Who Is Left Standing at Second in Philly?

It has become a war of attrition at second base in Philadelphia.

On Monday, we heard that Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has plateaued in his rehab. He is not expected to be healthy by Opening Day. To make matters worse, utility infielder Michael Martinez broke a bone in his foot after being struck by a pitch from Orioles’ reliever Jim Johnson on Tuesday afternoon. The 29-year-old Martinez is not projected to be available for Opening Day, either.

So who will handle the keystone duties opposite shortstop Jimmy Rollins to begin the season?

The leading (and perhaps the only legitimate) candidate appears to be the Phillies’ reigning minor league player of the year, shortstop Freddy Galvis. The 22-year-old prospect was originally signed out of Punto Fijo, Venezuela as a teenager. Always known for his slick glovework up the middle, Galvis improved at the plate last season, hitting .278/.324/.392 between Double-A and Triple-A. He is a switch-hitter, but he did perform much better on the left side of the plate in 2011. In fact, 32 of his 40 extra-base hits came as a left-hander against right-handed pitching.

Although Galvis improved significantly from previous years with the bat, he still only posted a .716 OPS in the minors last season. Those types of offensive numbers do not often transition well to the big league level. Furthermore, ZiPS only projects a .290 wOBA with the Phillies in 2012, which is well below the National League average for second baseman (.302 wOBA). Galvis would have to be one of the best defensive second basemen in the league to justify playing his bat on an everyday basis.

Luckily, his glove just might be that good. Baseball America touts Galvis as “arguably the best defensive shortstop in the minors,” and one can reasonably expect this defense at second base to be even better, as it lies further right on the defensive spectrum popularized by Bill James. If he can be a Darwin Barney type second baseman — who was worth +2.2 wins last season, despite only posting a .296 wOBA — the Phillies may be able to skate by with his production at second base until Chase Utley can return from his injury.

Keep in mind that Philadelphia will start the 2012 season without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the everyday lineup. Their starting rotation projects to be as dominating as it was last season, but without the two powerhouse bats anchoring the batting order, will Philadelphia attempt to squeeze a round peg into a square hole at second base in hopes of generating more offense?

Or, more simply, will the Philadelphia Phillies try to tempt the baseball gods and play Ty Wigginton at second base from time to time? Wigginton clearly has more value with the bat than Galvis. He possesses more power, a higher walk rate, and (more importantly) a track record at the major league level. The organization knows what to expect from Ty Wigginton at the plate, even if it happens to be a low batting average, a middling on-base percentage, and 15-20 home runs.

Of course, Wigginton is terrible with the glove at second base. He is terrible defensively all over the diamond. That fact perennially negates his value as a baseball player. He has not been worth more than +0.4 WAR since the 2008 season and has compiled a -0.7 WAR over the past three years, mainly due to a combined -26.6 UZR in that time frame. Fortunately, Wigginton should spend most of his time at first base and third base to begin of the season, so any potential starts at second base would likely be few and far between.

It should be noted that 32-year-old journeyman Pete Orr could see some time at second base, as he played 188.2 innings at second for the Phillies in 2011. Given the fact that he has not provided positive value to a club since 2005, however, should keep any potential experiment surrounding Orr rather short.

The Phillies could also look to the trade market for help. Orlando Hudson of the Padres has been a common name on the trading block since signing a two-year deal prior to the 2011 season. Ryan Theriot could theoretically be available in San Francisco, or perhaps the Phillies take a chance and acquire someone like Brandon Inge of the Tigers and hope they can catch lightning in a bottle for a month.

Most likely, though, Philadelphia will break camp with Freddy Galvis as their starting second baseman. The best case scenario is that the young man provides significant value with his glove and does not do too much negative damage with his bat in the eight spot of the batting order. Philadelphia simply needs to tread water until Chase Utley can hopefully return from his knee issues to the lineup on a regular basis.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

23 Responses to “Who Is Left Standing at Second in Philly?”

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  1. wes says:

    Galvis putting up an ops in the 600+ range would actually be an improvement over what Philly got from Valdez, Martinez, and Orr last season. 2011–Valdez, 300 PA & 634 ops; Martinez, 234 PA & 540 ops; Orr 104 PA & 529 ops. And unlike Valdez, Martinez, and Orr, Galvis might actually get better over time.

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  2. Jesse says:

    How does it make more sense to put galvis at second then to put wigginton at second, mayberry at first and dom brown in the outfield? Surely he needs more seasoning than brown? The youngster is only a year removed from a .268 woba in AA, and had a 2.4% walk rate in triple A last year.

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  3. Shane says:

    Two different animals I know, but if you compare what Hanley Ramirez did at double A in his 21 year old season to what Galvis did last year at double A in his 21 year old season they were actually quite similiar. Similiar speed, OPS etc. The next year Ramirez at the age of 22 had quite the breakthrough with the Marlins. I could see Galvis coming in for Utley and playing at least to the level of an average or slightly above major league regular. And who knows maybe he looks so good Utley will be asked to switch to third when he gets back. PURE SPECULATION and rather unscientific projection.

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    • hunterfan says:

      Utley’s arm grades at like a 30. I exaggerate, slightly, but his value at 2nd has always been his superior positioning and range. His arm has always been a noodle. No way would Utley ever been transitioned to third base.

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    • LTG says:

      Some fans are speculating that Utley could move to 1B eventually. The apparent need to do that sooner rather than later makes the Howard contract an even bigger albatross (if that’s possible).

      On the Ramirez-Galvis comp, the numbers are not enough of the story. It is one thing for a well-regarded hitting prospect to struggle at a developmental level before putting things together; it is another for a hitting prospect regarded as having a low ceiling to struggle. Ramirez always had power and a good eye. Galvis has neither. The best we can hope for is that he develops into Mickey Morandini but a better fielder. If that’s right his days of being a league average hitter are years away. Still, he is the Phillies’ best option right now.

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    • NEPP says:

      The Phillies tried to move Utley to 3B back when he was a prospect and Polanco was blocking him. He does not have the arm for the position and the experiment was a complete and utter failure.

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  4. Mike says:

    Utley doesn’t have the arm for third. He didn’t when he was an up and coming prospect. If he gets moved off second, it seems to me that left field is the only choice.

    (Insert obligatory 5 year, $125 million contract extension for Ryan Howard mention here).

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    • stumanji says:

      We were all set for Utley to transition to 1B after Howard’s contract was up, but obviously that made too much sense to RAJ.

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    • TK says:

      I heard a rumor that after Howard comes back and shows that he is still a run producer, the Phils are going to give him another 4-5 year extention to make him a Phillie for life.

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  5. some guy says:

    Phils are going to roll with Galvis and that’s the right decision. If he’s completely overmatched AND Utley’s comeback is in doubt then they’ll make a move for a guy like Dewitt, Izturis or Callaspo.

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  6. Anon says:

    Since when does Fangraphs refer to Howard as a powerhouse bat that anchors the batting order?

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  7. wes says:

    Again, putting this in to the context of what the Phillies got from Valdez, Martinez, and Orr last season, the bar is set pretty low. 638 PAs with a 582 ops isn’t that high of a target for Galvis (gotta fight typing “Glavis” each time). And remember, they won 102 games despite getting the equivalence of a full season of 582 ops from their three-headed infielder.

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  8. Bjorn says:

    Should the Phillies think about contacting the Mariners regarding Kyle Seager? I’d dare say Figgins, but I don’t know why the Phils would have any interest. It would be more of my Mariner side hoping.

    Or should the Phillies think about trying to find an up and coming 3B and move Polanco to 2B?

    I’m not sure the Phils have the prospects to get anything great in return, unless they start think about moving their baby aces.

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  9. Billion Memes says:

    Poor Utley. He was such a good player in his prime. It’s a shame he’s such a man of few words in interviews. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever seen play the game and I’m afraid he’ll never be the player he once was. The fake throw to 2nd then throwing home in the World Series is the famous one, but he made so many smart plays like that throughout his career.

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  10. Barkey Walker says:

    Which of the 1910s era pitchers was the Bill James link intended to link to?

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