They’re doing a good job at keeping the ball out of the air. They have a ground ball rate of 45.3%, ranking 12th in MLB. Enough well-placed ground balls can beat you, but they lack the potency of, say, a 3-run homer.
While it’s still very early, and rate numbers like these will most likely settle as the year goes on, they are certainly something to keep an eye on.