The ’93 Phillies Inspired Billy Beane’s Moneyball Team
We now know that the 1993 Phillies not only led the majors in dispatched tobacco juice, surly media treatment and off-field good times; they also had an influence on Hollywood.
Last Friday, Oakland A’s GM and Moneyball darling Billy Beane revealed the inspiration for his approach to turning his small-market, cash-starved franchise into a contender was indeed the ’93 Phils, and not just because they set MLB records for most chicken wings consumed between games of a doubleheader.
That team took a lot of pitches, walked frequently and generated a pile of runs. It displayed tremendous patience at the plate and understood the value of timely hitting. For all the focus on the team’s personality, the underlying truth about the 1993 NL champs was they understood how to play effective offensive baseball. That year, the Phillies led the NL in runs, walks, hits and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). The Phils were second in team batting average, while hitting a pedestrian 156 homers, fifth best in the NL and 13th in all of the major leagues. Is it any wonder they romped to the NL East title and reached the Series? Say what you want about Curt Schilling and the pitching staff, but the Phils were just 6th in the NL in ERA that year.
Since that was 20 years ago, some might dismiss the Phils’ hitting success as a highlight from a lost age. They would be wrong. Although there was substantial talk last year about how pitchers are reclaiming the game, teams that generated baserunners and drove the ball were the ones who thrived. As the Phils approach another season (Pitchers and catchers report in a mere six days), they had better realize that playing smart, patient offensive baseball is vital to teams’ success. And if the team can’t adjust its approach at the plate–dramatically–it won’t matter how many aces it has, because it won’t win in the post-season.
Want proof? According to ESPN.com savant Jayson Stark, only one of the top five clubs in the overall ERA ratings made the playoffs last year, while five of the top six in OPS got in. In the first 12 years of the wild-card era, four of the top five OPS finishers made the post-season once. Since 2007, it has happened three times. Last year, World Series winner St. Louis was fifth in OPS, while the Cards’ Fall Classic opponent, Texas, was second. The Phils finished 15th. Is it any wonder their bats fell silent for all but a few innings in the NLDS loss to St. Louis? Either manager Charlie Manuel doesn’t know as much about hitting as we have been told, or the players simply don’t listen.
I opt for Door Number Two.
Manuel is an encyclopedia of hitting techniques and philosophies, but he’s managing a team with some of the least patient and most stubborn hitters in the league. His leadoff man, Jimmy Rollins, walked just 58 times last year–tying his career high, by the way. Cleanup man Ryan Howard posted a .253 batting average, the second-lowest of his big-league tenure and a .835 OPS, easily the worst of his career. The Phillies were seventh in the NL in OPS last year, eighth in hits and ninth in batting average. Their 2202 total bases were seventh in the NL. (The ’93 Phils were first in the league in that category.) They were, bluntly, not a great offensive team.
With generating base runners at a premium these days, the Phils must make a drastic, team-wide change in their approach at the plate or risk missing the post-season for the first time since 2006. Since the off-season featured only minor tweaking to the lineup, rather than an infusion of new talent, the Phils can only work to improve what they have. That means Rollins, whose production is nowhere near what it was during his MVP season, must commit to playing smart offensive baseball. The days of his being able to crack home runs are over. So, it’s time to take pitches, pile up the walks and put pressure on opposing pitchers. Howard has to set up closer to the plate and realize that his days of hitting 40-plus homers are likely over. He must focus on driving the ball to the gaps, rather than jacking the ball into the second level.
The same goes for Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco, who must both concentrate on improving their batting averages by being more patient and forcing pitchers into mistakes. As for Chase Utley, no one knows what to think, since his main issue is health, not his approach at the plate. If his knee is strong, he’s just fine, even though the days of his hitting 30 dingers are long gone.
The numbers don’t lie. At a time when drug testing has limited the long ball’s frequency, scoring runs depends on how many baserunners a team can accumulate. The Phillies have the pitching, but they haven’t approached the plate in a way that will produce success, particularly against better teams in October. From the moment the team takes the field for its first workout, there must be a different philosophy and a realization that it must replace its free-swinging ways with improved discipline. It worked for the ’93 Phils, and it can succeed in 2012.
Just ask Billy Beane.
- If The Inquirer is right, and DeSean Jackson wants a five-year, $50 million contract, then it’s time for the Eagles to move on. Jackson has the rare ability to pressure defenses with his speed, but his lack of red-zone production makes him a less complete player. Further, his behavior last season when the Birds didn’t sign him makes one wonder when he’ll mope again – even if he gets paid. If the Eagles can franchise him and trade him for a high pick, it’s time to do it.
- Congratulations to Andre Iguodala for his All-Star selection. For those who can’t understand why someone averaging 12.8 ppg is an All Star, consider the company he keeps. The Sixers are in the rotten Eastern Conference, where eight of the 15 teams are below .500. The NBA reasoned–correctly–that the conference’s third-best team needed to be represented in the game, so Iguodala got the call. Indiana’s Danny Granger has a beef, but Iguodala’s solid all-around play on a first-place team won the day.
- Temple’s eight straight wins are pushing the Owls higher in the seeding hierarchy for the NCAA tournament. Yes, they still must close strongly and winning the Atlantic 10 tournament would be nice, but Temple looks like it’s capable of reaching the second weekend of the tourney for the first time since 2001.