Brandon Phillips, Headed South

Well there was one rumor that Brandon Phillips would get traded to the Braves, but then the Braves insisted that Dan Uggla be a part of the deal and we haven’t heard that trade rumor again in a while. So no, the title isn’t about flocking south for the Winter or a trade rumor, the title is about the fact that Brandon Phillips is post-peak. Decidedly so.

Since the player is 32 years old, it’s no big surprise to say something like that. But it is sort of remarkable how many statistics have degraded in the past five years. Here’s the list of statistics in which Phillips showed a five-year worsts in 2013: Batting average, home runs, runs, stolen bases, strikeout rate, swinging strikeout rate, slugging percentage, isolated slugging percentage, batting average on balls in play, batted ball distance on homers and flies, ultimate base running, and four-component speed score.

The fact that the only positive you can take from his season is his RBI total should tell you something in itself. But even that positive is not without an asterisk. Because the reason he had so many RBI was because his team saw him as a poor fit for the second hole, due to his below-average patience and declining wheels. He’s not a great fit for the five-hole either, but it’s not his patience and wheels — it’s his contact rate.


At first glance, a sub-15% strikeout rate doesn’t seem like a problem. But the further you look into his contact numbers, you get a sense that he has too much in common with Josh Hamilton. Despite a below-average swinging strike rate this season (10.8%, the non-pitcher average is 9.2%), Phillips had a better-than-average strikeout rate (14.7%, 19.3% was the non-pitcher average). His aggressiveness might serve him well in this regard — it’s served Josh Hamilton and others well to swing their way to contact before they strike out at least.

The problem arises in contact outside the zone. Josh Hamilton had better contact rates than the league average outside the zone for a while, but that skill tanks after 26 and drops precipitously after 30. So the the 32-year-old Phillips won’t see a return to the days where he was above league average in O-contact, and so he’s more likely to move towards the league average in strikeout rate rather than toward his peak strikeout rates between 2009 and 2011.

Take away that skill — the ability to put the ball in play — and you’re left with a defense-first second baseman with no patience and average pop (the league’s second baseman had a collective .119 ISO last year). Since he’ll hurt himself as much with the plate discipline as he helps with the pop and defense, it’s fair to wonder how long he’ll be an above-average player by WAR (2.6 last year). That might still leave him a bargain over the remainder of his deal — $50 million over four years — but that isn’t also the type of bargain a small-market team is looking for. That’s why the Reds are shopping him with the “all intents to trade him.”


And that leaves us with the final cautionary tale about Brandon Phillips. His career ISO at Great American Ballpark is .185. His career ISO is .157. In 2012, that park was second in baseball in encouraging home runs by right-handed hitters.

Take some of that power away and all you have left is a 10-15 homer hitter with solid defense. One of those things doesn’t count in most fantasy baseball settings.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

One Response to “Brandon Phillips, Headed South”

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  1. Iron says:

    Steamer projects him as a 3.0 WAR player next year. His monthly variability was quite high this past season, as he was playing hurt for a few stretches. While injury and age go hand-in-hand and are not an excuse, it is too early to completely write off a healthy Brandon Phillips.

    Semi-Bold prediction: Phillips exceeds Hunter Pence in WAR next year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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