FROM JUNE 6 to June 19 last year, the Phillies won eight out of 13 games, averaging 4.8 runs while outscoring their opponents by a combined 29 runs. We bring this up as a reminder that, over the course of a 6-month baseball season, everybody is bound to have a good couple of weeks. Likewise, everybody is bound to have a bad couple of weeks. So as we look at some of the more notable individual performances from the Phillies' first 13 games, it's worth wondering whether we have witnessed an accurate reflection of reality or just a couple of those weeks that happened to fall at the start of the season.
1 Freddy Galvis: While Ryne Sandberg's spring training emphasis on offensive approach has yet to pay any teamwide dividends - the Phillies entered yesterday averaging 2.46 runs per game, worst in the National League - there is some evidence of his message at shortstop. Galvis, a career .226 hitter with a .270 on-base percentage, is hitting .318 with a .388 OBP in his first 12 games. The difference is partially attributable to Galvis' ability to generate ground balls and line drives, enabling him to avoid the paltry batting average on balls in play that plagued him during his first three seasons. Galvis has always been an extreme fly-ball hitter, averaging a 0.63 ground ball per fly ball ratio in his first three seasons in the majors. Because he is a 5-10, 190-pound infielder with below average power, the result of all those fly balls was a lot of flyouts. In his first 12 games of 2015, though, Galvis is averaging 0.85 ground ball per fly ball, which is right around the big-league average. Thus far, those balls have been finding holes, to the tune of a .350 BAbip compared with a mark of .249 in his first three seasons.
Galvis has also shown a better eye at the plate. In 2012 and 2013, he combined for 20 walks in 422 plate appearances. This year, he has four walks in 49 plate appearances. His walk rate has improved in each of his big-league seasons, from 3.5 percent of plate appearances in 2012 to 5.9 percent in 2013 to 6.3 percent in 2014 to 8.2 percent this season.
Galvis is also striking out at a significantly lower rate: 8.2 percent of plate appearances in 2015 compared with 18.9 percent in his first three seasons. He still isn't hitting for power, and it is unlikely that his ground balls will find holes at the rate that they have, so you probably should not expect his .774 OPS to stick around all season. If he can continue to reach base via walk while managing his strikeout and fly-ball rates, it is not unreasonable to think that he can finish 2015 with a mark well north of his career .634.
But Galvis has had good 12-game stretches before, including in May 2012, when he went 14-for-42 with five doubles, one triple, two home runs, three walks and three strikeouts. In his first 20 games of 2013 (including 11 starts), he went 14-for-50 with three doubles, two home runs, four walks and eight strikeouts. Last year, Galvis hit .247/.293/.468 in 27 games after being recalled from Triple A in late August.
2 Chase Utley: On the opposite end of our fun with small sample sizes is Utley, who has looked much better than his .116/.167/.422 suggests. Nothing about Utley's rate stats suggests we are seeing anything other than some early-season bad luck. Consider that only three of the 34 balls he put into play ended up as hits. Compare that with Ryan Howard, who is 7-for-25 on balls in play but is hitting only .175 with a .214 on-base percentage overall thanks to his 15 strikeouts and two walks in 43 plate appearances. Utley has seven strikeouts and two walks in 48 plate appearances.
3 Cody Asche: His .884 OPS is supported by a .409 on-base percentage, which is mostly a product of a ridiculous .481 batting average on balls in play. His walk rate is up to 9.1 percent from 7.9 percent, but so is his strikeout rate (27.3 percent from 23.5 percent), and he has yet to hit for much power. Asche either needs to cut his strikeout rate or increase his power production to take a step forward from an up-and-down 2014. While his batting line looks nice at the moment, there isn't any evidence yet that we are looking at a markedly different hitter from last season.
4 Odubel Herrera: An unqualified bright spot who is well on his way to making Phillies fans forget about Michael Martinez. The Rule 5 draft pick has shown surprising line-drive power with seven extra-base hits in 47 plate appearances and a good eye at the plate with four walks. To put that in perspective, Ben Revere didn't notch his seventh extra-base hit until June 10 last season. That's 224 plate appearances (featuring five walks). He has a .394 batting average on balls and play, so expect that .302 batting average and .362 on-base percentage to fall significantly. Still, the early power has been a nice surprise for a team that desperately needs one.
5 Aaron Harang: The Harangutan probably won't carry a 1.96 ERA all season, but his peripherals have been every bit as good as they were last season when he revitalized his career with the Braves. Through three starts, Harang is averaging 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.5 walks per nine innings and 0.5 home runs per nine innings. At nearly 37 years old, it is fair to wonder whether his body will hold up for an entire season. But the results themselves are no mirage.
As for the team itself? At 4-9, the Phillies are currently on a 49-win pace. And, yeah, that sounds about right.