Philadelphia’s Overlooked Spark Plug

August 6, 2008

Diminutive Victorino Provides Hustle and Clutch Play

As the Philadelphia Phillies press on with their stumbling approach to the NL East Championship, it is easy to pin their offensive success on either of their two previous MVP winners (Jimmy Rollins or Ryan Howard), their best shot at MVP this season (Chase Utley), or their elder statesman who is tearing up the team career leader list (Pat Burrell). But Shane Victorino’s fleet feet, skillful play in the field, and surprising consistency seem lost in the mix. Perhaps Philadelphia management realizes the gem they have in their laps as they did not budge (according to rumors) in offering Victorino as trade bait when the trade deadline came and went.

While it is one’s play down the stretch in a divisional race that should determine one’s worth, why is the Flyin’ Hawaiian mentioned so late in conversations about Philadelphia’s success? One possible answer is that Victorino bats just .271 with runners in scoring position (RISP) and .262 RISP with two outs. Those are not good numbers. And obviously guys like Howard, Burrell, and Utley hit more home runs than Victorino. In this game of prolific power displays, little guys can disappear. But Victorino has 15 RBI in 42 at bats with RISP. Ryan Howard has 27 RBI in 68 at bats with RISP and two outs so their numbers are comparable.

Another suggestion is that Victorino doesn’t show up where a lot of sports fans look: Victorino is not the sole team leader in any offensive category. While he is tied for the team lead with five doubles, he ranks 2nd in runs, hits, steals, and batting average. He is third in at bats and OBP. He is fourth in doubles. He is fifth in RBI and walks. And he is a “lowly” sixth in home runs on the power heavy Phillies. Is there another player who is so important to a team’s success who does not lead the team in any category?

Now, retraining Victorino on the team looks like a good move as the Phils approach the finish line. Although he slumped a bit mid-season, entering July with a .272 average, .346 on base percentage, and .370 slugging percentage, Victorino has paid dividends down the stretch. In addition to at least two recent game-winning hits (July 30th against the Nationals to help the Phillies reclaim the division lead and August 3rd to beat NL powerhouse St. Louis), Victorino has been hot since the start of July. In 105 July at bats, Victorino posted .333/.381/.619 hitting numbers and 14 extra base hits. He is currently hitting .288 with a .351 on base percentage, and .451 slugging.

A player like Victorino is a rare combo of speed, all out hustle, and apparently has ice water in his veins. That last bit remains to be seen, but all recent indications point to Victorino patrolling center field for years to come. And so long as he is in center field, the Phillies will have speed, hustle, discipline at the plate, and a skilled fielder covering the center green.

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