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Updating the Top 100: Brandon Phillips

BP keeps going, and going, and going...

Cooler than you.
Cooler than you.
Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

34. Brandon Phillips

Played as Red Primary Position Career Rank Peak Rank Prime Rank
2006-2012 2B 34 48 32
Percent Breakdown of Value Best Season Best player on Reds
Hit Field Pitch 2011 Never
70% 30% 0%
Awards/Honors as a Red Leading the League On the Reds Leaderboard
Gold Glove – 2008, 2010, 2011
All Star – 2010, 2011
Silver Slugger - 2011

-16th in career home runs
-21st in career hits
-23rd in career runs scored
-25th in career RBI
-25th in career stolen bases

A couple years ago, I wrote a piece in a different forum that argued that Brandon Phillips had one more year of typical Phillipsian consistency (i.e., 2011), after which he was a strong candidate to fall apart, statistically speaking. Instead, BP dropped a career year on us at age 30, then followed up with a very typical Phillips season. Also in that same piece, I expressed some level of gratitude at the serendipity that Phillips’s contract expired around the time he’d be turning into a baseball zombie, and that we Reds fans wouldn’t be around to see the demise.

Phillips is now signed through 2017.

Are there lessons here, outside of acknowledging (again) that Uncle Walt knows more about the game than I? Maybe: perhaps an admission that aging curves are strongly suggestive, but not absolute; or that our beloved second baseman was likely mishandled as a Cleveland youth, and that some of his numbers in his would-be peak seasons were depressed as he was adjusting to the major league game. Who knows, really?

A quick thought exercise: Phillips’s bWAR in 2012 was 3.5. Coincidentally, his average bWAR from 2007-12 was also 3.5. Let’s stipulate, then, that 3.5 wins is not only Phillips’s established level, it is also the point from which we can expect annual decline, now that BP is entering his age-32 season. A loss of ½ a win per year seems to be the accepted norm, so: 2013 = 3 WAR, 2014 = 2.5 WAR, …, 2017 = 1 WAR. Even assuming that salary inflation doesn’t hit baseball, and we use a conservative $6M/WAR estimate throughout, Phillips (with annual salaries ranging from $10M - $14M) should still be "worth it" as late as 2015, with 2016 serving as an iffy year, and 2017 as deadweight. Assuming all goes according to plan, of course.

The things I worry about with Phillips are numerous. Lowest number of stolen base attempts since becoming a Red. Lowest walk rate since becoming a Red. Worst range factor since becoming a Red. Worst isolated power since becoming a Red. The numbers, in aggregate, are all close enough to being career norms, but there are enough flags to at least suggest an underlying story of a player whose legs are beginning to falter and whose power is not quite what it was, and so he’s cheating just enough to get by without falling apart. He’s certainly a good enough athlete to pull it off for a year or two. My conclusion probably hasn’t changed since two years ago. Phillips will keep doing what he do, until he doesn’t, but the end will be rather sudden and not too pretty. Dat Dude has proved me wrong before; I’m hoping he can keep doing so for another 4 or 5 years.

In seven seasons with the Reds, Phillips has played over 1,000 games, nearly all of them at second base. His hitting line of .280/.329/.446 is good for a 101 OPS+, and he has totaled 142 home runs and 150 stolen bases, along with his 610 runs scored.

Brandon Phillips has raised his status on the all-time list from #43 to #34, while climbing two spots on the list of franchise second sackers, to #4.

The Top 15 Second Basemen in Reds history

1 Joe Morgan
2 Bid McPhee
3 Lonny Frey
4 Brandon Phillips*

5 Miller Huggins
6 Johnny Temple
7 Ron Oester
8 Hughie Critz
9 Bret Boone
10 Dick Egan
11 Sam Bohne
12 Tommy Helms
13 Pokey Reese
14 Morrie Rath
15 Tony Cuccinello