Let’s talk about Bryson Stott because — and I know I’m going out on a limb with this — the Phillies have something special with this guy.
Stotty for 2 #RingTheBell pic.twitter.com/5eRWWZbM4B
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) May 21, 2023
I’ve said it, I’ve tweeted it, I’ve slapped it in stories: Stott has a feel for the moment. He has a winning “it” quality.
His two-run shot that supplied the only offense the Phillies would need to secure a series victory over the Cubs was just the latest example of clutch personified.
So, it got me thinking about Stott, his present, and his future.
The Phillies have struggled to get production out of the leadoff spot this season (and the previous ten seasons, come to think of it). The combination of Stott, Trea Turner, and that one absolutely hellish week from Kyle Schwarber have produced some rough numbers.
Here’s how Phillies leadoff hitters stacked up with the rest of baseball entering play Sunday:
- On-base percentage: .266 (29th)
- Slugging percentage: .330 (28th)
- Batting average: .232 (25th)
Stott has been getting most of the recent run, and despite heating back up this past week, he has just a .289 on-base percentage over his last 30 games. For the season, he has a .298 OBP in 141 plate appearances out of the leadoff spot.
Obviously, these numbers don’t scream “leadoff hitter,” but the numbers are weird in that they don’t align with the overall consistent quality of his plate appearances.
The .288 batting average and timely hitting are nice starting points, but his ability to grind through at-bats and work deep counts are why Stott remains an intriguing candidate to stay atop the order despite mixed results.
For some context, only 10 National League hitters have seen more pitches per plate appearance than Stott’s 4.28 P/PA. But then you look at the .321 on-base percentage and see he has walked just nine times in 196 plate appearances. The deep counts and consistent grinding haven’t translated to walks.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Stott trails the rest of this group in terms of generating walks by a wide margin. Ha-Seong Kim (17) and Ryan McMahon (16) have drawn the next fewest.
Looking at this another way, the 10 players directly in front of Stott in pitches per plate appearance have walked an average of 26.3 times. He doesn’t possess the same pop as some of the names on the list (Max Muncy, Matt Olson, and Juan Soto among them), so he will get challenged more when ahead in counts, but if he could just force a small bump to his walk rate, he instantly becomes a more palatable leadoff option.
And it really shouldn’t be that big of an ask.
Many of the players sitting ahead of Stott in pitches seen per plate appearance also rank among the league leaders in walk rate. It’s not a problem that he isn’t included in the upper echelon of this category, it’s that at just 4.6 percent, he has one of the lowest walk rates among qualified hitters in all of baseball.
Entering play Sunday, only 12 hitters across the sport had walked at a lower rate. Only four of those players are National League guys.
If he ran even with someone like McMahon and his 16 walks, his on-base percentage shoots up from .318 to .357, and that plays a hell of a lot better out of the leadoff spot.
Ultimately, if Stott can make an incremental stride in this one specific area, he’s going to become a consistently above average hitter, one that can thrive at the top of an order.
You Guys Are Resilient, Great, But…
The Phillies did well to first end their four-game losing streak Saturday before ending a rough week with a series win over the Cubs in the finale.
In this way, they do what they always do — they show their flaws and drive you crazy, just to the point where real doubt creeps in. Then they show their ability to bounce back.
The ability to not go full dumpster fire is an admirable one, but it would be nice if they could break this current cycle and put the need to tap into their resilience on ice for a few weeks.
At 22-24, the Phillies are not where they or anybody else anticipated they would be after 46 games, and they have struggled to get out ahead of a relatively soft schedule to this point.
Only two National League teams (Brewers and Mets) have played fewer games against opponents currently holding winning records than the Phillies through seven-plus weeks.
With the win Sunday, the Phillies are already ahead of their 21-29 start of a year ago, but the overall quality of opponent is about to elevate for a decent run of games.
With a key 10-game stretch against the upstart Diamondbacks, Braves, and Mets ahead, the Phillies will need to significantly raise their level of play beyond the 7-13 mark they’ve accumulated against teams playing better than .500 baseball thus far.
Gotta Get Right
Watching Cubs left-hander Justin Steele rip through the Phillies’ lineup for six innings was the latest chance to feel the absence of Rhys Hoskins.
How would 30 homers and some on-base skills from the right side look in the middle of an often punchless order that entered the day with an MLB-worst .281 on-base percentage against left-handed pitchers?
It’s also hard not to notice the trickle down impact of his absence.
I’m a big Edmundo Sosa guy. He’s a winning player that can help in a variety of ways, just as he did when he doubled ahead of Stott’s homer. But he is also in the midst of a stretch in which he has posted a .577 OPS over his last 15 games.
It’s at least fair to wonder if his recent struggles are tied to some degree of overexposure. The validity of this theory will play out in time, but what remains indisputable is that pushing Sosa into an elevated role has been a big blow to the Phillies’ overall depth.
What’s more, with the trio of Alec Bohm, Kody Clemens, and Sosa taking the bulk of time at the corner infield positions, there’s not a ton of pop by way of homers from that positional group right now.
Perhaps the eventual return of Darick Hall or the first base experiment with Bryce Harper will help alleviate the problem, but neither of those solutions solve the Phillies’ glaring need for some more firepower from the right side of the box.
Which brings us to…
Trea Turner Watch
A day after taking a quick one-game breather, Trea Turner was back in the lineup Sunday and went 1-for-4 with a double.
I was actually encouraged by his first inning at-bat that, ironically, ended in a strikeout.
Justin Steele, Wicked 84mph Slider. 🤢 pic.twitter.com/q6P2JdI9SA
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 21, 2023
It was 10-pitch battle that had a competitive element that has been too often missing from his at-bats lately. While I’m not going to sit here and tell you to get excited over — or applaud — a strikeout, when a hitter is going through it the way he is, you have to look for wins where you can get them.
His next two at-bats resulted in another strikeout, this one on just four pitches, and a first-pitch groundout that killed one of the Phillies’ few early scoring threats. The third at-bat prompted some boos from the sellout crowd.
Remember that note above about the Phillies’ on-base woes against lefties? Well, Turner is right in the middle of it.
After going 0-for-3 against Steele, he is now hitting .207 against left-handed pitching with the Phillies, this after hitting .340 against it from 2019-2022.
Turner, however, would respond in his final at-bat of the day with a double into the right-center gap against right-hander Adbert Alzolay, so perhaps that will be the swing that gets him going.
Your Guess Is as Good as Mine
Three days after failing to get out of a disastrous first inning against the Giants, Taijuan Walker responded by pitching 5 1/3 scoreless innings against the Cubs. It was an encouraging performance in a big spot for a team that is in desperate need of some stability in its starting rotation.
Taijuan Walker, Painted 92mph Back Door Two Seamer. 🖌️🎨 pic.twitter.com/UjdX7pGm1t
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 21, 2023
That’s great. I just don’t know what it means moving forward.
Optimistically, Walker has now been effective in three of his last four outings, with the Giants debacle the lone exception. Take that one out of the mix and Walker has yielded just 12 total hits and four earned runs over his last 17 1/3 innings pitched.
Of course, that mess in San Francisco did happen, and he still hasn’t put together three straight quality starts with the Phillies. And I don’t mean “quality starts” in the textbook sense, I mean it in the “this was a competent performance for a professional pitcher” kind of way.
Against the Cubs, Walker threw first pitch strikes to all but two batters, consistently peppered the strike zone, and pitched to plenty of weak contact. The Cubs put only three balls in play with an expected batting average greater than .220, according to MLB Statcast.
There is no doubt that his outing Sunday was a step in the right direction. With his next two starts looming against the Braves and Mets, now would be the perfect time for Walker to find the consistency that has so far eluded him.