Wednesday, August 6, 2014

August 7: The '64 Phillies Continued: Where Should Dick Allen Have Hit?

It seems manager Gene Mauch never decided definitively where the appropriate place in the batting order was for his rookie phenom, Dick (then known as"Richie") Allen in 1964. He changed his mind about that at least three times. The August 7 trade with the Mets for Frank Thomas to fill the Phillies' glaring weakness at first base resulted in Mauch reverting to the batting order platoon he used for most of the first two months of the season by moving his young slugger out of the cleanup spot to bat second or third, depending on the opposing starter.

The '64 Phillies Continued: Where Should Dick Allen Have Hit?

As noted in the second post of this series on the Philadelphia Phillies' season of 50 years ago, "Mauch the Platoonmeister" (see link below), Mauch started the season by platooning rookie right-handed batting third baseman Dick Allen with left-handed batting right fielder Johnny Callison between second and third in the Phillies' batting order. Both were everyday players, but Mauch had Allen batting second and Callison third when a right-hander started against Philadelphia, and Callison second and Allen third when a southpaw took the mound. So it was in the first 45 games of the season, through June 6, during which time Allen hit .290 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs; Callison hit .280 with 4 home runs and 20 RBIs; and the Phillies were more often than not hanging close in second place, typically about a game behind, and sometimes in first. The Phillies had never trailed by more than two games (on May 5 and 12) and never led by more than two games (on May 1).

Allen got off to a red-hot start, batting .426 in April, but had hit only .252 in May. On June 7 and in both games of a doubleheader two days later, Mauch tried Allen in the cleanup spot for the first time; Allen went 5-for-11 with a home run and three RBIs, but was back hitting second against right-handed starters the next two games. By this point in the season--June 12--Allen was leading the Phillies in all three triple-crown categories with a .294 batting average, 12 home runs, and 32 runs batted in.

Seeing what his emerging young slugger could do, Mauch started batting Allen fourth in the line-up on a daily basis on June 13, where he stayed for 53 of the Phillies' next 55 games (twice batting second) regardless of who was pitching. Allen hit .327 over those 55 games with 9 home runs and 26 RBIs and by August 6 his batting average was .311 and he had a .913 OPS with 19 home runs and 56 RBIs. His power and prowess at the plate contributed to the Phillies' .600 winning percentage and 33-22 record during that time, which vaulted Philadelphia into first place on July 16, where they had since stayed.

The arrival of Frank Thomas to take over first base, where the lefty-righty platoon of John Hernsteinn and Roy Sievers had proved ineffective (as had several others who Mauch also tried at the position), caused Mauch to go back to alternating Allen and Callison second and third in the line-up, again depending on the whether the opposing starter was right-handed or left-handed. When he was healthy and in the starting line-up with the bottom-dwelling Mets, the right-handed power-hitting Thomas typically hit fourth or third. Thomas, in fact, had batted fourth or fifth in the line-up for most of his career. Even though he had homered only three times and driven in only 19 runs in his 60 games with the Mets--(they were the offensively-challenged Mets, after all)--Mauch began platooning Thomas (who played against all pitching) with left-handed batting outfielder Wes Covington (who did not start against southpaws) in the fourth and fifth spots in the Phillies' line-up, which lasted until September 8 when Thomas injured his thumb.

In the 33 games where Allen was back to hitting either second or third, his batting average was .333 and he had 8 home runs and 23 RBIs, while the Phillies went 21-13 (.618) and built up a six-game lead. The trade from New York to Philadelphia, meanwhile, rejuvenated Thomas, who hit .302 with 7 home runs and 26 RBIs in 33 games before he was injured. Covington batted .333 with 5 homers and 22 RBIs in 27 games, including those into which he was inserted after a lefty starter was replaced by a right-handed reliever.

For most of the remainder of the season after Thomas was sidelined with his injury, Mauch stayed with his Allen-Callison batting order platoon with Allen second, Callison third and Covington batting fourth when a right-hander took the mound, except against southpaw starting pitchers when he put Allen fourth and sat Covington with Callison still batting third. In the final 24 games of the season after the Thomas injury, Dick Allen batted second in 11 games (with HR / RBI / BA slash lines of 3 / 8 / .356 ), third in 3 games ( 0 / 2 / .167), and fourth in 10 games ( 1 / 6 / .350). Allen finished the season with a .318 batting average (fifth in the league), 201 hits (tied for third), 29 home runs (tied for seventh), and 79 runs batted in.

Would it have made a difference had Mauch kept Dick Allen in the cleanup spot of his batting order for the rest of the season after moving him there on June 13, even after Frank Thomas came over to Philadelphia?

Aside from power numbers suggesting that the third, fourth, or even fifth slots in the batting order were the more logical fit for him than batting second, Allen also had a propensity to strike out a lot--not a good thing for a number-two hitter, and seemingly certainly not when Mauch liked so much to manufacture runs (see my previous post on the '64 Phillies, link below). Allen led the league in strikeouts in 1964 with 138, and averaged one K for every five at bats when he hit second. Almost exactly half (33) of Allen's 67 walks, however, were in the 41 percent of games he batted fourth with few potent bats behind him, a factor which may have figured into Mauch's decision to move him further up in the order.

For the season, Dick Allen hit only .270 but had 12 home runs and 36 RBIs in the 64 games he batted second in the order--all against right-handers; batted .363 with 8 homers and 32 RBIs in the 32 games he started batting third--all but two against southpaws; and .345 with 9 home runs and 24 RBIs in the 66 games he batted cleanup, 35 times against left-handed starters and 31 against righties. Against right-handed pitchers Allen's slash lines were 18 / 60 / .287 with an OPS of .856 in 450 plate appearances; against southpaws, they were 11 / 31 / .372 with an OPS of 1.081 in 259 plate appearances. His strikeout ratio per plate appearance was 18 percent against lefties, 20 percent against righties.

Would it have made a difference had Mauch batted Allen fourth in the final weeks, particularly when the games became desperate as the Phillies' lead evaporated? During the Phillies' 10-game losing streak that began with them holding a 6-1/2 game lead with just 12 games remaining and which defined their epic collapse of historic proportions (rhetorical overkill intended), Allen continued to hit well even as the rest of his teammates did not. He batted .415; they batted .191. While the rest of the Phillies were terrible in the clutch with runners on base, Allen was ... well, clutch, hitting .421 with runners on base. And he had a sacrifice bunt--about which, more when that game comes up in September.

Previous Posts in This Series on the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies:

1.  "Introducing the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies"

2. "Mauch the Platoonmeister"

3.  "Pitching Problems on the Horizon"

4.  "The '64 Phillies' Perfect Father's Day"

5.  ""Mauch Loved to Sacrifice"

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