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The Mess at the Philly Outfield Corners

Yesterday, the Phillies signed free agent outfielder Delmon Young to a contract usually reserved for pinch hitters and bench warmers. Most assumed that Young would play left field where he has played since 2008 when not in the DH slot. And since he sports a career .309 wOBA versus right-handers, compared to a .352 wOBA against southpaws, the second assumption was that he would be on the bad side of a platoon. Our own Dave Cameron’s crystal ball was working perfectly, however, and his analysis actually assumed that Young would be taking at-bats away from Domonic Brown, who was slated to be the starting right fielder. Later, this different assumption was confirmed, as it was reported that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said that Young would play right field. So let’s try to figure out what the implications are of this mess.

To potentially garner playing time at the outfield corners, the Phillies employ Darin Ruf, John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, and the aforementioned Young and Brown. Phew, that’s a lot of outfielders for just two spots. Let’s first compare the offense these hitters have historically contributed along with their projections.

Player Career wOBA vs RH Career wOBA vs LH Projected 2013 wOBA**
Darin Ruf* 0.375 0.496 0.357
John Mayberry 0.301 0.371 0.325
Laynce Nix 0.317 0.235 0.316
Delmon Young 0.309 0.352 0.321
Domonic Brown 0.321 0.260 0.342

*Ruf’s career wOBA splits include only his minor league stops at High-A in 2011 and Double-A in 2012
**Projected wOBA are Bill James, except when they were unavailable in the case of Ruf, where the Fans was used

Aside from Ruf’s strong minor league record against right-handers, no one else stands out offensively versus righties. It’s actually pretty amazing how close the other four hitters are. Of course, Brown’s performance is still over a small sample size and he hasn’t exactly lived up to the potential we once thought he had. His projected wOBA well above his historical reflects this optimism. But obviously if the Phillies still believed in Brown, they wouldn’t have gone out and signed Young. Since we know he wasn’t going to hit against left-handers, then he could probably be ruled out for earning any fantasy value outside of NL-Only leagues, which would be limited even in those.

Ruf and Mayberry both hit well against left-handers. Young has also enjoyed above average performance, but we have already established that he is likely to garner near full-time at-bats. There is little reason to give Mayberry time against righties, so it appears that his value will be as a platoon hitter on the bad side. We could therefore limit his value to NL-Only leagues as well. Nix is atrocious against lefties and nothing special versus righties. He shouldn’t see much playing time.

So strictly based on offense, this is how we currently stand:

-Ruf has hit well in the minors against both handed pitchers
-Mayberry to only face lefties
-Nix to rarely play
-Young to play nearly full-time
-Brown to play occasionally against righties? maybe open season at Triple-A or get traded?

Now let’s compare their respective defensive abilities.

Player Pos UZR/150
Darin Ruf* N/A N/A
John Mayberry LF 0.1
Laynce Nix LF 6.7
Delmon Young LF -14.7
Domonic Brown RF -21.7

*Ruf played 1B through last year, but someone by the name of Ryan Howard has been blocking him, so the team is trying him out now in LF

So, Mayberry is average in left field, which doesn’t help his case to start against anything more than left-handers. Nix is solid, while both Young and Brown have been brutal in the corners. Only time will tell if Young will be better in right than he has been in left. He did play right field in his first two seasons with the (Devil) Rays and was above average then. Brown’s poor defense is yet another mark against his chances of generating any fantasy value this season and his opportunity with the Phillies may have closed.

Both Ruf and Mayberry are right-handers so it wouldn’t make sense to have them share time. The options I see are thus:

A) Open the season with Ruf as the full-time starter in left field after he worked hard on his defense in winter ball and spring training
B) Open the season with a platoon of Nix and Mayberry, as Ruf opens the year at Triple-A
C) Move Brown to LF and platoon him with Mayberry

Ruf has nary an at-bat at the Triple-A level and was just pushed to left field. It would make sense for the team to have him start in the minors to validate his Double-A breakout and continue working on his defense. So option A looks unlikely to play out.

Option B would play out if the Phillies have completely lost faith in Brown. The Young signing makes it seem like this is a distinct possibility. It would be foolish to block Ruf and not eventually give him a shot, so Brown being the odd man out, either resulting in a trip to the minors or to another team, sounds like a real possibility.

The last option would play out if the Phillies have not actually lost confidence in Brown’s ability. But now they would be blocking Ruf who just posted a .446 wOBA at Double-A with solid contact skills and an above average walk rate.

It’s true that Brown has never gotten an extended chance to show whether he deserves a role as a future starter at a corner outfield slot. Unfortunately, I cannot understand why a team who still had faith in him would go ahead with the Young signing. It would make even less sense to me if Brown simply moved over to left and kept a starting job against right-handers. So I think the most likely scenario might very well be option B.

Assuming this is what does happen, I think Ruf will make an excellent speculative pick in NL-Only and deep mixed leagues. His performance, offensively and defensively, at Triple-A would be the only thing holding him back from a promotion. That type of power potential doesn’t come around often, especially combined with the above average contact skills. He could provide a great boost to fantasy teams when the call eventually does come.