Phils starters adept at inducing weak contact

Team ranks among league leaders with low hard-hit rate by opposing batters

April 16th, 2018

ATLANTA -- One of the most encouraging things early this season for Phillies manager Gabe Kapler is that his pitchers are keeping hitters' barrels off the ball.
There are multiple ways to measure weak contact, but according to Statcast™ the Phillies rank second in baseball in lowest hard-hit rate at 30.6 percent through Monday's slate of games.
Only the Red Sox rank better at 29.5 percent.
"That's just a good sign," Kapler said, citing the team's own numbers that rank the Phillies first in baseball. "It doesn't necessarily mean anything. But what it means is we're inducing weak contact. That's a really healthy sign."
15 games, 15 lineups
The Phillies have used 15 lineups in 15 games, not including the pitcher. Could they use 162 in 162 games?
"I almost prefer to answer that question a little more thoughtfully and say it's not my intention to create different lineups every day," Kapler said. "The intention is to keep guys fresh, to get everybody reps and to be responsive to guys who are swinging the bat well. It has nothing to do with trying to create different lineups.
"I think it's the furthest thing from my mind, personally."
A plethora of lineups is not unusual. The Phillies used 135 lineups last season, 154 when including the pitchers. They used 144 lineups in 2016, 159 including the pitchers.
No outfield shifts yet
A few times in Spring Training the Phillies had their left and right fielders switch positions based on the hitter at the plate. Kapler indicated the Phillies could try that during the season, but so far it has not happened.
"The strategic moves we make on the field are not in a vacuum," Kapler said. "We know the strategic moves we make on the field also have some emotional impact. So we're just carefully examining all of those things all of the time."
In other words, the Phillies are aware the move could be an issue for the players involved.
"I'm going to use a different example because I don't want to speak to that directly," Kapler said. "But if we moved a guy from the three-hole to the sixth-hole, the first thing he's going to do is say 'I wonder why I'm in the sixth-hole?' It might just be that someone profiles very nice for the three-hole for that day.
"We're just examining the emotional impact of every decision we make. If we pull a reliever out of a game after facing two batters when he thought he should've faced the third batter that inning, there's an emotional impact even though the strategic advantage might be to have him just face those two hitters. In a vacuum, there's an emotional impact to that as well. So being sensitive and responsive to all of the emotional impact that our on-field decisions make is just the smart thing to do right now."
Injury updates
• Right-hander (strained right flexor pronator) threw a bullpen session Monday.
• Right-hander Pat Neshek (strained right shoulder) played catch for the first time.
• Right-hander Tommy Hunter (strained right hamstring) is scheduled to pitch Tuesday with Class A Advanced Clearwater. He could join the Phillies sometime this week.