Brandon Phillips comes into Monday hitting for a .262 average. Not bad. He heads into Monday with a .283 on-base percentage. That’s terrible. He heads into Monday with a .330 slugging percentage. That too, is terrible. Phillips has just three walks and he has struck out 25 times in 107 plate appearances.
Phillips has never been a hitter who walks much, but his current walk rate of is 2.8%. That rate is easily the lowest of his Reds career. He walked 4.5% of the time in 2012 and has been as high as 6.8% of the time in 2009. A low walk rate isn’t surprising, and a walk or two will really sway his rate because it is simply so low at this point.
The bigger concern is that Phillips has a strikeout rate of 23.4%. His rate in 2013 was 14.7% and that was easily the highest rate he has had since 2008. His strikeout rate is up 60% from last year and up 69% from the 2011-2012 seasons. We are early still, but we know that strikeout rates tend to be reliable after about 150 plate appearances and Phillips, while not there yet, it closing in.
So why is Phillips striking out so much more and walking so much less? Well, he is swinging more often this season than he has in the past. He has swung at 59% of the pitches thrown to him this season, which is fourth worst in baseball. Swinging at pitches though isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If guys are throwing you hittable strikes, swing for it. The problem is, Phillips is expanding the zone 49% of the time, which is the most in the game and the highest rate of his Reds career.
Let’s take a look at Brandon Phillips swing rate and his average on pitches in the strikezone and out of the strikezone for the 2012-2013 seasons.
As we can see here, Phillips swung a lot at pitches out of the strikezone and hit just .244 on them. That average actually isn’t that bad for pitches outside of the zone, but still, you want to avoid pitches outside of the zone if you are going to hit .244 on them. When Phillips hit a pitch in the strikezone he hit a much better .297 and swung 73.1% of the time.
Now let’s take a look at how things have gone for Phillips in the 2014 season (through the game on Saturday), using the same criteria.
Phillips is still swinging at pitches in the strikezone at the exact same rate, 73.1%. He is having more success on those pitches this season as well, hitting .373 on pitches inside the strikezone. It is when we look at the pitches outside of the strikezone that we start to see real problems. Not only is the Cincinnati Reds second baseman swinging outside of the zone more, he is hitting just .178 on pitches outside of the zone this season.
The Reds are batting an incredibly aggressive hitter, who has shown no power this season, third in their lineup behind the best on-base guy in the game. That is a bad situation. In order to get Phillips to be more successful, he needs to swing less at pitches out of the zone and let the damage he can do in the strikezone work for him. Avoiding the pitches out of the zone will raise his average, allow him to add a few walks, cut down on his strikeouts and let him hit for more power. His plan this year simply hasn’t worked. It’s time for him to make an adjustment.