Phils keep it simple for two-strike success

June 11th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki's Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Every time the Phillies struggle offensively, somebody complains about how they don’t play enough small ball.

If they only bunted more. If they only hit-and-run more.

"Back-in-my-day" baseball has been around forever.

“Maybe science really has disappeared from baseball, as some of the old-timers insist,” Frank Dolson wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer in July 1962.

Braves manager Bobby Bragan complained to Red Smith in March 1966 how they had six players hit 20-plus home runs in 1965, but they finished fifth in the NL at 86-76. It meant they were doing something wrong. Bragan held endless bunting drills the next spring because “we’ve got five hitters who’ve never seen the bunt sign in three years.”

The Braves won one fewer game in 1966.

Instead of employing a nebulous small-ball approach to magically fix everything, Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long is working on a real two-strike approach. The Phillies chased 44.4 percent of two-strike pitches out of the zone during their 22-29 start. They batted .156 with two strikes. During their 7-0 stretch to open this month, they chased 34.8 percent of two-strike pitches. They hit .224 with two strikes.

The league bats .162 with two strikes.

Bryson Stott showed its effectiveness Wednesday with four hits in Milwaukee. He widened his stance, shortened his swing and ditched his toe tap to pick up three two-strike hits.

Why don’t more batters do it?

“No stride, it just seems awkward,” Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson said. “It takes time to get comfortable, mentally and physically. It looks like Stotter is getting it. You see Bryce [Harper] go into it quite often. If he can do it, you can do it. But you’ve got to get comfortable with it.”

Getting rid of the toe tap, the skipper said, “just simplifies everything. There’s less movement. The head moves less. You see the ball a little bit better. But the toe tap also creates some momentum, some leverage, some things that guys want to keep.”

It is why some hitters don’t like it: it saps their power.

“It’s going to sap some of it,” Thomson said. “What’s important to get the guys to understand is it’s not going to sap all of it. You can still put the ball in the seats. Once they get that, they’ve got it. They’re like, 'Oh, OK, now I see what you’re saying.'”